Archive for the 'In the news' Category

Wellington 150

Wellington in 1866, the year after it became the capital (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Alexander Fisher Album)

Wellington in 1866, the year after it became the capital (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Alexander Fisher Album)

This weekend Wellington celebrates a birthday – 150 years as the capital city of New Zealand. To mark this event, a host of national and local institutions are participating in The Treasures of Wellington, a series of free tours and events. On Saturday Dave Dobbyn and the Orpheus Choir will perform on the grounds of Parliament, accompanied by a sound-and-light show about the city’s history. Wellington will be in celebration mode.

Roll back 150-odd years and the mood in Wellington was not only celebratory, but triumphant. In January 1865 the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian reported that the city was ‘preparing herself to take that station among the New Zealand provinces which her central position and natural advantages have so well fitted her for, and which have marked her as the Capital of the Colony’.

Wellington’s gain was Auckland’s loss. Auckland had been the capital city since 1841, when Governor William Hobson moved his premises from Okiato near present-day Russell in the Bay of Islands, after being offered land in Tāmaki-makau-rau by Ngāti Whātua chiefs. In an era of scattered settlements, basic transport links and painfully slow postal services, Auckland was very far removed from the rest of the population. In 1854 New Zealand’s first head of government, James FitzGerald, proposed moving the capital to a more central location. This first bid was unsuccessful but the issue remained a live one. In 1864, after Parliament passed a resolution to move the capital, three Australian commissioners chose Wellington over Whanganui, Picton, Port Underwood, Havelock and Nelson. The legislators set up shop in Wellington the following year.

The 19th century was a time of fierce provincial and town rivalries as different centres struggled to establish themselves as going concerns. The capital city question provoked disdainful, and at times lurid, commentary in newspapers.  The New Zealand Herald, then as now an Auckland paper, heaped scorn upon Wellington, a ‘wretched collection of dirty wooden structures, built partly upon a mud beach, and partly in the space formed by the scarping of the hill which hems the “city” into landward’ (31 March 1865, p. 4). Well-informed people knew that Wellington ‘would not make up a third rate street in Auckland’. The paper described Wellington’s impending new seat of government as:

… a very creature of Frankenstein…. The monster, however disgusted with its existence in such a spot has, like its prototype, destroyed one after another of the dearest objects of its creator’s affections. It clings to him with pertinacity, returns gibbering and grinning to him from time to time with the evidence in its hands of some new disaster which it has worked for him. (New Zealand Herald, 24 March 1865, p. 4)

Papers in rival centres like Christchurch, not facing a great loss as Auckland was, could indulge in a little pompous, self-satisfied commentary:

The great difference between the South and the North is that here the question of self-interest is really never thought of. It is no exaggeration to say so. We talk of all parts of the colony as parts of a common country having common interests. In Auckland they talk of nothing but Auckland. (Press, 14 January 1864, p. 2)

It’s fun to browse through the newspapers of the time and have a good laugh at the duelling colonials, but things are not so different now. In 2013 Prime Minister John Key told a meeting of Auckland businesspeople that Wellington was dying, much to the chagrin of many Wellingtonians, who vociferously defended the health of their city. Then-Labour Party leader David Shearer retorted, ‘This is absolutely negatively John Key talking about Wellington, it’s a vibrant city, anybody that drives down to Courtenay Place on a Thursday or Friday night knows that’. Perhaps in another 150 years readers will chuckle over statements like this.

On the house

State house, Taitā, 1949 (pic: New Zealand Herald)

State house, Taitā, 1949 (pic: New Zealand Herald)

It seems as though everyone is talking about housing at the moment. What is causing high house prices, particularly in Auckland? What role should government play in the provision of housing? Do renters need greater rights and security?

If you want some background and wider historical context for these discussions, Te Ara is the place to go. You could start with the entries by urban historian Ben Schrader on housing and Māori housing – te noho whare. But there are also entries on such topics as housing and government, domestic architecture, building materials, home décor and furnishings, Māori architecture – whare Māori and real estate, as well as information on more specialised subjects such as railway housing and inner-city flats.

Here are some interesting things about housing I read on Te Ara:

  • New Zealand’s first building regulation – the Raupo Houses Ordinance – was passed as early as 1842. It sought to deal with the perceived fire risk of buildings made from raupō or other grasses by imposing financial penalties on such buildings.
  • From the 1870s, Māori were incorporating European materials, including glazed windows, into traditional wharepuni (sleeping houses).
  • The first state house was opened (with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage famously carrying in some of the furniture) in the Wellington suburb of Miramar in 1937.
  • Māori were not admitted into state housing until 1948, and were placed into predominantly Pākehā neighbourhoods (‘pepper-potting’) to encourage assimilation.
  • New Zealand’s home ownership rate peaked at 73% in 1986, and had fallen to 62% by 2006. You can see a chart of housing tenure (owner-occupied versus rented and other) over a 90-year period here.
  • In the early 2000s, average house prices in the Queenstown Lakes area overtook those in Auckland. I wonder how they compare now?

And when you’ve finished browsing through all the fascinating information about houses, you can always return to Te Ara’s home page by clicking on – what else? – a little icon of a house!

Queen Victoria’s Māori godson

Diana, William, Charles and buzzy bee,1983

Diana, William, Charles and buzzy bee, 1983 (pic: New Zealand Herald)

Royal news has been abundant in recent weeks with the birth of a royal baby for Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, and William’s brother Prince Harry visiting New Zealand. William’s visit as a toddler in 1983 and the gift he received of a buzzy bee is an iconic New Zealand image. Te Ara has an entry focusing on the royal family, which has provided New Zealand’s head of state since 1840.

A lesser-known historical link between British royalty and New Zealand is that Queen Victoria had a Māori godson. In 1863 Wesleyan lay preacher William Jenkins organised a Māori performing party to travel to England. He planned to give lectures which they would accompany with waiata and dances.

Though the party believed they would be well treated, it was not to be the case. Jenkins travelled first class, while the Māori performers lived in appalling conditions aboard the Ida Zieglar in a journey that took 100 days. The tour continued with tensions between Jenkins and the Māori group.

In July 1863 the party met with Queen Victoria, who saw that one of its members, Hariata Pōmare, was pregnant and asked to be the child’s godmother. Hariata and her husband, Hare Pōmare, agreed. On 26 October 1863 the baby  a boy  was born. He was named Albert Victor after the Queen and her deceased husband, and was presented with this cup and cutlery as a christening gift.

Hariata Pōmare, Hare Pōmare and Albert Victor Pōmare (baby)

Hariata Pōmare and Hare Pōmare with their baby, Albert Victor Pōmare (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library)

The couple then had their first-class fare to New Zealand on the Statesman paid for by Queen Victoria.  Despite his promising start in life, Albert Victor Pōmare was soon to face tragedy. His father, Hare, died in Wellington hospital soon after the return to New Zealand. A few years later, his mother also died.

Albert Victor ended up in an orphanage in Auckland. The Queen paid for his tuition at St Stephens. One story has it that he went on to go to sea, and either settled in Canada or died in California. But the truth is lost in the mists of time.

Te Ara pays tribute to Jack Body

Jack Body (left) with gamelan teacher Joko Sutrisno, about 1988 (pic: Victoria University of Wellington, Image Services)

Jack Body (left) with gamelan teacher Joko Sutrisno, about 1988 (pic: Victoria University of Wellington, Image Services)

Those of us who work behind the scenes at Te Ara are saddened to hear of Jack Body’s death. He was a warm supporter of our project, generously supplying images and allowing one of our staff to photograph his well-known gamelan orchestra, Padhang Moncar, at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Wellington back in 2004.

As one of New Zealand’s foremost composers and university teachers he naturally features in a number of our entries. His major compositions, many drawing on Eastern influences, are described in our entry on Composers, which also notes his unwavering support of other writers of music. His involvement in musical theatre composition gets a mention in Opera and musical theatre, and his composing of music for voices is referred to in Choral music and choirs. And the Media art entry describes his organisation of Sonic Circus festivals in Wellington from 1974.

My favourite reference to him comes in the Classical musicians entry. There we have a video of pianist Stephen de Pledge playing Body’s composition ‘The street where I live’ – and the composer/narrator is listening with obvious delight in the audience. This quirky, poignant piece talks about Body’s deep affection for his long-time home in Aro Valley, Wellington. It is a fitting coda to the life of a great New Zealander, and a staunch Wellingtonian.

Kia maumahara tātau

The Anzac service at Rongomaraeroa marae (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

The Anzac service at Rongomaraeroa marae (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

When a whole community turns up to support an event you know it is a big deal. Pōrangahau’s population at the last census count was just 195 but approximately 300 people turned up to our Anzac Dawn Service.

The morning started with a brisk march from the Pōrangahau war memorial hall down to the church cemetery and our cenotaph. We were led by the Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, and as we got closer the sound of karanga echoed eerily of lives lost, of a new day, of a day commemorating those who served from our small community.

Remembering those who served (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

Remembering those who served (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

It was a time of beauty as well. I te ata hāpara (at dawn) Pōrangahau was shrouded in mist. Whānau marched on to our memorial hall and onwards to our urupā, Kaiwhitikitiki. With karakia we entered, laid our wreaths and moved about to mihi to all our tīpuna. A pōwhiri followed on our marae, Rongomaraeroa. A table stood proudly on the mahau filled with whānau photographs and taonga and our wharekai was beautifully decorated with poppies made by the kura. Waiata welcomed all our whānau and guests for parakuihi (breakfast) and we settled in to hear four local families share their First World War stories.

This is the first time I’ve known an Anzac service to come to the marae – and what a privilege it was to be there.

Kia maumahara tātau – lest we forget.