Our stories

“We did have a lot of challenges all over the place. I think it was largely because Auckland was sticking to its radical roots as far as it could. Our strength was we did argue the toss a lot.”

“We had to fight to get permission from the executive to exclude men from women’s studies unless the tutor said a man could come in.  And actually one very long-standing member of WEA  resigned in a huff because he said this was ‘undemocratic and ladies’ apartheid.”

“As adult educators we tried not to be elitist.  I think that was the biggest thing. The literacy programme, the trade union education postal service and women’s studies all established that adult education is for everybody and not just the top lot.”

Our Stories Margot Roth

Margot Roth: President c.1974–1982
Margot Roth interview

“Margot and John asked me if I would run a Women’s Studies course, and then if I would do the WEA Summer School (held in early January 1976). They asked me to talk about the biggest social problems facing New Zealand and I talked about the Māori land issues that I saw coming up. I thought they were of much more profound significance than any other issues of inequality that we were looking at. It stunned people, most of whom had never thought about it.”

“One of the things I did during this period was organise the Auckland WEA Radio Collective. There were six of us and we took turns in pairs doing educational programmes on Radio Pacific. We did it because Gordon Dryden, who started Radio Pacific, did so with the idea it would be educational.”

“I enjoyed it all. I really liked developing new things and WEA was probably the organisation par excellence that gave me the opportunity to do just about anything that I wanted to do. They were just very supportive of anything to do with education or workers or education and workers. It was like a graduate school in argumentation and ideas. There was never, ever something not good to argue and I’ve been arguing ever since!”

Our Stories Kaye Green

Kaye Green: Tutor & Organiser c.1975–1980
Kaye Green interview

“The WEA was among the very few places in New Zealand where you could talk about absolutely anything and where there was respect for debate, information, research and going wherever this took you.  There was a respect for things being evidence-based but in the absence of evidence you went out and looked for it.”

“The courses in the AWEA in 1974 were the first community-based women’s studies in Aotearoa New Zealand and the WEA was an ideal place for them. Every course was about women bringing their own experience and contributing to building understandings of women’s lives—which had been defined mainly by men and according to particularly narrow definitions. Women’s studies was about breaking the silences.”

“Auckland WEA started its literacy programme in 1975.  A few other organisations were starting to develop programmes, but ours was the only one that was Freire-based. It was led by Martin Harrison. I trained as an adult literacy tutor with Martin in 1975. The whole basis of Martin’s training was that you started by finding out why people were there and what they wanted to get out of it. If they wanted to read stories to their kids that was what they worked towards, or if they wanted to get a drivers licence that was what they got.”

Our Stories Caire Louise Mccurdy

Claire-Louise McCurdy: President: c.1982–2000
Claire-Louise McCurdy interview

“The British were getting their fleet ready to sail to the Falklands and someone in Belfast put out one of those advertisements that go outside dairies that has the headine for the local newspaper on it and it said, ‘Titanic to sail to Falklands.’ I thought it was very funny so when we came back I talked about it with George Baxter, who ran a course at WEA on political poster making. We did a replicator of the Auckland Star with ‘WEA funds restored, Wellington resigns.’ We posted about 100 of them up all around the inner city.  The Star had an article denying it was to do with them.”

“I tried to make the programme reflect our philosophy so we ran courses on legal rights, parenting, race relations, environmental and political issues and things like that. I went to an uncle’s funeral and got angry about how bad it was, so we ran a series on how to organise your own funeral.  We ran a series on major thinkers—Gramsci, Marx and so on. We did things that no one else was doing that responded to different ideas.”

“John Shaw was the very nice man who was our link at the Ministry of Education. He rang up one day and said, ‘I’m sorry John but I have to come round and see you.’ There had been a question asked in Parliament and so John had to come and officially ask me, ‘Was it true that the Auckland WEA, using government money, had been running workshops for terrorists in the Waitakere Ranges?’ This was around the time of the Springbok Tour. We had run nonviolent action training workshops and this was ‘the terrorist training in the Waitakeres.’”

Our Stories John Benseman

John Benseman: Tutor & Organiser c.1980—1985
John Benseman interview