Clara Elizabeth (“Betty”) Rawley (nee Jackson)

This biography is largely based on information from Betty’s children and an oral interview with Betty at her home on Wainui Road, about four kilometers from Raglan on 8 September 2022 . Supplementary information has been supplied by Papers Past – see bibliography. The photos were supplied by Betty and her daughter Alison. RS Taylor conducted the interview.

Class of 1953

Clara Elizabeth (Betty) Rawley nee Jackson Class of 1953


Early Life

Clara Elizabeth (always referred to as ‘Betty’) Jackson was born on 6 February 1927 in the Penniket family holiday bach located on Wallis Street, Raglan which was owned by her maternal grandmother. Her mother came to the bach prior to the onset of her labours, as their Ruapuke farm was too remote for her to risk travelling safely into Raglan or for the midwife to travel to their farm in time once labour commenced. Her four siblings were all born here – five children in five years and all just before The Great Depression.

Bach on Wallis Street, Raglan where Betty and her siblings were born.

She had an older sister Isabella born in 1922 who became a teacher before having her own family; she passed away in 2002. (1) Her older twin brothers, Alec and Tom, were born in 1925 and both served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as Navigators during World War II. (2) On their return, Alec worked as an officer with the IRD and passed away in 2002. Tom, who passed away in 2022, was a farmer on the family farm at Ruapuke and his son now manages this farm. Betty’s twin sister Sophia Veronica (always referred to as ‘Ronnie’) became a nurse before having her own family and is still living in West Auckland with her son.

Betty (second from right) aged about 2 with her siblings. Circa 1929

Betty’s maternal grandmother Clara, born in London, England in 1859 to George and Mary Ann Hooks, married James George Penniket, a box-maker, on 5 May 1882. Clara and James with their young family, which included two sons and Betty’s mother also named Clara (known as Clarrie and born in London on 23 January 1893), immigrated to New Zealand in 1899. After living for short periods in Auckland and Christchurch (where Clara gave birth to a third son) they took up farmland at Ohaupo, about eighteen kilometres south of Hamilton. They were active members of the Ohaupo Church of England. (3) Unfortunately James died on 25 November 1910 at the age of fifty-three, following a horrific farm accident with a horse drawn harrow. Clarrie was a teenager at the time and nursed her father after an operation to repair the wound. He did well initially but contracted tetanus from the contaminated soil. Clara was left with all of her four children still living at the Ohaupo farm. The eldest boy Jim, aged twenty-six years, took over the running of the farm.

On 25 May 1921, Betty’s mother Clara (Clarrie) Penniket married John Benjamin Jackson at the Raglan Anglican Church. (4) John B. was from the Ruapuke  coastal farming area (south of Raglan), and this is where young Betty’s early childhood was spent, although all the babies were born at “Granny’s” Raglan bach. Information gleaned from Papers Past, indicates her family were involved with Hereford cattle, (5) and the fattening of calves (6) and wethers. (7, 8) Betty recalled that her grandfather Jackson was a very good vegetable and fruit grower which stood them in good stead during the depression years of the 1930s when farming was very difficult. Education was important in her father’s family. His father, JF Jackson, did not have the opportunity to go to school but learned to read and write quite well with the encouragement of his wife Sophia. He kept a diary as writing practice and the family still has it. JF and Sophia were determined their children would have an education. Young John B. was noted to be a King’s College Old Boy from the Waikato region of Raglan so would have had to board in Auckland during the school year. (9) Janet said this was because there was no local high school during that time. One of the Penniket boys was also at King’s and that is how Betty’s parents, John B. and Clarrie, first met. Her father served in World War I and had been involved in trench warfare which subsequently left him with a depression problem.

From Betty’s comments it seemed her mother was the main driving force in their family. The farm at Ruapuke had unreliable road access to Raglan. There was only a dirt track and they had to cross the beach, which was difficult if the tide was in. It was challenging for the children to go to school from the farm, so Clarrie acquired a small block of land on Wainui Road about four kilometres from Raglan, just across the road from where Betty now lives. They built a home here and Betty’s father would travel out to the Ruapuke farm on a regular basis. Around the end of World War II (1946) they moved a converted farm building across Wainui Road using rollers to a leasehold block and this became their next home. John B passed away in 1959, and following Clarrie’s death in 1982, the lease was purchased back from the family in 1988 with the exception of the house site. Currently, one of Clarrie’s granddaughters lives in this house.

Betty was raised in a home with strong community roots and a social conscience. She recounts that her mother, despite poor health due to a medical misadventure (her parathyroid gland was accidentally removed during thyroidectomy surgery to treat her thyrotoxicosis), was involved in various community activities. They attended the Raglan Anglican Church. Her parents were both good gardeners and Papers Past indicates her mother, who was involved with the Raglan Horticulture and Industrial Society, (10) received prizes for her flowers and her father for his vegetables at the annual Raglan Horticulture Show. (11) She was also an active member of the Raglan Women’s Institute (12) and the Drama Circle. (13) Betty recounts her mother was also a strong supporter of the first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, as she believed the poorer farming areas had been forgotten by the successive National governments of the day. In 1939 she was the Raglan delegate at the annual conference of the Labour Party in Wellington. (14) One of her mother’s enthusiastic causes was to see a proper high school operating in Raglan and this was achieved in 1938. (15, 16)

Betty – off to school on her pony

Betty attended the Raglan Primary School and the Raglan High School. She then went to Fraser Technical College in Hamilton and boarded with her cousins for her last year of high school, probably to improve her science subjects. These schools were a few miles from where her family lived on Wainui Road, a coastal road, which meandered south from Raglan through coastal farmland. She described her schooling as somewhat “primitive”. Each day she rode her pony to school. At the end of the 1942 school year she passed her university entrance and medical preliminary examinations. (17)

Auckland University College Years

Betty’s mother was the driving force behind her eventually becoming a doctor. She said her mother “wanted her daughter to fix the world”. Betty believes this strong ambition was due to her mother’s health issues as she believed the medical misadventure she sustained was due to the poor health system of her day.

Throughout her years of university study, Betty had strong family emotional support, but they were not able to give her much financial assistance. She was successful in attaining a bursary, but she had to work in the summers to supplement it – she thinks it only covered her tuition, books, and any equipment she needed. She said she worked at various jobs but during her Auckland university summers they were mostly domestic and nannying positions.

Coming from the small Raglan High School, Betty was somewhat ill prepared to go down the medical pathway, compared to some of the well-resourced private and larger city schools which provided a range of science subjects and where Latin was consistently taught. She was enrolled at Auckland University College (now the University of Auckland) to do her Bachelor of Science degree and to take Latin which was a prerequisite for getting into medicine. Betty was a little hazy on what subjects she majored in but thinks they included botany, zoology, and a domestic science paper. She said she achieved average marks in her exams and had to work very hard. She thinks she only had to repeat one exam during her university years. She started her studies in 1945 and at the end of that year she passed her medical intermediate examinations. (18) She said it took a while before she was able to get into Otago Medical School. She believed the young men who were “well-groomed and had gone to boarding school” had the easiest time getting into the medical program.

Betty (third from left) with cousins and siblings (Isabella far right, Ronnie third from right, and Tom and Alec in the middle at the back). Her grandfather is in the middle. Circa 1946

Betty found her years of study in Auckland very difficult. She was sent to the city as an eighteen-year-old rural girl and knew no one else except for a few distant acquaintances from Hamilton. She stayed in a boarding house and had to catch a tram to get to the university. She had no idea how to use the tram and said some other students helped her on her first day. She said the city was full of American service men as World War II was still in progress. It was a very lonely three years and at least three times during our interview she mentioned that she found Aucklanders very unfriendly. She joined a tramping club and made some new friends this way – some of these friends later went on to the University of Otago. She was raised an Anglican and continued attending church in Auckland. These activities seem to have been her main avenue of making friends and finding companionship during these lonely years.

University of Otago Years

It appears that Betty was able to graduate from Auckland University College with her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Otago May graduation ceremony in 1949 indicating she had been able to get into the medical program earlier that year. (19) She thinks she was about twenty-one years old when she started Otago Medical School.

She successfully passed Anatomy in mid-1950, (20) her first professional examinations early in 1951 and her second professional examinations at the end of the year. (21, 22) She graduated with her M.B. Ch.B.(N.Z.) in 1953. (23)

Betty did not know anyone who was going to the University of Otago although she was aware of some going from Hamilton. She would take the train to Wellington, ferry across to Picton, and then sometimes, “if she was lucky”, would meet a student with a car who could give her a ride to Dunedin otherwise she took the train or a bus down to Dunedin. It took a couple of days to get there. Someone met her at the train in Dunedin at the beginning of her first year and helped her to find her way around – students a year ahead were assigned to do this welcoming.

Her first memories of Dunedin were how nice and friendly the people were (compared to Auckland) and how cold it was. She found it a very cold climate. Although she had been very homesick in Auckland, she did not experience this in Dunedin because everyone was “so friendly even though she was poor”. She again joined a tramping club, went to church off and on, and to the cinema rarely. However, during her medical school years she had very little time for socializing. Her impression was they all worked very hard at their studies.

She met her future husband, Frank Purvis Rawley, on one of the tramping club expeditions. He was a year behind her at medical school, had been born in Dunedin on 23 October 1928 and had grown up in the suburb of Mornington with his parents, Arthur William Leslie and Amy (nee Purvis) Rawley and two older sisters. His father, Arthur was a store clerk at the time he was called into service for World War I. In later years the family believe he worked in an importing warehouse. Papers Past indicates that Frank belonged to the Mornington Harriers Club and was a successful cross-country runner. (24)

Betty could not afford to board at St Margaret’s College, where the women medical students often lived, so she again boarded locally. During her first year, she boarded with a family who were kind to her and provided good meals. One year her boarding house situation was very difficult as a woman in the house was mentally unstable and her behaviour did interfere with their studies.

In her final year Betty and two other students, Margot and Liz [Margot Ronson Gardner nee Craw – Class of 1953 who Clara thinks went to America and Elizabeth Naylor nee Beauchamp– Class of 1954 who she thinks married a Canterbury farmer], moved into a flat together and they all studied very hard. She thinks she had to share a bedroom with one of them. None of them were affluent and she remembers Margot was a great organizer and had rosters for study times, cooking, and buying the groceries. They ate lots of potatoes and even had a little garden where they grew their own greens which included lots of silverbeet. On the weekends they would cook a large stew and during the week mince was the fastest meal to make. Janet recalls the family taking a trip around the South Island circa 1971 and they called in to see Liz who was living in the Portobello Peninsula area. She had taken up the hobby of pottery and gave Janet a small piece which she treasured.

Alcohol was not a big part of Betty’s university experience although she does remember some students overindulging. She remembers her own flatmates were very careful about alcohol. She said a lot of the women students smoked. She started smoking when she was studying in Auckland but, other than Janet, her children do not recall her ever smoking so believe she must have given the habit up very early on. Janet recalls their father smoking a pipe for a while, but he gave it up when they were still quite young. The children put it to good use as a bubble pipe.

Except for one or two “disinterested” lecturers, Betty found the majority were friendly and interested in their students’ welfare. However, some of the lecturers did not keep up to date and the students would try to get more up to date information from library books – though those were often out of date as well. Antibiotics were just starting to make a big impact on the direction medicine was taking – the 1950s were changing times.

Her fellow students were friendly, and she does not recall any segregation except for a couple of lectures “because the males were very disruptive during them”. She remembers there were some older medical students doing refresher courses as their medical training was cut short due to being enlisted for World War II. She was not keen on the dissecting of the cadavers and recalls her favourite subject was paediatrics.

During the interview, Betty was asked if there was any significant experience(s) that happened during her medical school years. She responded very quickly about the guilt they corporately felt about a fellow student committing suicide. He was in the year ahead of her class. She said they felt they should have been able to sense something was wrong and been able to prevent it. She was vaguely aware of some of her female colleagues becoming pregnant but not any of her close friends.

Her best memories of medical school were the opportunities to go tramping and being exposed to the beauty of nature. The scenery in the South Island was all so new to her.

During the summer semester breaks, Betty could not always afford to come home to Raglan. She mainly took jobs on sheep farms in the Dunedin area and provided household and nannying help. She mentioned that some of the farm women tried to marry her off to local farm boys. Janet recalls her mother telling her about working in a biscuit factory in Dunedin during one break.

She has little memory of the clinical experiences she had during her training. She thinks she spent time at some of the smaller South Island hospitals but could not recollect any names and could not remember where she did her sixth-year medical placement.

On her homeward trip to celebrate Christmas 1953 at the end of her Dunedin years of medical study, she just missed being involved in the Tangiwai disaster. The train she was on went through the previous day.

House Surgeon Years and Marriage

Betty started as a house surgeon at Rotorua Hospital at the beginning of 1954. Frank graduated with his M.B. Ch.B (N.Z.) at the end of 1954. He and Betty were married in St Peters Anglican Church, Raglan on 18 December 1954 and at the beginning of 1955, he also commenced his two years as a house surgeon at Rotorua Hospital.

Betty recalls the transition from student to doctor was daunting. Most of her medical colleagues were supportive but a few seemed to see women doctors as incompetent. She said she had no problems with patients accepting her as a woman doctor.

Wedding Day at St Peters Anglican Church, Raglan on 18 December 1954

Janet recalls her mother telling her she was always a little worried that she didn’t complete her full two years as a house surgeon, as she became pregnant during her second year. Janet was born at Rotorua Hospital on 2 February 1956. They stayed here until Frank completed his two years of training.

The 10 October 1957 Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette Medical Register indicates their address was Arthur Street, Tokoroa so it appears they moved here directly after Frank completed his obligations at Rotorua. (23)

Supplement to the National Gazette, 10 October 1957, Medical Register 1957 (23)

Tokoroa Years

Betty recalled being a nanny during some summer breaks to families involved in the running of the Kinleith Mills. They encouraged her to come back to practice in Tokoroa as it was difficult to attract general practitioners. This was the primary reason for their shift there. Alison also thinks Betty and Frank settled in Tokoroa as there was a need for more general practitioners and it was not too far from Raglan where Betty’s mother still lived. The family made regular visits back to Raglan and around 1962, Betty and Frank built a family bach at Whale Bay, located about eight kilometres south of Raglan. They spent many weekends and most holidays here. They really missed their “Granny” when she passed away in 1982.

In the 1957 Register of Medical Practitioners there were four other general practitioners with a Tokoroa address with 1948 to 1951 as their years of graduation from Otago Medical School. (23) Janet recalls that her father joined the practice of a Dr John Brunt who had graduated in the class of 1949. After he retired in the late 1960s, her father was left to manage a huge practice on his own (including obstetrics), in a town with a rapidly growing population and lots of babies being born. Betty said the area Frank was expected to cover was vast – some of his home visits went almost to Taupo. Brian recalls going with his father on one of these home visits to Wairakei Village. During the busy years of the 1960s, Frank was able to complete his Diploma in Obstetrics in 1962 and became a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1970. (25)

Tokoroa was a growing community during these years – going from a population of 1100 in 1948 to a peak of over 20,000 in the early 1970s. The town was developed as a residential satellite for Kinleith Mills workers. By the 2018 census the population had dropped to just over 14,000 due to the downscaling at Kinleith. (26) The demographics of the area included many Māori and Pacific Island families who had immigrated to New Zealand to work at the mill. Betty recalls the mill had a male nurse they called “Doc”. He was very capable and attended to many of the accidents that occurred at the mill.

Brian remembers the Tokoroa Hospital being opened in 1969. Prior to that Betty’s family are unsure what medical facilities were available in the town other than the Maternity Hospital where the next three children were born. Betty recalls the matron at the Maternity Hospital was very good. Janet remembers in the years before the general hospital was built there was a GP roster for weekends and emergencies. The roster was given to the local telephone operator who would call their home for “Dr Rawley” if he was on call and his services were needed. Her mother, referred to as “Dr. Elizabeth”, never worked after hours or did maternity cases.

Dr L. R. Mortenson joined Frank’s practice several years after the retirement of Dr Brunt. Janet believes those years on his own were quite hard on her father and recalls him working very long hours. After focusing on being a mother and homemaker, Janet thinks her mother joined the practice sometime around 1969 or 1970 to help Frank, as she remembers that her youngest brother hadn’t quite started school and Betty relied on a lady who would come to do housework and mind Dave. Her mother only worked in the practice until the early 1980s.

Brian’s recollection of those days:

Dad put in very long and irregular hours before the town attracted more GPs. It wasn’t just the babies being born at odd hours, but the GPs were often called out to bush accidents, traffic accidents, and bar closing incidents. There seemed to be a lot of interrupted dinners. I have a very strong memory of the hours putting me off medicine as a profession. On the plus side I did get a lot of useful safety tips along the lines of “Let me tell you why you never wear jandals while riding a motorbike “.


On their arrival in Tokoroa with baby Janet in early 1957, they had to initially live with another young couple until they moved into their own first home – they felt very fortunate to win a Housing Corporation ballot which made them eligible for a new home on Arthur Street. Alison recalls her mother talking about how cold it was and the difficulty keeping her babies warm. Betty and Frank had a further three children (Brian – 30 September 1957, Geoffrey – 12 November 1959, and Alison – 17 December 1964) and in mid-1967 they adopted David who was born in December 1966. They moved into a larger home at 10 Tweed Street in 1961.

Betty, Brian, little Alison with doll, Janet, Geoff, Frank with David on his knee. Circa 1969

Janet recollects:

Most of the houses in Tokoroa were company houses (NZ Forest Products). Mum said they were very lucky and won a ballot run by the equivalent of the Housing Corp, which meant they were eligible to buy a new home (which was the Arthur Street home). It was a very simple house, looked like a state house, but it was home. We then moved to 10 Tweed St when I was 4.

The children all attended school in Tokoroa. Janet trained as a nurse and then did some teaching before becoming involved in lifestyle farming near Whangarei. Brian, who still lives in Tokoroa, is involved in forestry. He recalls memories of family times:

When they weren’t working, Mum and Dad were never not doing something, and a lot of what they did was family oriented. Mum spun wool and knitted kids clothes, she sewed, painted pictures, and made bread. She organised activities like plays to occupy bored kids during school holidays and invented wonderful stories to amuse them on long car trips. Dad made things in his workshop, things like rocking horses and fishing rods. They both organised outdoor activities like fishing, tramping, and skiing. On the other hand, Mum didn’t like the idea that a child left to their own devices shouldn’t have enough initiative to amuse themselves; make something, read a book, play outside, go to the creek and catch koura. She wasn’t keen on TV when it first came out and it took ages to convince her that watching TV might be a useful skill for someone who needed to amuse themselves. She preferred books then, not sure about now, and encouraged me to read a lot. I still do.

Geoffrey, after living in Perth for many years, is living in Raglan. He has been able to find some local employment and is currently living with Betty and providing extra support to her in her declining years. Alison attended Massey University and worked in parks and reserves and more recently as a parks consultant. She recalls Tokoroa as being a great place to grow up. It was an active community and as a family they enjoyed going to the ski fields at Whakapapa, tramping trips and going to visit “Granny” at her Raglan bach. David and Betty were always close; he lived in Raglan for many years and is currently living in Rotorua.

Betty has fourteen grandchildren.

Community Service

Betty was well loved and respected in the Tokoroa community which was demonstrated by her being nominated for a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM). When being interviewed Betty said she did not like the limelight and didn’t mention she had received a QSM in 1987 for community service. (27) Her daughters’, Janet and Alison, said she had a strong sense of public duty and could be “quite outspoken” at times but did not do it for recognition. In addition to her work as a general practitioner, she had served on several school boards and Zonta (which stands for women’s rights and advocates for equality, education and an end to child marriage and gender-based violence) (28) but Janet believes the main reason for her nomination was her long involvement with Marriage Guidance, to the stage where believes she was training the counsellors.

Alison, Betty, Frank at her investiture for her Queen’s Service Medal 1987

When asked what she considered the main achievements of her career, Betty thought for a few moments and said “my children”; they are nice people, hard-working, and they don’t have class distinctions. She also felt she and Frank were helpful in assisting the immigrants to Tokoroa, especially the Cook Island and Samoan families, to integrate into New Zealand society.


Betty and Frank left Tokoroa in late 1986 to enjoy a quieter retirement lifestyle – their children had all left home by this time. They built a home at Whale Bay near to where their family bach had been. Betty enjoyed designing houses and was instrumental in the design of this new house. In addition to their garden and chickens at Whale Bay, they planted a macadamia orchard near Raglan and had several local beehives. Betty gained her qualification to check beehives for diseases and provided this service in the Raglan area for several years. These various activities were their retirement project.

Betty had retired as a general practitioner in the early 1980s (although her medical registration was kept active up to 1992) (25) but Frank continued to provide regular locum duties for the two Raglan general practitioners as they refused to see each other’s patients. He was still working when he passed away unexpectedly on 2 April 1993 aged sixty-four. He had only been diagnosed with cancer three weeks prior to his passing.

Betty and Frank after their retirement from Tokoroa circa 1990.

Following Frank’s death in 1993, Betty stayed on at Whale Bay for a few years but began to find the steep property too difficult to manage. She purchased a small two acre section from the freehold property on Wainui Road where her mother Clarrie had lived and built a new home here which she moved into around 2000. She continues to live in this home with Clarrie’s granddaughter close by in Clarrie’s home.

The Present

Betty on the day of her Early Medical Women of NZ interview 8 September 2022.

Over the years, Betty kept in touch with her siblings who all settled in the greater Waikato and Auckland area. Only her twin Ronnie is still living. Her son Geoffrey, who lived in Perth for many years, flew back in February 2020 for a joint family celebration of Tom, Ronnie, and Betty’s birthdays and was caught in New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown. He realized Betty, then ninety-three, needed extra support in the home and has lived with her since. Her home is in a semi-rural setting about four kilometres from Raglan. She continues to enjoy her chickens, vegetable and flower gardens, and helps at mealtime. She made me a cup of tea to enjoy with the muffins I had brought. Physically she is still very agile and as I departed, she was getting some veggies from the garden for their tea.



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