Becoming a city: 1945-2000

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View of Upper Hutt in 1964, taken from Craig’s Flat (now Riverstone Terraces). Moonshine Road runs diagonally at right from Moonshine Bridge past the then newly opened Upper Hutt College. Also very recently built when this picture was taken is the Cottle’s Block subdivision (now known as Poet’s Block) which occupies most of the centre of this photograph.

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives. 


In the later half of the 20th century, Upper Hutt underwent a dramatic transformation as it finally began a process of sub-urbanisation and industrialisation that other parts of the Wellington region, such as Lower Hutt, had undergone much earlier.

This was to remake the district in a way that largely erased its former character as a rural retreat.


The Battle of the Saleyards

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The Upper Hutt saleyards, located in Queen Street, immediately behind the Provincial Hotel.

Leo Morel, 1949, Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


The transition was not easy and Upper Hutt local body politics in the late 1940s, early ‘50s, were notoriously turbulent. 1947 saw the election of a Borough Council dominated by reformers intent on implementing an ambitious Town Plan to turn Upper Hutt into a modern urban centre. 

This brought them into conflict with others, including the farming community, determined to retain the existing status quo. A major flash point was the dilapidated stock saleyards located in the middle of town, which Council declared closed on sanitary grounds. When defiant farmers made clear their intention to hold their next sale anyway, the anticipated “Battle of the Saleyards” became national news. On the day of the potential conflict, however, Council backed down at the last minute, removing its barricades and letting the sale proceed (although it proved to be the last one and the site was later dismantled). 

Further disputes culminated in 1950 when a large crowd of protestors forced their way into a Borough Council meeting and shut it down, leading to the resignation of the Mayor and several key councillors. However, despite these small victories for the opposition, larger social forces were to ensure Upper Hutt eventually moved in the general direction that this Council had initially championed.

Housing boom

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New house being built in Shakespeare Avenue in the Cottle Block subdivision (later known as Poet’s Block) some time in the late 1950s.

Upper Hutt Library Community Archives


In the immediate aftermath of the end of the Second World War, New Zealand faced a major housing crisis with homes needed for the influx of returning servicemen getting married and starting families. 

Given its proximity to jobs in Wellington and the large expanses of farmland still surrounding its town centre, Upper Hutt proved a prime location for new housing developments. Early subdivisions at this time included the Buckleton Estate (1947) in Upper Hutt Central, Coltman Estate (1949) in Ebdentown, Windsor Park Estate (1950) in Clouston Park, and the Cottle Block in Trentham (1955). Other major developments that would follow in the 1960s and 70s included those at Tōtara Park, Timberlea, Parkdale and Kingsley Heights. 

Transit Camp and Immigration Hostel

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Temporary Transit Camp housing for returned servicemen and their families in Senio Road, Trentham Army Camp, 1948. 

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives 


Because housing construction in the Wellington region could not keep pace with demand in the postwar era, the Government established a Transit Camp at Trentham Camp to provide temporary (and somewhat spartan) accommodation for returned servicemen and their families. The Transit Camp lasted until the early 1960s and many families who went through here ended up living locally. 

Trentham Camp was also the site of an Immigrant Hostel run by the Department of Labour, which helped process and acclimatize new arrivals under the Government’s assisted passage immigration scheme. Aimed at countering the country’s post-war labour shortages, this scheme primarily targeted British migrants (the so-called ‘£10 Poms’) but also, later on, other Europeans, in particular the Dutch. Again, many of those who went through this temporary accommodation later settled in the Upper Hutt district. 

Factory town

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Workers in the Dunlops Factory in the 1960s.

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives.


The opening of the Dunlop Tyre factory in 1949 marked the beginning of Upper Hutt’s emergence as a significant industrial hub. Dunlops would become closely associated with the city’s identity and remain a major employer in the district through to the end of the century. 

It was, however, only the first of many companies to base themselves here in a remarkably short space of time from the 1950s on. By 1966 a Borough Council booklet was boasting: “Efficient transport, the availability of land and labour, the nearness to Wellington – these factors have attracted industry to Upper Hutt”. A year later General Motors opened its car assembly plant in Trentham, having moved there from Petone. 

Other large companies to call Upper Hutt home included Consolidated Plastics, Lyte Aluminium, Standard Telephones and Cable (later Alcatel), Tasman Vaccine Laboratory, F&T Plastics, and Steelcase Engineering. Asides from cars and tyres, the wide range of goods produced in Upper Hutt included ladders, matches, buttons, medical supplies, telephones, uniforms and women's nightwear. 

Baby boomer suburb

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Female students at the newly opened Upper Hutt College in 1962 modelling their new school uniforms.

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


Upper Hutt was a classic New Zealand baby boomer suburb whose postwar population was heavily skewed towards younger age groups. One major consequence of this sudden demographic shift was the burden it placed on the existing school system. Upper Hutt had only a handful of primary schools at this time and no intermediate or secondary ones – apart from St Patrick’s College, Silverstream (established 1931), a private Catholic boys boarding school. 

As the education system struggled to catch up, students had to put up with overcrowding or make use of temporary overflow classrooms at Trentham Army camp. Eventually new schools opened to service Upper Hutt’s new suburbs, with Oxford Crescent School (1952), Fraser Crescent School (1956) and Brentwood School (1955) being amongst the earliest. In 1966 Fergusson Intermediate became Upper Hutt’s first school at this level, followed by Maidstone Intermediate four years later. The opening of Heretaunga College (1954) and Upper Hutt College (1962) finally made the district self-sufficient in secondary education. 

Youth music scene

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Upper Hutt band The Bitter End performing at the Upper Hutt Rugby Club gym in 1966.

Revelle Jackson photograph, Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


Another consequence of being a classic baby boomer suburb was that Upper Hutt became well known in the 1960s as the home of a lively youth music scene. The presence of lots of young people of the same age looking for home-grown entertainment spawned a circuit of Friday and Saturday night dances at local school and church halls. An energetic Upper Hutt Youth Club (one of whose leaders, Frankie Stevens, would go on to a successful career as a popular entertainer) also helped organise regular events. 

Out of this local scene emerged several accomplished rock bands that would become nationally famous, including Dedikation, The Bitter End and The Fourmyula (whose hit single ‘Nature’ is a recognised Kiwi classic). 

Higher education and training centre

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Aerial view of the CIT campus in the 198os.

Upper Hutt Libraries Heritage Collections


Upper Hutt also served during this period as an important national centre for training and higher education, utilising land at Trentham Camp no longer required by the Army. For instance, a Post & Telegraph Training School was set up on these grounds in 1947 (followed later, in 1980, by a newly built Post Office Training Centre). 

In 1956 the Royal New Zealand Police College, which provided a 19 months training course for cadets, was also established at Trentham Camp. It was joined in the early 1960s by the Ministry of Transport’s Traffic Officers Training College. (Both were later merged and moved to Porirua in 1981, although the renowned Police Dog School remained in Upper Hutt.) 

Most significantly, perhaps, the Ministry of Education chose Heretaunga as the location for the country’s Central Institute of Technology (CIT) and began constructing a large campus on this site in 1970, with new facilities being added over the next decade or more. During the course of its existence CIT was to provide education in a broad range of professional fields, including pharmacy, hospitality, engineering, occupational therapy, podiatry, and computer technology. 

Busy shopping district

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View of Main Street, Upper Hutt, in the late 1960s, with Hazelwoods Department Store and the Provincial Hotel at left.

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


Upper Hutt’s retail sector grew dramatically from the late 1950s through to the late 1980s, with its shopping district expanding further down the length of Main Street and spilling over into neighbouring Geange and Queen Streets. 

Hazelwoods, which had been a mainstay of local commerce from the turn of the century, developed during this time into a full-fledged and regionally significant department store. The regular events and promotions it hosted, such as the annual Santa Parade, were an important part of Upper Hutt’s social life. 

Maidstone Mall (subsequently Logan Plaza; later, The Mall), one of the first retail complexes of its kind in the Wellington area, opened in 1975, and the following year saw the completion of the multi-storey Astral (later CBD) Towers, the most prominent new addition to Upper Hutt’s skyline. From 1974 to 1991, Main Street was also closed to traffic between the Geange and Russell Street intersections, creating a Pedestrian Precinct, replete with seating, planters, and covered public spaces. 

A & P Shows

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Crowd watching ax-men in the Jigger Board competition at the A & P show in Trentham Memorial Park, 196X

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


A very important part of Upper Hutt’s social calendar from the 1950s through to the 1970s was the annual A & P Show.

This summer event, organised by the Wellington and Hutt Valley Agricultural and Pastoral Association, was a showcase and celebration of rural life. Regular fixtures included livestock and vegetable competitions, show jumping, dog trials, wood chopping, flower shows, as well as stalls and fairground attractions. 

Held initially at Maidstone Park but later, and most memorably at Trentham Memorial Park, the A & P Shows attracted huge crowds from throughout the Wellington region, with up to 30,000 visitors attending over the two days it was on. The fact that this major regional event was held in Upper Hutt was a sign of how, despite ongoing industrialisation, this area still remained at that time an important rural centre for the Wellington district. Large farms continued to operate, particularly in outlying communities like Whitemans Valley, Mangaroa Valley, Akatarawa and Kaitoke. 

The rural sector was, nevertheless, on the decline, one indicator of which was that A & P Shows stopped being run after 1976.

City Status proclamation

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New Zealand Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson officially proclaiming Upper Hutt a city in a ceremony at Maidstone Park. Upper Hutt Mayor Percy Kinsman sits besides him on the podium, while members of Upper Hutt kapa haka group Mawai Hakona are seated at right on the grass.

Revelle Jackson, Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


Upper Hutt underwent a major population boom in the postwar period. From well under 10,000 inhabitants in the years before the War, numbers more than doubled to 20,000 by the mid-1960s and would increase by half again to 30,000 by the mid-1970s. 

Under the legislation of that time, New Zealand cities were officially defined as communities with a population of 20,000 or more. In late 1965 the Upper Hutt Borough Council was informed by the Government Statistician that its population had reached that threshold. Consequently, plans were put in place to hold a large celebration the following year to mark Upper Hutt attaining city status. 

Unfortunately, though, just a few weeks before festivities were due to begin, the latest census data was published showing that Upper Hutt’s population had, in fact, fallen a few hundred short of the requisite 20,000 number. Amid fears that the planned celebrations might have to be cancelled at the last moment the Government relented and granted Upper Hutt special dispensation to go ahead and be declared a city anyway. 

On 28 May 1966, after a week of big events and a large procession down Main Street, Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson officially proclaimed Upper Hutt a city in front of an enthusiastic crowd of thousands at Maidstone Park.

Māwai Hakona and Ōrongomai Marae

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Renowned Upper Hutt kapa haka group Māwai Hakona in Rotorua after winning the national Polynesian Festival (the forerunner of Te Matatini), held there in 1973.

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


The influx of new arrivals to Upper Hutt in the 1950s and ‘60s included Māori from rural areas, part of the post-war wave of Māori urban migration. Some came here because of a Department of Māori Affairs apprenticeship scheme based at Trentham Camp. Concerned about the prospect of these young Māori becoming detached from their cultural roots, the recently established Upper Hutt Branch of the Māori Women's Welfare League looked for ways of providing these recent migrants with access to Māoritanga. 

One outcome of this was the founding of kapa haka group Māwai Hakona. It was led by two longtime members of Wellington’s Ngāti Poneke cultural organisation, ‘Aunty’ Dovey Kotene-Horvath and Jock McEwen (the latter, while Pākehā, was a fluent speaker of Te Reo and a respected scholar of Māori culture, who served as Secretary of Māori Affairs between 1963 and 1975). Under their leadership Māwai Hakona was to go on to not only become an integral part of Upper Hutt’s civic and community events, but also to achieve national and international success. 

After winning the highly contested national championships at the 1973 New Zealand Polynesian Festival (now known as Te Matatini), Māwai Hakona performed at that year’s opening of the Sydney Opera House, and later went on to successful tours of Europe and the Pacific. Committed to being inclusive, the club always counted significant numbers of local Pākehā and Pasifika peoples amongst their membership. 

This broad cross-cultural support was also reflected in the campaign to establish a marae in Upper Hutt, in which Māwai Hakona played a major role. A long and successful fund-raising drive to support this project culminated in a procession through Main Street in 1970 attended by well over 15,000 people. This led to the opening, in 1976, Ōrongomai, a modern urban marae and centre for providing social services whose tikanga reflects its inclusive origins. Kaumatua Jock McEwen, a skilled carver, oversaw the construction of its whare whakairo (carved meeting houes), Kahukura, which was opened in 1989 and remains an important centrepiece of the Upper Hutt community. 

New Town Plan

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Upper Hutt City Council’s newly built Civic Administration building in 1970. 

Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives


Urban planning became a major preoccupation during the 1960s as Upper Hutt’s community leaders grappled with how best to develop the right infrastructure for both accommodating the district’s rapid growth and reflecting its emergent status as a modern city. 

After much heated debate, a Town Plan was eventually produced that was widely praised at the time for its forward thinking and was even specially featured at an international conference of urban planners in Adelaide in 1967. Important elements of the plan included the creation of a bypass to re-direct traffic away from Main Street (subsequently named Fergusson Drive after the Governor General who had declared Upper Hutt a city) and a civic centre precinct which would include such features as Council offices, a town hall, a library, and sport and recreational facilities. 

As part of implementing this Town Plan, the new Civic Administration Building and Council Chambers (designed by the significant New Zealand modernist architect William Alington) was opened in late 1969. The first Mayor to fully preside there was Doris Nicholson, a former President of the New Zealand Kindergarten Association who became Upper Hutt’s first (and so far only) female Mayor in 1970. 

Other important civic infrastructure developments over the remaining years of the century included the building of a stop bank along the eastern side of the river during the 1970s and ‘80s. This helped prevent the frequent flooding which had previously plagued the new subdivisions in this area. Council also commissioned the construction of River Road (opened 1987) as a bypass to alleviate the severe congestion created by State Highway 2 traffic travelling through the centre of the city.