We are the Wellington Caravan Club / So we don’t have to stop in a pub, / We bring our vans from far and near, / And this is what you’ll hear, / When we go caravanning, caravanning, / With the Wellington Caravanning Club.
These are the words of a song composed for a Wellington Caravan Club rally in 1952. That decade, caravanning started to really pick up as a way to take a summer holiday. The Wellington Caravan Club even had a waiting list for members.
By the fifties, petrol was finally no longer rationed and New Zealand workers had two whole weeks of annual leave to relax in. In an era before motels, caravans gave suburban families plenty of freedom to holiday wherever they chose. Employment was stable. Job security meant the purchase on luxury items like a tent or even one of the caravans that were being made commercially – unlike the unique, home-engineered one you can see above.
Over the last few decades, caravans and camping grounds seem to have become objects of nostalgic longing, finding their way into the hallowed, paua inlaid hall of kiwiana. You can’t escape them. Movies, plays, and television feature them; they are printed on tea towels and appear on stamps and tee-shirts. To adapt a quote from one of my favourite American tv comedies Portlandia: everyone seems to want to: ‘Put a caravan on it’
But how much fun was caravanning back in the day, really (see above)? I’ve got my own opinion, which I’ll keep to myself for now. But in the meantime, if you haven’t set foot in a motor camp for a while, or roughed it at a DoC campsite, I’ve selected a few items at Te Papa related to caravanning (and its poor cousin, tenting) so you can at least go camping in the collections.
The two photographs below, taken by Laurence Aberhart and Peter Peryer, show caravanning in the off-season after the sun has gone behind the clouds and the summer holidays are over. It sounds silly but the caravans in these images look sad to be parked up far away from motor camps, their natural habitats.
On the flip side, Eric Lee-Johnson’s idyllic and spontaneous photographs of family camps at Piha taken between 1946 and 1948 exude happiness. They reveal a tent tucked between a secret summer-time vege garden and the lush foliage of Auckland’s west coast bush.
And to conclude this blog, here are two icons of New Zealand popular culture, the Topp twins (Lynda and Jools), knitted up into their characters ‘Camp Mother’ and ‘Camp Leader’, which gently poke fun at the personality types many of us will know from camping culture.Knitted doll, ’Camp Mother’, circa 1999, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of Lynda and Jools Topp, 2000. Te Papa (GH007985) Knitted doll, ’Camp Leader’, circa 1999, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of Lynda and Jools Topp, 2000. Te Papa (GH007984)
Further summer holiday reading:
Chris Hunter, Vantastic: A Pictorial History of Caravans in New Zealand, Auckland, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005
Kirstie Ross, Going Bush: New Zealanders and Nature in the Twentieth Century, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2008, pp. 149-155.