Roger Robinson and Anna Rogers review books that document ‘a little-discussed area of women’s endeavour’.
Racing Women of New Zealand
Daphne Brasell Associates Press, $34.95
As a reviewer for this book, I am what could be described as a rank outsider. I have never been to a racecourse in my life, the nearest I’ve come to a horse is to pat its neck (from the other side of a fence) and such vestigial knowledge of the racing world as I possess can be traced directly to reading Dick Francis.
But this lack of credentials does not matter in the least when reading Mary Mountier’s Racing Women of New Zealand. It is the women themselves – trainers and riders – who matter in this approachable and attractive book, and Mountier sensibly refrains from overloading lay readers with equine technicalities.
Even I knew about glamorous jockey Linda Jones, one of the ten women featured in the book, but I knew hardly any of the other names, let alone of their often remarkable achievements. My favourite, probably, is the woman whose life provided Mountier with the inspiration for this book – the remarkable (and delightfully named) Bella Button.
Born in 1863, Button was, to quote the book, ‘the most celebrated horsewoman of her time, known throughout New Zealand for her deeds on the racetrack, in the show-ring, in the hunting field, as a driver of six- and eight-in-hand pony teams, as a breaker-in and trainer of horses and as a champion rider of buckjumpers’. Although Button was prevented from racing against men after a South Island Trotting Association rule change in 1896, she continued, most unusually in those years, to train her own trotters and gallopers.
The book is written in an easy, unexceptional, rather journalistic style. The illustrations are well chosen and interesting; the double-page photograph spreads at the ends of the essays provide an effective pause between subjects.
I would have liked, perhaps, a brief epilogue to round off the text and to balance the lengthy explanatory introduction. As it is, the book ends rather abruptly. Overall, however, Racing Women of New Zealand is a pleasant, informative account of a little-discussed area of women’s endeavour and an attractive addition to the many Suffrage Year volumes that are filling bookshop shelves in 1993.
Anna Rogers is a freelance editor.