Otago 17 - Southland 11 : a social history of Otago rugby in the 1940s
Sport plays a special role in New Zealand society, and one sport, rugby, dominates all others in terms or time, interest and participation. The 'national game' has helped to shape New Zealanders' perceptions or themselves, and the feats or the All Blacks have assisted the formulation of national identity. New Zealanders take pride in their prowess in this physically demanding game, and every Saturday in winter thousands turn out to participate in the game, as players or spectators. This interest is reflected in the great number or accounts or teams, games and trophies, and yet surprisingly little has been written about the role rugby has played in society. This long essay looks at what rugby meant for the people or Otago in the 1940s. In the history or rugby in the province, the 1940s were probably the most interesting and certainly the most important decade. It could be divided into two distinct periods; the war years and the Shield era. Between 1939 and 1945, New Zealand was involved in a major war, and this had an impact on sport as it did every other facet or New Zealand life. The first chapter will look at the impact or the war on the rugby in the province, and at the response or the ORFU, the clubs and the players to the difficulties or wartime rugby. The other important, and distinct, period in the 1940s was the 'Shield Era', when for three glorious years the province held the symbol or national rugby supremacy, the Ranfurly Shield. Otago was at its most formidable in 1948, its centennial year, and the final chapter looks at this period and its significance for the province. During the war years, rugby at the club level was most important, for there were few representative games played. But in the Shield era, Carisbrook hosted a feast of representative football, and all attention focused on the Otago team and its achievements. These two periods were very different because of this, and yet there was much that remained the same. These elements have been incorporated in the middle chapters. The first two look at those who were most actively involved in the game, the players, and the coaches and administrators. The latter two chapters regard the rituals that surrounded the game and were followed by the players and spectators. In writing a social history of rugby in the 1940s one great advantage has been the ability to use oral sources. Oral evidence adds life and vigour to the history of a lively and vigorous game, and where possible I have tried to reproduce this evidence, rather than that of newspapers or minutes, in the text. In conducting the interview I followed the procedure set out in Paul Thompson's The Voice of the Past, and then each interview was transcribed in full. Where possible, evidence was checked against documented sources (mostly newspapers). The 'Saturday' chapter in particular has drawn largely on oral sources, and so perhaps this best of all gives an insight into what the game meant for these men, and the many thousands like them. In all, I have tried not to lose sight of the game itself. As D. Smith and G. Williams in their fine work Fields of Praise noted, the game has too often emerged only as an illustration of something else that was going on in the real world; the intrinsic value of the game's history and the interlocking aspects with 'the real world' have not been appreciated.
Advisor: Olssen, Erik
Degree Name: Bachelor of Arts (Hons.)
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Dissertation