Primary Source

Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project [Oral History]


The Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project (CCOHP) comprises recorded interviews with 165 New Zealanders, male and female, Maori and Pakeha, the majority of whom were born before 1903. Interviews focus on the period before an individual’s 15th birthday. Participants discussed a wide range of topics relating to the culture of childhood, including home life, sibling influences, school and church activities, leisure, chores, friends, hobbies, values, clothes, parents, favorite foods, and special occasions. They also responded to questions concerning sexuality, drink, and violence. Interviews generally lasted for two or three hours and were always preceded by a preliminary meeting with the interviewer during which ethical issues were covered and permission forms processed. Not all interviewees felt comfortable in talking about every topic, and CCOHP interviewers were sensitive in respecting their preferences. Those who did discuss sexuality were frank and forthright.

While a diversity of childhood experience was one very obvious finding of the project, some Pakeha patterns were apparent from the accumulated evidence. Wearing "hand-me-down" clothes was commonplace, particularly in larger families, as was sharing beds and bedrooms. Few informants felt that they had been well-instructed about sexuality, a topic that parents were generally reluctant to discuss. Those who grew up on farms tended to reach their own conclusions from observation of animal behavior. Town-dwellers relied more heavily on hearsay and, in the case of one boy, some straight talking from the local Scoutmaster. This was an era where pregnancy outside of marriage was very strongly condemned. Only one male interviewee alluded to tales of experimentation by a classmate.


Female Interviewee No. 35 (born 1897). Interview by Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project (CCOHP), New Zealand, February 9, 1989, tape 1. In the author's possession. Annotated by Jeanine Graham.

Primary Source Text

When my brother was born I was just on 12 and the night before he was born, my mother said: "Would you like to go round and stay with Mrs Andrews?" So I stayed the night and I came home in the morning. Mrs Andrews said "Oh, you can go home now." So I went home. It wasn't far from where we were living in Petone. And when I got into the side I saw a most beautiful baby in a basket, on a chair, in the dining room and then I saw somebody rushing round in a starched apron with a cap on her head and I thought, "Well, who are you?" And I said to her, "Who's this in the basket?" She said, "That's your little brother." "Oh," I said, "Well then, I'll go and tell my mother." She said, "Don't you dare open that door. Your mother is very ill." Well, I was nearly 12 and I had no idea in the wild world where my brother had come from or how he got there or anything else – and I think that was quite wrong. I should have been told but I must have been very naïve or an idiot or something, I don't know what, but I never noticed that my mother was any different or having a baby.

How to Cite This Source

"Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project [Oral History]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #36, (accessed August 10, 2021). Annotated by Jeanine Graham