As we travel around the world housesitting, the word “Paradise” is always spoken with fondness when we remember our growing up years, well most of the time. No period in history can ever be referred to as totally idealistic. Though, New Zealand in the 1960’s to the 1980’s was a relative paradise to bring up a family in and have that idyllic childhood. We formed a group and ventured into the local streets, scrublands or to the gorge to explore around the streams. The street play involved hide and seek, a pleasurable way to rid ourselves of the younger members of the gang. Never ceased to amaze me how long some of them stayed hidden until boredom set in. Those sultry summer nights when darkness became the time to have fun and no thought of TV entered our mind.
Two million people were living in a welfare state, and Britain bought nearly all our primary produce. There was no unemployment and about one murder a year. Men mostly worked about 40 hours a week, and most women stayed at home to look after the house and children.
The system was geared accordingly, and with a State Advances Corporation loan available at 4 percent interest, most people could attain home ownership, on a full section [with many being a three-quarter acre] and be mortgage-free by retirement age.
Going out to dinner as a family to a restaurant was not the done thing, though a regular as clockwork Roast Beef Sunday lunch was. One treat that required dressing up for was to savour the delights of a sticky bun or chocolate eclair with Nana in a real cafe. What was more popular was having a feed of fresh fish the result of a day at the beach. Fresh fish always went well with freshly dug spuds or kumaras from our large family vegetable garden.
Or a treat of a Jelly-Tip ice cream when on a family day out at the Races [horses]. Later on, it was the issue of not being able to buy an espresso or flat white as they were non-existent. My first taste of real coffee was purchased in Melbourne in the late 1970s. A cuppa meant a cup of tea, usually poured from a pot to go hand and hand with the Truth [anything other than the truth] newspaper. Or viewing your Golden Kiwi to see if your luck had changed.
Our roads were quite rough with a few straight sections. Half of New Zealand roads were metal, so a trip from a to b was quite a mission, especially when you had a few children to organise into a car. Our usual trip to Gisborne as this was where we went for our holidays, to see all the relatives, especially Nana’s place and visits with our cousins.
This trip involved superior negotiation skills [actually let’s face it, more like major whinning] to see who would sit in the front seat with Mum and Dad. In the end, no matter how brilliant my budding negotiation skills were, Dad had the last say. As the years went by and many trips executed, it landed up that the younger brother would sit on that throne on more than one occasion. Apparently, his skill at being sick was greater than the rest of us.
Trotting off to school in the sixties and early seventies meant pinafores and socks up to your knees with heavy black shoes, always to be polished before another school week started, and, in summer sandals worn. Desks had an inkwell, and we practised with a fountain pen and ink, which often spilt creating an indelible stain on everything. The information came from books called Encyclopedias brought by parents who thought it was the best thing to help their children’s education.
We recited the time’s table for months on end and wrote stories about the weather. We had morning talks. Had dusters thrown at us by overworked, tired old nuns, if you were quick enough you put up your desk lid to counteract that hard object connecting with your head. If that did not appease her, then writing 100 lines “I shall not disobey my teacher” usually worked. For the pupil, a rubber band and ownership of at least 3 pens or pencils was essential if you wanted time to play.
There was something in the air in the sixties. New Zealand was slow to cotton on, but The Beatles impacted heavily on the music front, and young people were promoting a new order. I still remember my parents listening to music, I do believe Elvis was played more than The Beetles. The Beetles arrive in New Zealand In later years, Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd were more inclined to have my feet moving.
Television was a new phenomenon. In about 1964 our family got a black-and-white TV and, with much fanfare, set it up in the lounge and tuned it in. Many years later when watching my parents viewing Coronation Street, I promised myself when I reached adulthood I would never do such a thing. Ena Sharples’ imposing figure and voice still rings me in my ears and put me off watching it until I succumbed to watching in my later years!. However, I soon warmed to The Monkees, The Beverly Hillbillies, My Three Sons, Bonanza, and Petticoat Junction. There was one channel, and the newsreader had a distinct British accent.
The shock of President John F Kennedy’s assassination was brought to our living rooms, as were the images of the Vietnam War. In New Zealand, the coastal coal vessel Kaitawa went down with all hands, though I was too young to remember this event. The Wahine Disaster was another one that had adults glued to the TV and radio.
Just after the mid-sixties, we converted to decimal currency. This was the biggest day ever for some children who rushed to the shop to maybe be the first child to receive a new coin. Though not for me. Years later, it was the collection of bottles that had us rushing to the shops to earn more coins as another way of increasing the weekly allowance. New Zealand also converted from imperial to metric measurements during this period.
In the later sixties, Britain joined the European Economic Community and dropped New Zealand like a stone. We were on our own for the first time ever.
Growing up our culture consisted mainly of Maori, ex-pat British, Dutch, Yugoslav and a smattering of other European races. The 1970s brought less security from the British market which was slowing disappearing, and the welfare state was no longer sustainable. A dark period in our history was about to begin. With myself about to leave home for the first time to live in the big city of Auckland.
But that is another story.
In the meantime, check out some links to events mentioned in the above post: