Parker and Hulme: A Lesbian View
Julie Glamuzina and Alison J Laurie,
New Womens Press, Auckland, 1991, $24.95
Does anyone in New Zealand at the time not remember Parker and Hulme, the two Christchurch girls who murdered the mother of one of them? I was nine in 1954 and read ‘all about it’ in Australian pictorial weeklies in a dentist’s waiting room, but even with all the detail unavailable in more respectable publications at home, I felt I didn’t understand. So when Julie Glamuzina and Alison Laurie offered a workshop on Parker and Hulme at the Women’s Studies conference in 1986, I went along ‑and listened to young lesbians talking about the reverberations in their own lives of an event that occurred before they were born.
Glamuzina and Laurie have gone back to a case that occupied the media and minds of New Zealand for weeks. While not condoning the murder, they reject the perception that limits it to ‘a single individual expression of violence’ (p.19) by two ‘mad or bad’ girls and are concerned with exploring the event in its social and political context.
The book is subtitled A Lesbian View and a quotation in the preface warns that ‘people will think it is only for lesbians’. Certainly, the investigation of the role of the Parker/Hulme case in constructing the meaning of ‘lesbian’ in New Zealand is central. The writing style too suggests this was the audience the authors were writing for. They do not defend or define their pro-lesbian, feminist point of view. It is simply the framework from which they select and comment on the information that appears in the book. I kept on thinking of the attitudes and objections other readers might bring. Some are listed in the preface, some have appeared in letters to the Listener in response to an interview and excerpt. I wanted the writers to go further, to detail their analyses, to attempt to persuade. But they are not on the defensive. They seem to trust their readers, and copious references and an extensive bibliography make follow-up possible.
Nostalgia for the certainties of the past is a prevalent emotion in times of considerable change. Laurie and Glamuzina, in opening up the Parker/Hulme case, have reminded us that the inevitable private contradictions of public certainties can have tragic consequences. In their efforts to understand the two girls they have explored alternative ways of seeing (e.g. Maori interpretations, studies of the diaries of teenagers) that were not thought of at all in those prescriptive times. They describe a New Zealand more various and more complex than it was.
This is an important book and not only for what it says about the past. Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker thought they were alone in the world, their relationship unique. They acted in despair and desperation at the threat of separation. It is some measure of New Zealand’s increased acceptance of a diversity of voices that this book has been published. At least we can listen.
Claire-Louise McCurdy is a regional tutor (extramural) for Massey University and co-ordinator for the Certificate in Women’s Studies at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Continuing Education. She is a member of the collective which produces ‘Broadsheet’ magazine.