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When I was a kid, one of my favourite books was “ Washday at the Pa”. Even today, when I do my sheets and big weekly wash, everyone who knows me knows that I am having Washday at the Pa. My Mum still has washday at the Pa and it is never seen as a chore – rather a day when the bed is clean and crisp, smells like sunlight and the towels are fresh from blowing in the breeze all day long.

I love washday at the Pa. When my kids were little, so did they. When bedtime came around, it was easy to get them to scurry off to bed without a grizzle…. The pillowcases freshly ironed, the sheets tightly tucked and crease-free and the sleep that followed was restful and sound.

When the book was banned, I was shocked. In fact, I was, as a 9 year old, heartbroken because I loved it so much. 

" Washday at the Pa " was an illustrated children's book by photographer Ans Westra, first published in 1964, that describes a day in the lives of a rural Māori family.It was published by the government printer and was distributed throughout New Zealand for schoolchildren to read and enjoy. 

I had grown up with Maori kids who lived in houses like the one in the book, and they always seemed to be laughing and happy. I knew Pakeha ( white ) kids who slept on potato sacks and lived in houses in muddy fields – and they were mostly cheerful and bright.

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Yet Washday at the Pa was banned. After complaints, the then Minister for Education announced:

‘The objections mainly refer to the family’s living conditions, which are said to be untypical. They were not intended to be regarded as completely typical... However, it is clear that the publication has given offence, and I have therefore decided that it be withdrawn from the schools’

The author of the book, Ans Westra commented:

‘The booklet was never meant to portray a typical Māori  family. It is just a story of a happy family living in the country. It shows the warmth of family relationships’

As a child, I caught that message, because my weekly wash is a day that I still approach with happiness, not as a chore.

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When the book was withdrawn from schools in 1964, I managed to steal a copy. Unfortunately, I got an attack of guilt and returned it the next day. Sometimes, I regret having been brought up so well, because I missed that book so much. Fortunately, I had the gift of a " memory library " and was able to re-read it and re-visit it as often as I chose. Unfortunately, I have never held it in my hands again.

The books were boxed up and returned to Wellington and shredded. It is virtually impossible to find one these days. 

Any avid reader will know what the ‘feel ‘ of a book is like. It is like holding hands with a much-loved friend and embarking on an adventure together. I have read books on a kindle and on an ipad but it simply is not the same. It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t smell right and it doesn’t read the same either.

But Washday at the Pa will always be the book that was “ my happy place.”

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I have read the negative criticism of this piece of New Zealand rural Maori history and find it hard to understand. I knew families like the Wereta’s. They were good people, honest people and hard working people. Their kids did not have a lot but they had full bellies, abundant space to run and play and they were surrounded by love.

I wonder how many children, brought up in daycare and fed carrot sticks and soy milk, have as much love in their lives as the Wereta children?

Kids brought up in rural Kiwiland had gumboots; roamed around at will all weekend and got dirty. Really dirty. Mud was a fact of life. We got cut, we got bruised, we fell out of trees and we sometimes got sick. We owned air rifles, which we loaded with uncooked grains of rice for our war. That way, no one could pretend that they hadn’t been shot when the welt on their leg clearly showed that they had. I had a .22 as did my friends. None of us turned in to psychotic killers. In fact, guns hold no fascination for me because I grew up with them.

The censorship of 1964 involved banning a book because it seemed to portray rural Maori families in a negative manner. But did it?

It was factual. It was real. But most importantly, it was full of joy in the richness of the simple abundance of love and that wonderful joy of belonging. 

These days, if a book was to be banned for not being a typical representation of Kiwi Family Life, I wonder how many books about Mummy and Mummy, Daddy and Daddy and I am a boy girl would be withdrawn from publication? Probably not one. In fact, there are sexually explicit books in school libraries that belong in a rubbish dump, not a school. 

Washday at the Pa ended happily. It was a happy book. Why, oh why do " they " have to wreck everything?

Meanwhile, I am off to do a Washday at the Pa.

And bugger the lot of them.

A reading of this article from Malcolm Pakeha is pronounced Pa kee ha Wereta is pronounced Where ee tah

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