The birth of the New Zealand weekend, 1936–1945
In the 1930s industrial awards increasingly provided for a 40-hour week. With the Industrial Conciliation Amendment Act 1936 and the Factories Amendment Act 1936 the Labour government fixed a 40-hour week as the standard for most workers in factories and workshops. The government argued that a shorter working week increased employment opportunities in a time of economic depression. The trade unions wanted a 40-hour week for all workers, but shop assistants were excluded from these acts. The Shops and Offices Amendment Act 1936 did limit shop assistants’ hours to 44 a week and guaranteed them a weekly half-holiday starting from noon.
During the 1930s a number of local bodies changed their half-holidays to Saturday. With most workers now on a 40-hour week, and many with a two-day weekend, the shop assistants’ unions campaigned for a five-day shopping week. They encountered strong opposition from many retailers, housewives and farmers. The Shops and Offices Amendment Act 1945 set a 40-hour week for shop assistants. From 1945 until 1980 most shops had a late night on Friday and were shut all day on Saturday.
The great New Zealand weekend, 1945–1980
In the years from 1945 to 1980 weekends for many New Zealanders followed a similar general pattern. Late-night shopping on a Friday provided a time for people to meet and socialise. Friday nights got livelier from 1967 when 6 o’clock closing ended and pubs could open until 10 p.m. Larger towns also had a few late-night venues such as clubs, cabarets and dance halls. Smaller towns had clubs for members, in addition to various illegal late-night drinking and gambling establishments.
To overseas visitors it seemed that New Zealand shut down on Saturdays and Sundays. With few shops open and only a limited number of entertainment venues, most people had to make their own fun. During the 1950s and 1960s Saturday sport continued to be an important social activity in small town and rural New Zealand. Horse racing was widely followed. Fishing, gardening or DIY (do-it-yourself) home maintenance were common Saturday pastimes. In summer people would flock to the beach and other favourite swimming spots. Saturdays were also the time for events such as school fairs.
Movies provided matinee entertainment for younger people and Saturday night fare for older audiences. In rural areas dances and other social events were held. The 1950s saw the arrival of rock ’n’ roll music in New Zealand, appealing to a youth audience. Bands initially played in dance halls and cabarets but, when opening hours were extended, began to play in pubs too. As more people owned cars, driving around on Friday and Saturday nights became a common form of entertainment among young people, often raising concerns among the older population.
Making the best of it
A 1950 handbook for European immigrants warned that ‘to the Continental European our Sundays usually appear to be very dull, because no entertainment of any kind is available on that day and normally every week-day activity closes down. Not all New Zealanders agree with this state of affairs, but most of us feel that the old tradition of keeping one day in the week for religious worship and quiet family reunion, is preferable to any other. You must make the best of these things and try not to pass judgment until you understand why they are so.’1
Sunday – quiet as the grave
Sundays were even quieter than Saturdays. Sunday newspapers were not made legal until 1965. Sport was generally discouraged on Sundays; no first-class cricket was played on a Sunday until 1968. Sunday television was advertisement-free until 1989. For some people churchgoing remained the main focus of the day. Others saw Sunday as an ideal time to visit relatives, go for a Sunday drive, go to the beach or have a picnic. The idea of Sunday as a quiet day to spend with the family remained important for many people, whether they were churchgoers or not. The day often revolved around the tradition of the Sunday roast.
Weekends were not quite so relaxed for women with families, who were generally expected to do most of the housework and household management. Their weekend might involve supervising children, preparing Sunday dinners and picnic lunches, washing rugby jerseys and organising visits to relatives.