Story: Rural recreation

Country people work hard, but they also enjoy their time off. From rugby, racing and beer to the more genteel pursuits of plays and music, from competitions in shearing, wood-chopping or floral art to Saturday-night dances at the local hall, rural people have always made their own fun.

Story by Jock Phillips
Main image: The barrel race

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Colonial recreation

After Europeans settled in New Zealand, from the 1840s, country people found ways to enjoy themselves at home, including:

  • talking and telling yarns
  • singing around the piano and playing cards and other games
  • reading novels and newspapers
  • hunting birds, pigs, goats and deer, or going eeling or fishing
  • visiting friends and relatives
  • going to balls and parties.

Organised recreation

As country communities grew, they organised events, such as:

  • picnics at local beauty spots, with contests and a roasted bullock
  • concerts, races and sports days, which were often held on holidays like Easter Monday or New Year’s Day
  • horse racing – soon racing clubs and courses were set up
  • A & P (agricultural and pastoral) shows.

Small-town sports

As transport improved, people could go into town more easily. Small towns put aside land for sports grounds, and teams were set up. Rugby became an important sport, and people enjoyed going to games and having a beer after. People also played cricket and tennis – but summer was busy on farms, so winter sports were more popular.

Country halls

Local halls were built in country towns and used for concerts, lectures, plays, parties, and showing movies once a week. Women’s and youth groups met in halls. There were dances on Saturday nights, where everyone came from the local farms, and young men sneaked outside to drink beer.

Changes in recreation

From the 1960s, many people moved to the city. Roads were better, so country people could go into town for their fun. Others stayed home on Saturday nights to watch television. There was less organised recreation in country areas.

Work as play

Contests based on country work skills have always been popular, including:

  • ploughing
  • wood chopping
  • shearing
  • dog trials.

Horse sports

As well as racing, people enjoyed:

  • hunting on horseback
  • polo
  • rodeo, which is popular with Māori.
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Rural recreation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-recreation (accessed 24 September 2018)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 24 Nov 2008