Spectrum 815. A woman of consequence

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Tono kōrero mai

Marie Bayer is a Justice of the Peace and a marriage celebrant, a member of the board of Grey Power and at 67, is thinking about attending university. Bayer talks to Jack Perkins about her work as a prison officer and as New Zealand's first woman bailiff.

Bayer worked as a postie between 1956-58 before moving on to being, a ‘clippie’ on the trams for four years. In 1970 she became a prison officer at Mt Eden’s women’s prison but left after five and a half years. She explains everyone at Mt Eden was there for no more than three months, if the sentence was longer prisoners were flown down to Dunedin.

Bayer describes the different types of inmates she came across in the prison. The work was tough and although she liked the government security, decided she had to leave. After seeing an advertisement for a bailiff’s position in Auckland - she applied in 1976. Bayer recalls how the interviewer, Garth Soper, “nearly fell out of his chair because a woman had applied for the job”. However, she was successful and happily took the $8,000.00 pay-cut.

As she explains it was obvious to her from day one that it was going to be a struggle working in what was entirely a man’s world, at this time. After being accompanied by a bailiff for one week of training, she was set free, as she likes to put it. Bayer acknowledges there was a significant amount of resistance from many of her male colleagues however, it was still better than the working environment of the women’s prison.

The job involved serving speeding tickets, fines, traffic offences, domestic and non-molestation orders, separation papers and maintenance, and was present for female Civil case arrests. She had plenty of experience working with disgruntled inmates which set her in good stead when people would crack-up or tell her where to go.

Bayer says she worked as a bailiff for eleven years but of course nowadays it’s a completely different system. Some men never accepted her and she tells of how one in particular followed her around all day and reported her for not working a full day. She was brought before the registrar of the court and although there was nothing in the allegation it was put on report. The perpetrator however ended up being reprimanded for doing it at all.

For her last seven years she controlled the city area dealing mainly with solicitors and shop owners. Bayer comments on the filthy physical state of properties involved in house evictions, where rent hadn’t been paid; often they would have blocked or broken toilets, designated bedrooms for urinating in and food or rubbish piled up in rooms.

She recalls a couple of incidents when the arrests had turned out to be quite amusing or embarrassing, and when her quick wit had saved her from potentially tricky situations. Bayer explains that it was necessary to sight and speak to people when serving the papers, often either by dropping them at their feet or flicking them through a window – for which she had a particularly good knack.

Bayer notes it was common for people in high places to hide for ages in order to avoid the summons. She met the same people, over and over again, just as in the prison system and though it was tough to gain respect, once there you knew you’d be alright. Sometimes, when warned against serving someone on a building site, she would take heed as they were known to be a hard lot. Once she got punched, but punched back, and says she learned from working at the prison you must never show fear.

Bayer tells of a time when Black Power and another group were about to have a big confrontation on Grace Avenue and the bailiffs were called in to support the police. She was told to stay and answer the telephones, but she wasn’t going to have a bar of it and walked straight down to the Avenue. Here she walked into the path of a female ex-inmate she knew who planted a big kiss on her cheek which allowed her to pass through the crowd of gang members unharmed.

Bayer explains she learnt self-reliance at an early age when her mother died and believes it’s set her in good stead. Bayer says she had to accept her job for what it was because if you started doubting the justice system, if she started to feel sympathy for the people she was dealing with, she would have had to move on

At age 67 Bayer remains very busy as a Justice of the Peace and says, “Life doesn’t begin until you’re 80 I’m told”.

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Year 1994

Reference number 15084

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Bayer, Marie, Interviewee
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Interviewer
Radio New Zealand (estab. 1989), Broadcaster

Duration 00:32:28

Date 06 Feb 1994

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