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Burgin Field: Tribute to an outstanding woman leader

Have you ever wondered as you drive up West Coast Road what is the Burgin Field, situated on the site of the old Girl Guide stronghold, Otimai?

The symbol of guiding on the sign gives a clue. Burgin Field is named after Mona Burgin, one of the shapers of the Girl Guiding movement in New Zealand.

Born on the Isle of Man in 1903, Mona came to New Zealand as a six-year-old. She trained as a teacher, taught at Dilworth School for over 30 years and was headmistress of Hilltop, private girls’ school, when she retired in 1968.

While a teenager, Mona became involved in the Peace Scout movement, an organization for girls paralleling the Boy Scouts. She started the St Andrew’s troop in Epsom and was on the ground when the Peace Scouts morphed into Girls Guides in 1923 and her troop became the Cavell Company of Guides and Rangers.

Mona was known as “Captain” among the girls and “Moby” to her friends. Over the years she earned all the highest guiding awards. She travelled the world meeting up with guides in other countries and after WW2 she led a team of guides that worked with young people in camps for displaced people in Europe. This work was instrumental in re-starting guiding in Germany.

In the 1950s Mona wrote the first New Zealand handbooks for guides and rangers with a local slant which had a significant influence of how guiding developed in New Zealand. Maori cultural practices were integrated into guide training. Guides visiting Otimai were taught Maori cooking and weaving by Maori tutors. A bio of Mona describes her as having “a strong sense of duty, insisted on high standards of work and behaviour, and took a genuine and kindly interest in all her pupils”. Mona was awarded the Silver Fish, the highest international guiding award in 1945, at which time there were around 2500 guides, brownies and rangers in New Zealand. In 1959, she was awarded an MBE for services for youth. She died at her Howick home in 1985.

Burgin Field is set in 10 acres of bush and can be booked for day events and overnight camping. There is an outdoor chapel, a hidden Brownie Ring, bush walks, outdoor cooking and toilet block. Otimai itself was donated by Lucinda Wilson and her family of Wilson and Horton in 1927, and Burgin Field established around this time.

Sandra Coney

Photo: Mona Burgin wearing her Silver Fish Award, Alexander Turnbull Library



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