Page 1: Biography
Gale, Audrey Ngaere
Lawyer, local politician, community leader
This biography, written by Susette Goldsmith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Audrey Ngaere Eberlet was born in New Plymouth on 17 March 1909, the only child of Francis Frederick William Eberlet, a clerk, and his wife, Harriett Reed. Audrey believed her father would have preferred a son, but he was determined she would have as good an education as any boy. As a result, while in the sixth form at New Plymouth Girls’ High School she attended constitutional law and history classes at New Plymouth Boys’ High School.
Audrey enrolled at Canterbury College in 1928 and studied part time. She completed a diploma in journalism in 1933 and a law degree in 1938, and was often the only woman at her lectures. On 18 December 1937, in New Plymouth, she married John William Gale, a widower and company representative. Two years later she was admitted to the Bar. She practised in Culverden in 1939 and 1940. The couple remained in the South Island, where two sons and a daughter were born, until 1944, when the family moved to New Plymouth, where a third son was born soon after.
Audrey Gale inherited a strong interest in politics and education from her father. In 1945 she founded and became secretary of the New Plymouth branch of the New Zealand National Party, and in 1951 became chairwoman of the New Plymouth women’s section. She went on to become a dominion councillor (1951–54) and women’s vice president (1953–54), and a member of the dominion executive in 1954 and of the dominion policy advisory committee in 1956. During the 1950s she was offered a position with a legal firm, but because of the social prejudice against mothers in the workplace, and her ambition to become an MP, she turned it down. Her political mentor was Hilda Ross, who became an MP for Hamilton in 1945. Gale tried to obtain selection as a National Party candidate for New Plymouth in 1966, but was unsuccessful. She was bitterly disappointed.
In 1949 Gale helped found the Frankleigh Park kindergarten association, which established the first free kindergarten for the region the following year, and in 1949–50 she was president of the New Plymouth Girls’ High School Old Girls’ Association. From 1955 to 1965 she was the first woman on the Council of Victoria University of Wellington as an education boards’ representative, and she waged a fierce battle to save the university’s Hunter Building. She was president of the New Zealand Library Association in 1966, and was a foundation member and later president of the Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women in 1968–69.
Audrey Gale was also involved in local body politics. She was the first woman to chair a committee of the New Plymouth City Council, on which she served from 1956 to 1977. As chair of the parks and reserves committee (1965–77) she made a marked impact on the city. She became president (1966) and a life member (1976) of the New Zealand Institute of Parks and Recreation Administration, and in 1989 a New Plymouth park, where she had played and swum as a child, was renamed after her.
Passionate about history, Gale chaired the Taranaki Museum Board’s executive committee (1960–78), was a council member of the Art Galleries and Museums Association of New Zealand by 1961, and served on the board of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (1964–78). She was active in the preservation of Hurworth, the home of the pioneer Richmond–Atkinson family, and after her retirement from local politics she researched, and intended to write, a biography of Jane Maria Atkinson.
Throughout her career Gale was supported and encouraged by her husband, who was extremely proud of her achievements. They worked as a team, sharing domestic chores and raising their family. She believed that children should receive a broad education, and often included her own in marae visits and in political discussions. John Gale died on 9 July 1986.
Audrey Gale was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and was made an OBE two years later for services to the community. She was a fine debater, and enjoyed the theatre, swimming and gardening. She died in New Plymouth on 27 July 1992, survived by two sons and a daughter.