Times were a changing – back to the nostalgic fifties…
ARTICLE: First published at Fortitude
by peter petterson
As the years I’ve been on this planet actually begin to increase, time begins to peel back and thoughts turn to a different era. A different, less stressful and more peaceful time — back to those nostalgic innocent days of my childhood, down in the South Island of my homeland — New Zealand way down in the South Pacific.
Back to the 1950’s when the population was half of what it is now, when New Zealand was Britain’s farm, when inflation was something done to a football bladder,cars were a mixture of English and American; and Toyotas and Nissans were some unknown names along with karate back in Tokyo, and my hometown of Christchurch had as many bicycles as they do now. Peak hours would see hundreds of these push bikes streaming down the main street,(including mine on occasions), Colombo Street — about five and a half miles long with the title of longest street in New Zealand for decades.
Weekends were taken up with sport: mainly rugby union in the winter, and rugby league, soccer, and hockey having their followers, and outdoor basketball(as netball was called then). In summer there was mainly cricket, athletics and swimming. Softball would arrive very soon once the American influence began to infiltrate the former British colony a couple of thousands of miles off-shore from the West island — Australia. New Zealand was closed on the weekends then, no weekend shopping apart from a couple of areas in Christchurch’s beach suburb of New Brighton, and up on Wellington’s west coast in Paraparaumu.
In the summer the beaches attracted Kiwis by the thousands, and the tens of thousands on the other side of the Tasman Sea at beaches such as Bondi which would begin to attract New Zealanders too, in just a few years.
But out on the Canterbury plains Kiwis had almost an obsession with rivers on Sundays — picnicking up by the riverbeds, thermettes boiling away on the river banks with pristine water from the river. Firewood a plenty — and a .22 rifle packed in the trunk of the car for the inevitable pot shot at the pests of the plains — the damned wild rabbits. Those trunks have now been anglicised and are known as boots. Many a trip back home with the trunks filled with pine cones from the many plantations in the Canterbury area. No television in New Zealand in the fifties — no coca cola, pepsi or hamburgers either; but they were well on the way when the fifties turned to the sixties. Changes were on the horizon. The strongest thing most teens those days were some cold flagons of draught beer, or a bottle of Scotch if you could afford it — or scrounge it from your elders.
For me a couple of times a year, was a couple of weeks during the school holidays on one of the mixed farms — 30 minutes from town — dairy, sheep, pigs, poultry, crops and the annual haymaking. Could there be anything more healthy for a city boy with most of the food grown on site apart from a few staples — and fresh warm unpasterised milk straight from the cow? Great times as long as you watched your footing around the yards and cow bails. And yes, don’t tease and antagonise that big black bull way out in his paddock.
New Zealand’s foreign policy was British foreign policy — but change was on the horizon. Britain would join the European Common Market, and New Zealand would have to seek new markets for its primary produce, and that American Rock and Roll music would soon see Americans in person down Christchurch way as the American Deep Freeze program down south in the Antarctic in the New Zealand summer was based out by Christchurch Airport, and the American icebreakers berthed at Lyttleton Harbour, just over the Port Hills from Christchurch City.
Change was a coming, so was the coca cola, pepsi, hamburgers and American cream freeze ice-cream. Also in the New Zealand psyche just a few years in the future was a foreign southeast asian country named South Vietnam. The happy city boy would grow up and witness some real and significant social changes in New Zealand.
New Zealand would become a major mens softball world power in a few years too. Elvis would be joined later by names that would become world pop music icons — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — and Vietnam would become a dirty word, and New Zealand’s volunteer returned soldiers would have to be whisked in during the hours of darkness. Times were really changing!