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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)


Physical Welfare and Recreation

(Specially Written for “N.Z. Railways Magazine,” by W. F. Ingram.)

Panorama of the Playground”… That is the title of this section of the “Railways Magazine.” I do not know who was the person responsible for naming the section but, on reviewing the “Physical Welfare and Recreation Bill” introduced into the House of Representatives by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. W. E. Party, I feel sure that the title “Panorama of the Playground” embraces the ideals behind the Minister in introducing his scheme.

Sport, as an organised spectacle for the masses, has been placed in its proper perspective as merely one means of achieving physical fitness. It was, perhaps, unfortunate that the term “Council of Sport” became coined when the Bill was first mooted. Sport is and should only be a means to achieving fitness and the welfare of the people. There is a vast difference between sport, as we know it in New Zealand, and “recreation.”

Sport has been responsible for a great deal of hardship being inflicted on the youth of New Zealand. Years ago the Basin Reserve, that beautiful green sward almost in the heart of Wellington City, was really and truly a sports centre. On it the children of the Capital City could play their juvenile games—games which seem to have been forgotten as they grew older. Even when the senior cricket matches were being played it was a common sight to see a number of kiddies having a game on their own around the outskirts of the playing area.

Then came the age of “organised sport,” in which it must be admitted that sport and sportsmanship did not always parallel. Not only have the juvenile cricketers been kept off, but only a few years ago a dictum was issued which prevented the amateur athletic officials from including races for children on their programmes. Barefooted kiddies were warned off the grass!

In time the Basin Reserve was dubbed “A sanctuary for seagulls.”

One of the proposals included in the “Physical Welfare and Recreation Bill” is to provide for play-areas where children may pursue their youthful playground activities.

Perhaps the Minister had recollections of his schoolboy days when he made this provision? … I was talking to a prominent businessman a few days ago and we discussed the ideals of the Minister's scheme.

“Did you ever play ‘Fly the Garter’ at school?” he asked me. I replied in the affirmative and he was astonished to discover that at last he had met somebody who had played one of the games of his childhood! Those childhood days and childhood games! If the Minister can only revive those games and give the kiddies back their heritage he will have achieved something worthwhile, but that is not the entire purpose of the Bill.

It is the simpler forms of athletic exercise that require developing in New Zealand.

The mechanical age has enabled the growing youth to escape the household duties which helped to develop the physique of our fathers. Chopping wood, bringing in the buckets full of coal, carrying water from the wells… these are no longer the odd jobs of the lads of this age. Electricity, even on many remote farms, has solved the heating and cooking problems and instead of developing muscles in this manner the young fry go along to the tennis court for the afternoon. It wouldn't be so bad if they played tennis when they arrived at the courts but …. they don't! And they don't because there are too many players for the number of courts. For every four players in action it is safe to state that there are twenty waiting for games. This congestion is caused by two factors. First, the lack of accommodation, and secondly, the lack of other forms of sport to provide some attraction.

A well-known Wellington businessman, manager in New Zealand for a Canadian firm, tells me that in Canada the school playgrounds are open for play all the year. They do not close the playground when the school terms end. It was from the play activities in the recess period that a great sport emanated in Canada. This is the game called “soft ball”—a form of baseball. Realising that the children would be liable to risk of injury if a hard ball were used, the teachers experimented with a soft ball and a new sport was evolved.

These pupils took their sport into the years that followed after leaving school and, to-day, softball has taken on as a summer sport in America, as well as in Canada, and has already been played in Wellington by more than twenty teams.

And while we bemoan the fact that our standard of Rugby has degenerated, might we pause to reflect that the loss of standard may be due to the loss of the “natural” forms of sport brought on by the motor age? In years gone by the streets were the playgrounds of the kiddies and the football was usually a page 70 page 71 bundle of newspapers or rags. The advent of the motor-car put the streets in a “no-man's-land” category and the natural form of sport was denied, with the result that our young players have to learn their football on the football field.

And it is appalling the number of school playgrounds in New Zealand which are dangerous for football play. Concreted or asphalted so that tennis may be played on them during the non-school days, these playgrounds are denied the kiddies who should be out with the ball at every opportunity as we did twenty years ago. Perhaps the “decadence” in our Rugby is not altogether due to the introduction of the 3–3–2 scrum or the kick-into-touch rule!

If New Zealand could really have a “Panorama Of Playgrounds” our National Health would be better than it is to-day. It is this ideal to which the Minister of Internal Affairs is striving.