1975 –

Theme: Arts and crafts

This essay written by Marian Evans was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Update coming soon!

1975 – 1993

Heather McPherson, Paulette Barr, Alison Mitchell and Kathryn Algie founded Spiral from Christchurch in 1975, to produce a women's literary and arts journal of the same name. The first Spiral collective was:

…much more structured in old ways than any later collective ... I worked with the material we received—that it didn't reflect our own reality didn't bother me too much, it was the idea of women working together for women's voices to be heard, positively, that was the aim, and the amalgam of arts . . .[1]

Herstory Press in Wellington printed the first issue, which appeared in 1976. Spiral then became a floating imprint used by a variety of feminist groups. Three more issues were produced between 1977 and 1979 by a series of Christchurch collectives, many of whose members were also involved in other women's art and literature activities, in particular the women's art environment created at the Canterbury Society of Arts during the 1977 United Women's Convention. In 1982 a Wellington collective connected with The Women's Gallery, Kidsarus 2 and Wellington Women's Refuge produced Spiral 5, and in 1985 the Colville Women's Writing Co-operative produced issue 6, subtitled of women and land.

The Spiral 5 collective members who had worked with Kidsarus 2 knew that those who made decisions in established publishing structures resisted commitment to work that reflected realities unfamiliar or unattractive to them, especially those of Māori and other women, who were not strongly represented among the decision makers. Furthermore, the relatively straightforward process of publishing was given a mystique, and represented as something only 'professional' publishers could do successfully.

These members decided to develop Spiral into a book publisher of last resort. This involved publishing manuscripts which they believed in and no one else wanted to publish. They also decided to pass on what they had learned about the publishing process to other women, particularly Māori women.

The bone people cover

The cover of the bone people (right), published by Spiral in 1984, was designed by the author, Keri Hulme. Ref: Eph-C-BOOK-AWARDS-1984-02, Alexander Turnbull Library

Seven books resulted between 1982 and 1987, and sold well. [2] When Spiral accepted for publication two books by Māori women writers [3] who had been unable to find publishers, it invited two Māori women to become members of a three-woman collective to publish them. Both accepted. The demanding experiences that followed generated both difficulties and joy for collective members and others. Women connected with Spiral, Haeata, The Women's Gallery and Kidsarus 2 who were not involved in decision-making about the books gave many hours of work, including proof-reading, pasting up and fundraising. They also organised and catered for Spiral's then unconventional book launches. Some women donated substantial sums of money.

As mainstream publishing attitudes changed, Spiral had less to do; the members also felt more confident advising women to try publishing their own work and that of women close to them. One Auckland group used the Spiral imprint in 1985 to publish their own poems.

Collective members did, however, want to extend their networks among indigenous women, feminists and lesbians overseas, and achieved this through attendance at feminist book fairs. With assistance from Christine Cole Catley, the group organised a visit by a local writer and supplied books from many publishers for the first International Feminist Book Fair in London in 1984. A Spiral group of seven women with many more books were at the next fair, in Oslo in 1986, and two collective members organised a stand at the Barcelona fair in 1990, with Carole Beu.

Spiral 7: A Collection of Lesbian Art and Writing was published from Dunedin in 1992, with McPherson as one of the editors. At that point Spiral's future depended on whether women whose work might otherwise remain unpublished, or unpublished in a feminist context, wanted to use it as an imprint.

Marian Evans


[1] Heather McPherson in Evans et al., 1988, p. 40.

[2] In order of publication, they were: Heather McPherson, A Figurehead: A Face, Wellington, 1982; J. C. Sturm, The House of the Talking Cat, Wellington, 1983; Keri Hulme, the bone people, Wellington, 1984; Wahine Kaituhi: Women Writers of Aotearoa New Zealand, Wellington, 1985; Marina Bachmann, Janet Charman, Sue Fitchert, Drawing Together, Auckland, 1985; Hilary Baxter, The Other Side of Dawn, Wellington, 1987; Saj, Amazon Songs, Wellington, 1987.

[3] J. C. Sturm, 1983; Keri Hulme, 1984.

Unpublished sources

Spiral, The Women's Gallery, Kidsarus and Kidsarus 2 collections, 1975–92, ATL

Published sources

Evans, Marian, Bridie Lonie, and Tilly Lloyd (eds), A Women's Picture Book: 25 Women Artists of Aotearoa (New Zealand), GP Books, Wellington, 1988

Spiral 1–7, 1976–92

Collard, Judith, ‘Spiral Women: Locating Lesbian Activism in New Zealand Feminist Art, 1975–1992’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 15 No. 2,  2006, pp. 292–320

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