5 April 2013

Janet Frame in Oamaru, New Zealand

A very relaxing drive of 244 kilometres, just three hours down State Highway 1 – the same road all the way – takes us to Oamaru (approximately pronounced 'OM-a-roo') , which was Janet Frame's home from 1931 to 1943. She was six years old when the family moved here from Wyndham, 285 kilometres south-west of Oamaru.

This post generally follows the route mapped out in the leaflet Janet Frame's Oamaru: The Early Life of Our Nobel Prize Nominated Writer.
Janet's father George was a railway worker who had been moved here, incidentally also the place where he was born. Their first home here was at 56 Eden Street. Obscured from view to our left of the gate is a placard with Frame's photo and a quotation from The Lagoon and Other Stories (1951), in which Frame writes with happiness of her humble home, her mother's good cooking, her father digging the garden at the weekend, animals, and visitors who sometimes swore.
We arrived here about twenty minutes before opening time, but within a few minutes the new and very helpful curator, Lynley Caldwell, arrived on a bicycle.
Visitors may take photos and wander through the house at will equipped with a few pages of notes which describe the house as not so much restored as, er, 're-framed'.
On entering, the room on the right, now used for writers' winter workshops, was Frame's parents' bedroom. There was a summer house outside close to the room, and children had to be quiet if her father was working nights.
Above is the bedroom on the left, which for several months was occupied by Janet's brother Geordie, until the death of the widowed grandfather Alexander Frame, who had the back room. Geordie then moved to the back and this room was used for guests.
The 'middle left bedroom' was for the four young girls: Myrtle, Janet, Isobel and June in order of birth. One memory Janet had of this room was reading Grimm's Fairy Tales to her younger sisters in bed.
An example of the Waitaki Girls' High School uniform dating from the time Janet attended. One of Janet's aunts made her gym frock, although Janet was embarrassed by the incorrect number of pleats.
The Gibson House girdle.
The bathroom and toilet.
The dining room, from which, the notes relate, Janet remembers her mother announcing events of importance – such as the 1931 Napier earthquake – in a tone filled with a sense of occasion.
The original lino came to light in the 're-framing' process.
The small kitchen, where reading and homework were done.
The scullery, rebuilt from Janet and June's memories.
The back room, with the desk given by Janet Frame.
Framed old wallpaper representing roses.
Of particular interest to me in this room is the dissertation by Kathy Young on the table on the left: 'Lottie Clarice Godfrey Frame 1892–1955: A Kitchen Table Poet', which was written in part for a postgraduate diploma for the Department of English, University of Otago in 2007. The subtitle sounds a little demeaning, and Lottie's poetry is not without naivety, but this is a side of Janet's mother that Michael Young makes very little of in his biography Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (2000). Lottie published a number of poems in Wyndham Farmer: from the little I had chance to read of the dissertation, it appears that she was particularly influenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier. I had hoped to find the dissertation online, but it doesn't seem to be there. Lottie obviously took her poetry seriously no matter what shortcomings it may have, and it seems logical to imagine that her enthusiasm for poetry translated itself into initial inspiration to Janet, who of course later rebelled against traditional poetic conventions in favour of a more experimental approach.
A very interesting visit, and maybe one day I shall get to read the dissertation. Meanwhile, we leave the house and follow the zigzag path up the hill behind.
Towards the top of the hill a wonderful panorama of Oamaru comes into view. This is one of the walks that Frame regularly made, and she called the view the 'kingdom by the sea'.
Frame went to Oamaru North primary school, although none of the original buildings remain. This is Waitaki Girls' High School, where she went from 1935 to 1942.
Films were shown at the Opera House theatre, and Frame tells of the great excitement in the town when an acting opportunity came when an Autralian company were holding auditions here.
Now North Otago Museum, the Athenaeum once housed the public library on the upper floor.  In 1934 Frame won the school dux medal and a year's subscription to the library.
The old town, which made Frame shiver 'with the sense of yesterdays'.
Her father being a railway worker, on at least one occasion Frame referred to herself and her siblings as 'railway children'.
Frame loved going to Oamaru public gardens, and in 1963 – returning to New Zealand famous – she was interviewed by a journalist from the Oamaru Times here.
Frame mentioned several features that she liked about the gardens, the Japanese red bridge being one of them. She also mentioned the Peter Pan statue, although I shall be looking into that in a little more detail in a later post because of its similarity to the one in Kensington Gardens.

Janet Frame died in 2004 and is buried in the local cemetery.
The plot also contains the graves of Janet's parents Lottie (née Godfrey) and George, and her two sisters Myrtle Joan and Isabel May, who both died of heart failure while swimming.
The memorial to June and Wilson Gordon, Janet's sister and brother-in-law. Their daughter Pamela Gordon is Janet Frame's literary executor, and runs the very informative An Angel @ My Blog.
On the first page of his biography, Michael King says that Janet Frame was named after an aunt who died whilst an infant. Janet Allan Frame's grave lies just a few metres from Janet's, although the details are weathering badly.
Below are related links to other blog posts of mine:
Janet Frame: An Angel at My Table (1982–85)

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