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Dunedin and Wellington exhibitions draw millions from NZ and overseas

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Flashback - Dunedin and Wellington exhibitions draw millions from NZ and overseas

DAMIAN GEORGE

Last updated 05:00, November 19 2016

The courtyard at night, including a bandstand, orchestra, and surrounding crowd, at the New Zealand and South Seas ...

ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

The courtyard at night, including a bandstand, orchestra, and surrounding crowd, at the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition. Photograph taken in 1925 by an unidentified photographer.


So many people visited a Dunedin exhibition in 1925, it skewed the Census numbers, writes Damian George.

There was a peculiarity that warped the Dunedin Census of 1926, one which would have probably been evident to anyone who visited the city in the first few months of the year.

The 84,000 people who descended on the newly-built Logan Park on May 1 would have provided an indication as to the skewed nature of the southern city's density, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition lit up at night. Dunedin, May 1926.

ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

The New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition lit up at night. Dunedin, May 1926.

Between then and November of the previous year, more than 3.2 million vists had been logged in the city for the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition, which drew people from across the country and overseas.

That is a scarcely believable number, given the population of New Zealand at the time was less than half of that figure.

It clearly led to head-counting complications, and it was not until 1939, when Wellington held the Centennial Exhibition at Rongotai, that the country staged an event of a similar magnitude.

Fun park rides and stalls at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition at Rongotai, Wellington. Photograph taken circa 1940, ...

ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY Ref: 1/2-036214-F

Fun park rides and stalls at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition at Rongotai, Wellington. Photograph taken circa 1940, probably by Eileen Deste.

Dunedin had already hosted international exhibitions. In 1865, prospering from the gold rushes of the early 1860s, it became the first New Zealand centre to host such an event, when it staged The New Zealand Exhibition. It staged another in 1889.

Christchurch also hosted international exhibitions, in 1882 and 1906. The latter exhibition, situated in Hagley Park, was the largest held in New Zealand until that time. But Architect Edmund Anscombe had hoped to eclipse them all with the Dunedin exhibition.

The only problem was the city did not have a venue like Hagley Park on which to stage such an event. This led to the birth of Logan Park.

New Zealand Centennial Exhibition buildings on May 3, 1940.

ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY Ref: 1/4-048873-G

New Zealand Centennial Exhibition buildings on May 3, 1940.

Lake Logan, the site eventually accepted by the exhibition's directors, was seen as spacious, convenient and picturesque, according to the New Zealand History website. But only one-eighth of its area had been reclaimed, and more than mere reclamation was required to transform the site. In all, 25,000 loads of clay and 3000 loads of soil were deposited for the lawns and gardens, 2500 trees and shrubs and 12,000 herbaceous and bedding plants were planted, and 600 packets of seeds were sown.

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The exhibition buildings on the new site were no less impressive. Anscombe designed a series of seven pavilions grouped on two sides by a Grand Court and converging by colonnaded passages towards a Festival Hall surmounted by a dome. 

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