Tauranga once a ‘second California’

Tauranga specialist information librarian Stephanie Smith among the exhibition cases featuring ‘A Second California’. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

Tauranga specialist information librarian Stephanie Smith has been “longing” to share the little-known story of famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s dip in the sea at Mount Maunganui in 1934.

A new exhibition at Tauranga Central Library ‘A Second California’, has now given her the opportunity.

The name of the exhibition comes from the early 1900s when Tauranga was spoken of as ‘a second California’ for its sunshine, fruit-growing capabilities and healthy outdoor lifestyle.

“George Bernard Shaw had a swim at the Mount in 1934 and there was a large crowd standing around. I can just see him, this old bloke with a beard in his bright red togs announcing how wonderful it was. Of course, everyone was delighted because that’s what you want to hear – somebody famous praising our beach,” says Stephanie.

An experimental fruit farm was established in Tauranga in 1905, growing a variety of citrus, and Te Puke became the centre of the New Zealand kiwifruit (or Chinese gooseberry as it was still referred to then) industry.

Citrus Festivals were popular annual events in Tauranga during the 1950s-1970s, with beauty pageants and street parades among the festivities.

Although Tauranga was billed as a place of health and sunshine, people still experienced health issues.

Tauranga had no public refuse collection until 1936 and the town tip was located at the bottom of Elizabeth Street near the Waikareao Estuary.

The exhibition also includes the ledger of Tauranga doctor William Armitage, which records his treatment of patients and prescriptions he issued from 1882-1884, and examples of some of the medical remedies of the time, such as Californian Syrup of Figs for the treatment of constipation.

Part of the reason for the high levels of constipation in those days was diet, say Stephanie. Despite it being a fruit-growing region there wasn’t a lot of fruit consumed. The exhibition includes a cookbook from a Katikati family largely filled with meat – hashed calf’s head and mock turtle soup – and stodgy pudding recipes.

The exhibition also features ‘The Veedee’ a medical vibrator that was used to treat all kinds of medical conditions ranging from constipation, to writer’s cramp and bronchitis.

“It looks like an eggbeater. You put it against your skin and some kind person turns the handle. It was supposed to cure anything,” says Stephanie.

Items in the exhibition have been sourced from the library Research Collections (paper) and Tauranga Heritage Collection (objects). The New Zealand Room library team changes the exhibition a few times each year, bringing new items out of the archives each time.

“A lot of the interesting things we’ve got are locked away and people don’t have a chance to see them unless they see something in the catalogue and come along and ask. We bring them out, but that’s different from having things on display,” says Stephanie.

“I’m always happy when I find finger marks on the cases because it means people have been looking.”


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