Let’s Get Wellington Moving… in the 1920s

Courtenay Place in the early 1920s, a period of transition from horse-drawn to motorised vehicles. Photo by S C Smith, WCC Archives Ref: 00157-4

A century ago, the Wellington City Council was dealing with similar issues to those facing planners today: how to manage shifts to new modes of transport and how to keep traffic moving safely and freely.

The 1920s saw much of Wellington transformed with huge investments in new infrastructure and a shift to new modes of transport. Much of this change was driven by the rise in the popularity of motor vehicles after World War I. Before the war, cars were primarily toys for the very wealthy, but technological advancements and increasing standards of living saw them become aspirational products for the middle class in the post-war period. For much of this early period in our automotive history, most cars were imported as a basic chassis with motors and running gear already installed. It would then be left to local coachbuilders who had adapted their skills in making buggies and carts, to turn this basic building block into a ‘car’. Two examples of the same make and model of car could end up looking very different to each other depending on which coachbuilder had been contracted to complete each vehicle.

After sales of complete cars became more common in the 1920s, coachbuilders sought to maintain their trade by offering vehicle ‘rejuvenation’ services.

Under the Motor Regulation Act 1908, the Wellington City Council took control of all motor vehicle licensing, the issuing of number plates and annual vehicle registration. Concerns were soon raised about the safety of Wellington’s early car drivers. In 1916 fewer than half the drivers of the roughly 1000 vehicles registered in Wellington actually held ‘certificates of competency’ (i.e. a driver’s licence) and accidents were common. On-street parking within the inner-city was actually banned until 1917 when increasing demands from vehicle owners finally saw the council relent and motor vehicles were allowed to be parked for limited periods for the first time (much to the chagrin of the owners and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles). With increasing car importations (especially of complete cars) and large disparities in the manner that different councils were administering vehicle licensing, the passing of the Motor Vehicles Act in 1925 saw the government take full control of the issuing of number plates, recording ownership changes, annual registration and drivers’ licensing; all of which was administered by the Post Office. However, local councils were still able to dictate how motor vehicles could operate and drivers had to be aware of different bylaws which were in place in different parts of greater Wellington.

In 1929, the City Council published The Complete Wellington Guide, in part to promote the capital to tourists but also to educate locals on the somewhat complicated rules around owning and operating a motor vehicle. For example, in Wellington the speed limit was set at 25 mph (40 kph) but this dropped to 15 mph (24 kph) outside schools, hospitals, close to any intersection or when passing a stopped tram travelling in the opposite direction. To further complicate matters, Lower Hutt had a main street speed limit of 20 mph (but 10 mph crossing the Hutt River and Melling bridges) while most of Petone’s streets had a speed limit of only 15 mph. There were several rules regarding cars driving around trams, including no passing of any tram that had stopped in the road and no passing on the ‘off side’ (i.e. to the right) of any tram at any time be it moving or stationary (similar rules remain in Melbourne to this day).

Softer road surfaces which were suitable for horses hooves and steel-rimmed cart wheels were problematic for the pneumatic tyres of cars. Here council workers seal Victoria Street with ‘Macadam’ (i.e. asphalt) in March 1926. Bitumen was sourced as a by-product of New Zealand’s first oil refinery which had opened in New Plymouth in 1913. Ref: 50010-121
Reverse angle parking was once standard procedure which gave drivers better visibility of approaching traffic before pulling out. The lack of road markings meant drivers were expected to maintain a 30 degree angle from the curb and this rule was enforced by traffic department inspectors.

A bylaw introduced by the council in 1928 saw a multitude of different traffic rules for Wellington formalised including setting the traffic flow direction of Kent and Cambridge Terrace and declaring several streets to be one-way only (e.g. Dixon Street from the Taranaki Street intersection). Many of these rules remain current in 2022. A detailed map was printed instructing drivers where they could park in the inner-city and for how long. Parking meters were not introduced until 1954 so it was left to staff of the WCC Traffic Department to enforce parking rules and time limits. Street maps of the entire city were included in the Complete Guide, as well as the Petone, Lower Hutt and Eastbourne boroughs. These give an interesting insight into how our city has grown since the booklet was published. Tourist information included details about Wellington bus tours, rail excursions and day-trip suggestions for those lucky enough to own a car. Special emphasis was placed on the hunting and fishing opportunities available in the wider region, with a provincial map showing what types of game could be found in different areas. Hunting and trout fishing were widely promoted and often used to advertise the region to potential or newly arrived British migrants, many of whom were staggered to discover that pursuits which were largely restricted to the aristocracy and upper-classes in the UK were so available to the ‘common man’ in Wellington.   

The Complete Wellington Guide on Wellington City Recollect

Courtenay Place photographed only about six years after the first photo, illustrating just how quickly motor vehicles replaced horse-drawn transport in the 1920s. ATL Ref 1/2-048940-G





The work of Ans Westra now on Recollect

Purchased by Wellington City Libraries over 40 years ago, our complete collection of over 350 images by one of New Zealand’s most significant photographers of the 20th century is now available to view on Wellington City Recollect.

Cuba Mall, 1974. © Ans Westra, Ref: AW-1046-05
A twin-lens Rollieflex camera of  the same make and model that was used by Ans Westra.

Ans Westra was born in 1936 in the small city of Leiden in southern Holland.  When she was a teenager she visited the legendary Family of Man photography exhibition when it was staged in Amsterdam as part of a world tour.  Inspired by what she saw, she started saving every guilder she could until she had enough money to purchase a camera. Unusually for the time, she chose to invest in a high-quality Rolleiflex medium-format camera rather than a ‘normal’ 35mm camera that most novices would have opted for and she continued to use this camera for most of her career.

Te Ao Hou, June 1960, with cover photograph by Ans Westra

In 1957 she joined the wave of Dutch emigres who were coming to New Zealand as part of an assisted passage scheme supported by the NZ Government. She briefly lived in Auckland where her father had moved to some years earlier but after several months she shifted to Wellington with the thought that it would only be a temporary stay before she returned to her native Holland. However, she quickly settled into her adopted city where she joined the Wellington Camera Club and found employment with the Rembrandt Photography Studios then located at 211 Cuba Street. By now her interest in photography had become a passion and she began to document New Zealand life in a manner rarely seen in that era. She found particular inspiration within Māori communities which until then had been largely ignored by contemporary photographers and she joined the pan-tribal Ngāti Pōneke cultural club. This interest led to her images first appearing in print in New Zealand when her work was used in several issues of Te Ao Hou, a quarterly magazine published by the Department of Māori Affairs. Further commissions followed from the Department of Education who used her photographs in a variety of publications including the NZ School Journal.

Members of the local Indian community outside the Plaza Cinema, Manners Street, 1979. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1808-06

Westra was soon travelling across the country photographing different aspects of New Zealand life. However, it was in Wellington where her camera best captured the fabric of urban society as it was in the 1960s and 70s. Youth, street fashion and Wellington’s ethnic communities were all photographed in detail with Westra’s skill as a photographer often making it appear as if she were invisible to her subjects. As her reputation grew, her work appeared in a number of significant books including  Maori (1967), Notes on the Country I Live In (1972) and the capital-focussed Wellington City Alive (1976) with text by the novelist Noel Hilliard.

Aro Street, c. 1975. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1557-6

In the mid-1970s the newly appointed Local History Librarian, Hilda McDonnell, was tasked with establishing a photo collection for the Central Public Library (then located in what is today the City Art Gallery). Though images from a number of different local photographers were included, special emphasis was placed on the work of Ans Westra. Over 350 photographs which it was felt best represented different aspects of our city were selected from contact sheets and purchased by McDonnell. These photos were then hand-printed by Westra in her own darkroom where she would also crop the original square image produced by her Rolleiflex to fit the standard 5 x 4 ratio photographic paper common at the time. Though the camera had a fixed focal length (i.e. non-zoom) lens, the huge size of the negatives it produced and its high quality optics meant that Westra was able to crop an image to create her desired composition without any significant degradation of image quality. 

The Purple Onion strip club, 1975. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1110-08

By the 1990s, the increasing value and fragility of the original prints meant that it was becoming difficult to maintain public access to the photographs and they were shifted into storage, a problem further exacerbated by the closure of the central library in 2019. With the permission of Ans Westra’s representatives and her agent, {Suite} Gallery, we have been able to digitise this remarkable collection of her work and to make it available on our Recollect platform. 


The Ans Westra Collection on Wellington City Recollect


Road workers in Grey Street, 1976. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-953-07

Wellington City Libraries wishes to thank and acknowledge Ans Westra and her agent, {Suite} Gallery for allowing us to digitise our collection of her work. Please note that the  images marked © above are under copyright to the photographer; please click on the link that accompanies each image to see how they can be used.  

Scope magazine: New Recollect collection

Recollect now hosts the complete digitised collection of Scope, the essential guide to Wellington’s alternative scene in the early 1990s.

Scope was an alternative culture magazine published during 1991 and 1992. Often irreverent, occasionally salacious and sporting cutting-edge design, Scope attracted diverse contributors such as the writer Emily Perkins, local dance music pioneer Jason Harding (aka Clinton Smiley) and journalist John Campbell writing under his pseudonym ‘Sparky Plug’. It was founded by Mark Cubey & Michael Lockhart and published by their company Cadre Communications Ltd. Jim Scott joined the team and the trio drove the magazine forward over ten issues. Michael Lockhart was largely responsible for the magazine’s distinctive design, Jim Scott generated most of the ideas and sold advertising while Mark Cubey pulled everything together.

The New Carpark (later to become the first location of The Malthouse) was one of Wellington’s prime venues for alternative music and a regular advertiser in Scope.

It arose out of Cadre’s earlier production of  RAD, a promotional magazine for Wellington’s then-student radio station Radio Active. Though it was printed on glossy paper with high production values, Scope was given away as a ‘freebie’ with costs largely covered by the local businesses who advertised in it. Cadre had previously shared premises with the Capital Mac Centre, which was then the principal reseller of Apple products in Wellington. Not surprisingly, the Apple Mac desktop went on to have a significant impact on the look of the Scope. As was the case with RAD, the style of the layout designed by Lockhart was influenced by Neville Brody’s work in the 1980s UK magazines, The Face and Arena, and accomplished with the burgeoning typographic capabilities of the then-new ‘Mac’.  The high-impact covers were created using the first version of Adobe Photoshop by Jeremy Jones, an employee of The Bureau, a joint venture also run by Lockhart & Cubey that focused on the production of bromides, film separations, colour laser prints and related image work for advertising agencies and other commercial clients.  The combination of using full colour text and photographs on the covers resulted in digital file sizes that were sometimes so large that they crashed the processing machines.

Fashion with a twist; Scope’s fashion shoots often featured quirky locations, models and humour.

Fashion was treated in a startlingly contemporary manner by the magazine’s principal fashion photographer, Craig Owen. He used his time at Scope to build up his portfolio and went on to became one of the most sought-after fashion photographers in Australasia until his untimely death in 2012. Jim Scott also took photos, including most of the ‘society’ photos that were a core part of the content, at venues like Clare’s and Sol Bar that were riding the new wave of ‘techno’ dance music.  However, while the magazine managed to keep a regular publication schedule in 1991, advertising was hard to sell for a boutique small-run publication like Scope at a time when the NZ economy was heading into recession . Coupled with this was the time and effort required to follow-up unpaid invoices as printing costs needed to be covered.

Parodying American comic strips, Scope’s regular feature “King of the Addicts” is set in the dystopian ‘future’ of 1998 when coffee has been banned. It opens with the Mayor of Wellington having been arrested for illegal coffee drinking

In an effort to widen the appeal of the magazine, the March / April 1992 issue expanded to 70 pages with longer-form articles & reviews and a $3 cover price. However, sales were low and the revenue gathered was not able to cover the cost of producing the extended issue. Michael Lockhart decided to leave the enterprise at this point but Cubey & Scott persisted, returning the magazine to being a ‘freebie’ and moving it to a dramatic A3 sized format. Issue 10’s colophon described Scope as being “an occasional magazine keeping an eye on Wellington” but it turned out to be the last edition to be published. The following year, Cubey and Scott both became involved in the start-up and production of the newspaper City Voice (also digitised on Recollect). At the end of the 1990s, Cubey left City Voice and teamed up with Mikee Tucker to begin publication of the full-colour popular culture magazine, LOOP.

Scope magazine on Recollect

Wellington City Libraries wishes to thank and acknowledge the former directors of Cadre Communications for allowing us to digitise Scope on a Creative Commons basis. Special thanks go to Mark Cubey who supplied us with the original copies that were scanned for this collection and for providing information about the history of Scope used in this blog. 

Lost Artworks of Wellington – Now on Recollect

Wellington is full of public works of art that blend seamlessly into our landscape. Sculptures effortlessly populate the waterfront and botanic gardens while many murals and installations take pride of place on retaining walls, the sides of buildings and in the city’s parks. Many of us tend to wander past these works on our way to work with little more than a passing glance. They’ll be there tomorrow, right?

In 1996 Maribeth Coleman, an American who found herself living at the end of the world in Roseneath, began to notice all of this creativity while she commuted between her many volunteering roles in the community. From this seed a project was created; to photograph and record and much of Wellington’s public art as possible. Over the following eight years Maribeth continued with her documentation, compiling her work into 10 hefty volumes which she donated to the Central Library shortly before moving back to the United States.

The entire archive is worth a browse, but here’s some notable works which you might remember if you spent time in Wellington around 20 years ago. They’re now long gone; buildings demolished, murals painted over, old replaced with new.

Manners Mall Fountain, c. 1989
Back when this section of Manners Street was completely pedestrianised, this fountain was despised by local businesses for attracting loiterers and the occasional bottle of bubble bath. It appears the loiterers didn’t like it either; extensive graffiti and damage resulted in the central sculpture to being removed in 1997, followed by the rest of the fountain in 2001.


Te Aro Park Women’s Toilets, Bill Mackay
A little further down the street was the Te Aro Park Women’s bathrooms. These were painted by local muralist Bill Mackay in 1983, and remained until the building was demolished in 1998. An updated version of the mural was painted on the replacement toilets the following year by Marz Cummings.


Untitled Mural 1972, J.R. Cowan
Despite his significance as a New Zealand artist and potter, Roy Cowan’s Untitled Mural 1972 unfortunately makes the list of forgotten works. This large-scale mosaic was commissioned by the National Mortgage & Agency Co of NZ Ltd and is potentially still in its place in a Featherston Street office building; but renovations since means it is no longer accessible by the public.


Spinnable Smith Laundrette, 2001
This laundrette-turned-arts centre once sat right in the path of the proposed Wellington Bypass construction. It was painted by the community during the 2001 Fringe Festival and featured anti-bypass messages. However, this was not enough to save the building however and it was eventually demolished to make way for the new road in 2006.


Gateway for Giants, Chris Finlayson
In 1991 muralist Chris Finalyson was commissioned to paint the front of this Taranaki Street building, occupied by the Forest and Bird protection society. It was a significant feature of the building for about 15 years before the site was demolished for the development of an apartment block.


(Fake) Moa, Dominion Farmers Institute 
This moa pushes the boundaries of what is and isn’t art. However, Maribeth felt compelled to take a photo of it, so here we are. Much remembered by frequenters of the Dominion Farmers Institute building on Featherston Street, nobody seems to know where it came from or where it is now.


There’s over 360 works in this public art archive so be sure to see it in its’ entirety on Wellington City Recollect.

Launching City Voice: News you can use

One of Wellington’s most significant independent media outlets of the 1990s has been fully digitised and is now available to view on Wellington City Recollect.

City Voice Collection on Recollect

For just over eight years City Voice dominated Wellington’s alternative media scene. More than twenty years after its last issue was printed, the library’s archived collection of the weekly newspaper has been fully digitised and is available to view and search on our heritage platform Wellington City Recollect.

Andy Foster as a young city councillor on the cover of the oldest copy held in the collection

City Voice was founded by its editor Simon Collins and the journalist Jeremy Rose. They were soon joined by journalists Nick Bollinger, Mark Cubey & Rachel Woodley, the photographer David Gurr, the artist Chris Healey as well as a core of advertising, administration and distribution staff. The newspaper soon became the regular outlet for dozens of reviewers, columnists and journalism students and began the concept of a ‘paper within a paper’ where several pages would be regularly handed over to local communities who until then had few opportunities to have their voices heard.

Beginning at a time when access to the internet was still largely confined to universities and government institutions, City Voice distilled the talents of many local writers in a single publication before such output became diluted across a multitude of different online forums and websites.  It also provided a mouthpiece for a new generation of activists before the introduction of social media as well as holding the city council and local body politicians to account. Operating out of offices in Cuba Mall, it was owned by the Te Aro Publishing Cooperative Ltd with shares being held by around 160 people who had invested a total of $165,000 as core capital but the newspaper principally operated on its advertising revenue in an era before the widespread growth of the online advertising absorbed much of this income stream.

‘Humourbeasts’ Jermain Clement and Taika Waititi (aka Taika Cohen) appear on the cover of a 1999 issue

Every Thursday a new edition would hit the streets with 21,000 copies being delivered free to every letterbox in the CBD & the inner-suburbs and another 7000 copies available to be picked up in cafes or from newsstands scattered throughout the city. It soon became the go-to place to find out what was happening in the arts and theatre scene with extensive listings and reviews published every week.

However, it was with its news coverage that City Voice had its biggest impact. It avoided the crime, violence and scandal stories that often dominated main-stream media and instead covered local stories where it felt that the public could make a difference with issues such as the planned development of the waterfront or the inner-city motorway bypass. Controversial neo-liberal reforms which had become common within central-government in the early 1990s were starting to have an impact at a local level with various proposals to introduce user charges for social & community services and the paper helped galvanise opposition to many of these. City Voice became a democratic alternative to commercial media where the perceived need to ‘sell’ news was turning people (particularly youth) away from consuming it.

Later to become a city councillor, Laurie Foon states her views on the proposed ‘bypass’ through Te Aro in 1998

The newspaper became a ‘hot-house’ for young journalism students, many of whom went on to have notable careers in the media and communications industries. Volunteers gained experience in the field, assisting staff writers to research and write stories as well as helping out with page layouts and sub-editing. Regular columns provided an alternative take on main-stream staples such as car, fashion and restaurant reviews, the emphasis being on what most Wellingtonians actually consumed rather than expensive aspirational products and services which were often well beyond what many people could afford. Graphic design was also an important part of the newspaper and improvements in computer & printing technology over its eight-year run can be seen in the manner in which its ‘look’ developed.  Advertising ‘reps’ worked hard to constantly sell space in the paper to bring in the revenue required to pay staff and to keep the presses rolling. However, roles were not siloed and someone employed to sell advertising was welcome to try their hand at writing reviews while a journalist who had written an investigative article was just as likely to be helping with page layouts as print deadlines approached. 

Illustrating how some issues never change, this cover from 2000 details the concern of the city potentially losing ownership of its water assets.

However, despite its editorial success and impact, advertising revenue never fully met its costs, eventually resulting in capital reserves being drained. Investigative articles became too narrowly focussed on a small range of subjects and the arrival of the internet also started to have an impact following the launch of several local ISPs which drew readers away from print media as they discovered new online sources of news and information. In late 2000 the board of directors, aware of the personal liability they would be subject to if accused of ‘reckless trading’, decided to wind up the cooperative. After a brief hiatus, a new company was formed called City Voice Media Ltd which raised new capital and continued to publish the newspaper with a new look. However, it soon became apparent that the newspaper was no longer financially sustainable and its final issue was printed on 5th July 2001.  

City Voice on Recollect

Some of the information in this blog has come from the article “City Voice, an alternative to the corporate model” by Simon Collins & Jeremy Rose, published in Pacific Journalism Review, Vol.  10, No. 2 (2004).

The Aotearoa Reference collection is now available

NZ collection sign

Our NZ reference collection can now be requested. These items can be identified in the catalogue as held at the Offsite NZ Collection. We regret the time taken to make this large collection available. Our preparations were interrupted more than once by factors outside our control. We are still working through the process to stock-check all the books that were brought out of the Central Library. As soon as books are checked they will be made available on our online catalogue. If you have a particular request which you can’t find in the catalogue, please let us know, and we will make this a priority.

Please use this email address heritagequeries@wcc.govt.nz to make your request and one of our team will retrieve it for you. Don’t forget to let us know your library card number and which branch you would like to view the book at. You will receive two emails, one confirming the request, and the second when the book has arrived at the branch. This is a free request service.

Most books will be available for you to consult for three weeks at the library branch. If you don’t need the books for three weeks, just let the staff in the branch library know and they will return the book for you.

If you need to renew the item for a further 3 weeks, make a request through the same email heritagequeries@wcc.govt.nz and the library team will check if there is another customer waiting.