In the Beginning:
At the 35th N.Z.A.R.T. Conference held in Hamilton in June 1961, an announcement was made asking any YL amateurs to meet together. Thelma Souper ZL2JO had been one of the few licensed YLs attending Conference for the first time, and as she had heard that there were some newly licensed YLs present, she was anxious to meet them. Consequently, the first YL meeting took place with Thelma, Florence Voss ZL1AXP, Vicki Shaw ZL1OC, Celia Reed ZL1ALK and Elsie Whitely ZL1JP. These YLs were pleased to meet each other and felt that it was time to encourage other women to participate in this male-dominated hobby, and to possibly form a YL club. It was decided to hold a monthly 80m. net, beginning Tuesday 11 July 1961, and this was held with eight check-ins; those present at Hamilton plus Judith Holland ZL1AWM (now ZL3AGE), Sylvia Kirkland ZL2QZ (now ZL2LS) and Molly Blake ZL3AO. ZL1AXP was net controller. A circular letter was sent to all known YL amateurs inviting them to join in and so began the regular YL nets, which continue to this day. 'Break-In' editor generously gave the group space in the magazine and YLs featured every month with "YL News", this being changed to "WARO" in 1965.
"YL News" tried to profile one licensed YL each month, with photo and description of the rig, family, etc and these were very well received by the OM amateurs at the time. It is noted that in September 1961 Sylvia then ZL2QZ made the first two-way YL SSB contact with the States on 80metres. These were the days when SSB was just becoming established on the amateur bands; in fact she was the first YL to operate SSB in New Zealand. In October 1961 the group decided to appoint a President, Florence ZL1AXP and a Secretary, Thelma ZL2JO. The next step was to form a club, and consequently a meeting was held in Brents Hotel, Rotorua on 10 March 1962 with 7 YLs present: ZL2JO, ZL1ALK, ZL1OC, ZL1AWM, ZL1AXP, Janette Barker ZL1ANA and Enid Rosen. Many others were interested and supportive, but unable to attend. "After considerable discussion" (to quote the report) the name of the group became N.Z. Women Amateur Radio Operators; the inaugural meeting of WARO had been held. Molly ZL3AO was elected to the position of Vice-President, and Foundation Members were all those YLs previously mentioned, plus Eve Rimmer ZL1AIO, Rae Braddock ZL1FI (now ZL4NI), Ruth Lobb ZL3PL, Zelda Garlick ZL3AAB and Winifred Scheffer ZL2AOA. The establishment of the group was reported in many newspapers by the Press Association. A set of rules was drawn up with the objects of the group: "To promote and encourage interest in radio amongst women radio operators". Subscriptions were set at 5/- per year. Full membership was limited to women radio operators, but associate membership for other interested YLs has always attracted a number and in the First Annual Report, written in July 1962 membership stood at 13 transmitting and 9 associate. "Official" Photographer for that inaugural meeting was Collin Shaw ZL1CS, and he has continued in that role for 25 years.
The U.S.A. had formed YLRL in 1939 as an international YL amateur group and South Africa already had a women's radio club (1952), so New Zealand became the third English-speaking country to form its own YL group. Since that time there has been the formation of CLARA (Canada), ALARA (Australia), BYLARA (Great Britain) and others.
It must be mentioned that the driving force in those early years was Thelma ZL2JO. Thelma was first licensed in 1931 as ZL2FR and had sat her amateur exam the day before her marriage to Noel Souper. Noel as a radio engineer, but not an amateur, had passed on his enthusiasm for radio, and built her first transmitter. In 1961 she had been active on 20m CW for 10 years with many DX contacts in her log. Her rig (as described in November 1961 Break-In) was a transmitter using Geloso VFO to an 807 driving an 813 to a long wire antenna. The sideband set-up was a phasing rig to an 813 linear in AB2, and for 80m operation an ARC5 was used. The rack was nearly 6feet in height. Thelma was in contact with many YLRL members in the early days and was sponsored into that organisation in 1958. She continued a close co-operation with YLRL throughout her life. In 1962 she already had DXCC, WAS (U.S.A.) and WAC, and was operating on all bands until her untimely death in 1977. Her full-time job as Secretary of the Crippled Childrens Society in Wellington kept her busy, but was not all time-consuming as she was very active on air. Most other WARO members had young families and very little time for the hobby in the 1960s...DX for them was in the future. WARO members did have a wide range of radio interests however; Vicki ZL1OC was active in mobile operation, and with OM Collin attended many 'Mobile Rallies' which were popular at that time. Many took part in Transmitter Hunting on 80m, which was an excellent family outing and activity. It was reported in the NZ Herald February 1962 that four young women operated a station at Torbay (Auckland) during the National Field Day Contest. They were Pat Joseph (now Williams) ZL1LD, Janette Barker ZL1ANA, Elaine Taylor and Enid Rosen. Pat ZL1LD also entered National Field Day as a Single Operator and won that section in 1963. Florence ZL1AXP was heard regularly on the S.I.R. group, a real "rag-chewers" net. WARO was represented at 1962 NZART Conference by Myrtle Earland ZL4GR, Rae ZL4NI, Zelda ZL3AAB, Thelma ZL2JO and Associate Anita, but the first organised meeting was held in Auckland at the NZART Conference June 1963, with 15 members attending. WARO AGMs have been held in association with NZART Conferences since that time. The President of NZART, Ralph Woodfield ZL2VN (now ZL1CN) attended the meeting for a short time, so beginning a tradition which has been carried on by many succeeding presidents. Gordon Salt ZL2CK, then President of NZART, had joined a net in August 1961 and conveyed good wishes - "official" support from the start.
PHOTO ALBUM and SCRAPBOOK:
Photos taken at Rotorua began Photo Albums of WARO members and activities which have been maintained since by Vicki ZL1OC. A Scrapbook of Break-In articles and newspaper cuttings was also begun in 1962 by Elsie ZL1JP, and continued later by Celia ZL1ALK, WARO is now on to it's 8th scrapbook, and the old ones are an individual source of historical material.
It is interesting to note that in 1963 WARO raised the question of YL amateurs being involved as Ladies Committee Hostesses at Conference, and thus not being able to attend NZART business sessions. It was felt that the social side of Conference could well be in the hands of the wives of local amateurs, who were not concerned with the business meetings. This problem is a recurring one and is still unresolved today.
YL nets continued monthly after the Auckland meeting with regular check-ins of 8 to 10 members. A South Island net was started with Molly ZL3AO calling. Other early South Island members were Phebe Baxter ZL3ABM, Marge Brett ZL3TC and Rene Walker ZL4DG as well as those mentioned previously. Two news Bulletins were sent to members during the year and were well received. These became quarterly in 1964, and have now grown to a full-scale booklet. Rigs at that time were more varied than today, as many were home-built and designed, or were ex-army sets such as ZC1s. Although commercial receivers were available, most amateurs built their own transmitters. These separate units, plus larger power supplies, often took up a great deal of space in the shack, as shown in photos taken at that time.
The first overseas member was wlecomed in June 1963. She was Mildred Johnson K9HRH, a teacher from Chicago, Illinois. Her photograph appeared in the YL page with a NZ flag on the wall, and a NZ Callbook prominent. Mildred became a silent key in 1969. Another DX YL who checked into the 80m nets was Heather VK2HD, as the Australian amateurs did not have a YL group at that time.
In January 1964 Elizabeth Allan (now McLennan ZL4JC) of Westport became the youngest NZ girl to hold a radio transmitting licence, ZL3AAL. Daughter of Lorna ZL3AAZ and Lee ZL3AP, she passed the exam shortly before her 14th birthday.
In 1965 at the AGM held in Palmerston North, members decided to compile a YL Directory with names, addresses, phone numbers and callsigns, also OM's name and callsign (if applicable) were included. This was published by Thelma ZL2JO with an attractive blue cover and proved very handy when travelling the country. It was always good to visit a new YL and encourage her to join the nets. The North Islanders had decided to hold monthly nets, so WARO now had three regular sessions on 80 metres.
25 Transmitting, 2 overseas and 8 associate members were listed in the 1965 directory. It is interesting to note that although quite a number of associate members went on to pass their licence and gain callsigns, some have continued their association with WARO over many years without being tempted to try the exam. These include Betty Holt (XYL of ZL1BBZ), Ivy Brown (XYL of ZL1IB) Molly Gardner (XYL of ZL1KM) and Mabel Gee (mother of ZL1AQO) who have held continuous membership since the early 1970s. There are others who have joined since, and hopefully this trend will continue as YLs get together and enjoy each others company with the common interest of Amateur Radio.
Also in 1965, a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of awarding a Certificate to operators having contacted WARO members. After some investigation and discussion at the 1967 AGM this matter was left "until such a time as more members are active on the higher frequencies." In her report to members as President of WARO, Judith ZL1AWM wrote, "I have been delighted to hear of quite a large number of ZL YLs obtaining licenses. However some have not been able to maintain their interest and are rarely on the air, which seems an awful waste of work and effort." All through WARO's history this has been a puzzle to those who do continue in the hobby, but there is no easy answer.
A number of the early YLs had an interest in construction, Elizabeth ZL3AAL was reported as building her own transceiver in 1964, Win Parr ZL1BBN built a Heathkit DX60 transmitter, and others enjoyed experimenting with small projects. AREC had YL operators: Myrtle ZL4GR took part in a number of emergencies in Dunedin, and Zelda ZL3AAB was praised for her contribution to communications in a 1966 Search and Rescue mission. Zelda was also notable for appearing on television, operating from the Maternity Home in Greymouth.
It seemed that YL participation in amateur radio was catching, in small towns at least. Zelda ZL3AAB in Greymouth soon had Marge ZL3TC as a fellow amateur, in Westport there were Ruth ZL3PL and Jean ZL3AAR, and in Te Awamutu three YLs were licensed between 1963 and 1966 - Norma Parsons ZL1ANP, Win Parr ZL1BBN and Clarrie Hoban ZL1BDZ. The Te Awamutu ladies (now joined by Joan Cummings ZL1BSZ) have always been staunch supporters of amateur radio in their area, and operate maritime-mobile.
There was urging from overseas, especially from members of YLRL, for more WARO YLs to operate on the DX bands, gain certificates, or take part in contests. Thelma ZL2JO was a consistent competitor and award hunter, but very few others took part. This was often due to the fact that Grade 1 required an extra 15wpm CW test, and also many shacks did not have the gear necessary for DX operation. Besides this, as is still the case today, the YLs had young children, jobs and homes to run as well as their hobby.
WARO had its first overseas visitor-member, Peggy VE4PE/ZL2KJ, who came from a "ham radio-infected" family in Manitoba, Canada. She travelled the country in 1966 and spoke from quite a number of shacks, meeting YLs in the different towns she visited. As YLs many of us have been privileged to be hostess to amateurs from other countries. This is a very rewarding experience and one which extends our horizons considerably. Strangers soon become friends when there is a common interest. This friendliness contributed also to many YLs becoming licensed as they were encouraged to join in by other YLs and fellow club members.
The first "T" call member was Margaret Raffles ZL1TDB who joined in 1967 not long after the "non-morse" (now Limited) licence was introduced. Others have joined with a Grade 3 call and soon upgraded, or waited until they became Grade 2 and had a permanent callsign before joining WARO.
June 1967 saw the AGM of WARO held in Napier, and perhaps this was when the idea of "Pania" for the Award picture came to mind! It is always a cause for regret that the Cook Strait so often prevents officers from attending meetings, and North Island Conference missed Zelda ZL3AAB, Phebe ZL3ABM and Marge ZL3TC, who were succeeding secretaries from 1964 to 1969.
At Napier it was decided to introduce a CQYL night on the 4th Tuesday of the month, and so have YL nets each week as the National, North Island and South Island nets were running well. The following year saw a change to Monday night, where they have remained.
WARO members were taking part in more AREC and related activities as the years passed. Zelda ZL3AAB and her OM Russ ZL3AAA were reported as providing emergency communications immediately after the Inangahua earthquake in 1968, and YLs were in charge for a day at the NZBC EXPO 2 in Auckland. The Technician licence had brought in new YLs including Marion Lister ZL1TBR (now ZL1BKL), Elva Henry ZL1THX (now ZL1BIZ), and Margaret ZL1TDB who operated from a stand, along with Pat ZL1LD, Celia ZL1ALK, and other new members Aola Johnston ZL1ALE and Alma Wills ZL1BHK (now ZL2AWP).
In January 1969 WARO was saddened by the death of Molly Blake ZL3AO after a long illness. Molly was a foundation member and former president of WARO and had been the only YL member of OTC. She had been a loyal supporter of all radio activities for many years.
WARO Award Begins:
June 1969 saw WARO members up to 34 (28 Transmitting and 6 Associate) and the establishment of the WARO Award for working 12 members of WARO (DX - 5 members). An attractive award picture of "Pania of the Reef" was chosen as appropriately New Zealand and feminine. Thelma ZL2JO was appointed custodian and WARO members became immediately popular on the bands, especially the few ZL4 YLs as the Award rules then required one from each ZL call district! 24 Awards, including 1 DX, were issued in the first year which began 1st June 1969.
NZART Conferences began to have more YL-amateur participation. Marion ZL1TBR won several 2m mobile contests and other YL operators joined in the teams who thoroughly enjoyed the drive through the countryside as well as the radio contacts on these occasions. Not everyone followed the right route and as usual, YLs often got the blame for navigation - at least that was the story the OMs put about!
The pioneers of radio were not forgotten as they became older. Myrtle Earland ZL4GR was the first woman to hold a licence in New Zealand (1930) and so begin a long and varied interest in amateur radio. Before the Second World War, Myrtle related, she was interested in a boy, and when she found that he was 'mad' on amateur radio, she got her ticket and her man too! Her callsign, ZL4 Gorgeous Redhead was wellknown here and on the DX bands in the years just after the war, and she and OM Fred ZL4AM were stalwarts in any emergency operation in the Otago area. In Dunedin, as organiser of the WARO meeting in June 1970 Myrtle arranged a visit by Miss Brenda Bell (then aged 79) who as an operator with her brother Frank Bell in Shag Valley, Otago was an early pioneer of amateur radio. In 1912 they had heard the first signals on their receiver in the Valley, and thereafter made contacts with Australia, USA and Europe. 1924 saw the climax of their activities - 2way communication with Mill Hill School in London. "Low power was the thing" Miss Bell said, and she herself made the first morse contact with South Africa.
The "NZ Women's Weekly" featured WARO members in April 1970 with the heading "Ham Widows Turn Tables and Take to the Air". Articles like this did a lot to promote the hobby as one for couples, with the idea of 'If you can't beat them - join them'. But there were always a few YLs making it on their own - recent members are Shirley Jamieson ZL1MY, Joyce Whittaker ZL1CAB and June Stead ZL2WE. Others took up the hobby because it was a family interest. Karen Wilson ZL2AQO was coached by her grandfather George ZL2AFZ and some had sons and fathers with a licence.
It is always a cause for celebration when one of the Associate members becomes a fully licensed YL. Ethel Adnitt ZL1BLL in 1970 after supporting WARO for a number of years, and since that time quite a few YLs have been introduced to WARO as Associates, and later became full members.
One of the most interesting AGMs was held in Palmerston North in 1971 when WARO was fortunate to have as a guest, Darleen WA6FSC (WD5FQX), then on her second trip to New Zealand. Darleen has held many different calls during DXpeditions around the world and had operated from Tonga just before her arrival in New Zealand and she had a very interesting tale to tell (Later published). WARO members were impressed with her courage in a time of sudden bereavement, and her world-wide interests. Darleen is now married to Joe (formerly HC2OM, when Darleen was HC2YL) and has a teenage daughter, Diane; we have recently had the privilege of seeing her again in this country. As YLRL DX Chairman she takes a real interest in WARO and YLs all around the world.
A mother-daughter combination came on to the radio scene when Carol Johnston ZL1AJL daughter of Aola ZL1ALE, became fully licensed. OMs were not finding it so easy to get near the rig when there were several operators in the household, but on the other hand there were more ears to listen out for that exotic DX callsign.
Reprinted in January 2002 from the NZ WARO Bulletin of March 1987 - Jeanne Gilchrist ZL4JG
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