Review: Wellington’s motor industry – a history of place and space

Review: Wellington’s motor industry – a history of place and space

Everyone loves detailed history about their town and the chance to listen to an expert on the history of the motor industry in Wellington wasn’t to be missed. The socially distanced, masked up audience sat rapt and engaged as Richard Norman took us on a trip through time. Drawing on everything from census data to old photos, Richard immersed us in Wellington’s journey as Te Aro’s streets, buildings and people changed through time.

In the late 19th century, the rich people lived in the hills and Te Aro was swampland and full of slum housing. Wellington experienced huge growth in the early part of the 20th century. Pedestrians, horses and carts were replaced rapidly by cars and the fledgling motor industry kept up. Businesses that repaired carriages quickly switched to car mechanics. Family owned businesses associated with the motor trade stamped their mark on our young town, using the money this growth provided to build some of the largest buildings of the time.

We saw buildings in old photos that still exist today, heavily disguised by modern facades. Now we know where to look, we can get that glimpse into yesterday’s world and reignite our connection with this place we live. The audience had many questions on the information Richard presented, and shared their own anecdotes as well.

One revealed his first job was at the Ford Seaview site where he’d lied about his age to get a summer job. Another had ties to a family prominent in the peak period of the motor industry. We might not have thought too deeply about the motor trade changes in Wellington over the last 100 years. But I bet all of us left this talk excited to look for those hidden gems Richard revealed to us, that are still scattered through our streets and buildings close to Te Papa that tie us back to our place in this space.

Angela Gilbert.