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Caption    Above: Wellington Girls’ College girls demonstrate Swedish drill in 1927. Photo: P.H. Jauncey (PAColl-1296-2-07). From the Lucy Taylor photographs relating to Wellington Girls’ College, Alexander Turnbull LibraryHere we are at the Wel­ling­ton Girls’ Col­lege in Thorndon. It is Par­ents’ Day, 1927, and the girls are demon­strat­ing their skill at Swedish drill. This par­tic­u­lar move was called the halfway side fall­ing pos­i­tion and was designed to strengthen the side muscles. An instruc­tion book­let of the time stresses that it should be done without bend­ing the knees or let­ting the hips sink. The girls seem very proficient.

By the 1920s Swedish drill was seen as the state of the art in girls’ phys­ic­al edu­ca­tion. By the 1930s it was seen as old-fash­ioned, but the flex­ing, lunging and bal­an­cing move­ments are not dis­sim­il­ar to some exer­cise pro­grammes today, and the loose tunics worn here were cer­tainly an improve­ment on the restrict­ive cloth­ing these girls’ moth­ers would have had to wear for any out­door activity.

Less mod­ern was the strict regi­ment­a­tion. In the years between the wars such mil­it­ary-like man­oeuv­rings were a pop­u­lar part of organ­ised activ­ity for the young. In the same year as this pho­to­graph was taken, the out­door high­light for many Wel­ling­ton school­chil­dren was a tightly cho­reo­graphed wel­come to the Duke of York at New­town Park, where they formed them­selves into a liv­ing Uni­on Jack. Oth­er examples of uni­formed mass cho­reo­graphy for young people included the uniquely New Zea­l­and phe­nomen­on of march­ing girls that emerged in the 1930s.

Mrs Taylor, the head of the phys­ic­al train­ing pro­gramme at Wel­ling­ton Girls’ Col­lege, was an innov­at­or, though. In par­tic­u­lar she ignored some of her how-to-do-drill text­books and enjoyed mix­ing her Swedish drill instruc­tion with music and dance.

The girls in this pho­to­graph no doubt also took part in one of the high­lights of the school year – the annu­al ‘gym­nast­ic dis­play’ organ­ised by Mrs Taylor in one of the city theatres. In 1927 it was at the Opera House. In addi­tion to Swedish drill, the news­pa­per advert­ise­ments prom­ised “Lan­tern march­ing, Cym­bals, Wands, Poi Dances, Span­ish Dances, Thun­der, Rain and Frost”, all of which were some­how worked into a “Fairy Folk Tales of the Maori” theme, based on James Cowan’s recently pub­lished children’s book of the same name.

The Even­ing Post review­er was a little bemused by that rather slight plot line, but repor­ted loud applause from a large audi­ence, and demands for an encore after the “delight­ful rhythm” of the canoe poi per­formed by the girls from Form V and Form IV’s Span­ish dance.


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