New Zealanders Travelling Overseas

A New Zealand term, first used by lecturer John Muirhead in the 1960s and popularised by writer Tom Scott in the 1970s, “The Big OE” describes the post-war travel habit of young New Zealanders heading off on an overseas adventure which often lasted a few years.

However, New Zealanders have been filled with curiosity about the wider world for longer than that, ever since early Māori encountered Europeans, and have shown themselves eager to explore beyond these shores.

For this reason our exhibition applies the term “OE” to earlier New Zealanders’ travelling experiences, rather than the classic young person’s OE of modern fame.

The exhibition records many journeys for a variety of reasons - for work, holiday, culture and recognition, as well as war. The diaries, maps, brochures, scrapbooks and photographs included here are souvenirs of particular journeys which are held in Auckland Libraries’ Sir George Grey Special Collections. We hope they inspire - or trigger memories of - your own journeys.

See Exhibition details
The Oriana, Ship leaving harbour.

In Transit

Getting There is Half the Fun

The details of overseas journeys – tickets, maps, passport stamps – form the texture of our experiences and although they seem ephemeral, can offer links to a whole host of memories.

Common items that remind us of our journeys, rather than the destinations, can take on unexpected significance, from a simple baggage tag to a paper streamer and deck of cards.

Selected here are some examples of small items kept by Kiwi travellers and donated to Sir George Grey Special Collections as part of treasured collections of travel ephemera.

Air New Zealand Luggage Tag, circa 1980.
Air New Zealand Luggage Tag, 1970s.


June Bennett’s passport was issued in 1955, after the New Zealand Citizenship Act of 1948. Travelling through Europe in 1955 and 1956, she was still a British subject, but also a New Zealand citizen.

‘British’ disappeared from the cover of New Zealand passports in 1964, although New Zealanders remained British subjects officially until the end of 1982.

June Bennett. Passport (front)
June Bennett. Passport (front). 1950s. From: June Bennett. Scrapbook. NZMS 1834.
June Bennett. Passport. 1950s.
June Bennett. Passport. 1950s. From: June Bennett. Scrapbook. NZMS 1834.

By Sea

For most of New Zealand’s history any travellers leaving the country had to go by sea.

The ritual of leaving port involved ships’ horns sounding, bands playing ‘Now is the hour’ and numerous paper streamers stretching between the ship and the loved ones on shore.

The New Zealand Shipping Company was one of the main shipping lines travelling between Britain and New Zealand, bringing immigrants one way, and taking travellers on the return journey. The company prided itself on the standard of accommodation it provided in its new liners.

New Zealand Line, Cabin Interior.
Brochure. New Zealand Line. Rangitoto, Rangitane. 1960s. Ephemera Collection.
Liner Streamer pack.
Paper streamers. 1950s. (On loan from a private collection.)

By Air

The first overseas commercial passenger flight from New Zealand took off from Mechanics Bay, Auckland on 30 April 1940. During the nine-hour flight to Sydney, passengers were provided with a hot meal, cards and board games. The service was run by Tasman Empire Airlines Limited (TEAL), renamed Air New Zealand in 1965.

Later in 1940, the first air route between New Zealand and America was begun by Pan American Airways (Pan Am). Connecting Auckland to San Francisco, the journey took four days to complete. This service was interrupted by the war but flourished after.

Despite these regular international flight services, it was not until the 1970s that travellers started to use flying as the main mode of transport for their OEs. And it was not until 1982 that Air New Zealand began offering a direct route from Auckland to London, on its first jumbo Jet. Prior to this most flights took substantially longer – one route, nine stopovers, 33 hours of flight time.

Brochure. TEAL. Passenger information. 1960s.
Brochure. TEAL. Passenger information. 1960s. Ephemera Collection.
TEAL mini playing cards.
TEAL mini playing cards. 1960s. Ephemera Collection.


London has been the starting point and often the major drawcard for most travellers beginning their OE. As New Zealanders were British subjects, they had privileged entry rights until regulations in 1972 introduced Ancestry visas and working holiday permits.

This is the classic tourist’s guide to London with its map of key sights and famous landmarks.

A visitor’s guide to London for the year 1963.
A visitor’s guide to London for the year 1963. Ephemera Collection
Guide to London.
A visitor’s guide to London for the year 1963. Ephemera Collection

An Experience

A Working OE on the South African Frontier

Mary Parker, known as Nan, was one of 20 teachers to be recruited from New Zealand to establish schools for dispossessed Boer women and children near the close of the South African war.

Life was challenging in the refugee camps but Nan was fascinated by the “strangeness“ of the country and its wonderful landscapes, plants and animals. She often wrote of her experiences on the Veldt, and her interactions with people.

Nan returned to New Zealand and a collection of her letters, postcards and memorabila were donated to Sir George Grey Special collections.

Although recorded more than a century ago, many of Nan’s observations capture the timelessness of a young traveller’s wonder.

Nan Clark in a Group photo of teachers.
Photograph. New Zealand teachers en route to South Africa. 1902. Photo ref: 7-A16718.

Nan’s Story

During the South African War of 1899-1902, British troops countered the Boer strategy of guerilla warfare by destroying livestock and crops, burning farms, and cutting off supplies. As a result of this, more than 130,000 dispossessed Boer women and children were interned in Burgher camps.

To increase the number of schools in the camps, the British authorities recruited teachers from Britain and the colonies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Applicants were required to have several years experience of “infant work” and a sound constitution. Those selected were offered a contract for one year at a salary of £100 plus food, accommodation and return travel expenses.

Boer families, under supervision of New Zealanders of Sixth Contingent, collecting some of their household gear for use in refugee camps.
Photograph. Auckland Weekly News. 17 October 1901. Photo ref: AWNS-19011017-12-2.
Map. South Africa.
Map. South Africa. From: H. W. Wilson. With the flag to Pretoria: a full and accurate history of the Transvaal campaign. Part 1. London: Harmsworth, 1900-1901.

Twenty-five year old Mary Parker, known as Nan, was one of 20 teachers to be appointed. They sailed via Hobart and Melbourne and arrived in Durban on 5 June 1902 to hear that peace had been declared five days earlier. “We cheered & the steerage cheered, the crew cheered & in fact everyone cheered until we could cheer no more”. The passengers disembarked from the ship onto a tug by means of a basket. “… it is a very queer sensation when you get well up in the air & are swinging gently. We sang “Auld Lang Syne” and ‘God defend New Zealand’…’, Nan wrote in a letter home.

“This strange country is simply wonderful, things here are so entirely different from anything I have ever seen before. My wildest flights of imagination never went half far enough …”5 August 1902

Nan chose to teach at Volksrust Camp, 495 kilometres from Durban “because it is the only camp in the Transvaal wanting teachers”. The teachers were housed in tents. “Talk about roughing it, why they provide us with carpet in our tents, pillow cases, sheets, counterpanes, table napkins & in fact every necessary.”

At first camp life was restricted. There were sentries and barbed wire. Permits were required to visit a friend in hospital or to leave camp. The teaching load was not demanding and Nan felt unsettled. “I had no idea how fond I was of you all and of New Zealand till I came out here,” she wrote. After military rule was lifted in August, matters improved. The township of Volksrust was about half an hour’s walk from the camp with “an English church, Post Office & even a Public Library”.

Postcard of Main Street, Volksrust.
Postcard. Main Street – Volksrust – showing Majuba Hill in the distance. From: Mary (Nan) Parker. Papers. NZMS 1336.

Nan could also ride out on the veldt. “I am never happier than when I am lying on the veldt surrounded by wild flowers of every shade & gazing at the sky. At first I used to be afraid of the insects but now even those don’t keep me off the veldt. Of small beetles, ants & so forth there are myriads but of the larger insects the two most objectionable are the black centipedes & a spider about the size of a half crown which persistently chases you.”

Letter from Nan to her mother.
“Well little mother, At last I have got my marching orders and experiences ought now to rain thick and fast upon me!” 5 August 1902

When the burgher camp broke up, Nan took a sole-charge position, living at a newly established “farm school” 14km from Volksrust at Roodepoort. She acquired a horse and a dog, invested her savings and learned “Taal” (Afrikaans). She considered staying on for a further teaching contract and continued to send souvenirs home to her family.

Postcard of Charlestown.
Postcard of Charlestown
“The farm life in this lonely veld soon affects your ways & thoughts, even I who am fairly strong minded have just fallen into many Boer ways & I think a few years here would convert me into a passable Boer vrouw.” 5 June 1903

This rural life came to an abrupt end when a man was found dead at the farm. The farmer was charged with murder and the local magistrate removed Nan from the area. After a brief period at another school, she decided to return to New Zealand at the end of her contract, with some regret.

Jewellery. From: Mary (Nan) Parker. Papers. NZMS 1336.
“I have heard nothing about when or how I am to travel but I have begun to pack already. Fancy me having lived in Africa for nearly fourteen months & I have never seen a lion nor an elephant nor an ostrich. Tell the children I am bringing them some Kaffir bangles & I am trying to get an assegai for Jack. … Love to all from nearly home Nannie. Hooray!” 10 June 1903
Nan Parker.
Photograph. From: Mary (Nan) Parker. Papers. NZMS 1336.

Of the 20 teachers who set out from New Zealand for a year abroad in South Africa, over half remained there for the rest of their lives.

Nan settled back in Wellington and married in 1912. She continued to teach at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. She and her husband had no children but cared for and later adopted her niece Sybil, whose mother had died in the flu epidemic of 1918.

In 2010, after Sybil’s death, her husband donated Nan Parker’s papers to the Sir George Grey Special Collections. The reference number in Sir George Grey Special Collections is NZMS 1336.


Ron Clark in Europe

Ron and his wife Muriel lived on Auckland’s North Shore for much of their life, but travelled overseas in 1973 and ’79 to live and work in London. Ron’s pictures of their overseas experiences depict a quintessential Kiwi OE with an emphasis on London and Europe, and are rich in the colour and detail of the era.

The slides chosen for this exhibition were taken in Europe, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia at a time when travel to Russia and eastern Europe were on few people’s itineraries. As with modern day OEs, Ron and his wife Muriel hired a car and drove around Europe to countries such as Greece, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and all over England, camping as they went.

Head and shoulders portrait of Ron Clark smoking a pipe
Ron Clark smoking a pipe. Record ID: 1207-397
Old camera.

Ron Clark snapped thousands of photos on his 35mm camera throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Sir George Grey Special Collections acquired a wonderful collection of his colour slides.

View them on the Heritage Images database. Enter ‘Ron Clark’ in the search field.

A Selection of Ron Clark’s Photos

Notes & Mementos

Travellers’ Stories

Before travel blogs and emails, there were scrapbooks, albums and letters.

The items in this section are examples of the ways travellers told their stories to those back home, either with brief scribblings on postcards in transit, or through scrapbook collections that archived their experiences after they returned home.

These personal accounts can tell us something about places around the world at a particular time in history, and about the people who created them.

Sir Christopher James Parr. Letter to his wife Ethel during an overseas trip. 1902.
Sir Christopher James Parr. Letter from Matlock in Derbyshire describes the regime at the spa town. 1902. NZMS 1315.

A Traveller’s Scrapbook

Aucklander Elizabeth Tarrant Jackson documented her round-the-world trips in 65 scrapbooks. Jackson was an early air traveller, making her return trips from Auckland to London by aeroplane in 1962 and 1967 and stopping at many destinations along the way. These foolscap scrapbooks were numbered in chronological order by Jackson.

This scrapbook is from Jackson’s 1962 trip to Spain, where she and Dad (as she refers to her husband) travelled around by train.

Brightly printed photos clipped from magazines, souvenir postcards and passages from articles and brochures give vivid impressions of the fresh seafood and resplendent architecture found in Spain’s capital Madrid and an outlying town, Aranjuez. Handwritten notes such as those seen here are used sparingly throughout the scrapbooks; Jackson mostly favoured the careful arrangement of items on pages to tell her stories.

Spain scrapbook. 1962.
Spain scrapbook. 1962. From: Elizabeth Tarrant Jackson. Travel scrapbooks. NZMS 1715.
Spain scrapbook. 1962.
Spain scrapbook. 1962. From: Elizabeth Tarrant Jackson. Travel scrapbooks. NZMS 1715.

Photo Albums

William Williams was a keen photographer who worked for the New Zealand Railways Department. This album documents an overseas holiday he took with his wife Lydia in the 1920s.

The opening page of the album reads:
’The Second Book of Us’ being personal pictures taken on ’The Great Adventure 1925-8’ Venice, Italy. Breakfast under the vine pergola at the pensione Casa Petrarca, on the Grand Canal.

William Williams. The paramount album. 1925-1928.
William Williams. The paramount album. 1925-1928. From: William Williams. Travel albums of William Williams. NZMS 1335.

Frank Stevens’ travel album records a journey he took with his wife Bessie to the Far East in 1920.

He was a prosperous billiard table manufacturer from Remuera. They travelled on board the Tango Maru, a Japanese mail steamship which ran regularly between Australia and Japan. The album has photographs taken on their stopovers en route as well as on their tours around Japan, Korea and China.

Frank Herbert Stevens. Photograph album. 1920.
Frank Herbert Stevens. Photograph album. 1920. Photo album 116D.

Notes to Home

Modern travellers are able to send digital images instantly to their friends and families, but for many generations the postcard was the standard means of communication when abroad.

The specimens shown here depict Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill) nightclub in Paris; shops and a cafe at Innsbruck in western Austria; and the Luzhniski stadium (formerly, the Central Lenin Stadium) on the banks of the Movska River in Moscow.

Postcard. Paris, France.
Paris France. European postcards. 1960s - 1970s. Ephemera collection.
Postcard. Moulin Rouge, France
Moulin Rouge. European postcards. 1960s - 1970s. Ephemera collection.
Postcard. Innesbuck, Austria.
Innesbuck, Austria. European postcards. 1960s - 1970s. Ephemera collection.
Postcard. Luzhniski Stadium, Moscow. 1991.
Luzhniski Stadium, Moscow. European postcards. 1960s - 1970s. Ephemera collection.


These travel brochures come from the European travels of Ilene Stichbury in the late 1930s. She was an educated, artistic woman from a well-off Auckland family, with the means to embark on a long cultural odyssey through the museums, galleries, shops and scenery of Britain and Europe.

European tourist ephemera. 1930s.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s. From: Ilene Stichbury. Collection of Laurence Dakin material. NZMS 1152.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s. From: Ilene Stichbury. Collection of Laurence Dakin material. NZMS 1152.

Ilene kept full diaries of her travels, often illustrated with postcards, photographs, labels or printed cut-outs.

It was while she was in Venice in January 1938 that she embarked on her romance with the Canadian poet Laurence Dakin, becoming his patron, partisan supporter and his wife in 1939.

European tourist ephemera. 1930s.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s. From: Ilene Stichbury. Collection of Laurence Dakin material. NZMS 1152.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s.
European tourist ephemera. 1930s. From: Ilene Stichbury. Collection of Laurence Dakin material. NZMS 1152.

The Big oe

New Zealanders Travelling Overseas

Exhibition details

6 March – 14 June 2015

9am – 5pm weekdays
10am – 4pm weekends

Sir George Grey Special Collection
Level 2
Central City Library
Auckland, New Zealand