ECE Diamonds

Mary Alice Bramwell – I was in a profession at the bottom of the heap. My ire was raised!

Life member 1992

President 1989-1992

Mary Bramwell was a champion for equitable funding, recognition and quality in childcare and early childhood education in New Zealand over many years.

Born in the north of England in 1945, Mary Bramwell’s early world was one where homes and women were controlled by fathers or husbands, and opportunities for studying or working were few. When she entered motherhood, all she knew about parenting was to yell at children. 

Mary came to New Zealand as a mother of four during the 1970s. The family settled in the Waikato, where Playcentre and its training awakened her to new ways of parenting, as well as child development and learning: “I learned to operate in a different way with the kids. It didn’t have to be as grim for them as it was for me.”

In 1980, Mary began working in childcare and saw the problems facing the sector – the lack of government commitment to childcare delivery or quality, and lack of funding for childcare services: “I started to understand the problems. I discovered I was now in a profession that was literally at the bottom of the heap. My ire was raised of course.”  

Mary quickly became active in the childcare movement. She joined the NZ Childcare Association (now Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ) and was elected to the Executive in 1981. In 1982, Mary was employed by the Association as an Area Training Supervisor. Mary also joined the fledgling Early Childhood Workers Union and in 1982 she represented staff on the negotiating team for the Union’s first multi-site award.  

Working and learning from influential Māori women involved with childcare, Mary started to learn what it meant to be bicultural. She was president of the Association from 1989 to 1992, during a time of growing commitment to biculturalism and more equitable outcomes for all tamariki.  

Speaking at a members’ conference in 1990, the year the organisation formally committed to bicultural education, Mary said: 

“Māori people have reached their hands to us across a chasm and Pākeha, if we don’t reach out and take the hand, it will be withdrawn and we will fall into the chasm.

“The Association has taken a brave step. We’re not going to put 150 years right in nine months. It’s exciting, and it’s sometimes painful, but we’re moving forward. We have created the first Mana Māori training position that Maureen Locke [Jehly] has taken to enable Māori people within childcare to be trained by Māori in a Māori way. We’re moving forward.”

Mary remained active in early childhood education and her community for many years. She became a life member of the Association in 1992. She passed away on 14 June, 2022.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s downloadable book on its life members and their work. You can read Mary’s full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa