1918 - 1939

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Medicine department at Wellington Town Hall during the 1918 influenza epidemic

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1918: Influenza epidemic

The influenza epidemic of 'Black November' spread to New Zealand when soldiers carrying the virus returned home from World War I. It spread quickly through New Zealand, with devastating results.

In Wellington, public gatherings were discouraged and many amenities were forced to shut. The inter-island ferries ceased to operate and factories, shops and theatres closed.

At one point during the epidemic most of the city's top medical officials were in the fever ward of Wellington Hospital. Others had died. Mayor Luke was left to co-ordinate the relief effort. By the time the epidemic passed, it had claimed 757 victims in Wellington.

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Unemployment relief work during the Depression

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1920s: The new labour force

In the 1920s, Wellington was faced with growing levels of unemployment. As the availability of work began to dwindle, many Wellingtonians were forced to line up for soup ingredients at the Town Hall.

To create employment the Council utilised 'unemployment' loans from the Government. The loans were used to hire large numbers of jobless men to construct civic works.

During this period, the Council's 'pick and shovel army' was used to plant trees, level sand-dunes and build roads. Nairnville and Western parks and the road around Point Halswell were also constructed.

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Mrs Annie McVicar

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1921: First woman councillor

In 1921, Annie McVicar became a councillor for the Wellington City Council - Wellington's first female councillor. Scottish-born McVicar had gained a profile as a community activist in the city.

The Evening Post wrote "Never before has Wellington had a lady City Councillor, and the innovation is full of promise".

McVicar was recognised for her work in the community in many ways. She was made an MBE and received the bronze medal of the Alliance Française.


Source: Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Crowd gathered on the steps of Parliament, 1932

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1929-1935: The economic depression

In the late 1920s, global economic conditions were worsening - New Zealand was thrust into the 'Great Depression'.

A government work programme - Scheme Five - was administered by the Council. The scheme provided work for more than 4000 of the city's unemployed - usually a few days per week. The numbers signing on to work put so much pressure on the Council that the city nearly went broke trying to pay for it.

Subsequent pay cuts led to a strike by the city's jobless and their march on Parliament resulted in many arrests. Police also charged a gathering of 2,000 strikers in Cuba Street, injuring many people.

For many, the Labour Party's election at the end of 1935, which saw the birth of a welfare state, marked the end of the depression years.