Home' The Wellingtonian : May 12th 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, MAY 12, 2011
From James Smiths to Antarctica
Joseph Romanos talks
to Wellington identity
Beverley Benton about
her new job, her trip to
Antarctica and her time
at James Smiths.
Beverley Benton: ''I had a bad stammer. I had to work hard to overcome that.''
Photo: JOSEPH ROMANOS
I hear you have a new job.
Yes, I start next week in the
Farmers stores as promotional co-
I imagine that's like the job
you did for all those years at
In a way, except people don t
have as much time these days.
We ll have to be quicker, not pro-
tracted. I want to encourage a
more hands-on approach by staff,
more one-on-one personal contact
with the customers.
You seem extraordinarily
Atmyage--I m83--youdon t
want to sit there and wait to be
amused. You want to be out doing
things. I m just finishing nine
years working at the airport, the
last two for Essity. Before that I
had 10 years with Yves St
Laurent as a travelling consult-
Were you always interested
in fashion, cosmetics and so
When I was a child there was
Ponds Vanishing Cream and that
was it. That area took off when
more product became available at
a time when women were starting
to work and have their own money
to spend on themselves.
To return to James Smiths,
how did you get that job?
I began by working behind the
counter one day a week, Fridays.
demonstrations in makeup. One
day the demonstrator was ill and
the personnel manager said, Bev,
you ve got the gift of the gab , and
asked me to fill in. I described
what was going on while the
cosmetics were applied. That s
how it started.
They were fun times.
Oh, they were. James Smiths
was a real centre point of Welling-
ton, a meeting place. It was the
era of the department stores.
There were three further up Cuba
St. Outside James Smiths was so
busy there d sometimes be a
pointsman on duty.
What were some of the
things you did in the store?
We tried to involve the
customers, whether it was waxing
their legs at the counter, trying on
wigs, giving cooking exhibitions,
washing machine demonstrations.
A lot of celebrities visited us.
Hudson and Halls came in when
they were in their prime. Kiri Te
Kanawa launched her first gold
record with us. Arthur Lowe,
Honor Blackman. We had yoga
demonstrations. The fashion
parades, of course. Then people
started writing books and we had
all sorts, from John Walker to Rob
Muldoon, doing signing sessions.
Do you go to James Smiths
corner much now?
I try to avoid it. It s decrepit,
dirty and rundown. I wish they d
tear down the entire block, to the
Michael Fowler centre, and put up
beautiful new shops and
Were you always confident
When I was young we used to
enter competitions -- dance,
speech, singing, drama. I got used
to performing in public. I must
have a been a natural show-off. I
So you were a natural public
To tell the truth, I had a bad
stammer. I had to work hard to
overcome that. Even now, there
are certain words and phrases I
I must ask about your trip to
Antarctica. When and why?
I love travelling. In fact, I m off
to Europe in September. As a
child I d read about Antarctica
and expeditions to the South Pole.
Then Te Papa had a big exhi-
bition, including Shackleton s
boat. I decided Antarctica would
be my next adventure, so in 2006
I went. I flew to Buenos Aires, had
a couple of days there, then joined
a Russian ship at the very south-
ern tip of South America.
A passenger ship?
Not very big, maybe 100
passengers. Great food. We sailed
to Antarctica, then around the
coastline, going into land about
two or three times a day. The very
hardy ones could camp there, but
I never did. It was cold, of course,
but not that biting wind. Lots of
penguins, wonderful bird life.
It must have given you a
It has. It s so sad how we re
destroying a wonderful continent.
People don t understand the dam-
age being done.
Did you grow up in Welling-
Yes, in Nairn St, a very residen-
tial area then, lots of families. I
went to St Mary of the Angels in
Aro St, and St Mary s College.
What job did you do when
you left school?
In the early 1940s there weren t
a lot of choices. It was assumed
you d be a teacher or nurse, or if
you were a bit smart you might be
a librarian. Or get married. I got a
job in an office in Dixon St as a
shorthand/typist at 10/6 a week.
What are the attractions of
It s like me -- a miniature. It s a
petite city with everything you
could want in a huge city. The sea,
harbour, hills, and so accessible.
How tall are you?
I used to be five feet tall, but I
might have lost an inch over the
years! Lack of height has never
inhibited me or prevented me
from doing what I want. For all
those years of running fashion
shows with girls 5ft 10in or 5ft
11in... I ve seen more navels
than you ve had hot dinners!
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