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The grey marble facade of Parliament is having a makeover this weekend in celebration of Wellington’s 150th year as the capital city, reports Radio New Zealand International – www.radionz.co.nz
The reins of parliament were handed over in 1865, much to the despair of the then-capital Auckland, where it was felt that the city’s political and commercial advantages more readily lent it to being the capital than windy Wellington.
But the change went ahead, and a ship packed with all of the Government’s papers set sail south.
By July of that year, Parliament had settled in to its new Wellington home, based out of the now long-gone council chambers.
Wellington City Council is putting on a party to mark the milestone, with a light and sound show at Parliament on Saturday evening, projected onto the facade of the building, alongside performances from Dave Dobbyn and Wellington’s Orpheus Choir.
Event director Grant Stevenson said there was room for about 15,000 people to watch the show, and if more turn up, it would be re-run on following days.
For him, Wellington’s capital status goes beyond politics.
“We have the headquarters of our cultural infrastructure here, the National Library, the National Archives, Government House, Premier House – this is where the artefacts, the exhibitions, the stories of the nation are lodged, so it’s about identity.”
The council is also offering free buses for people to visit some of the city’s landmarks and historic places, including some that are not always open to the public, such as Premier House.
Wellington historian Redmer Yska, who wrote a biography of the city in 2006, said the city owed a lot to the decision to move the capital there.
In the 1800s, there was little going for economically but whaling and flax weaving and becoming home to government radically changed its economy, he said.
“It was described by one newspaper as ‘the tithe that leads to fortune’ – this was going to be the motherlode, this was going to be what made a difference for the city.”
“The seat of government is so important to Wellington’s economy – I think it’s the lifeblood of the city, and as far as Wellington is concerned, thank God it’s here.”
And while occasionally talk of moving the capital back to Auckland surfaces from time to time, in 1865, the city’s harbour, land and defence opportunities made Wellington the unambiguous first choice.
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