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A Lost Archive?


AWCV’s Nancy Peterson (l.) & Carole Stewart Women’s Gallery Wellington 1980 

Auckland Women’s Community Video (AWCV, 1976-about 1986) has become a kind of ghost in the herstorical archive, far too soon. I hate it, that their work has almost disappeared.

Take Slipping Away (1985) for instance, a video about The Freudian Slips, a feminist band Jenny Renalls formed in 1981. It’s possible that Slipping Away, or the raw footage it was made from, is this item in Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. But I'm not sure. So I’m asking around, hoping to learn more. Also in Ngā Taonga, Deviance, a Freudian Slips short.

The Freudian Slips’ membership varied, including between five and nine women and sometimes all-lesbian and sometimes a mixture of lesbian and straight women. The band released two EP records,  On the Line in 1983 and Are You Laughing in 1985, covering topics that included periods, women and Catholicism, how super-heroes are always men, the right of women not to have orgasms, and police harassment. And yes, there are some entries in the National Library catalogue that refer to sound tapes. But no film.

Freudian Slips pictured on the back of their On the Line LP: Mary During, left, Cathy Sheehan, Nikki Lancaster, Paula Connolly, Elizabeth (Biddy) Leyland and Donna Fletcher (Savage)

According to Doreen Agassiz Suddens’ Lesbian Music of New Zealand, AWCV completed Slipping Away in the band’s last three weeks and Hilary Haines’ description of the video published in Broadsheet, is intriguing–

'…imaginatively filmed and set against a soundtrack of Freudian Slips music. Members of the band [do a bit of talking here and there, but mostly it’s music all the way and it sounds great. What a shame they’ve disbanded — I’ve just become a fan.’

Or, consider AWCV’s Single Mothers Speak Out, a 50 minute tape for Council for the Single Mother and her Child, commissioned by the medical school for its community health lectures, about how single mothers felt about their treatment from doctors. Is there a copy anywhere in the world? A playable copy, that has been conserved, or even digitised? Haven’t found one so far.

And there were lots more tapes, including a collection from the Opening Show at the Women’s Gallery in Wellington in 1980, deposited in the National Library, uncatalogued and unviewed for 35 years or so and finally digitised in early 2018 for This Joyous, Chaotic Place: Ngā Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu, an exhibition celebrating poet, activist and lesbian feminist Heather McPherson (1942-2017), at  Auckland's Mokopōpaki. Some of the two hours of footage has lost its sound but viewers found it very moving. Artist Annie Mein also 'tidied up' some other surviving clips from the footage, of interviews with and readings by Heather and fellow writers J C Sturm and Keri Hulme.

Although I’m deeply disappointed so much has been lost, thanks to some Fiona Clark images taken for the Women’s Gallery and held at the Alexander Turnbull Library, I was thrilled to see the two AWCV women who taped us all — individually and in a group — at the Women’s Gallery Opening Show, in Wellington in January 1980. A research snap of one of Fiona Clark's photos of these women, Kanya (then Carole) Stewart and Nancy Peterson heads this post. Here’s another, of Nancy.

Nancy Peterson & portapak, Women’s Gallery 1980 (research snap, Alexander Turnbull Library)

So what’s the story of the AWCV? I know only a little bit, thanks to what I’ve been told and to the ever-trusty Broadsheet.

Beginnings

Back in 1975, a group of women in Auckland took part in a video workshop advertised outside the cinema where an International Women’s Film Festival was screening. After that the group used borrowed and rented equipment to cover conferences, hold workshops and make tapes. That group became AWCV in 1976.

According to a Broadsheet report (Jul 1978; n.61:p.13–14) uncredited, but apparently provided by the group, many of the twenty or so members were feminists and saw video as a way to disseminate feminist views. Others were more interested in the technical side. Some were interested in video’s artistic potential.

Some of them were more deeply involved in filmmaking than others. Kanya Stewart began work as a filmmaker at the National Film Unit [sold in 1990] where she ‘worked as one of the first women editors in the 1970s, and then worked as documentary editor in television. The Street, Some of My Best Friends Are Women and the Women series – see (1), below – were some of the films I worked on during those years, all ground-breaking films which were controversial in their time. The Women series was commissioned by TV One, and for the first time ever was made by an all-women crew at a time when it was still rare for women to work as directors, and on camera and sound’.

Kanya also produced Even Dogs Are Given Bones, with Huia Lambie and Mary Hancock, about the women workers at the Rixen clothing factory in Levin, who had occupied the factory in protest. Huia liaised with the women who were occupying the factory and did the interviewing: ‘racism was very much an issue…Huia was the perfect choice for the role and she was also involved in decisions around editing,’ says Kanya.

Even Dogs Are Given Bones includes a classic Mereana Pitman song and Kanya ‘has a feeling’ that Mereana was invited to write the song as well as to sing it.

At the time, the focus on audience and distribution was crucial. For Even Dogs Are Given Bones, trade unions and women’s groups throughout New Zealand were key, with Australian distribution via ‘a women’s group in Sydney’. Kanya made contact with TVNZ sometime after Even Dogs Are Given Bones was completed, to discuss the possibility of having it screened on national TV. ‘They were keen to show it’, she says, but told her that the quality of the medium wasn’t up to broadcast standard, very disappointing for the group.

Members

Among the known members, in alphabetical order, are —

Briar (Miller/Millar?) ‘who was a very talented camera woman’, according to Mary Debrett.

Elizabeth (Liz) Eastmond, an art history academic at University of Auckland was also a member and is the woman featured in the Broadsheet article.

Jessica Skippon who was responsible for organising the group’s incorporation; Mary Debrett— 

‘Jessica was married to Tom Cook who was the head of Via Com, then the premier commercial video production facility in Auckland – later changed hands and became Communicado I believe…Jessica bought some professional TV know-how to the group…She now lives in London’.

Carole (Kanya) Stewart 1979–1982. ‘At some point in the late ’80s someone asked about what to do with the tapes. I was by that stage in no position to do anything.’

Lee Lee Heah

Mary Debrett — ‘I probably left the group around 1980 when I went to work for TVNZ as a videotape editor. I made my documentary Land Girls in 1981 and it screened in a Country Calendar slot in January 1982 I believe. It is recorded in the Ngā Taonga catalogue [and in the National Library catalogue]. I must have given the off-cuts to WCV — sorry long time ago so I don’t recall the details. There are a few other credits for me on Ngā Taonga, and one on NZ Screen — edited a Koha doco [viewable at the link] on Ramai Hayward, directed by Chas Toogood. I left NZ in 1997 and enrolled in a PhD at La Trobe where I taught Media Studies until retiring in 2015.’

Mary During

Mary Hancock

Nancy Peterson — 

‘I had tapes at Keppell St but ran out of energy to do anything with them. Lele had gone home and come back and was pretty disappointed the group had collapsed. I can’t remember when that was, my involvement was about 1977 to 1982 or so.’

Pauline Buchannan (McGregor) who introduced Mary Debrett to the group in 1975- 76 ‘but dropped out soon after I recall’, writes Mary.

Rosalie Hicks

Sue Fitchett

Wendy Vaigro, an art history academic and enthusiast of the avant garde — now living in or near Napier, Mary Debrett thinks.

Motivations

For Kanya, ‘becoming involved with Women’s Community Video in the late 1970s was a way of working at grass roots level, teaching and working with women who wanted an accessible vehicle of expression for their own reality at a time when the media reflected primarily male, heterosexual views and values. Film can be a powerful means for positive change. That was my motivation for becoming involved, to present a view point which was not mainstream, one that I always hoped would make people think and see things in a different way’.

poster for workshop, Wellington [1980]
For Mary Debrett, ‘All of the members of the group were feminists when I was a member. That was the point of it. We wanted to empower women and to promote women’s rights and aimed to do this by producing tapes that could be used to facilitate discussion within other community groups and to produce tapes that would assist with consciousness raising.’

Equipment

‘The most attractive thing about video is its simplicity’, wrote the group, in Broadsheet. The members used a portapak, something like ‘an ordinary tape deck’, with a camera plugged in for taping and with a monitor: ‘apart from the special care with which everything is handled operating is very straightforward’.

All tapes (at the time of the Broadsheet article) were 1/2" black and white and some could be played on a ‘cartridge machine’ as well as a portapak. But, as the Even Dogs Are Given Bonesexperience showed, quality was a problem; and changing technology affected the work’s longevity.

Mary Debrett explains further — 

‘I am afraid there will not be much left of the work of WCV — a problem of the rapidly evolving analogue video formats of the time. The group mostly shot on the half inch open reel using the first video portapaks, the first truly democratic video format. This would need to have been transferred to another format to have been playable on a cassette machine. The open reel half inch format was quite rapidly replaced by the U-matic cartridge which was 3/4 inch at first then became the half inch home video format that proliferated across homes until the DVD displaced them — but of course there were also I/4 inch Hi 8 as well in there somewhere before the digital revolution…basically that’s why nothing much remains of the work. It rapidly became an orphan format and nobody much outside AV centres ever had the portapaks.’

Sue Fitchett remembers that – 

‘The University of Auckland Video studio was helpful to us but I have forgotten the names who helped us with equipment; editing etc. and then there was the school out in South Auckland and their video suite — where I filmed some of the ECT tape — was it Otahuhu College? Memories of our showings at e.g. Auckland Women’s Health Centre include the fears and actualities of equipment breaking down — the vagaries of reel to reel.’

Sound was an issue, too, according to Nancy Peterson– 

‘We had a tape of Charlotte Bunch speaking at the 1979 Women’s Convention in Hamilton but the sound quality was awful, some kind of interference in the auditorium at Waikato University. Sound was always the most difficult part of taping’.

Range

As well as the tapes already mentioned, over about a decade, the group made many other tapes. In 1976, the group taped the Pacific Islands Women’s Conference and the Women’s Festival in Albert Park. It made a tape on Women and the Medical Professionfor NOW (National Organisation for Women, founded 1972 and modelled on the United States NOW, with its last branch, in Christchurch closing in 2002).

AWCV collaborated with the Women’s Centre Drama Group for a Suffrage Day performance of Herstory, at the Maidment Theatre. For Herstory, it made The Game of Life about abortion, along TV gameshow lines (30 minutes) The Rape Trial (20 minutes)and The Committee (20 minutes), about how the story of Adam and Eve came into being. Members of the group filmed visiting feminists, too: Charlotte Bunch at the United Women’s Convention in Hamilton (held in Ngā Taonga); and interviewed Shere Hite. (‘We were amazed how how striking she was in real life’, says Sue Fitchett.)
‘There were some memorable interviews with rape survivors’, says Nancy Peterson, ‘but if those surface, can’t show them without permission of the survivor’.

In the mid 80s, AWCV interviewed women active in the campaign for homosexual law reform, including a Māori and Pacifica group; and filmed an associated concert, MCed by Jools Topp, and the rough footage is held by Ngā Taonga, thanks to the Auckland Women’s Centre. According to Sue Fitchett, here was one on the Auckland women’s refuge and a series of of the challenging writer Ivan Illich (amongst his books was Medical Nemesis — in which he wrote about the risks of things like antibiotic resistance). He gave several lectures in Auckland — Auckland University and AWCV filmed them all.

And there was one that Sue Fitchett made about ECT, with money from women psychologists. Mary Debrett remembers

‘…being involved with a production that was a discussion amongst women who had received shock treatment in Auckland having all been referred by the one doctor, a rather overly enthusiastic exponent of its use. Their testimony was truly shocking. Some would likely have been diagnosed as suffering postnatal depression today. One spoke of how as a newly arrived migrant, young wife and new mother she had been isolated; her doctor’s response to her understandable depression was electro convulsive therapy. It was very shocking testimony.

Giving voice to women who had suffered at the hands of overbearing male authority figures was pretty radical at that time.

It was also a time when we were fighting for the right to choose. I can remember going to an abortion speak-out at the then Jean Batten Women’s Centre in Auckland where women who had had backyard abortions spoke out. They were horrific stories. No men or media were allowed in and I can’t remember if WCV recorded anything. I suspect not but I mention it as context to the times.

I was part of the group when we recorded Single Mothers Speak Out About Their Lives. Joss Shawyer, who was the driving force behind the Auckland Single Mothers Support Centre at the time was part of that discussion. It is possible that she would have a copy of the tape. I was also part of the group when we recorded Shere Hite, which was extremely interesting particularly for the male responses, and also part of the group recording the United Women’s Convention at Christchurch [?Hamilton]. I was also a member of the Auckland Women’s Centre at the time and I recall we were all quite closely interconnected with feminist events and activities.’

The collective also purchased and screened and rented feminist videos made outside Aotearoa New Zealand.

Can You Help?

I’ve had some lovely help from women who were part of the AWCV, but some of them can’t (yet) be found. Nor can the tapes, though some may be among those uncatalogued at Ngā Taonga.(3)
Mary Debrett’s comment is typical — ‘I may have had a few copies of some of the items we made, but having moved countries and moved homes several times since then I don’t think I have them any more unfortunately’.

Do you know of tapes out there, or under your bed, or in your shed? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
I also have some screenshots of unidentified women in AWCV’s raw footage of the homosexual law reform interviews and concert of the mid-80s. If you think you can help with identification, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll link you to the images on Dropbox.

Finally, a recent Ministry of Culture & Heritage Suffrage125 post included these clips from Ngā Taonga’s Auckland Women’s Centre Anniversary Day 1976 (F59840). Do any of you recognise this as an AWCV production?





-----------------------------

Women crew at work L-R Lorraine Engelbretson, Margaret Moth, Julie Thomson & Deidre McCartin

(1) Women, as described by Deidre McCartin, (in Deborah Shepard’s Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film, 2000)

‘I went to the Department of Education and told them that Television One wanted to make a major series of documentaries on women but of course that was a very expensive operation and it clearly had a high educational component and we wondered whether the Department of Education would care to support it. They were wonderful … and came up with a figure of $15k to support it [$120k nowadays].

I hightailed it back to Television One and said “there’s a strong pressure growing in both the public and in government departments that we are not serving women’s needs in television adequately … The Department of Education feels so strongly about it that they would like to put $15k into it” which was a very exciting idea for poor old broadcasting controllers worrying about budgets.

… And then I told another lie and I don’t mind being quoted because if you live in a Machiavellian society you have to learn a few tricks. I said, “of course, the Department of Education have made it conditional on it being an all-female crew” which was my own notion of course. At first, I was told, “no way babe. There aren’t any sound people. There aren’t any camera people”. Then I lost my temper, “look, I’m tired of hearing this. I want an all female crew and I’m going to keep fighting until I get one” … Finally, they agreed.’

The series includes (and next year I hope to organise a screening of them)–

When the Honeymoon is Over(domestic violence)
When Did You Last See Yourself on TV?
Māori Women in a Pakeha World
Marriage: Is it a Health Hazard?
The Women in Your Life Is You (Women’s Sexuality)
Who Cares About Childcare?

According to the wonderful Louise Hutt (maker of Online Heroines), when the series screened in 1976, Helen Clark wrote into the Auckland Star newspaper to defend it after a bunch of letters to the editor were super critical of it: “Unfortunately, Garth Gilmour’s wounded pride prevents him from making a rational assessment of the merits of the programme”!

The Women episodes in the TVNZ Collection are on Digibeta and Beta SP. TVNZ transferred its archive to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage in 2014. It is based in Avalon and Ngā Taonga runs it. TVNZ and Ngā Taonga are consulting about digitisation of Women

Sheilas: 28 Years On (2004), directed by Annie Goldson and Dawn Hutchinson, with Maire Gunn on camera, follows some of the women in Women.

Still from Even Dogs Are Given Bones
(2) Original notes for Ngā Taonga Archive Box currently numbered 2003.7259 include ‘All tapes are unidentified, no titles or headings: some tapes have mould’. And then Ngā Taonga checked further and kindly provided more details…

‘8 x 1/2" Reels unlabelled
1 X1/2" Broken cassette unlabelled
2 x 30 minute Umatic unlabelled
1 x 10minute Umatic “ TITLES, Margaret Palmer?”
1/2 “ 18cm Reel — “Video Access Centres”
v79 1x 1/2" Reel Titled “Carole Stewart? Women’s Community Video — The Receiving of Simone
v87 “2/7 2nd Forum “Nick”
v93 “old low density 1/2” bad quality tape” “practice tape”
v95 “310 ATI TEP March 21/7/80 1/2 “ reel
V74 “tues Jan 29” Marian, Anna Disc 1 1/2"

So that’s all the info, I’m afraid. And because we can’t play 1/2" it is the only info we can provide.’

Ngā Taonga also has this entry for an uncatalogued item entitled United Women’s Convention (Hamilton NZ) (F59883), which lists those involved as Lee Lee Heah, Mary Ellen Barker, Carole Stewart, Jennifer Wright, Briar Millar most of whom are known to have been involved in AWCV.


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