A carnival in Napier was held in August 1912 together with an industries week, which was like a modern-day "Buy New Zealand Made" campaign.
Napier, wrote one unhappy Napierite, was at that time "tired with the drowsiness of doing nothing". The carnival was an attempt to liven things up in the seaside town.
To shake the Napierites out of their apparent slumber, a newspaper advert was placed that read Don't Stay At Home All Your Lives. You Want A Change! Sound Advice without a Doctor's Fee: Go To Napier For The Carnival. August 14th to 22nd.
At a meeting in October 1912 to wind up the financial affairs of the carnival, the committee agreed to "stick pins into the town and keep it awake" by way of a progress league, which is like a service club today.
Charles Thomas came up with the name Thirty Thousand Club whose objective was "the advancement of Napier, and for its ultimate aim, the bringing up of the population to 30,000".
Some in Hastings were not pleased about the club's formation, with one saying the best the City Fathers can do, in the form of the Thirty Thousand Club, was to offer "excursions from Wellington and cheap entertainments to attract people to Napier". He went on to say "Those men are beating the air in a vain hope of making Napier grow in an unnatural and unsound manner".
When the club began, Napier had a population of about 11,000.
The club's strategy was to provide public entertainment ‒ which was free - to entice people to Napier. Once they saw how lovely Napier was while on holiday, they would hopefully move and increase the population. An increased population created economic stimulus and provided more rates for the council to build infrastructure. Money raised by the club would be used to beautify Napier - especially the Marine Parade.
The club's first carnival in the form of a Mardi Gras was held in December 1913.
The idea for the Mardi Gras came from Mr H M Didsbury.
Mardi Gras carnivals originated from New Orleans and included a Queen of the Mardi Gras competition. This would prove to be a big money earner, because many businesses generously sponsored the contestants.
Activities at the first Mardi Gras included a procession of floats from local businesses, and a highland pipe competition and dancing.
A brisk trade was done in the selling of masks for the Mardi Gras, but shops reported slower business than normal.
The Mardi Gras would become a regular feature of summer in Napier, during December and January. Visitors flocked to it – even attracting some overseas interest.
Apparently, no other town in New Zealand attempted to entertain the general public at this time of the year in such a way, but it worked. As the Thirty Thousand Club would say, "In Napier there was always something of interest to look at – something doing!"
After the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, a section of the reclaimed Marine Parade foreshore between Raffles and Edwardes Sts was used as a Mardi Gras area for sideshows.
By the late 1950s, the Mardi Gras and the Thirty Thousand Club were still going strong, and were the envy of many local authorities around New Zealand. Napier's population had reached 22,000, and the target of 30,000 residents was firmly in sight.
Napier Mayor, and Thirty Thousand Club member, Peter Tait, realised a vibrant Marine Parade full of attractions would also hold interest for tourists to the city. Mardi Gras funds would start to assist in creating the attractions, such as a large boating lake completed in 1959.
During the 1962 Mardi Gras, the event went from Friday, December 22 to Saturday, January 13.
Quality, free events, such as the Howard Morrison Quartet, who played 14 concerts over the 1962 Mardi Gras, were used to lure visitors to Napier.
Other activities included sideshows on the Marine Parade, dances at the War Memorial Hall, a dog show, a talent contest (sponsored by a tobacco company), skating carnival, Fijian girls' choir, a chalk drawing contest for children on the concrete area near the soundshell and firing of the 1813 cannon on the Marine Parade (now located in front of the Masonic Hotel).
An information bureau to assist tourists, (today Napier i-Site) was an innovation during the late 1950s, and was initially staffed by the Napier Junior Chamber of Commerce in a caravan near the soundshell before the Napier Jaycees took this over in the early 1960s. An information kiosk, designed by Guy Natusch's architectural firm opened in 1962, near the present Napier i-Site building.
The Thirty Thousand Club continued until 1975, many years after Napier's population had reached 30,000 in the late 1960s.
The Mardi Gras festival continued until 1994, and afterwards was called the SunSmart Festival.
As one festival which had lasted some 80 years came to an end, another was gaining in momentum. Its stage would also be the Marine Parade, and visitors began to flock to it in their thousands.
The Napier Art Deco festival would fulfil the aim of the original Mardi Gras, with some first-time visitors falling in love with the city, and reallocating to the Art Deco capital.
• I am taking orders for my Historic Hawke's Bay book, and books will be posted at the end of this week. The book is a collection of my best Hawke's Bay Today articles from 2016-2018, with additional photos and story material. The book has 160 pages with 26 in colour. Cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North or email below for bank deposit details. Includes free delivery in Hawke's Bay. Please state if you want it signed. Ideal as a Christmas present.
Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.