This year is my granddaughter’s first year at Victoria University of Wellington. As one of the COVID-19 intake she is having the unique experience of starting her University life online and will not be able to go on campus until June. I really admire her for staying upbeat while being confined to her bubble in her student flat.
If she asks me what student life was like when I studied at Victoria University in the sixties, I will enjoy sharing Barbara Ewing’s with her. Barbara was also a student there. My own student days, however, were less complicated and more joyful than hers and I have great memories of university life and of living away from home for the first time.
One Minute Crying Time is a coming of age memoir based on the diaries Barbara kept during her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. She had been about to dispose of them on a bonfire when at the last minute she realised that they contained a unique slice of New Zealand’s social history as seen through the eyes of her younger self.
Barbara’s early life was marred by conflict and unhappiness. Older and more worldly-wise now is she able to see why her parents behaved in the way they did. Her puritanical upbringing was shaped by a generation who had been through a war and a depression and were ill-prepared to cope with a phenomenon never seen before, the rebellious teenager.
While her father was a gentle considerate man her mother was an angry and difficult woman. She sees now that the physical and mental abuse she suffered at her hands could partly be explained by the fact that she was a frustrated genius who, in the days before women’s lib arrived, felt unfulfilled in her housewifely role. But she has chosen not to forgive her.
Although her home circumstances were difficult Barbara was blessed by having three wonderful mentors: Miss Gambrill a brilliant English teacher, Mrs Beth Ranapia who fostered her love of Te Reo at evening classes, and Maria Dronke, a successful German Jewish actress who had escaped from Nazi Germany and proved to be an inspirational drama teacher.
Racial discrimination was rife in the fifties and sixties and her mother strongly disapproved when Barbara fell head over heels in love with Mikaere, a Maori man. She went to great lengths to thwart the relationship.
Wanting to learn Maori language was most unusual at that time. But memories of a happy childhood holiday in Maungatapu where she had made friends with local Maori children and was drawn to their carefree lifestyle, triggered a strong ambition in Barbara to learn the language. Her journey in learning Te Reo, which eventually led to a job at the Department of Maori Affairs, and her often thorny relationship with Mikaere forms an important part of this memoir.
One Minute Crying Time takes us as far as 1962 when the young Barbara left for London to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She went on to have a successful career in theatre, TV, and film and as a writer of historical novels. A sequel to One Minute Crying Time describing this latter part of her life would be an equally fascinating read but she is adamant that this will not be happening. So, we will just have to be satisfied with this memoir of her early life.
One Minute Crying Time is by Barbara Ewing. Publisher: Massey University Press. RRP $39.99
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook