Carnival still making memories

22:43, Dec 28 2013
Phil Gayton stand
Phil Gayton helped organise the firts Oakura Beach Carnival in 1970

The first Oakura Beach Carnival, 44 years ago, had an unexpected visitor.

At 1pm, when about 10,000 people were enjoying some fun in the sun, a 10ft shark was spotted coming in to have a bit of a nosy. It took five minutes to get all of the swimmers out of the water. An hour later the shark had gone on its way and the swimmers once again hit the surf.

In 1970 it cost adults 30c to enjoy the carnival, school children 10c, and it was 20c for a car park.

The price went up in 1973 to 50c for adults and 20c for the children, but parking the car was free.

Over the years people have complained about having to pay to get on to the beach. One year the entry fee, then $2, came with a ticket to go into a draw for a trip for two to Fiji.

In 1992 complaints about paying the entrance fee had increased with the cost: $5 for adults, $2 for children and a car park was a whopping $12.


Twenty one years later, the price hadn't changed - except for those arriving after 3pm who had to pay $15 to see boyband Titanium - and neither had the complaining.

However, in 2013 there was street parking only.

Next week, for the first time, entry to the carnival is free. A programme, which is needed to win prizes, will cost a gold coin donation.

And, another first, in 2014 the carnival will not be run by the New Plymouth Old Boys' Surf Club.

A few months ago the club decided it didn't have the time or the manpower to organise such a large event, so a group of Oakura residents took up the challenge and formed a trust to keep the New Year's Day tradition going. Some of the funds raised will go to the surf club, the rest will be given to other community groups.

In 1969 debt from new clubrooms that had opened in 1966 and the need for new equipment were the catalyst for what was then called the New Plymouth Swimming and Old Boys' Surf Club to look at some fundraising options.

New Plymouth Old Boys Surf Club member Phil Gayton says entrepreneur Laurie Petty used to run week-long mardi gras in Taranaki.

Petty, a former clubbie, attended a committee meeting and suggested the surf club organise a one-day event on New Year's Day 1970, Gayton recalls.

So Gayton and Petty got together and ran the first few "grand picnic carnivals".

Petty knew the people behind the Miss New Zealand Beach Resort competition that used to be held in the first week of January at Mt Maunganui, so a Miss Taranaki Beach Resort was held, with the winner going over compete at the Mount, Gayton says.

Hawera's Raewyn Prestidge was named Miss Taranaki Beach Resort in 1970 and again in 1971.

The Beach Resort competition faded out over time and the competition became Miss Taranaki.

The first carnival raised $800, which, after expenses, left $500 for the club. In 1973 the surf club raised $2000. The Taranaki Daily News reported the event raised $10,000 in 2011 and a record $20,000 in 2008.

The expenses have also gone up. In the past few years it is estimated to cost more than $15,000 to hold the carnival.

How much is raised depends on the weather, which dictates how many people attend the event. Over the years the carnival attendance figures have fluctuated somewhere between 5000 and 10,000. In 1977 the carnival was moved to another day because of bad weather, an old newspaper story said.

Gayton has scrapbooks full of newspaper cuttings about the surf club and the carnival dating from the late 1960s.

Entertaining the crowds the first year was a ventriloquist, Punch and Judy and a talent quest.

Kevin Wood, who took over running the carnival in 1973, says the surf club had 15 or 20 young guys and girls who were all keen to get things done.

"I was gutted the [2013] committee decided to drop an event that has been going 44 years."

Back then volunteers ran everything, he says.

"Myself and the other guys were all mates. We all got together and had input into it."

The funds raised went towards travel to surf carnivals and new equipment. Selwyn Toogood, then world famous in New Zealand for his It's In the Bag TV show, was emcee in 1974.

Toogood was a major draw, Wood says.

"There was a huge crowd that year."

The only stipulation Toogood had was to stop the carnival at 3.30pm so he could listen to the Auckland Cup from Ellerslie, Wood says.

That year the surf club was $2000 better off after the event.

Nearly 30 years later weatherman Jim Hickey was another popular emcee.

Over the years the carnival has featured skydivers, warbirds - vintage planes that flew down from Auckland, jet boat displays and the old Harbour Board put on tug boat displays.

There were also old fair favourites such as coconut shies, ferris wheels and a big dig with treasure buried in the sand. One year magician Jon Zealando was the star attraction.

Another year a professional boxer came and put on an exhibition in a boxing ring especially made by people from the surf club. The boxer, Wood can't remember his name, took on David Lean, long before he was mayor, in a fight.

In 1974 Tiny Tim tiptoed through the tulips to attend, one of a long line of entertainers over the years that includes the Topp Twins, Gary McCormack and Titanium. X Factor star Tom Batchelor is lined up for this New Year's Day.

Helicopter pilot Alan Beck deserves a mention, Wood says.

Beck has been giving people chopper rides around the mountain for more than 20 years, with all proceeds going to the surf club.

After the carnival organisers would have a wind-down party. The person in charge was expected to put on an interpretation of the feature of the day, Wood says. So if it was skydivers, the organiser had to jump off the balcony to the beach . . . "I might leave it at that."

A barbecue tent serving chicken nuggets was a huge moneymaker back in the day.

It was run by club members, with help from their parents.

Next week food will also be a feature. The Taranaki Daily News global food village will give people a good range of food to try. Which should give beachgoers lots of energy for the Mitre 10 beach water fight. Carnival organisers will have thousands of water balloons available, but people are encouraged to bring their own artillery.

Taranaki Daily News