'The manpower are on to me'

Riria Utiku remembers the war at home

Riria Utiku (Ngāti Tama, Te Āti Awa) was born in Wellington in 1916. In 1941 she married Rangi Utiku (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa). In early January 1942 the government assumed greater powers over people’s working lives. For the first time in the country’s history, the freedom to work where you chose no longer existed. A new word came into common usage – manpower. Throughout New Zealand, thousands of workers were directed wherever they were needed. Rangi, turned down for the army because of his health, soon found himself directed to work at a poultry farm. Even for women, the term ‘manpowered’ became part of everyday conversation. At first, the government was reluctant to make women do work that was not the traditionally domestic, but over the next two years women were sent to jobs in factories, in transport and on the land – doing what had been almost exclusively men’s work. When manpower regulations began, married women like Riria did not have to register for paid work. But by the end of 1943 more hands were needed and, like their single sisters, married women could now be directed into jobs. The change came as a surprise to Riria.

In this extract Riria recalls her reaction to be manpowered and how she managed to get work at the Department of Native (Maori) Affairs instead of the factory work offered:


Riria Utiku: But no I thought well you get married and you don't have to work, and when I got this letter to say you have to report to Lower Hutt, I don't know what the place was. And the lady said, when I went, 'Well, you'll go to the woollen mills or Wills tobacco factory.' I said, 'I'm not going there.' I said, 'They're all rough.' Oh, I felt stupid after saying that, but they had a reputation, you know, just like our match factory we had in Wellington. It was a rough crowd there. Not to say everyone was like that. But that was my way. So I said to her, what did I say to her after, oh she said 'You'll have to go there.' And I said 'I'll get drowned going from Petone Station to walk back to the woollen mills'. Or Wills' I think was further away. So I thought oh, I'm not happy about this, so I got on the train and went to Wellington and I went to Maori Affairs. It was called the Native Trust, and I went up to Kingi Tahiwi, and I said to Kingi, 'Is there any chance of getting a job in here, because the manpower are onto me?' 'Oh yes' he said 'come on down' he said and I'll take you to – I don't know who it was – Mr Sheppard I think the Maori Trustee – and 'Yes, you can start … when can you start?'. I said, oh, I wasn't too keen to start at any stage.

Interviewer: Were you not working at all at that point, you'd stopped work when you got married?

Riria Utiku: No I'd stopped work. I thought when you get married that's it and I didn't intend to be going to work. I had no intention to go to work, no intention. So I wasn't happy about it but, anyway. I got the job because all the boys were leaving. That was, you know, a big change. Some of those were club boys. In fact I took Paul Potiki’s job – he was our secretary then of the [Ngati Poneke] club.

See also: 'She was not allowed to take her Maori name'

Riria Utiku

Riria Utiku, about 1937 and at home in 2007.

Riria Utiku's wedding

Rangi and Riria Utiku's wartime wedding, 29 March 1941.


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