ECE Diamonds

Noreen Moorhouse – an advocate for training and bicultural ECE

Noreen Moorhouse and Judy Kaa(President)
cutting the 50th Jubilee cake in 2003

Life member 2004

If you were wandering the streets of 1960s Otangarei, Whangārei on a weekday morning, you might have come across Noreen Moorhouse gathering the neighbourhood children to attend Playcentre.

Noreen firmly believed young children (and their mothers) needed the company of others and a sense of community, rather than being home all day. But even so, when she was asked to manage Whangārei’s first ever childcare centre in 1975, it took her a while to warm up to the idea.

Childcare was a controversial topic in the 1960s and 1970s, with many convinced that young children belonged with their mothers. “I was the biggest redneck in childcare at the beginning because I wasn’t sure children should be in childcare…[but] I came to recognise that childcare had an important role.”

Noreen was delighted to learn she would earn $50 a week: “But I didn’t always get it. I would get what was left at the end of the week. Sometimes it was 25 dollars. Sometimes it was 30.”

As the only childcare centre in Whangārei, Noreen felt isolated managing the bureaucracy of running a centre. “One day Margaret Lamb walked in the door and said, “I’m the President of the NZ Association of Childcare Centres. Do you know anything about us?”

At the time, the Association (later to become Te Rito Maioha) was advocating for childcare staff to be trained and qualified. Noreen was inspired. “The women were amazing. They worked hard and, in most cases, they never got paid — it was hard slog being a woman during those times.”

Noreen completed the Association’s Childcare Certificate and became passionate about training. As more childcare centres opened, she set up a Whangārei branch for the Association.

In 1989 Noreen became Area Training Supervisor to deliver the Childcare Certificate in Northland. This included a new Kimihia Māori component of training, developed by another Association member, Maureen Jehly.

“Maureen wanted people to be aware that there were ethics for Māori children. She wanted Māori children to be respected as Māori children.”

As a long-time member of a strongly Māori community, Noreen was an active supporter of the bicultural commitment made by the Association in 1990, and the struggle for bicultural early childhood education and care to be recognised as avalid part of education in New Zealand. “Equality, respect for Māori tradition and Māori movements. It is beautiful and worth having.” 

Noreen became a member of the Association (now Te Rito Maioha) in 1979 and was made a life member in 2004.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Noreen’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