‘Consider, if you will, Te Parenga’. With this invitation the unnamed narrator of Bruce Mason's The End of the Golden Weather summons audiences on to the beach ‘three-quarters of a mile long, a hundred yards wide at low water’, a lushly romanticised version of Takapuna Beach on Auckland's North Shore where Mason grew up. These famous phrases initiate the major phase of playmaking in New Zealand. There had been theatres across New Zealand since the nineteenth century and a considerable amount of play writing from The Land of the Moa (1895) up to Mason's generation. Howard McNaughton has comprehensively mapped this cultural archive, so this essay, and those here by David O'Donnell (Chapter 18) and Stuart Young (Chapter 22), need not retrace his steps. Yet it was Mason's first solo play that first managed both to be stage worthy and to attract audiences in large numbers to overtly ‘New Zealand’ drama; then too the play has repeatedly been reprinted and subjected to multiple interpretations. In both senses then, as text for performance and interpretation, Golden Weather deservedly holds its status as a classic of New Zealand writing.
Mason designed the piece to provide performance work for himself; over a twenty-year period (from the late 1950s through to the late 1970s), he staged it hundreds of times throughout New Zealand and overseas. The play has been reworked by Raymond Hawthorne as a script for a company of actors and adapted lovingly as a film by Ian Mune (1991). The solo play lives on in Peter De Vere Jones's performance; in recent times the ‘Christmas at Te Parenga’ sequence has been performed by the actor Steven Lovatt on Christmas morning on Takapuna beach. Not much now remains on shore of the quite rural Takapuna Mason knew in the 1920s and 1930s, but the location superbly confronts the audience still with the dormant volcano, Rangitoto, which guards the entrance into Auckland's harbour. Mason evokes it as ‘enormous, majestic, spread-eagled on the skyline like a sleeping whale…. it has a brooding splendour’.
Mason returned to the beach at Te Parenga as the location of another classic, The Pohutakawa Tree.