In this section you will find reviews of some of Bee’s books.

Wigram cover


The Birthplace of Military Aviation in New Zealand

Random House, 2012

  • ‘Bee Dawson has contributed to our Air Force’s anniversary year with the timely publication of Wigram. Like her earlier Hobsonville: portrait of a seaplane station, the new book is a social history of the Base drawing on the memories and anecdotes from those who lived and trained at Wigram.

    The first chapters describe the history of Wigram up until WWII, and thus encompass the early days of flying and the initial development of New Zealand’s Air Force. Two generous chapters cover Wigram at war, then the author takes us through the post-war years until the base’s closure in 1995) (the book is about the base and its people, so she does not venture into the politics of defence in the 1990s).

    Bee Dawson brings to life the base through the tales of early aviators, officers and airmen and women, and the families who lived their lives on the base. Wigram is filled with illustrations and photographs – many previously unpublished – of aircraft and people that add depth to the stories.

    Wigram is a substantial book that will be an invaluable resource for all interested in the history of our Air Force.’

    Air Force News, December 2012.

Wigram – book description


Mighty Moves

Heavy Haulage and House Moving in New Zealand

Random House, 2012

  • ‘Ingenuity and gutsy determination were often needed to transport bulky products from engineering workshops to customers throughout New Zealand.

    This was partly due to restrictive government regulations as well as the appalling state of most roads.

    Graphic insights into the historic challenges faced by the country’s heavy hauliers are given in a fascinating and superbly illustrated book by social historian Bee Dawson.

    She traces the industry’s development from the pioneering days in the first half of the 19th century – when packhorses offered the only practical method of carrying supplies over rough and narrow tracks through bush – to the advances of today.’

    New Zealand Engineering News, September 2012.

Mighty Moves – book description

The New Zealand Woman

The New Zealand Woman

80 glorious years of fashion, food and friendship from the pages of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly

Woman’s Weekly, Whitcoulls 2012

  • ‘In conjunction with New Zealand Woman’s Weekly’s recent 80th birthday, social historian Bee Dawson has compiled this stunning commemorative book, celebrating “80 glorious years of fashion, food and friendship” from the pages of the magazine. The New Zealand Woman is chock-full of stories from our archives, each shedding new light on the good old days – and some of the bad – of life as a Kiwi woman.

    With 11 themed chapters – covering subjects as diverse as housework, agony aunts, fabulous fashion, royalty and the eternal quest for the perfect body – the book unveils some real Weekly gems. Who knew, for example, in lieu of a fridge, the best way for a New Zealand housewife to keep meat fresh in 1932 was to “hang joints from the ceiling or shelf… covered with a piece of muslin”. Or, that in the absence of strawberries, a combination of tomatoes, sugar and strawberry essence can make the perfect mock strawberry jam – a recession- and Depression-proof spread.

    The New Zealand Woman matches the journey of Kiwi women with that of the Weekly – just as New Zealand women’s lives have changed dramatically during the past 80 years, so has this magazine. However, the book also features recipes for numerous old-fashioned favourites, such as cinnamon sponge square, chocolate bread pudding and even home brew, which wouldn’t look out of place in Kiwi kitchens today.

    While it might seem predictable that we’re singing the praises of a book that pays homage to our very own magazine, the real stars of this book are New Zealand women – our readers and the women who feature in the magazine every week. It is a testament to their strength.’

    Claire Rorke in New Zealand Woman’s Weekly

The New Zealand Woman – book description

A History of Gardening

A History of Gardening in New Zealand

Random House, Auckland, 2010

  • Bee Dawson has written extensively on many aspects of gardening and horticulture but it is her two books on New Zealand horticultural history that make her such a deserving recipient of the Institute’s Award in Garden History…

    …This keen sense of social history is likewise seen in her more recent book, A History of Gardening in New Zealand (Godwit, 2010). Her history starts with the agriculture of the Māori and then follows the introduction of many plants by the first missionaries and settlers. She then describes the development of gardens during the colonial period. For the colonists, gardens reminded them of the homes they had left but gardens were also an economic necessity as they supplied fresh fruit and vegetables that were not otherwise available. This dichotomy between aesthetics and necessity has continued with the balance point changing according to economic conditions. Many of us will remember how in our childhood, it was usually the man who was responsible for the vegetables, the woman for the flowers. Gardening remains a hobby for many but there has recently been an increasing emphasis on the health and economic benefits of home-grown fruit and vegetables.

    A History of Gardening in New Zealand provides many hours of reading and the comprehensive list of literature will entice many of us to study further new aspects of our horticultural history. The drawings, paintings and photographs that are used as illustrations are particularly apt and finding such appropriate images must have taken months of searching.

    As a social historian, Bee Dawson may well prefer people to plants. However, all of us who have an interest in gardening (and books) will be glad that she writes about people and their plants. Our appreciation of her efforts is shown by our presenting her with the Institute’s 2011 Award in Garden History.

    2011 Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Awards, Award in Garden History, 14 April 2011.

  • A History of Gardening in New Zealand is delightful – well-researched, well-written and magnificently illustrated, but also immensely readable and entertaining.’ Listener, May 22, 2010
  • ‘Far from being a rarefied catalogue of botanical history, this book is a joy to read and will appeal to gardeners of all persuasions… worth every cent.’ Southland Times, 15 April 2010.
  • ‘Even if you’re not into history, you’ll enjoy Bee Dawson’s new book. History buffs will sense that it’s a timely event. And gardeners with soul will lap it up. Gardening finds its place in the birth of this nation.’ NZ Gardener, April 2010.
  • ‘Stuffed full of diary snippets, advertisements, photographs, paintings and other ephemera from archives and collections all over the country, and strung together with an easy informal writing style, this is a book that should have been done before but the magnitude of the project might have put off many less energetic writers.’ DomPost, May 2010.
  • ‘This book is a gem not only for gardeners and those interested in social history, but for anyone who enjoys beautiful things.’ Sunday Star Times, May 23, 2010.

Also, reviews on and

A History of Gardening in New Zealand – book description