With their short skirts, white boots and high hats, marching teams provide one of New Zealand’s most distinctive sporting spectacles. Marching as a competitive pursuit for girls and women was invented in New Zealand, and marching teams have been popular both with participants and the crowds watching them in parades and displays.
Inglewood in the vanguard
Marching began in Inglewood in the mid-1940s when Peggy Klenner put a notice in her shop window: ‘Wanted. 16 smart girls to form an Inglewood Marching Team. Only girls without glasses will be eligible. Please apply within.’1 She was overwhelmed when more than 100 people indicated interest. By the mid-1950s the Inglewood Vanguards team, coached by Bernie Plumb and led by Rachel Josephs, was topping the Taranaki competition and winning places at the national championships.
Marching displays by girls and boys were a popular feature of school concerts and social gatherings as far back as the 1880s. During the South African War (1899–1902) young women dressed in uniforms and performed military drill at patriotic fundraising events. These activities may have influenced the later emergence of formation marching by teams of young women. Marching competitions became a feature of workplace annual sports days from the late 1920s. Teams of workers from shops, offices and factories, and YWCA teams, devised their own uniforms and spent hours perfecting elaborate and highly synchronised manoeuvres.
During the Second World War, with encouragement from physical welfare officers in the Department of Internal Affairs, marching teams were established throughout the country and marching developed as an activity in its own right. Recreational marching was seen as useful in keeping up workers’ morale and promoting physical fitness amongst young women. Drill sergeants and officers in the Home Guard provided instruction in march formations using military forms adapted to a more ‘feminine’ style. Brass and pipe bands provided the music.
There was an ambivalent and at times hostile attitude to marching from the cultural elite. For writers A. R. D. Fairburn (in 1952) and Bruce Mason (in 1976) the enthusiasm with which New Zealanders embraced the spectacle of young women performing military-style drill was disturbing. In their eyes it smacked of a cult and an over fondness for militarist trappings.
New Zealand Marching Association
The New Zealand Marching Association was formed in August 1945, and the first national championships took place the following year. In its early years championship events were attended by senior public servants and politicians. Such direct government interest in marching’s success was unusual. Soon marching had a high profile.
Marching teams eventually consisted of 10 members, including a leader who issued whistle commands. The team’s aim was to give the impression of moving as one, with energy and discipline. In competitions, as well as being assessed for the precision of their marching, teams were judged on the suitability of their uniforms.
The appeal of marching
As a summer recreation, marching offered girls and young women an activity that was physically exacting rather than strenuous, requiring skill and concentration rather than sweat and strength. There was no need for specialist equipment or grounds before a team could get started. Team membership provided social opportunities and a sense of belonging.
Team members and their supporters could be inventive when designing uniforms. Compared to the boxy gym frocks worn at school, hockey and netball uniforms and the even more hated rompers, marching outfits could be attractive. Intended to create a dramatic impression, with sharp angles and straight lines, they were as much a costume as a uniform. Tartans, epaulettes (ornamental shoulder pieces), lanyards (ropes and cords), towering busbys (tall fur hats), cockaded hats (decorated with a knot of ribbons), Glengarry bonnets (traditional Scots hats) worn on an angle, chevrons and braid, white boots and gauntlets or gloves helped define team identities.
Team names provided similar creative scope. They drew on a mix of Scottish, parade-ground and Hollywood inspirations. Often names were expressed as a diminutive. Cavaliers, Guards, Grenadiers, Sargettes, Glennettes, Weldonettes, Kilties and Brockettes are some of the best known.