Monday, 31 December 2012

The Holiday Season - Rural New Zealand Style!

Washing up the dishes after an Outdoors Christmas Picnic Lunch,
Heddon Bush, New Zealand. Taken 25 Dec 1916.
[From my own collection]

That quiet holiday period in New Zealand, stretching from Christmas Eve until the first working day after New Years Day (either the 3rd of January or even later if it fell on a weekend) was right up until my late teenage years, characterized by many shops and businesses, and almost all service industries being closed. What was open operated on a skeleton staff. This led to the well-known expression that "New Zealand is Closed" during the holiday period, something which visitors found decidedly inconvenient. Especially with all schools being closed for the summer break, and if one was not away on holiday, one had to make one's own entertainment. For small rural communities the sense of community spirit was strong and local inhabitants willingly banded together to organise or promote any worthy event.

An unidentified piper in Highland costume playing
during a public event, possibly at Winton, pre 1920.
[From my own collection]

The small rural township of Heddon Bush where I was brought, being located on the vast Southland Plains of Southern New Zealand and under the shadow of the usually snow-clad Takitimu Mountains, was predominately populated by immigrants of Scottish and Irish descent. Coming as they did from the Northern Hemisphere, where winter of course fell over the Christmas period, the inhabitants were early on not slow in organising some summer entertainment. One also has to remember that, typically Scottish Presbyterian, Christmas Day itself held no religious significance for many, being treated purely as a day for family, relatives and friends. And if it fell on a nice sunny day then why not a picnic! While, of necessity, the daily grind of farm work continued, time could always be found for some communal entertainment and enjoyment.

Heddon Bush Sports Club Poster, Dec 1894
[From my own collection]

The "Heddon Bush Sports Club" appears to have successfully filled the void from around late 1892 until at least 1909. Held annually between the 28th and 28th December, this event included a full programme of horse racing, and competitive sports comprising of races, hurdles, walking races, high leap, wrestling, hammer throwing, stone throwing and a boy’s race. Competitors were charged 2s 6d entry fee, and along with Member's subscriptions, the profits were distributed pro-rata by way of prizes.

Heddon Bush Sports Club Member's Ticket, Dec 1895
[From my own collection]

The large printed poster for the 1894 Heddon Bush Races and Sports Day reproduced here was found among effects belonging to my relative Mr William Watson who acted as Treasurer. This, along with two members tickets for 1893 and 1895 respectively, are now held by the Invercargill City Libraries and Archives but were professionally scanned prior to donation. The Club appears to have waned around 1909, most likely due to increasing public mobility and other neighbouring events and entertainments which were now in easy reach by motor vehicle.

An Edwardian New Zealand New Years Greeting
Card with an image of a Maori Maiden.
[From my own collection]

New Years Day, should it fall on a nice day, was usually occasioned by a picnic in the countryside, perhaps at a river, or at the beach. Older members of my family could recall the lengthy task of "getting the car ready" for a days outing, something we hardly think twice about today. Such an event as a picnic with family and friends occasioned something more resembling an 'expedition'. Wooden crates (previously containing cans of motor spirit) would be packed with not only food but also crockery and cutlery. Latterly my family included fold-up canvas topped seats for everyone and a fold-up table.  Last but not least was the trusty Primus kerosine stove for heating the 'billy' for a cuppa. It was simply impossible to go without one's cup of tea!

Thus typically passed the "holiday season" in rural New Zealand. I wish you all a Happy New Year and the best that 2013 can bring you!

Bibliography :

- All images are from my own personal collection and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.


  1. There is something very evocative about summer holidays, no school, all the family together, hot weather, outdoor activities and lots of sport. In the post-war era, my grandparents had to have little umbrellas to shelter their skin, but everyone else simply slathered on suntan cream and a floppy hat.

    I am surprised that for Presbyterians, Christmas Day had no religious significance, and I am delighted that they could simply enjoy the family togetherness and the fun.

    1. Hels, No, not much call for yule logs in Australasian fireplaces at Christmas.... I would truly miss Christmas in Summer but would still like to experience it in Winter - just once! Presbyterians held firm views about Christmas Day, fascinating reading about pre 20th century Scottish religious customs, we have in many ways become much more ecumenical which is not a bad thing.


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