Community shares memories of renowned New Zealand author


Today marks ten years since New Zealand literary author Janet Frame passed away in Dunedin. She was admired and loved around the world one of New Zealand’s best authors but had many critics over her time.

Friends, family and supporters speak to Oamaru Mail reporter Ruby Harfield about their memories and experiences of Frame’s influence on their life.

Niece and executor Pamela Gordon came up to spend a few days in Oamaru yesterday to commemorate the anniversary.

The trip had been memorable so far – Ms Gordon was brought to tears when she stopped into a second-hand bookshop in Palmerston on the way up and found a music book she thought might be nice for the Eden St house.

She was looking through the book as it was from Frame’s school-day era and saw at the top in faint writing J. P. Frame and immediately recognised it as Frame’s writing.

“It must have been her old book.”

Ms Gordon said many people had been critical of Frame during her life and after her death.

There were so many myths about her that were entirely untrue, Ms Gordon said.

“One of the things that she wanted to fight against was that she had an unhappy childhood, because she didn’t.

“People said she was isolated, sad and had a tragic life full of poverty.”

When she died it was hard as there were many academics who decided she was open slander and there were many people who believed the gossip being said about her, Ms Gordon said.

“People really did think she was a crazy hermit.”

But the Frame Ms Gordon knew was a strong and courageous genius.

“There are many similarities between her had Lorde,” she said.

People can get envious of tall poppies – after Lorde won her Grammys people took to her on Twitter.

Frame was ahead of her time and because of that some people thought she was strange.

But because of this, her work is still so relevant today and so fresh, Ms Gordon said.

“You can see the wisdom and compassion in her work.”

Local author and poet, Shirley Gillies (who writes under the name of Shirley Grave), had fond memories of going to Waitaki Girls’ High School with Frame.

“I always liked her.”

“At school she was shy, reserved and extremely clever.”

Although they weren’t close at school they developed a relationship in later years with Frame visiting Mrs Gillies in Herbert and many letters of correspondence were shared between them.

“We were close even though we were separated by time and distance.”

Being a writer herself, Mrs Gillies sent Frame her first book and was “very touched she spoke so nicely of my work,” she said.

She wrote about very recognisable characters and was incredibly talented, Mrs Gillies said.

“Oamaru is lucky to have had her.”

Janet Frame Eden St Trust chair Carol Berry said people who visit the house she grew up in at 56 Eden St get to understand a bit more about her life and her upbringing.

“She rose above all that, and to me, that’s the story.”

Janet Frame Eden St Trust curator Lynley Caldwell said the house was still as popular as ever with many people coming from all over the country and the world to visit.

“This childhood home happens to be in Oamaru so it is really important to celebrate it.”


Janet Frame was born in Dunedin in 1924.

She lived at 56 Eden St, Oamaru between 1931 and 1943.

Frame then moved to Dunedin to study at teachers’ college.

Her first novel was published in 1957.

Frame became a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit in 1990.

She won the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2003.

She died in Dunedin on January 29, 2004.

In her life time she published 11 novels, five collections of stories, a volume of poetry, a children’s book and her three-volume autobiography.

Many books have been published after her death.

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