Golden days – summer in the ’50s and ’60s

What better way to celebrate summer than through the lens of the golden days of the 1950s and ’60s?

Bronwyn Labrum, author of Real Modern and devoted lover of all things summery, shares from her book some of her favourite images of glorious summers past.

Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s (Te Papa Press, 2015)

Friends gather at Wellington’s Scorching Bay in 1960 to sunbathe, lounge and catch up on the latest goings on. Seeing and being seen, rather than swimming and sport, were the priorities at this urban beach. Car boots and bumpers provided handy hooks for towels and togs.

Scorching Bay, Wellington, March 1960, Wellington, by Brian Brake. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CT.031876)

See Lisa Reihana’s vast digital wallpaper for the first time in Aotearoa New Zealand since its showing at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

These are some of the delightful bathing outfits featured in Real Modern. The pink 1950s one (left) is really a play suit and was not meant to be worn in the water. It reflects the influence of Californian styling and Hollywood glamour on leisurewear. The poncho reflects the loosening of styles in the 1960s, as do the striped 1960s men’s togs, which were worn lower on the hips than in the previous decade.

From left: Bathing costume, woman’s, 1950s, United States, by Ada of California. Purchased 2001. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH009653); Poncho, circa 1965, New Zealand, by Swinging DJ Casuals. Purchased 2006. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH015875); Bathing costume, man’s, circa 1960-1970, New Zealand, by Roslyn Woollen Mills. Purchased 2008.CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH015910)

Celebrate our 8-legged friends with a reading of the kiwi classic ‘Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerewere’, a move like a spider workshop, spider-themed crafts, and resident Te Papa spider expert on hand to answer your questions.

Sunflowers snaking up the wooden fence, corn growing in straight lines to attention and an over-abundance of tomatoes, with surplus for bottling ... Such images are conjured up by these colourful seed packet designs by Bernard Roundhill. His artwork was part of a wholesale redesign for the Yates company in 1956.

Small Yates seed packets, samples, various (from left): Small Yates Flower Seed Packet - Sample- "Sunflower - Golden Emblem Dwarf", maker unknown. Te Papa (CA000679/001/0001); Small Yates Vegetable Seed Packet - Sample - "Tomato - Large Red", maker unknown. Te Papa (CA000679/001/0039); Yates - Vegetable Seed Packets - "Sweet Corn - Mixed", 1956, by Bernard Roundhill. Te Papa (CA000678/001/0050)

Te Papa’s co-leaders, Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive Courtney Johnston and Kaihautū | Māori Co-leader Arapata Hakiwai, are looking forward to welcoming people back to Te Papa.

The bounty of a typically well-stocked backyard vegetable garden is celebrated in this domestic scene. Is this woman the proud gardener? And are her striking summer frock and white high heels her habitual gardening gear?

Vegetable garden (Jan 20th), 1950s to 1960s, Riccarton, by FR Lamb. Te Papa (CT.058561)

Events at Te Papa can go ahead at the Red | Whero setting, but with restrictions. Here’s what you need to know.

Family groups ring the Auckland Domain on a Saturday afternoon in 1960 as they watch the most popular sport of the summer, the local cricket match. Even little ones had something to amuse them – in this case, shaking out the picnic rug.

Cricket match on Auckland’s Domain, 1960, Auckland, by Brian Brake. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (E.005444/7)

Here are some of the te reo Māori kupu (words) you might encounter during your visit to Te Papa or on our websites.

These summer dresses were worn by Shelley O’Brien at school in rural Tinui in the Wairarapa. Each year, her grandmother, Winnie O’Hara, made a ‘town’ dress and a ‘school’ dress for Shelley and her sister, Maureen. The red dress was worn with a cardigan and red shoes or sandals. The large square pockets sewn to the front of the other dress were made for carrying handkerchiefs to school.

From left: Dress, child’s, circa 1950s, New Zealand, by Winnie O'Hara. Gift of Shelley Venimore (née O'Brien), 2011. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH017175); Child’s dress, circa 1950s, New Zealand, by Winnie O'Hara. Gift of Shelley Venimore (née O'Brien), 2011. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH017179)

Getting dressed to go up town shopping on a Friday night was a weekly ritual in the 1950s and ’60s. Here a smart young family are wandering past the enticing windows in Rotorua’s main street. What is the mother thinking? Is she dreaming of a new summer dress, I wonder?

Young couple, window shopping, Rotorua, 1963, Rotorua, by Ans Westra. Purchased 2012. Te Papa (O.039578)

Summer in the 1950s meant brightly patterned frocks with nipped in waists and detailing around the neckline. These examples include (from left) a striped, silk French-made number, a nylon floral frock and a pretty two-toned dress from the very popular English Horrockses brand (whose garments, like many at the time, were made under licence in New Zealand).

Women’s dresses (from left): Dress, woman’s, 1950-1959, France, maker unknown. Purchased 2004. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH014367); Dress, circa 1955, England, maker unknown. Gift of Mrs M Sadler, 1986. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (PC003660); Dress, circa 1960, England, by Horrockses Fashions, California Productions (New Zealand) Limited. Purchased 2011. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH017060)

Te Wiki o te reo Māori is the celebration of te reo Māori including all things te ao Māori. Let us help you on your reo (language) journey by providing fun kemu (games), online waiata (songs), and access to taonga (treasures) that tell the stories of te reo Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This trio of matching summer accessories was made in England and purchased in Palmerston North’s CM Ross Department Store. The hat is in the Princess style that was very popular in the early 1950s, while the handbag and gloves (mandatory wear for the respectable woman, even in the heat of summer) are made of kidskin.

Clockwise from top left: Bag, woman’s, circa 1950, by Finesse. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH015806/1); Hat, woman’s, circa 1950, maker unknown. Purchased 2007. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH015807); Gloves, pair of, circa 1950, by Finesse. Purchased 2007. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH015805)

Minaaka Music presents a series of online performances of waiata (songs) and kōrero (talks) to embrace and celebrate the beauty of te reo Māori (the Māori language) during Te Wiki o te reo Māori 2021 with one performance every day of original waiata.

Two lovely fresh examples of 1950s summer hats. The jaunty yellow and white model is handmade from felt, satin and synthetic fibre with a wide brim and flower sprigs to recreate a sense of summer gardens. The tomato red model is sleeker and would be worn closer to the head with its wide bow centred on the forehead.

Women’s hats (left to right): Hat, 1950s, by Fleur. Gift of Mrs Moira Smith, 1982. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (PC002460/1); Woman’s hat, 1950s, by Morley. Gift of Peter Thomson, 1995. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (PC004534)

Fashionable women flocked to the new boutiques that sprang up in suburban areas in the late 1960s. This brochure advertises the ‘New, new, 1967 look’ at the Maison Noisette in Paraparaumu, including garments from Christian Dior and the latest looks in synthetic fabrics, such as crimpilene. Alongside the drawings of smartly tailored clothing, the design of the brochure emphasises the growing influence of fashions for young people and the trend for psychedelia.

’Maison Noisette - In Love with summer?’, 1967, New Zealand, by Maison Noisette Limited, Kate Coolahan. Te Papa (CA000478/003/0006/0001)

Here are some of the te reo Māori kupu (Māori words) you might encounter during your visit to Te Papa or on our websites.

Despite the fact that New Zealand is closer to the Pacific than the United States, American views of the Pacific islands, linking them with exotic summers and dusky romances, infused popular New Zealand culture. The cover of this programme for the highly successful South Pacific stage musical, which toured New Zealand in the early 1950s, reflects these rather fanciful ideas.

Programme - "South Pacific", 1952-3, Wellington, by Geo. W. Slade Ltd, J.C. Williamson Theatres. Gift of Betty McFadgen on behalf of Rori Hall, 2005. Te Papa (GH011010)

Sometimes, the origins behind reo words can get lost in translation, their meanings altered to mean something derogatory or unpleasant. Kaiako (teacher) Joan Costello shares a kōrero (story) behind the word Pākehā, and helps us understand the beauty of the word.

Visit Te Papa Press to find out more about Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s by Bronwyn Labrum (2015).

Sustainable indigenised practice in colonial museum models – is there such a thing? Kaihāpai Mātauranga Māori | Head of Mātauranga Māori Puawai Cairns explores this question in this adaptation of a speech given in 2019.

Visit Te Papa’s Collections Online to see more objects featured in Real Modern.