1940 Centennial Celebrations
The New Zealand Centennial celebrations of 1940 represented the country’s coming of age. 1940 signified not just the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi signing, but also a century of settlement and government, as well as a hundred years of membership in the British Empire.
In many respects the Centennial was a deliberate act of national self-definition by New Zealand’s first Labour government, as they sought to unify the country through commemorations of collective achievement and history. Walter Nash took a keen interest in the celebrations, which took in a full diary of local, provincial and national events, including a Centennial Exhibition, a large ceremony at Petone on Wellington’s anniversary day and another at Waitangi on 6 February.
The jewel in the centennial crown was the 55-acre Centennial Exhibition in Rongotai, Wellington, which was essentially a physical demonstration of the wonders of material progess. The Exhibition ran from 8 November 1939 to 4 May 1940, during which time 2,641,043 passed through the main gates. It included modern buildings and a soaring central tower, sculptures of a pioneer man and woman, a Government Court, Women’s section, and a hugely popular amusement park known as Playland.
Communities throughout the country held pageants to commemorate the event and one Christchurch street procession held on April 6 was 2 miles long. Walter Nash was in attendance at a great number of these events, particularly the national commemorations and those involving his own Hutt electorate (which took in Petone).
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