Karitane, New Zealand
Twelve hundred miles across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania is the coastal town of Karitane, on South Island, New Zealand. Established as a whaling station in the early 1800s, Karitane (pronounced ‘ka-ruh-tahnee’) is home to barely three hundred people. Nevertheless, at least one of the tiny town’s past residents achieved a level of fame and success that not only altered medical practice in his native New Zealand, but landed his unassuming home a place in the dictionary.
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Truby King was born in New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, in 1858. Having studied medicine in Europe – where he also met his wife, Isabella – King returned home to New Zealand in the late 1880s to begin his practice. Although his areas of expertise ranged from surgery to veterinary medicine, he initially focused on psychiatry and the treatment of mental health conditions, and in 1889 took the prestigious position of medical superintendent at an asylum in Seacliff, near Dunedin, on South Island. There, he took to implementing many of his own theories and treatments, advocating the importance of exercise, recreation and, above all, a nutritious diet in maintaining long-lasting mental and physical health.
It was while working at Seacliff that in 1905 the Kings adopted a baby girl, Mary, whose mother had found herself unable to raise the child single-handedly after the sudden death of her young daughter’s father. Isabella became concerned that the girl was not developing as healthily and as robustly as she could, and put the issue of Mary’s health to her husband. Before long, Truby had put all of his exceptional experience and nutritional knowledge into producing a baby-milk formula suitable for newborns like Mary, and had begun training nurses at Seacliff in the best practices of childhood nutrition.
Truby’s groundbreaking childcare techniques and ideas soon began to attract attention, and in 1907 he gave a lecture in Dunedin on the importance of nutritional health in women and young children. His idea was a simple one: establishing as secure as possible a start in life, by supporting new mothers and promoting childhood nutrition, would give the children of New Zealand the best possible chance of remaining physically and mentally healthy in adulthood. Like all the best ideas, it soon proved a near-instant success.
A Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children was founded soon afterwards in Dunedin, which began advocating King’s theories on childhood nutrition and post-natal care, for both mother and baby. Renamed the Plunket Society (when it gained the approval of the Governor of New Zealand’s wife, and mother to eight children, Lady Victoria Plunket), before long the organisation’s work had spread nationwide. It remains in operation to this day.
Just one question remains: what does all this have to do with Karitane?
It was in the sleepy seaside town of Karitane that Truby and Isabella King had a holiday home. There, they established a boarding house cum hospital, where babies could be treated and nurses could be trained under King’s direction. As both King’s work and that of the Society began to spread nationwide, the Karitane system went with it – and before long there were Karitane hospitals, Karitane nurses, and even a Karitane baby formula, just as Isabella had requested, available across New Zealand. By the 1920s, the town’s name had become associated with all elements of ante- and post-natal care – and for all of this, in 1925, Truby King was knighted by King George V.
Of all Karitane’s contributions to the language of childcare, however, perhaps this is the most striking:
Karitane yellow – an informal name for a (baby-excrementcoloured) unpleasant shade of yellow. A Dictionary of Maori Words in New Zealand English (2005) And on that note, perhaps it’s time to move on.