A Dunedin artist's "full-on" commemoration of land girls
was born out of respect for their wartime efforts, writes
Jai Hall has gone to some lengths to honour the contribution
New Zealand land girls made during World War 2.
Having painstakingly forged 16 bells out of bronze, the Otago
Polytechnic Dunedin School of Art honours student plans to
install them outside woolsheds on farms around New Zealand.
Some places have been chosen specifically because of their
connection with former land girls, while others, though not
directly linked to land girls, are significant enough to
warrant inclusion, Hall says.
''I've gone for utopian places, such as Erewhon, Molesworth
Station, Waitai Station on D'Urville Island, as well as
Stonehenge or Patearoa Station in the Maniototo,'' she says,
adding, ''The stories the remaining land girls have to tell
are of historical significance.''
In placing the bells outside woolsheds, Hall hopes to educate
a ''wider audience'' on the significance of the New Zealand
Women's Land Service's contribution to both society and the
war effort between 1939-1946, when it was disbanded.
Hall describes the process of making the bells as
''full-on''. It involved packing moulding sand at the Dunedin
School of Art foundry ''on some of the coldest days in
winter''. Molten bronze was then poured into each mould. On
cooling, the cast bells were ground, sanded and polished.
Each bell has a detail of the New Zealand Women's Land
Service badge and is inscribed with the words: ''We only did
what was expected. We just got on with it.''
Hall says she chose bronze because ''it is permanent, but
also because during wartime, bronze bells were melted to make
cannons, and during peacetime, cannons were melted to make
''I got the pattern - it's like a ship's bell - from the
Robinson Bell foundry in South Dunedin.''
The bells were also part of a recent exhibition by Hall,
''Land Girl Project: A Forgotten Story'', which included a
range of sketches, quotes and written installations in the
form of zines (a form of budget publication). At this point,
Hall has set herself the goal of having each bell placed on
site by Anzac Day 2013.
Hall admits she is a relative newcomer to the subject of the
New Zealand Women's Land Service.
''I read Dianne Bardsley's book, The Land Girls: In a
Man's World, 1939-1946, in 2000. That was the kernel of
the idea. I didn't know about the land girls until I read
''I'm not a New Zealander - I'm from Western Australia - and
when I first came here I leased a property on the Maniototo
in the late 1980s. Someone gave me the book and it prompted
me to start drawing some of the land girls and their quotes.
The more I read it, the more I thought how amazing it was.
''I already had a bachelor of fine arts degree but I went
back to the Otago Polytechnic and told the head sculptor what
I wanted to do. So I enrolled in the honours year for 2012.''
Time is of the essence, she says.
''A lot of these women are in their late 80s. I've spoken to
six, all of whom are bright as a button. They all said the
same thing: `We just got on with it'.''
Sadie Leitze was another who just got on with it.
Mrs Leitze (nee Stuart), who has lived in West Otago for much
of her 89 years, was working at the Tip Top milk bar in the
Octagon, Dunedin, when she answered the recruiter's request
to join the New Zealand Women's Land Service in 1942.
''We went to help our soldier friends who had gone to war.
''I was 19 when I moved to Tara Hills Station, near Omarama.
I'm now coming up to 90.''
Mrs Leitze, who spent her first 15 years at Highcliff, asked
to work on a dairy farm because she was used to dealing with
cows. However, she was sent to a sheep station, where she
stayed for two years.
''Those two years of my life didn't have too many bright
spots - it was just work, work, work. I was with a man and a
woman, who had four children. I got on very well with them
all. There had been two land girls before me but they didn't
stay. However, I made up my mind that I would stay.
''I looked after the four ponies that the children used to
ride to school. I milked the cows, made the butter, all kinds
of things. I also used to help break in horses.
''Rabbiting was the main thing; I'm very good at catching
rabbits. I used to touch the carrots, which had poison on
them, but I'm not dead yet ... We would gut them and hang
them in pairs on the gate; they went to Pukeuri, where they
were tinned and sent to England as food.''
Living conditions were fairly basic, Mrs Leitze recalls.
''I lived in a hut. There was no power, but I was allowed
into the house to have a bath once a week. We were issued
with work clothes, but my clothing didn't arrive at the farm
when I did. I went in July, when it was very cold.
''After two years, I asked for a transfer and was sent to
Kelso. When I got to Kelso, there wasn't a horse in sight.
That was the only thing I missed. I stayed with a lovely
family for six months. I slept in the house and there were
plenty of young people around.
''I met lots of lovely people. That's where I settled. My
husband had just come out of the army.
''I left the land service in 1946 and married Bill the same
year. I'm still in the area. We retired to live in Tapanui.''
Sadie's story is hardly unique. Women aged 17 and over, from
all walks of life, filled roles ranging from musterer,
blacksmith, fencer, and rabbiter to tractor driver. According
to a National Service Department parliamentary report, 3300
women had been directed into farming by the end of World War
Yet there is no formal or official register of those who were
in the New Zealand Women's Land Service. While the women
provided an essential war service, the only records of their
efforts are those they kept themselves, along with badges,
handbooks, clothing and photographs.
''National Archives held no records of their service,'' says
Dianne Bardsley, whose book was published by Otago University
Press in 2000.
Bardsley says she was motivated by the desire to create a
record of events and experiences where none had previously
''I had grown up in a country area where land girls were
employed and it was obvious that there was something special
about them. I wrote the book after writing wartime plays for
secondary school students, realising that the land-girl story
was an extraordinary untold story.
''They were like Cinderellas, really - they did so much work,
raising rural production to record levels after 28,000 men
left the rural world to serve overseas.''
In her book, Bardsley notes land girls were virtually
forgotten after World War 2. The Women's Land Service was
caught between the auxiliary services (WAACs, WAAFs and
Wrens) and the civilian world and so was exempt from the need
to pay gratuities and benefits to its former members.
''These women achieved so much in terms of demonstrating that
women were equal to men both in farm and stock management and
all the physical aspects of a farm.
''But the sad thing was that men came back and took up their
roles again and many husbands did not want their wives to be
seen driving a tractor and doing physical work. It dented
their pride, and the women in general realised that their men
who served overseas needed psychological rehabilitation, and
gave in and took on traditional female roles.
''So they served more than once, really.''
''This is really just the beginning. It's a work in
progress,'' Hall says of her project which, though largely
self-funded, benefited from a $500 grant from the Otago
Polytechnic Education Foundation. She is also looking for
funding to help get the bells to their various locations.
''The idea of the bells - and the exhibition - is to extract
other stories and to make people aware of land girls. Each
bell will have a bracket and a framed copy of the zine page
that relates to that bell.''
The artist also has another exhibition (late 2013) in mind
that continues the theme.
''To make it interesting for me, I'm going to get access to
old photographs, perhaps from the Alexander Turnbull Library,
and make ambrotypes, which is an old-school technique whereby
you make a positive image on a sheet of glass.''
Hall also plans to continue her series of zines with
''whatever information'' she can get from former land girls
or others who might have stories to share.
Want to know more?
For more information about Jai Hall's art project, visit
To contact Jai Hall, email: email@example.com or
PO Box 6533, North Dunedin.