Catherine Downes Biography

Marie Catherine Downes

Date and Place of Birth: 17 September 1923, Hastings
Parents: Hugh Edward Crosse and Delmira Bokenham
Married: Harold Edward Parkhurst Downes, 1948
Children: Peter Edward (1953), Alan George (1954), Celia Jane (1959)
Education: MA (Hons) 1945; BA Otago 1944

I spent my childhood on the family farm at Patoka, Hawke’s Bay. My primary education was by correspondence school from England (based on Rudolph Steiner philosophy) followed by secondary education at the Wellington Diocesan School for Girls at Nga Tawa, Marton, from which I matriculated at age fifteen. I had hoped to enter Oxford but the war diverted me to Otago. After graduation I worked as an archivist in the RNZAF historical records section in Wellington, spending my spare time at Unity Theatre, where I met my husband.

We went to England in 1949. Harry joined the National Institute of Industrial Psychology and I worked for a Russian theatrical dressmaker. Early in 1952 we returned to New Zealand to take over 500 acres of my family farm and there I lived until 2003, raising a family. I joined the local Countrywomen’s Institute, the HB Branch of NZFUW based in Napier, the Napier Repertory Players and later the Embroiders’ Guild. Over the years Harry became increasingly involved in local politics and sat on various national bodies. In 1978 he died and our son Alan took over the farm.

I was then free to justify my education by taking an active par[t] in the administration of various organizations. I had held office in CWI at local levels and in 1978 was elected to the national executive and later became vice-president. Chairing a committee to overhaul our constitution I had a long conversation with our legal advisor, who later asked our secretary whether I’d had legal training. Who said an Arts degree has no use? I represented CWI at three conferences of the Associated Countrywomen of the World, on national councils of NZ Young Farmers and NZ Theatre Federation, on Agricultural Training Council sub-committee and a rural women’s educational committee. I served on regional and local committees of several of those organizations, often as president, because I believe that one should make whatever contribution one can to the groups to which one belongs.

I joined the FUW in the 1950’s, quite soon after the HBB [Hawkes Bay Branch] was formed, I believe. Distance and other commitments limited my involvement for some years, but eventually I was free to attend every meeting, and a couple of conferences as an observer before being elected president in 2000. That made me a member of the National Council, took me to Conference 2000 and 2003 and mid term Council Meeting 2002. I was involved in the name change to Federation of Graduate Women, the development of a national policy and a system for preserving our archives. I retired from the chair in 2003.

As a member of the Patoka Countrywomen’s Institute I directed many one act plays for national competitions, helped to run concerts at Patoka, before television stifled local enterprise, and drama festivals in Hawke’s Bay. For some years I sat on the

committee of the Napier Repertory Players and represented it on the HB District Committee of the NZ Theatre Federation, eventually becoming District president which put me on the Federation Council, which was very interesting.  Membership of the Napier District Community Arts Council in the 1980’s kept me in touch with other branches of the arts, and I have been a member of the HB Embroiderers’ Guild and of the Otatara Trust of EIT for over twenty years.  I was made a Justice of the Peace in 1984 and moved from Patoka to Taradale in 2003.

Catherine Downes
29 King Street
Taradale, HB

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Abbreviations –

HB   Hawke’s Bay
NZ   New Zealand
RNZAF   Royal New Zealand Air Force
NZFUW   New Zealand Federation of University Women
FUW   Federation of University Women
CWI   Country Women’s Institute
HBB   Hawke’s Bay Branch
EIT   Eastern Institute of Technology


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Creator / Author


  • Delmira Bokenham
  • Hugh Edward Crosse
  • Alan George Downes
  • Celia Jane Downes
  • Harold (Harry) Edward Parkhurst Downes
  • Peter Edward Downes

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