Elsie Nixon Profile

Aleisha Ward
9 Jun 2021

Although jazz and dance bands in the 1920s and 1930s are generally associated with men, in New Zealand there were quite a few prominent women musicians and bandleaders. One of those intrepid young women ran her own band, the Gala Girls, in Auckland in the early 1930s.

Elsie Nixon (1913-1996) learned piano from a young age after being inspired by her aunt, renowned classical pianist and politician Dame Hilda Ross. However, when she was about 11 her older brother Arthur fell ill with polio, and the medical costs associated with that meant that the family had to sell the piano, and she had to give up her lessons.

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An aerial view over Mission Bay with Purewa Cemetery in the background, c. 1930. While Doug Mill piloted the plane his wife Audrey leant out of the open cockpit with a camera. 
Photo credit: Audrey and Douglas Mill, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections FDM-0425-G
Dinah Greening, niece of band leader and music teacher Walter Smith, often performed with Elsie Nixon's bands in the 1930s. 
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard collection
Walter Smith's Jazz Band, Auckland, c. 1927. From left: unknown trombone (obscured), trumpet and saxophone players, Sidney David Kamau (clarinet), Dinah Greening (banjo), Marjorie Greening (piano), and Walter Smith (saxophone).
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard collection
Camping at Mission Bay, circa early 1930s.
Photo credit: Donald Jenkins, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1669-ALB328-75-2
"Sax Appeal" read the caption to this 1931 image of Elsie Nixon.
Photo credit: NZ Observer, 19 February 1932
"Attractive dance floor, and music by full orchestra": in this advertisement, Ye Pig and Whistle is just one attraction at "Auckland's Coney Island" (Mission Bay).
Photo credit: Auckland Star, 21 December 1935
Advertisement for the Pig and Whistle: "A 10-minute drive along Auckland's Perfect Road brings you to Auckland's Perfect Roadhouse." - NZ Herald, 14 May 1936
A 1932 dance at Royal Oak, Auckland: "Girls - Your man will be at the Bon Ton Hall on Monday - so be there while the going's good." - Auckland Star, 27 Feb 1932
Elsie Nixon's Gala Girls get a mention in this account of a 1932 dance, but as usual for the time, the fashions get more space. - NZ Herald, 12 May 1932
On the way home from a gig in Mangere, bad weather and visibility caused Elsie Nixon to have a car accident. - NZ Herald, 6 August 1934
Elsie Nixon's orchestra appear at a 1934 dance in St Helliers, supper provided, 2/6 for singles. - Auckland Star, 13 June 1934