His­toric Hawke’s Bay

Michael Fowler looks back on some of his favourite col­umns of 2018

Hawke's Bay Today - - Local News - Michael Fowler

Meet­ing of two ex­tra­or­di­nary women

New Zealan­der Jean Bat­ten’s fly­ing feats of the 1930s made her an in­ter­na­tional celebrity, and her lead­ing-lady good looks dubbed her the nick­name Garbo of the Skies, after the sul­try mov­ing pic­tures star, Greta Garbo.

The dar­ing and record-break­ing avi­a­trix from Ro­torua in­spired many women. While it would take decades be­fore so­ci­ety would even con­tem­plate women be­ing equals with men in terms of vo­ca­tions and so­ci­etal stand­ing, I be­lieve many women who lis­tened to Jean speak qui­etly gath­ered in­ner con­fi­dence in what it was pos­si­ble to achieve.

Many men in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity were un­com­fort­able with her fly­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and prob­a­bly much rather wel­comed the Aus­tralian avi­a­tor Sir Charles Kings­ford Smith, than a woman.

In Hawke’s Bay a lo­cal au­thor­ity leader was re­ported to have said Jean Bat­ten should be hon­oured to meet him, not the other way around.

Auck­land mayor Ernest Davis said to her con­de­scend­ingly at a cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate her record-break­ing solo flight from Eng­land to New Zealand. “Jean, you are a very naughty girl and re­ally I think you want a good spank­ing for giv­ing us such a ter­ri­bly anx­ious time.”

Jean Bat­ten came to Hawke’s Bay in Au­gust 1934, and eagerly wait­ing for her was 100-year-old Mary Ann Adam­son (1833-1934) of Hast­ings.

Mary had be­come a New Zealand celebrity in her own right, when aged 99, in Novem­ber 1932, she went for a flight with Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club’s pi­lot, fly­ing-of­fi­cer Ger­rant. Upon land­ing she was made a life mem­ber of the aero club.

At the end of the flight, as part of Hast­ing’s re­build­ing car­ni­val after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earth­quake, Hast­ings mayor, G F Roach, crowned Mary the car­ni­val queen. Napier com­mis­sioner, J S Bar­ton and Napier mayor, J Vigor Brown were also present to of­fer their con­grat­u­la­tions.

Dur­ing the flight Mary spoke to the fly­ing-of­fi­cer, see­ing Hast­ings from the air, which she knew when it did not con­tain a road, street or foot­path.

Napier’s re­build­ing car­ni­val oc­curred in Jan­uary 1933, and Aus­tralian Kings­ford Smith flew into Napier for the oc­ca­sion while on a New Zealand tour. Mary, who had the fly­ing bug went up in the air with Charles.

Mary’s Au­gust 1934 flight with Jean Bat­ten took place from the Hast­ings aero­drome. They both made his­tory for be­ing the youngest and old­est mem­bers of an aero club, as Jean was also made a life mem­ber of the club upon ar­rival in Hast­ings.

Mary Adam­son was thought to be the old­est-born Bri­tish colo­nial, hav­ing been born in Ho­bart, Aus­tralia, in 1833.

Her fam­ily came to New Zealand in 1835, liv­ing in Hokianga first.

They walked to the Bay of Is­lands through road­less bush and had asked a group of Maori to guide them, but they robbed them of ev­ery­thing ex­cept the clothes they were wear­ing. For­tu­nately, one of the older Maori in the party re­turned and pointed them in the di­rec­tion of Rus­sell.

At age 7, Mary was present at the cer­e­mony when Gov­er­nor Hob­son de­clared Bri­tish sovereignty over New Zealand in Jan­uary 1840.

She re­mem­bered the in­ci­dent when Hone Heke de­stroyed the flagstaff at Rus­sell and was present at the cer­e­mony when it was for­mally reerected.

When a Maori, Maketu, was con­victed of mur­der in 1842, Mary and a friend skipped school to watch his hang­ing on March 7. He was the first per­son to be legally hanged in New Zealand.

Mary came to Napier in 1864 and re­mem­bered it be­ing the “mer­est vil­lage”.

Ten days after cel­e­brat­ing her 101st birth­day, Mary passed away on Novem­ber 30, 1934.

At her birth­day, wear­ing a frock she made at age 30, she told a re­porter that “gar­den­ing is a lit­tle past me now”.

The Rev­erend D J Shaw from her church (Pres­by­te­rian) told her she was known the world over be­cause of her aero­plane flights. One hun­dred and one can­dles were placed on her cake, and she blew them all out.

“My hair never seems to get white, but I thank God I am as well as I am,” she told as­sem­bled friends and fam­ily.

Mary was a tire­less worker for the com­mu­nity, and a mem­ber of the Women’s Chris­tian Tem­per­ance Union. Just be­fore her death Mary had said, “When I pass on, I hope no one will spend money on costly wreaths for me. Let them bring flow­ers, their own flow­ers, but give their money to feed and clothe the needy.”

■ Lim­ited, signed copies of Michael Fowler’s His­toric Hawke’s Bay book are avail­able from the Hast­ings Com­mu­nity Art Cen­tre, Rus­sell St South, Hast­ings for $59.90.


Jean Bat­ten poses with Mary Adam­son at Bridge Pa aero­drome in Au­gust 1934.

His­toric Hawke’s Bay

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