Story: Manawatū and Horowhenua region

Page 14. Culture and heritage since 1940

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Writing about the region

George Petersen, Charlotte Warburton and Roy Clevely all published books on the early history of the region. Monte Holcroft set a high literary standard for rural history with his account of Manawatū county, The line of the road (1977). Helen Wilson’s My first eighty years (1950) touched on early Levin, and Leslie Adkin wrote extensively on Māori and the natural history of Horowhenua and neighbouring districts.

Others have captured aspects of Manawatū and Horowhenua life in fiction or memoir. John Reece Cole’s widowed mother worked for well-off landowners, and he described the stratification of that world in his short stories, most notably ‘It was so late’ (1946) – about a soldier returning, unrecognised, to where his mother used to work. Yvonne Du Fresne wrote about her Danish immigrant forebears in Farvel and other stories (1980). Janet Frame, who lived in both Palmerston North and Levin, turned Levin into the ‘memory town’ of Puamahara in her 1988 novel The Carpathians. In his memoir Looking for the phoenix (2002), W. H. Oliver described his working-class upbringing in Feilding in the 1930s.

Local wits

Cartoonist and humorist Tom Scott has written about his birthplace, Rongotea. Murray Ball, who produced the Footrot Flats cartoon strip, grew up in Feilding and worked first on the Manawatu Times. John Clarke, comedian and creator of laconic farmer Fred Dagg, was born in Palmerston North.

Theatre, art and museums

Centrepoint Theatre originated in 1973 as a professional theatre–restaurant. Director Alison Quigan worked and also wrote for the company from her appointment in 1986 until her resignation in 2004.

The Palmerston North City Art Gallery developed from an institution run by the Manawatū Art Society to a gallery with professional directors, including Luit Bieringa. During his time a purpose-built gallery was completed, opening in 1977.

The Manawatū Museum, under director Mina McKenzie, went through similar changes. From the 1980s there were professional staff, and in 1994 the museum was moved from an old brick building to purpose-built premises which also housed a science centre. The museum, science centre and art gallery were amalgamated in 2000 and took the name Te Manawa.

Centre stage

Centrepoint Theatre company aimed to tour from one central location, in Palmerston North. It did not come out of nowhere – David McKenzie, one of the founders, was first onstage at age 11 in Peter Pan. Pat Evison performed Readings from Katherine Mansfield in December 1973, and the first play opened in January 1974. It is New Zealand’s only professional theatre company outside the four main centres.

In 1973 Māori artist Cliff Whiting was appointed as lecturer in art at the Palmerston North Teachers’ College. This was the first tertiary institution in the country to establish a marae, in 1980. John Bevan Ford was a Manawatū-based sculptor and artist whose works are displayed in many collections in New Zealand and overseas.


In 2003, Palmerston North City Library issued the most materials of any New Zealand public library, and rated second in visitor numbers after Wellington. The new part of the library was designed by Wellington architect Ian Athfield; the older part is the former Rosco’s department store on the Square.

The immense historical and archival work of Ian Matheson, particularly on the flax industry, was commemorated when the Palmerston North City Archives were named after him.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Manawatū and Horowhenua region - Culture and heritage since 1940', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 24 Jul 2006, updated 1 Apr 2015