In many respects the 1950s and 1960s were the halcyon years of rural recreation. Many people still lived in the country. Farming was prosperous, and prosperity bought leisure. Roads improved and many people could drive to the local hall or sports ground. Sports games were well attended, dances at the hall were regular, and women’s groups flourished. In larger communities the returned servicemen’s association (RSA) club offered a popular drinking place for veterans.
After the Second World War, horse riding became popular as recreation. In 1944 Dorothy Campbell of Hastings set up the first pony club, and two years later the New Zealand association was formed. The movement spread fast in rural areas, encouraging young people, especially girls, to take up horse riding.
In the early 2000s, there were over 8,000 members and 81 clubs, holding regular classes and camps. Some communities had run horse sports since the 1920s, and now more put on gymkhanas. There were dressage and jumping competitions, and novelty events such as egg-and-spoon or thread-the-needle races. Riding and jumping competitions increased at A & P shows.
From the 1960s social changes brought a decline in some established rural recreations.
- The introduction of television in 1960 led to the end of Saturday night ‘flicks’.
- Improved roads made it easier for people to travel further for recreation – to larger centres, or into cities like Christchurch and Hamilton, for cinemas and concerts.
- The growing number of women in paid employment, and new attitudes encouraging joint activities for men and women, affected the rural women’s organisations. The Hurunui district had 18 Country Women’s Institutes in the 1950s. Five closed between 1967 and 1978, and another five were gone by 1998.
- Tough economic times on farms led to people moving to the city. It became harder to fill the sports teams, and clubs closed.
Halls also fell into disuse as the end of six o’clock closing encouraged pubs to provide food and comfortable seating. Sports clubs, especially golf clubs, built clubhouses with bars. The hotel and the club replaced the hall as the centre of Saturday night fun, and dances were no longer held. Some halls were sold off. Increasingly social gatherings were private, not community affairs.
One woman who had grown up in the Waikākahi district was appalled when name tags had to be handed out at a function at the local hall in the 1990s. Such an act was unimaginable in the 1950s when everyone came to the hall regularly.
Many older clubs such as the RSAs and lodges which had once attracted good attendance began to see a big fall-off. Many lodges closed.
Lions was a new organisation which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. The Lions raised money or organised working bees for the local community, and the combination of fundraising and socialising was attractive for many country folk.
Clubs did not entirely disappear. In 1999 Culverden in North Canterbury still had 45 clubs – around one-third sporting groups, one-third women’s and cultural groups, and seven organisations for young people.