Suffragette heritage inspires ‘First Baby’ lullaby competition

New Zealand university library vault delivers blast from the past as history and politics come full circle

July 23, 2018
Father and baby

A New Zealand university has invited musicians to compose a lullaby for the country’s “First Baby”, as 21st-century politics lives the promise of the country’s pioneering suffragette history.

Victoria University of Wellington has unveiled a competition to create the music for the 1892 text A Lullaby by poet Thomas Bracken, who also penned the words to the country’s national anthem.

The poem recounts how “Papa minds the baby” because “Mamma must go at her dear country’s call to make lovely laws for Pa, Baby and all”. It has been included in a compilation of suffragette-era texts found in the Victoria University library.

The university said that the poem had originally been intended as a satirical portrayal of role reversal. But the words have turned prophetic, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern due to return from maternity leave in a fortnight and leave newborn Neve in the care of the baby’s father, Clarke Gayford.

New Zealand became the first country to grant women the vote in 1893, almost 10 years before Australia and decades before most European and North American nations followed suit. In September, the university is hosting a conference commemorating the event’s 125th anniversary.

The lullaby competition has been launched by the university’s New Zealand School of Music.

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