Story: Domestic recreation and hobbies

Page 2. Recreation with family and friends

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Recreation at home

In the 19th and early 20th centuries families and friends often gathered in each other’s homes when they wanted to socialise. Private homes were acceptable places for women to get together. Although the pub was a very popular leisure site for men, not all men automatically headed there.

Social evenings often revolved around the piano, with one person playing and others singing or dancing. From the 1920s radios and gramophones replaced the piano in many living rooms and still provided music, an important social lubricant. Family and friends also played cards and other games together.

The growth of commercial leisure opportunities in the 20th century provided more options outside the home, but homes remained important recreational venues.

In a 1991 survey the home remained the most popular place for leisure. Though individualistic home-based leisure activities like watching TV and reading rated highly, talking with family, caring for pets and playing with children were also popular activities.

Limited options

A man born in 1910 recalled that when he was young, ‘there was a lot of visiting. There wasn’t the entertainment, like there was no television or anything. So you went visiting … There wouldn’t be a Sunday go past that we didn’t have visitors. Every Sunday. It was the thing to do.’1


Visiting family and friends and hosting them in turn was one of the most important forms of recreation for housewives. Visiting could be fitted around domestic duties and provided a rare opportunity for these women to leave the home without their husbands. For women in urban areas a simplified version of this was chatting with neighbours over the fence.

Whole families also went visiting.

In the 20th century women’s leisure options expanded beyond the domestic sphere, and leisure in general became more varied. However, leisure surveys showed that visiting and home-based sociability were still important towards the end of the century, and women rated this more highly than men.


The 2007/8 Active New Zealand Survey showed that walking was the most popular physical recreation activity and that 64% of New Zealanders aged 16 and over walked for sport or recreation over a period of 12 months.

Family and community events

Picnicking was a very popular recreational activity in the 19th century and for much of the 20th century. Huge community picnics were common events on public holidays. Families also attended community and church fairs together and it was not uncommon for children to go to community dances with their parents and bed down in the hall or barn.

Increasing car ownership from the 1920s allowed families and groups of friends to extend their picnicking range. The Sunday drive was a familiar ritual until the 1970s when petrol became more expensive.

In the early 2000s many local councils ran summer entertainment programmes. These included public events such as concerts and outdoor film screenings, which harked back to the community picnics of the previous two centuries.

  1. Quoted in Greatest moments in New Zealand netball history. Chicago: Canada Hockey LLC, 2011, p. 98. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Domestic recreation and hobbies - Recreation with family and friends', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 Sep 2013