Women's Health League
Kia Hiwa Ra Kia Hiwa Ra—‘Be on the alert to prepare for any danger that may threaten the welfare of the people through illness, disease, or neglect.’ This is the cry of the Women's Health League, Te Ropu O Te Ora, an organisation formed in 1937 under the guidance of Nurse R. T. Cameron.
When she came to Rotorua as District Nurse in 1931, health problems faced Miss Cameron everywhere. The district was so large it was impossible for one woman to make any real impression, so she sought the co-operation of the chiefs in each pa. These men gave their wholehearted support, and women's committees were formed in each pa to deal with health and home nursing.
Every two weeks the chiefs led their women and children to their meeting house, where the District Nurse treated minor ailments, gave medical advice, discussed health problems and conducted maternal and infant welfare clinics in 24 centres. Each committee had a woman of high rank as president, a secretary to keep records of meetings, births and deaths in the district, and a treasurer.
The next few years saw a great improvement in health, but there was still more to be done. The women wanted to work to a definite plan, so at a large gathering of women at Tunohopu meeting house, Ohinemutu, on 2 September 1937, the League was founded. The movement spread further, reaching the East Coast and including the Tairawhiti and Whakatohio districts. A flag with the colours of green and white and a tiki badge were chosen as the League's emblems.
Many schemes to improve health were begun. With the co-operation of the Health Department's Medical Officer, the League started supplying free malted milk to school children. The League collected the money, the men of the pas undertook the work, and the Department supplied the equipment. For years, until fresh milk was available, this service continued, and the children were weighed regularly, showing marked improvement.
As well as working for water supplies, sanitation, free hospital service (through its own ‘social security’ scheme), free milk supply for Maori schools, and a dental clinic with free transport, the League tackled housing conditions. With assistance from a Maori Land Court Judge, and the Department of Maori Affairs, a housing scheme was begun at Hinemoa Point.
In 1940, the League faced the problem of
accommodation for the relatives of Maoris in hospital, and at the March 1942 conference, attended by Mrs Peter Fraser, Patroness of the League, the Government was asked to subsidize a hostel. With a site and financial help given by the Government, and materials, timber and money given by the Maori people, the hostel at last became a reality. Called the ‘Janet Fraser Memorial Guest House’ in memory of the League's Patroness who had died in 1946, it was opened by her husband, the late Mr Peter Fraser, then Prime Minister, on 28 August, 1948.
Members of the Women's Health League Inc. still stand firmly united to do everything possible to improve the home-life, health, and welfare of the Maori people, and to promote fellowship and understanding between Maori and Pakeha women. As well as their aims to improve health, and to encourage the planting of gardens, all members learn Maōri arts and crafts, especially weaving, (using Maori dyes), and also Pakeha home-making crafts. Most of the League's 40 trophies, some of which are memorials to early members, are for craft work, and there is always keen competition. Junior Health Leagues have been formed in many areas and they too compete for trophies.
Each member pays an annual subscription of 5/-, half of which is forwarded to the Central Committee, the rest being used by each local branch to carry out the aims of the League in its district—buying demonstration materials, and helping members in sickness or misfortune.
Conferences are held every six months in March and September, the September conference also including Birthday Celebrations, when a tree is planted on the host marae. It is decided at the end of each conference where the next one will be held, and the chosen branch has six months to prepare for the hui.
Last September's celebrations were held at Rotoiti, and the most recent conference at Horo Horo, both being opened by Mr P. T. Watene, M.P. for Eastern Maori. The next conference is to be at Muriwai, Gisborne.
The suggestion made last September—that meeting houses be used as holiday accommodation for mothers and children—has already been put into practice. Visitors go from inland town to the coast and vice versa, taking their own bedding and cooking requirements, and having a wonderful holiday.
Four hundred pounds has been given to the Waikato University Halls of Residence appeal. This contribution, covering the cost of a study bed unit complete with furnishings and a share of dining, kitchen, lounge and other facilities, is to be recognised by a small plaque over the doorway.
Great co-operation exists between the Women's Health League and the Maori Women's Welfare League, members of both organisations helping each other in ‘behind-the-scenes’ work at conferences, and joining forces in many kinds of community work.
The achievements of the Women's Health League over the last 29 years are a tribute to the vision, love, and hard work of its founder Nurse Cameron.
One of Parewahawaha's two amo. Like all the carvings in the house, on opening day this one carried labels identifying the figures.
The opening of the Parewahawaha meeting house at Bulls on Saturday 15 April climaxed almost twenty-two years of work.
It was an exciting day, with hundreds making their way to the marae before dawn in buses, cars, and on foot. The sky was cloudless, and the scene was quite beautiful as the first rays of sunlight reached the meeting house, picking out the figure of Kupe at the top, Parewahawaha and her eight children on the centre pole, and the eight canoes on the barge boards.
As several buses bringing elders from Waikato were delayed, Queen Te Atairangikaahu waited outside with her people, while members of the powhiri group practised their welcoming haka, and kept warm with action songs and dances. A spirit of expectation and goodwill prevailed amongst the people in the large crowd, and they were entertained by the dancing and amusing antics of some of the old people.
The excitement increased as the Queen and her elders drew near the gate, and after the powhiri, the crowd listened and watched in silence as the karakia was chanted and the Waikato people moved slowly towards the house. A greeting was exchanged with a senior member of the Parewahawaha tribe who stood at the entrance, then the Queen and her elders stepped over the paepae and led the way into the house. Her people followed for the short service inside, and in Raungaiti the dining-room alongside.
Mihimihi and breakfast in the large marquee followed, the day grew hotter, more people came, and at noon Mr R. E. Jack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, arrived at