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Sport, 1940-1960

Page 5 – Changing trends

Professionals in an amateur age

Particularly in the South Island, annual community sports days adapted from British models hosted contests ranging from professional athletics to wood-chopping and obscure Scottish pursuits. Most professional sport was marginalised, practised only by those with great talent in boxing, wrestling or billiards – or badly in need of extra income. Among the talented few were Patrick O’Connor, world champion heavyweight wrestler, and Clark McConachy, world billiards champion for 17 years. The fact that the great majority of rugby league players, many of whom were Māori, received no form of payment did not prevent them being barred for life from amateur rugby.

The rise of individualism

As wartime bonds faded from immediate memory in the 1950s, leisure activities became a little more individualistic. Competitive sport was no exception to this trend. Athletics has already been mentioned. Another example is yachting, in which New Zealanders first excelled internationally at Melbourne in 1956 with the gold medal-winning team of Jack Cropp and Peter Mander.

Motor sport

In the late 1950s huge crowds watched the world’s best drivers compete on the New Zealand Grand Prix circuit. Bruce McLaren was runner-up in the Formula One world championship in 1960, and New Zealand motorcyclists and speedway riders also triumphed in Europe. Car clubs proliferated from the 1940s. Sybil Lupp, mechanic, motor-racing driver and Jaguar aficionado, became the first woman on the executive of the Association of New Zealand Car Clubs in 1947–48.


Aided by the surge in car ownership, golf was the fastest-growing sport in the 1950s, with young Bob Charles leading the way. This foreshadowed a future in which, thanks to television, professional careers could be almost life-long – Charles was still prospering as a golfer in the early 2000s.

How to cite this page

Changing trends, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated