Summer holidays. These two words evoke many happy memories for young and old alike. During January when the sun shines, hundreds of holiday-makers can been seen at beaches all around New Zealand, playing on the sand, frolicking in the waves or relaxing in the shade with a book, a picnic and a friend or two. Whanganui Regional Museum archives reveal that summer excursions to our local beaches have been a very popular summer pastime since the early 1900s. Photographs in the Museum collection show large crowds, with well-dressed men and women strolling along the sand, enjoying a paddle with long skirts lifted up and using umbrellas or parasols and large-brimmed hats to protect their faces from the sun.
A hundred years ago picture postcards were a popular way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives when telephones were expensive and not widely used. Illustrated postcards of people enjoying the beach were very popular. Thousands of different seaside postcard designs, many of them humorous, were produced in Britain, with millions of copies printed, sold and sent.
Two illustrated seaside postcards in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection provide a gently humorous picture of leisure at the local beach around 100 years ago. One captioned “Castlecliff is a most (em)bracing place” shows a man relaxing in the sand-dunes with his arms around two young ladies. The other, captioned “On the sands at Wanganui. It’s a lot better than being at school”, shows a smiling child wearing a frilly white apron and cloth hat with her dress tucked into her underclothes. These images may have been designed as general seaside souvenirs that could be printed with captions to suit a range of locations, rather than specifically depicting Castlecliff or Whanganui scenes.
Another postcard is made from a black and white photographic reproduction of a crowd of people paddling and sitting on the sand and enjoying a stroll at Castlecliff Beach. This early image of the river mouth is by well-known Whanganui photographer Frank Denton. The beach stretches around a natural curve at the river mouth and the sea-swell washes into the river. Ladies lift the hems of their long dresses over the wet sand while children play and paddle in the shallows at the edge of the river. In the far distance a line of surf marks the edge of the sea.
This summer at Castlecliff Beach we are unlikely to see many fully suited gentlemen and ladies in high heeled shoes relaxing in the sand-dunes. The children playing on Whanganui beaches will be wearing swimming togs or shorts, rather than dresses with frilly aprons over the top, but their enjoyment of the beach will be just the same as it was 100 years ago.
Many of us will be taking holiday snapshots to remember happy times at the beach and these will most likely be shared with family and friends digitally through Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, rather than as printed photographs or postcards. In 100 years from now I wonder if there will be any physical record of our fun at beach, or will all those digital memories have disappeared?
Margie Beautrais is the educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.