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New Book On The Land Girls

Unsung Heroines

Shearing, fencing, and even biting off lambs' testicles were among the many tasks performed on New Zealand farms by the 'land girls' of the Second World War. Who were these brave and hardy women? What were they doing on our farms?

The Land Girls: In a Man's World, 1939-1946 uncovers what has been a hidden history, overlooked in most surveys of New Zealand's war experience. From 1940, women of seventeen years and over worked on sheep, dairy, and poultry farms and also orchards. The Women's Land Service was formed to supply vital labour to keep New Zealand agriculture going during the war and hopefully even boost production to feed Britain. Altogether 2,711 land girls were placed on farms, but hundreds of other women served unofficially on family land.

The Women's Land Service was the largest of the female war services. Women served on farms all over the country, sometimes in twos and threes but more often as individual workers replacing men as they went off to war. Many were city girls - hairdressers, office workers - who had never been on a farm before. They learned to ride horses, run dogs, muster and shear sheep, plough and harvest crops, and to master the myriad tasks of rural work, often without the help of electricity.

The land girl experience dramatically changed lives. After the war some women left their city careers and changed direction, others gave up university education. Many were bitten by the land bug and never returned to city life. The Land Girls tells it all, bringing personal stories vividly to life with photographs, press clippings, and diary entries. There are also reproductions of art works by land girl artists Juliet Peter and Sylvia Ragg.

Hawera author Dianne Bardsley travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand, tracking down and interviewing 220 former land girls for the book. The joys of farm life shine through in the text, but the hardships are not ignored. Land girls had to overcome prejudice and opposition from farmers, farmers' wives, rural administrators and politicians. They also had to cope with wartime shortages - of petrol, rubber, and other essentials. A highlight of the book is the insight it gives into the self-sustaining lifestyle practised on New Zealand farms at the time.

The Land Girls is a tapestry of fascinating stories, amusing anecdotes, remarkable achievements, and pure hard slog, and will have an enormous appeal to anyone interested in women's history, country life, or tales of endurance and courage.


Contents: Preface 1. Straightening the Record 2. Rural Conservatism 3. Champions of the Cause 4. High Country Work 5. Family Farms 6. Women in Charge 7. Farms with a Difference 8. Rydal Downs 9. Glenburn Station 10. Hardships and Hurdles 11. Farming for Life 12. Who'd be a Land Girl? Conclusion, Notes, Appendix 1: Biographies of Land Girl Contributors, Appendix 2: Women's Land Service Handbook, Bibliography, Index, Glossary of Rural Terms

About the Author Dianne Bardsley grew up in post-war Wairarapa, where she was familiar with the contribution of wartime land girls from an early age. A teacher of English for twenty years, Dianne is now doing a PhD in rural language and compiling a rural New Zealand English dictionary, with a Fellowship from Oxford University Press and Victoria University.

Contacts for Dianne Bardsley: Mon-Thursday: tel 04 463 5644 (work), 04 475 8343 (home), email Friday-Sunday tel 06 278 5251, email

The Land Girls In a Man's World, 1939-1946 Dianne Bardsley paperback, 170 pages ISBN 1 877133 94 9 Published December 2000 $39.95

CONTACT Philippa Jamieson, Publicist University of Otago Press PO Box 56, Dunedin tel 03 479 9094, fax 03 479 8385 or contact the author (see above)

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