close this bookLiving in Commerce Street Frankton in the 1930s : an urban experience
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHomelife
View the documentEducation
View the documentEntertainment and Socialising
View the documentEmployment
View the documentAwareness of Issues
View the documentAdditional notes (unrecorded)
View the documentAdditional notes: The Waikato Winter Show
View the documentAdditional notes: Musicals

Living in Commerce Street Frankton in the 1930s : an

urban experience

An interview with Mary Leonard




OH 0241

INTERVIEWEE : Mary Leonard

DATE : 20 July 1995

INTERVIEWER : Christene Mauchline

ABSTRACT BY : Christene Mauchline


Introduction Homelife
Education Entertainment and Socialising
Employment Awareness of Issues
Additional notes (unrecorded) Additional notes: The Waikato Winter Show
Additional notes: Musicals

See Also:

Click on a speaker icon to hear the interview.

Tape 1 Side 1
Tape 1 Side 2


Born 18 August 1923, born in Auckland. was an only child, sometimes lonely, her mother was unable to have more children. Father was a weighing machine mechanic, had own business in Frankton, mother was a housewife but also looked after the office for her husband.

Living in Commerce Street in Frankton, an urban experience. Frankton was like a little village, "but you were only a bus ride away from Hamilton." Hamilton ten minutes walk away. Hamilton was considered "the big lights." Walked, biked, bused or drove by car into Hamilton. Went on holiday by car.


On Saturday mornings had to clean the brass door knobs in the house, made her bed, did jobs for her mother, cooking "although it wasn't always successful." Even though she was an only child she didn't have more responsibilities because she was spoiled.

Religion was very important, father was from Wales where he attended chapel, he did

not attend church much but had strong religious convictions, she was christened in the Anglican church and attended Sunday school at St. George's Church; corner of Lake Road and Sommerset Street, bible class, confirmed, married at that church. Mother belonged to the Mother's Union. Went to church with many of her school friends, social gatherings organised for after church for the young people. Were many Catholics in Frankton at the time, "I think religion was in the background of most people in those days." Went away in the school holidays; Rotorua, Wellington. Father was often on call to businesses so often he didn't go on holiday. Only had four cousins; close, lived in Auckland, went for holidays, cousins were all a bit older than her. On Sundays there was always a hot roast dinner at mid day. Routine of eating different; breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, dinner at six. Chicken was a treat, another treat was to go to the Dolly Varden and have strawberries and ice-cream. Was a healthy family, she had to have her appendix out. Had a family doctor; Dr. Brewis, mother did not really use home remedies. Depression did not affect her family very much, it was a little harder than usual, remembers the riots in Auckland. Feels she was fortunate during the Depression but other young people did suffer during this time. Father in the Home Guard, mother opened home to visiting American Servicemen and Australian Airmen, "It was just an open house for anyone that wanted a bed or wanted a meal."


Went to Hamilton Technical College, did a business course. Then did twelve months at Brains Commercial College. Enjoyed College, had friends from primary school, strictly run but you knew where you stood with the teachers, respected them. Made a lot of friends there; considered these friends her social circle, included her church friends. Ambition at high school was to be a hairdresser, ended up being a secretary, her friend who wanted to be a secretary ended up hairdressing. Depression did not affect her education. Had left school by the time World War Two began.

Entertainment and Socialising

Had quite a bit of spare time; sewing, knitting, baby-sitting, tennis, swimming, biking,

picnics at Narrows. When World War Two began Hilda Ross formed a group of women to run a service canteen in Bledisloe Hall. Played the piano for six years but gave it up because she didn't like it. Was not allowed to go to dances until she entered the army, once in the army she went to many dances. Went to a lot of movies, on wet days at primary school they had half days and she and her friends would go to the movies, (recalls scary Boris Karloff movie and the effect it had on her). Church had a picnic once a year, not many concerts came to Hamilton. Family went to the Ngaruawhahia Regatta nearly every year, "You hadn't been anywhere if you hadn't been to the Regatta." Went by car. Shoes had platform soles, one piece bathing suits, had bikinis but they fully covered the body (describes how they looked). Went to town on a Friday night with a friend to look at the shops, met friends, had a milkshake and came home, was safe to walk home. Wrote to movie stars to get their pictures, had a picture of Hoot Gibson, a cowboy star. Father loved the movies and often took her.

Talked at school about the film stars. Radio was not quite so important to her, had more fun with a gramophone and records, had a portable gramophone. Does not think film was very important, no violence or sex in them, serials were more important.

Got fashion ideas from Vogue magazine, overseas magazines. Mother had a dressmaker friend who made all her clothes. Mother bought her a lot of books; Charles Dickens, Mill on the Floss (George Elliot), reading compulsory at high school. Got a magazine every week that was for teens. Had comics, father insisted she read the newspaper every day. Did not do much dating as a teenager, went to the pictures with them, went into the army at around the time teenagers start dating. Parents left dating up to her, trusted her, had to be home at a certain time, father waited up for her.

During the war had a lot more freedom, freed up dating, parents attitudes changed.

Many Americans stationed at Pukekohe, came to Hamilton on leave. Liked the Americans; treated women well, generous, dated an American one time. Involved in the patriotic hut. Stationed at Bastion Point in the heavy anti-aircraft, closed down when allies began to win the war. Transferred to Ngaruawhahia to ordinance department, then worked at army headquarters in Knox Street, then began working at the patriotic hut which was run by Mr. House. Hamilton Men's Rotary Club came every morning and made the soldiers breakfast, Lyceum Club made morning tea and lunch and the Rotary made dinner. Servicemen could play billiards, no alcohol, made a lot of friends.


First job at R.G. Brownless an accountant, worked as a typist. Office was upstairs on the corner of Anglesea Street and Bryce Street. Worked there until she entered the army. Had good working conditions, was the only one in the office. Played netball and tennis during this period.

Tape 1 Side 2

When working for the army in Auckland they had height and range finders, predictor

radar which were operated by the girls, the men were on the guns. After a month she was transferred to the pay office and became the pay sergeant for the battery. Was there for about two years. A good place to make friends. Had leave every two weeks, free rail pass on the Herald train, went to a dance until about 11pm then went to the station and slept on a ledge until the train left at 1am.

Awareness of Issues

Remembers the Regatta and the races. At school every Wednesday was sports day, went to the different schools to play them. Once a year all the schools combined at Rugby Park; running, athletics. There was a lot of rivalry between the schools, Whitiora was blue and white or silver, (discusses the other schools who attended the sports day). Swimming carnivals. Remembers the opening ceremony of Fairfield Bridge. Remembers Garden Place being removed (describes how it used to look). Remembers Hilda Ross, Mr. Paul, Harry Fow, Mr. Finlay the baker, Mr. Herbert a Frankton baker. Served on council at different times. Remembers Savage and Forbes. Did not think politics were very important to young people at the time, family discussed it. Were quite a few Maori families living in Frankton, was a few at her school, came from Whatawhata. At her school there was an Indian family, a Chinese family and several Maori. The different cultures were accepted.

Additional notes (unrecorded)

An important event in Hamilton was Worth's Circus coming from Australia. The animals came from Australia by boat and arrived in Auckland. The animals arrived in Hamilton by train at the Frankton Station. They were then taken to the circus site which was located where the Founders Theatre is now which was then a park. Some animals were in cages pulled by the Elephants, some were in trucks as they travelled up Commerce Street and then down Norton Road. People rode on the horses that were in the show. Schools visited the circus animals during feeding time. They would attend the circus performance at night, she enjoyed the trapeze artists.

The Waikato Winter Show

Went for a week and always ended at Queens Birthday weekend. At the end of the week there was a rugby match between Auckland and Waikato which was held in Hamilton one year and Auckland the next. The thing to do was to go to the rugby game and then go to the Winter Show before it closed. The Winter Show held writing and cooking classes for the schools. Mary attended cooking classes during form one and two at the technical college. The boys did woodwork.


Big musical shows from Australia were performed at the Royal, Gladys Moncrieff played a lot of the leading roles. Musicals were put on every year by the Hamilton Operatic Society; `The Merry Widow'. They were considered an important Hamilton social event.

See Also: