New Zealanders at the beach

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Members of Piha Lifesaving Club, photo by Graham Rhodes, 1950s, NZ Maritime Museum (2015.145.23)

It’s been all about the beach here at the museum for the last four months. With only two weeks to go until At the Beach closes, I thought it was a perfect time to talk about why the beach means so much to us.

In October 2015, the museum held an event called A Day at the Beach. So much of it was to celebrate the coming summer season, but it was also about coming together around one of our countries most favourite maritime pastimes. We tried to bring the essence of a day spent at the beach to the city centre with ice cream, umbrellas, beach chairs and the skate park. With a bit of the vintage carnival seaside fun we think of with the likes of Brighton Pier.  

Honestly, who doesn’t love the beach? The beach... that magical place of salt, surf, sun and fun. The placewhere the ocean and the wind and the horizon tug at the soul.

In the exhibition publication, co-curator, Doris du Pont, describes the beach as “the border between land and sea, where ordinary rules do not apply. In this marginal zone we have a vantage point where we are free to imagine new possibilities.” The beach is a place where humans reflect and interact. It’s a space of transition and change. The beach has historically been, and still is, a figurative and literal place of comings and goings, crossings and possibilities. For so many New Zealanders especially, the beach is imbedded in our ocean crossing experiences and identities.

The show has evoked so much nostalgia for the visitors who have journeyed through the museum galleries. Each new bathing suit engages a different memory and shares a different story. And with over 100 years of summer fashion on display, the show has been able to find a multi-generational audience. It’s allowed families to talk about how times have changed, and also about how some things remain the same.

We have been so gratified at the many personal images and stories shared by members of the public of their special memories of days spent at the beach. Memories of days at the beach are so often inseperable from the memories of loved ones those days were shared with. A central and quintessentially nostaglic story in the exhibition is that of Pam Miedema, and her childhood defined by experiences at both local and holiday beaches. From the car journey, to the tenting, to the picnics with friends. This was a  “family enjoyed the beach like they were the first people to find it.” You can read an exerpt of Pam’s story in the blog here.

We are the land of the long white beach. No one is ever more than 120 kilometres from the sea, and it makes sense that the beach is one of our favourite maritime experiences. The beach is something all New Zealanders can connect to in some way. So when it comes to finding those stories that will stimulate memory, and open up dialogue to share stories, we can’t really go past the the beach, and how our relationship to the coast has impacted who we are, as individuals, as families, as communities and ultimately as a country.   

At the Beach is on view at the New Zealand Maritime Museum until Monday 8 February.