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April 11, 2017 April 2017 No Comments

Book-review Cat among the Pigeons

It can be rewarding to spend some time browsing among the library’s older books, a recent such was finding Dame Cath Tizzard’s biography Cat among the pigeons, published in 2010. Dame Caths had quite a tale to tell. Catherine McLean came to New Zealand as the two year old daughter of Scottish post war assisted immigrants to one day become New Zealand’s Governor General.

Her father was employed as the engineer at the dairy factory at Waihora, a job he held until he retired. Dame Cath attended the local twenty pupil school. She went to Auckland University but did not finish her studies breaking off to marry a tutor Bob Tizzard.

Bob eventually became a Labour member of parliament rising to Minister of Health in the Kirk government and then Deputy PM in the following Rowling government. Meanwhile Cath brought up their four children virtually alone back in Auckland.

She re-entered university to finish her studies then stayed on as a Zoology tutor. Bob and other labour stalwarts pressured her to stand as a Labour candidate for the Auckland city council, a position she was assured she was not expected to gain. They were wrong and Cath was saddled with a job she really didn’t want.
However Cath grew into the position and after two terms stood for mayor against the once popular but now seen as past it Sir Dovemeyer Robinson. Cath became Auckland’s first woman mayor. A position she held for three terms when she was asked to become New Zealand’s first woman Governor General.

Fortunately this book very well written as it covers a huge amount of ground. The reader gets a real insight into being in a family plucked up from a city environment and finding itself in a small county community in an unfamiliar land. Of the strains of being a Cabinet Minister’s wife. Of the highs and lows of being mayor of a city experiencing all kinds of growth problems. Not least inheriting the controversial half finished Aotea Centre which was running massively over time and over budget.
A surprise request was for her to be the first woman Governor General, a position which, after much thought, she accepted. Dame Cath explains the huge culture shock of being suddenly in such an artificial and highly structured situation. Of the complete lack of freedom, of having constant presence of security personal, not being able to pop out to shop, of being allowed to drive yourself anywhere, of having every minute of the day planned for you.

This book is both informative and a fun read. Dame Cath’s sense of humour comes through time and again, particularly in describing her efforts to do away with, or at least circumnavigate, some of the archaic rules and structures in place at Government House.
I really loved this book.
Mike Beckett

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