Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fossicking for facts: Mrs. Dorothy Davy

(Image from Western Leader, 28 June 1977)

I started gathering information of Avondale history back around 1983, when I was 20. That's probably why I have so many bits and pieces on my area's heritage, some on paper that I'm still in the process of filing, some that's only come in since the start of the flood of information brought on by my work on Heart of the Whau and the foundation of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society, and some stuck in the corners of my own head. It's an interest, a hobby and a passion of mine to find out the answers to questions I have about why things are the way they are where I live and grew up.

One other person, judging from what the local newspapers of her time said about her, had that same level of interest. Which is why I consider Mrs. Dorothy Davy to be Avondale's first true historian, someone whose work I first read in the late 1980s, as I scoured through the vertical files at the Avondale Community Library.

Born c. 1894, Mrs Davy had come to live here in Avondale in 1920. Around 1939, she was a co-founder of the Avondale Country Women's Institute, and thirty years later entered a writing competition run by the Institute, around the theme of "The history of the district where the writer's institute stands." Mrs. Davy researched as extensively as she could, and won first prize. This led her to continue fossicking, picking up bits and pieces of knowledge of the past. According to the Western Leader in 1977: "Eight years later [after winning the competition] she is still seeking out facts and anecdotes of early Avondale. She has given talks on the district's history to Avondale school children [must have been after I left Avondale Primary in 1974, pity. I'd have loved to have heard her] and she is concerned that all her facts must be authentic. Mrs Davy finds there are conflicting reports about early Avondale. 'At first, I thought Dr Pollen cultivated the land but from later research I tend to disbelieve this,' she says. 'I want to know who turned Avondale from a wilderness into a garden, if he didn't.'"

Mrs. Davy wasn't just a historian -- she was also an artist, writer, a producer of plays, and a trained speech teacher. But to me, she remains someone I admire, and unfortunately never met. Someone who hunted for facts on our past, presented them to the community in both written form and by verbal presentation, and always strove for the truth. I recall speaking briefly to a daughter of hers back in 2001/2002 -- and learned then that Mrs Davy had only recently passed away, aged over 100 years old. I would have truly loved to have met her.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting lady she was. Shame you did miss her. Like how you've linked back for Daniel Pollen.Photo is cool.