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26 February 2012

Matene (190? - ?) trapeze artist.

Matene, a Maori, joined a circus at age nine. He worked as a an acrobat and trapeze artist. He was called by a girl’s name, encouraged to dress as a girl even when not performing and generally brought up as a girl.

In June 1933 she was arrested in Auckland after a shopping trip. She was charged with having obtained credit by fraud by representing herself as a woman in a drapery shop. The solicitor for her defence pointed out that she was of a good family and had a substantial income.

The magistrate dismissed the charge as there was no evidence of fraud.
  • London Life, July 29th, 1933: 53. Reprinted in Peter Farrer. Cross Dressing between the Wars: Selections from London Life, 1923-1933. Garston: Karn, 2000: 190.

Old newspaper stories can be annoying in their lack of detail.  Which circus did Matene work for?  It is improbable that Matene was her professional name or the name that she used when shopping for it is a man’s name.  Henare Matene Te Whiwhi is an outstanding Maori of the 19th century.  Nor obviously is it a complete name.

However we are pleased to see that common sense sense prevailed at the trial.

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