The Auckland Sun Club had it’s beginings early in the 1930’s and it’s continuing existence is a great tribute to the few very courageous people who in those days were prepared to stand up for the freedom to practice social nudism. Amongst these early pioneers were Percy Cousins, Ivan Mowlam, Eric Flint and Bert Brittain.
There were clandestine meetings at the railway station in Auckland with people who identified themselves by means of a rolled up newspaper under their arms! One meeting was with a couple whom identified themselves by wearing white flowers on their coats. He told of a man and wife who had earlier tried to start a sun club. This time the media got hold of the story and reporters camped on their doorstep and just wouldn’t go away. Eventually the unfortunate couple had to move from their flat and yet another attempt to form a club bit the dust. But eventually Bert’s persistence paid off and the inaugural meeting of his new club was held at Woodlands Park Estate, Huia Road, Titirangi.
But these were difficult days and it became virtually impossible for members to get the petrol needed to travel to the club grounds. So, regrettably, the club went into recess for the duration of the war. All was not entirely lost however, and a faithful few managed to stay in contact.
Whenever they were able they continued to meet at the Titirangi property. Later in the war they moved their meeting place to grounds on the West Coast Road situated about four sections up from the site of the present club. This situation continued until 1949 and it was during this period, in 1941, that Bert Brittain purchased the West Coast Road property that was eventually to become the club’s final home.In 1949 the members came together to discuss how to restart the club. Bert Brittain, though now unwilling to get involved in any official capacity, did offer some sound advice on how to go about it. He reminded them that in the earlier days of the club their advertising had come completely unstuck when a newspaper Editor looked at the club name ( with the word ‘Sun ‘ in it ) and suddenly realised that his paper was actually advertising nudism ! So, when the club reformed, Bert suggested that it should be renamed ‘The Auckland Outdoor Health Club‘ . This idea was accepted by the members and seemed to be effective in preventing any further advertising problems. Even more practically, Bert offered the club free use of his property and the club reformed on its present grounds just down the drive from his cottage. In 1953, when Bert’s wife Helen died, he lost interest in the club and withdrew from all club activities for a number of years.In 1954, as so often happened to nudist clubs in those early days, a split occurred. A majority of the members decided that they wanted to purchase a property of their own, and moved to a new site in Ranui, taking the name of ‘Auckland Outdoor Health Club‘ with them.
Bert agreed to sell him the land, but continued to own and live in the cottage at the top of the drive. Finally, in 1964, Norman Murray very generously gifted the land to the club and became the club’s patron, a position that he held until his death in 1981.
A photograph of him in military uniform is in the clubhouse over the fireplace. The land was renamed ‘Murrayglade‘ in his honour.In August 1967 membership had fallen to a mere 20 members and the club was clearly in the doldrums. At this point three new couples joined the club and decided that something had to be done to retrieve the situation. So they set to work to rebuild the membership and to start providing many of the amenities which we see today. November 1968 saw Ron Rencher elected as President and, backed by a very energetic committee, they were able to turn the membership situation round in a remarkably short time. By the early 1970’s membership had increased to a healthy 136 adults with no less than 60 children. Numerically this was the club’s heyday and it enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a fine little family club.The practice then was to interview prospective new members in their homes, before inviting them to visit the grounds, this system was gradually phased out for a more friendly approach of meeting them on the grounds.In 1969, at the President’s invitation, founder member Bert Brittain once more became a regular visitor to the club. At least once a week he would come down the drive and give the Secretary a ‘Golden Kiwi’ (lottery) ticket. It never paid off, but was a wonderful gesture. In the summer season he would bring with him an enormous bag of plums freshly picked from one of the trees in his garden and share these with other members on the grounds. Bert supported the club in every way that he could until his death in 1985. With his passing we lost one of New Zealand’s great naturist pioneers – a sad day for members of A.S.C in particular and for all the country’s naturists.In 1970 Barry Hill, the Secretary of the time, had the brilliant idea of a system of ‘Community Cooking’ for use during national rallies or club ‘camp-ins’. Wherever the club went, the kitchen trailer went with us. Meals were pre-planned and on each day a different team prepared and served lunch and dinner. The same team did all the dishes and children were rostered as ‘runners’. The whole idea was an outstanding success because, apart from the one ‘duty day’ per rally or camp-in, it gave every member a realholiday. The scheme was the envy of all the clubs we visited and very often their members were invited to join us. On occasions we catered successfully for as many as 100 hungry mouths. For a number of years this ‘Community Cooking’ became the club’s hallmark.As well as building up the membership, one of the new committee’s most important tasks was to set priorities for a concentrated programme to enhance the club’s facilities. There was an enormous amount to do and they tackled each project vigorously. One of the first jobs was to provide the old clubhouse with electricity. This house had been built by Bert Brittain – originally as a one room ‘bach’. Providing it with power involved laying a 40 metre cable and the channel for this had to be dug by hand in order to avoid any damage to trees along the way. Hard graft!At the very foot of the property ran a stream. To provide a basic swimming ‘hole’ this had been dammed. The children loved it – especially the ‘flying fox’ over the stream. This makeshift pool served its purpose for many years, but for adults the water was icy and the trip to and from this facility was, to say the least, daunting. A small dinghy was used to ferry children up stream, pretending they were going up the Amazon. This craft came to grief after a very bad storm and what was left of it and a small landing was found a long way down stream.With the vast increase in membership something more attractive, and more to hand, was needed. So the next major project in the late 1960’s was a swimming pool adjacent to the sunning area. This had to be provided at very little cost. The job was attacked during the winter months and was to prove a catalyst for hours of friendly hard work and good fun.This new pool, which had to be dug by hand, measured 20 x 15 feet. The excavated hole was lined with matchboarding, with vast numbers of newspapers and magazines providing a ‘floor’ to protect the inner lining from damage. This inner lining consisted of two huge sheets of black polythene welded together. It was this that held the water. Apart from the expenditure of a lot of members’ effort and time, the welding of the polythene cost the lordly sum of 11 shillings and 6 pence. A second hand pump and filter obtained from a school were added at a very low cost.This ingenious D.I.Y. pool served the club well for the next three years. The combined efforts of so many members throughout that winter was thoroughly enjoyed by all – and indeed on nice days it was even possible to get into ‘club uniform’ and still stay warm.By 1969 the club had lots of new members, but access via a steep muddy drive was quite difficult. So the next major project was to lay two concrete strips down the full length of the drive.To have concreted the whole drive would have been prohibitively expensive.
Then members faced the problem of carrying the prams and other gear over the newly laid concrete up to the cars parked at the top of the road. But it all paid off and access to and from the club became a lot easier.The early 1970’s saw the club with its greatest number of members and a truly remarkable sense of purpose. Trips to other clubs and other venues were wonderfully supported. On the club grounds ‘camp-ins’ brought the members together, volleyball flourished and a very well earned reputation for terrific ‘afternoon teas’ was established.About this time, Ron Rencher presented the AGM with a design for a new clubhouse. By this time the original clubhouse built by Bert Brittain was hopelessly inadequate and had in fact been condemned by the local council. The new design was a very ambitious undertaking for such a small club. The design was modular and the intention was that the new clubhouse would be built in three stages, as and when finances became available.The initial work was on the basement that would house amongst other facilities a new toilet block. This was a priority since up till then there were only pit toilets ‘long drops’) on the grounds. 1974 saw the basement completed and for a while this had to serve as clubrooms because it now became imperative to destroy the faithful old clubhouse.Members’ children too had a wonderful time – everyone looked after them ( not just Mum and Dad ) and before their bedtime they were subjected to the club phenomenon which came to be known as ‘Showermatic‘. Adults formed a ‘production line’through which giggling naked brats were passed. On the way each child was washed down, given a thorough face and hair wash, hosed off and then passed on to loving Aunties and Uncles who wielded warm dry towels. Into pyjamas, then half an hour of ‘sing song’ led by cheerful Uncles with guitar and ukelele, before being bundled into bed in their tents. This was a magic time !By 1972 our plastic pool was showing signs of wear, so come the autumn a start was made on a more permanent concrete pool. This time a motorised digger was brought in to excavate the much bigger hole, which was needed. Members showed what could be achieved if everyone pitched in to help. Indeed the winter’s work involved 26 weekends on the trot and gave rise to dire threats of divorce as the maintenance of private homes languished.25 men turned up for the ‘big pour’ and we had two concrete mixers going all day. This was necessary as the floor and upstand had to be poured in one piece. The work took over 12 hours to complete and the ladies, several of whom had also helped to spread the concrete, played an even more important part by keeping food and refreshments going for the exhausted workers.While this all involved a lot of hard work, the members still found time for other occupations. A favourite outing was to the beach at Pakiri. Our friendly local farmer, Ed, allowed access to the beach through his property. He would load up all our gear onto his tractor and take it over the sand dunes to the beach. This was a lovely, though wild, beach where it was possible to swim nude. It could also be dangerous and on one occasion we were close to losing one of our members and her daughter in the sea. A gallant rescue by another member averted tragedy and after that we all took a great deal more care when in the tide. Another favourite was a camping trip to an old gold mine in Thames, each year we would try our luck to find some gold, the only thing we found was a lot of fun.The club was always well represented at National Rallies and in 1977 our volleyball teams won all three trophies.1978 saw the club represented by no less than four members of the National body. Ron Rencher became the National President, his wife Hanna was the Womens’ Representative, Mike Ganley became the Editor of the New Zealand Naturist, and Ray Woolhouse took over as Business Manager of this magazine. These were indeed heady days!The following year, in 1979, the new swimming pool got its very first coat of light blue paint. This made it look even more inviting, especially on really hot days. Work on the clubhouse was a continuing fact of life and every available method of fundraising was pursued to meet its needs – Federation Raffles; Cake Stalls; Sale of Firewood; Garage Sales etc.At last in 1983 the new clubhouse became useable. This was a great moment and by way of celebration we organised an inter-club Social which was attended by very nearly two hundred people. This was a most successful affair in spite of torrential rain. Guests arrived wearing gumboots and carrying more suitable footwear in their hands. Entertainment was provided by an old friend, Dennis from the Taranaki Club, who towed his Disco all the way from New Plymouth for the occasion. As a DJ he performed magnificently and kept going until the early hours of the morning – even after most of the guests had headed for home.About this time volleyball had begun to lose a lot of its popularity. Tenikoits, too, was rarely ever played. The ‘in’ game was miniten, a form of tennis played only in naturist clubs. So the members turned to and laid a new concrete miniten court on the site of the old clubhouse. Now the club had facilities for all three games.In the years that have followed, the clubhouse has been lined in warm and welcoming rimu by Tony Davis. This labour of love was finally completed in 1986 and the unusual and attractive carved clock over the fireplace will always please the eye and serve as a reminder of his months of hard work. Tony has always been in the forefront of fund-raising that, over the years, has raised thousands of dollars for the club.The clubhouse basement now provides both spa pool and sauna facilities. Members from a number of other clubs regularly use these facilities at a nominal cost on Sundays. During the winter months there is a monthly ‘$3 per course’ dinner in the clubhouse. Each month different members provide this dinner and it is always a popular and well-attended affair. This all helps to keep members in touch with one another during the winter months.And now in the new millennium the club boasts a fine new cabin, for use by members or visitors wishing to stay overnight. This project has been inspired and overseen by Wolfgang Himme, Thanks also to Brian who built it.The club that has facilities second to none in N.Z. can look forward to a bright future.Always remembering that we have a lot to thank our founder for, as without him it may never have happened.
Steve Brown, Ron & Hanna Rencher
External links to information about Naturism in Aotearoa New Zealand: