Occupational Therapy New Zealand Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa

Norah Hobcroft

Honorary Life Member

Norah Hobcroft founding member NZAOT 2008

  • First elected holder of the office of secretary of the Association in 1949
  • One of the four occupational therapists who had the foresight and commitment to actively work towards the establishment of the Association from 1948 until its inception as a legal entity in 1949 (“We were Kiwis doing the Kiwi thing …!”)
  • Actively involved member of the Occupational Therapy Board following introduction of the Occupational Therapy Act (1949)
  • Became second editor of the New Zealand occupational therapy newsletter in 1949
  • Pro-actively represented the interests of occupational therapists in salary negotiations with the Public Service Association to establish salary levels, in the very early years of the profession in this country
  • Dominion Secretary of the Association 1956-1958
  • NZROTA second alternate WFOT delegate – attending the third 1958 WFOT World Congress in Denver in that role
  • Introduced new practice techniques in mental health to New Zealand from her Canadian experience e.g. the Azima Occupational Therapy Battery (1965)
  • When practising in Canada, demonstrated her commitment to the professional association concept by accepting the role of president of the Quebec Association of Occupational Therapists
  • Frequent contributor to JNZOTA through 1950s – 1970s by way of letters, challenging and encouraging occupational therapists to raise their clinical practice to high professional levels and to contribute to the Association – see attached supporting information below
  • An early and strong voice in the profession, promoting affiliation with the universities, degree qualification, wanting to see in NZ “…a healthy and vigorous professional climate.”
  • Active in supervision of Carrington Road (Auckland) School of Occupational Therapy students on fieldwork placement from 1967 until 1971
  • Tutored in occupational therapy at Central Institute of Technology from 1971 until 1981
  • Chairwoman of the salary committee for the Association in the 1970s while living in Wellington
  • Registered member of NZAOT from 1949 until her retirement in 1981

Norah used her talents and considerable energies to train, encourage and actively support her colleagues, in the roles she held during her practicing years. She was a strong, positive and challenging voice for the profession, giving the lead in her own clinical and professional activities. Norah was a builder of our profession.

In her retirement, Norah has continued to demonstrate her huge vitality and interest in life, her creative output being both prolific and exquisite. When asked, a year or so ago,

what she would like to say to the occupational therapists of today, she said: “… I would say be proud of your profession.”

Norah’s voice to colleagues:

1965 Letter to the Editor, NZJOT: Norah raised the need to progress from generalized description (content) in professional papers to a consideration of process i.e. “… less of the what and more of the how and why.” (p.13) Norah wrote bluntly and provocatively in an endeavour to energise the profession: “In all the fields of treatment there can be no absolutes and only thoughtful exploration of why we do what we do, will lead to professional maturity.” (P.13)

1966 Letter to the Editor, NZJOT: Following discussions concerning gender issues and the role of an occupational therapist Norah wrote: “For secure professional development, we need not only male therapists but people with higher education, so that we may have the ‘thinkers’ as well as the ‘doers’ to complement each other.” (p.16)

She persisted in confronting the profession with the need for professionalism in practice.

1967 In a reasoned and referenced two-part paper, Hobcroft addressed the issue of work (occupation) as an  “…anchor for identity, as a vehicle for social play and a significant refuge against formless fantasy and vague anxiety.” (p. 11)

1972: Norah wrote about the manner in which JNZOTA reflected national identity. She advocated for a professional involvement in order to strengthen negotiating power in employment discussion.

(The above excerpts and comments have been cited from The New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy: An historical review.  Scaletti, R., Egan, P., & Kenning, J. (2008). NZJOT 55(1), 26-32.)

1972: Strong words from Norah in a Letter to the Editor, JNZOTA:

“Congratulations on the launching of this Journal. May it flourish and grow with nourishment from contributing members. The journal is an important aspect of our identity. 

I am going to stick my neck out now by saying that too many Occupational Therapists are what I call “Riders of the Professional Hive.” That is, they seem to be only minimally involved in professionalism and in supporting the society that makes it possible for them to be professionals…. Democracy is difficult – it forces responsibility. I am suggesting that we, as a group and as individuals need to learn our A.B.C.’s – of meeting procedure, of negotiating channels and of the direction – that our executive members must go… The obligation of being a professional person rests with each one of us – there should be some joy in the challenge? After all, there are plenty of alternatives.”

1975: Commenting on a particular article in JNZOTA: Norah wrote: “I like the acknowledgement of the role of the occupational therapist essentially being involved with the total environment of the individual patient. This surely is the interpretation of A.D.L. in its wholeness and not confined to the putting on or off of clothes and what happens in the kitchen and bathroom. How many places, I wonder, accept the patient’s right to feelings of anxiety and apprehension in a totally strange environment and see the need to deal with this as a necessary adjunct of treatment?”

1973: The late Joyce Sutherland NZROT, a close and respected colleague of Norah’s, wrote a short biographical piece about her (a regular biographical feature in JNZOTA at the time); in the context of her period of employment at Porirua Mental Hospital, Joyce said:  “Working conditions on today’s standards were primitive and our mode of transport depended entirely on our skill as cyclists, joggers or trampers – the workroom areas scattered at considerable distances apart and a long way from the main office. The impact occupational therapy had made in the hospital in those early days I thought was remarkable, due entirely to the enthusiasm and ability of Margaret (Dawson, charge occupational therapist) and Norah. Looking back, I wonder how that enthusiasm was sustained, for the revolutionary idea [sic] of occupational therapists were certainly far from well received by nursing and medical staff. This ability of being able to produce tenacious energy for the fulfillment of purpose and resistance to rebuffs was certainly well developed in those early years and was responsible for the making or breaking of many good occupational therapists. Norah reached full development in these attributes during her five years at Porirua … at the end of 1948, Norah carried the load of charge occupational therapist at Porirua for the next three years.”

Joyce refers to Norah’s time in Australia, when for a brief period she undertook some temporary jobs to refresh herself “ … with a ‘looking at life’ programme. Among these jobs, the highlights were picking fruit in Tasmania and chief cook on an outback station in West Australia. I only wish I had had the good sense to keep her letters written during these experiences – they were full of rich humour and delightfully illustrated, and I feel sure were worthy of publication.”

A final extract from Joyce’s piece speaks of Norah’s input as chairwoman of the association’s salary committee: “This I feel shows Norah’s real interest in the future for occupational therapists – her own salary being completely un-involved in these proceedings.”

Curriculum Vitae

1944 -1946: Trained at the Occupational Therapy School, Point Chevalier Auckland.

1946 -1951: Porirua Mental Hospital, becoming charge occupational therapist.

1951 -1953:  Experience in Australia. In Brisbane Norah worked at a cerebral palsy unit, followed by a brief period of non-OT work, then returned to New Zealand.

1953 -1958: After working initially in Gisborne, she moved to Auckland, working at Middlemore Hospital where she again rose to the charge position.

1958 -1965: Norah worked for three years in London in different occupational therapy situations then moved on to practice in Montreal Quebec for nearly five years. A highlight of her time in Canada was becoming president of the Quebec Society of Occupational Therapists, having the challenge of introducing topics in French.

1965 -1971:Senior OT to the psychiatric section at the Hastings Memorial Hospital, where she implemented “… new approaches to staff-patient relationships and made available her vast store of psychological and psychiatric studies she had been assimilating herself over the years” (J.L.Sutherland 1973).

1971 -1981: Foundation staff member of the new Occupational Therapy Training School on the Heretaunga campus, Central Institute of Technology in the Hutt Valley, Wellington. Norah remained there as psychiatric tutor until her retirement in 1981.Norah Hobcroft – Honorary Life Member