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Victoria Esson, Head of Sector Development | Pouwhakahaere, Te Papa

This collection is a nostalgic romp through the orange-and-brown tinged memories of my 1970s childhood in Aotearoa | New Zealand.



Toy, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa

I made one of these flipping toys in “woodwork” which we did once a week at school. I had to carefully cut each piece out with a manual puzzle saw and try not to break the blade by going wonky. I broke several blades in the process then used the “hot poker” to burn in the flipping man’s features. It never lost the burnt wood smell.


Picture of a fijian doll

Doll Fijian Policeman, Museum of Transport and Technology

My Dad was an Officer in the NZ Army Territorial Force and occasionally went on training missions overseas. In the 1970s he travelled to Fiji a few times for “exercises”. My sister and I held out for the ration packs he sometimes bought home, mostly for the chocolate. On his first trip to Fiji, I also asked for a Fijian Police Officer because I was impressed with the uniform. Apparently, he did ask an Officer to come home who declined, at least that’s what he told me. I did get a doll pretty much like this one.

Knuckle bones showdown

Picture of knuckle bones

Knuckle bones, Mataura Museum

This was a favourite game in our 1970s household, mostly because our mum was REALLY good. My sister and I practiced with our mum’s old “real” knuckle bones like these ones that came off the farm she grew up on. Despite our practicing and hours of commitment we infrequently managed to conquer mum and her champion status!

Brownie faithful

Picture of two children in scouts and brownie uniforms

Negative: Mrs Dawson's Two Children, 1975, Canterbury Museum

Check out the fabulous uniform in this photo, which in my view is much nicer than the Boys’ Brigade one. My uniform was just like one – covered in badges all the way up the arm. I was obsessed with earning badges, the “cup of tea” badge I remember was earned by making someone a cup of tea. I often used our elderly neighbour as the person who benefited from my assigned Brownie tasks. Our troupe attended important city events and openings together. That all came to a crashing halt when I ‘flew up” to Guides. I didn’t love the transition and quit not long after.

A meeting with the Queen

Picture of Queen Elizabeth 2nd

Royal visit, 1977, South Canterbury Museum

Queen Elizabeth II visited Palmerston North on 26 February 1977. I was 7 years old and my birthday is on the 7th, so of course my lucky number is also 7. So many sevens lining up, so much luck coming my way that year. So naturally the Queen stopped and asked me a question. She singled me out from all the other Brownies lined up showing off their badges. Although I was disappointed she was not wearing a crown and a ball dress, I was still star struck, so much so I was unable to answer her question at first. Poor Queen had to ask twice but left Palmerston North knowing the name of at least one Brownie troupe.

Trash trailblazers

Womble figurine

Figurine, Womble, early 1970s, Puke Ariki

Ah the Wombles who wombled free. I loved them and this fellow is likely to be Orinoco - a lazy, sleepy Womble based on the creator’s teenage son. The Wombles had a strong environmental message before it was popular and were the masters of upcycling rubbish. This Womble has been lovingly crafted out of Fimo modelling clay another common 1970s pastime.

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