Old Nelson – a postcard history 1900-1940 by Rob Packer and Barney Brewster, published by Nikau Press, became available for sale in our local bookstores just before Christmas 2017. On March 1st, 2018 its co-authors spoke to our society’s meeting and offered some insights into its production. The images and text reproduced on this site are with their permission and that of the publishers.
To those who have grown up in Nelson, the settings of most of the postcards will be very familiar but the clothes, modes of transport, the crowded nature or emptiness of some of the street scenes are greatly changed. Yet if you look at the two young men crossing Bridge Street on page 13, with their slicked- back hair, and stovepipe trousers showing a fashionable amount of ankle -( their socks might have been shocking pink or ming blue) – straight out of the late 1950’s.
To quote from the book’s blurb: “On the edge of Empire then, the Nelson region was also on the cusp of modernity, as will be seen in this first selection from a notable private collection of postcards. They do say that the past is another country, and how foreign this one looks, yet familiar too. It’s surely Nelson town and country, but how very different the shoreline was then! And not just the seafront, unsurprisingly. Old wagons raise dust old ships and trains belch smoke – and young people play in the street. Hatted gents and ladies go about their business (or leisure) by horse cab or bicycle, or breeze about in quaint old cars. Not that they were quaint then – they were quite the latest. As for the antique fashions, every six year old wonders if these long-gone people realised at the time that they were living in the olden days, but we surely know better.”
The postcards are not solely focused on Nelson and its immediate environs. There are cards from Murchison (the earthquake ones), Golden Bay, the Waimea and the Moutere. Most are from the F. N. Jones collection. Some record famous events: the first aeroplane to land in Nelson/Stoke and Motueka, the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (later to be King and Queen), others natural events (a hail storm in 1911) and men training for war as well as the peace celebrations which finally followed.
When asked what guided their choice from the hundreds in Rob’s collection the reply was simple, “We chose the ones we liked.” So in each case the motivation for inclusion was some personal connection – a great way to ensure that this collection is full of life, made more meaningful by Barney’s commentary on each one which often draws attention to details which he was able to see more easily on the original negatives.
This is a fascinating overview of life in the Nelson Province in the first half of the 20th Century.