Story: Wellington region

Page 10. New growth and attitudes: 1940–1975

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‘The American invasion’

In 1942, a Japanese invasion of New Zealand seemed imminent, and American soldiers arrived in Wellington in large numbers. Camps were built at Paekākāriki, on the shores of Pāuatahanui Inlet, in the Hutt Valley and in Wellington.

Training for the war in the Pacific, the 20,000 Americans were an invasion themselves. Wellington women welcomed them, but local men were less impressed.

Overpaid and under attack

One Saturday night in 1943, simmering tension between New Zealand and US servicemen erupted into an all-night brawl on Manners Street. The underlying cause was resentment of the Americans’ popularity. Better paid than Kiwi troops, they were often given preference in shops, restaurants and taxis. Local women liked their courtesy and sophistication, as well as the chocolates, cigarettes and nylon stockings they provided. Five hundred Wellington women married Americans.

European émigrés

Nazism and war also brought European refugees to Wellington, where many contributed to cultural life. After the war, hundreds of Greek and Dutch immigrants settled in the city.

New suburbs

Increased immigration, which included growing numbers of rural Māori, raised the demand for housing. With Wellington city running out of room for new accommodation, the government looked to the Hutt Valley. In the 1940s it built three state housing suburbs – Epuni, Naenae, and Taitā – for 20,000 people. A new suburban rail line connected people to workplaces further down the valley and in Wellington.

Porirua: a new city

In the 1950s the government began to build a city at Porirua – New Zealand’s largest state settlement ever. Linked to Wellington by a motorway, Porirua was the confident vision of planners and engineers who hoped to create a new society.

To provide local jobs, the state encouraged industries to set up in Porirua, or to move there. In 1975, Todd Motors moved from Petone to a new plant above the Porirua town centre. Nicknamed ‘Todd University’, it employed around 1,000 people, and was Porirua’s largest factory.

Council flats and an airport

Joining the housing boom, the Wellington City Council built high-rise apartment blocks for single people and couples. And in 1959 Wellington’s new airport opened at Rongotai.

South Pacific city

In 1966 a massive cyclone struck the Tokelau Islands, and many Tokelauans left their wrecked homes for a new life in New Zealand. Almost 1,000 settled in Wellington, mostly in the Hutt Valley and Porirua. They were part of a major influx of Pacific peoples in the 1960s. By 2006 the region had nearly 34,000 Pacific people – 8.5% of the region’s total population. These groups have enlivened Wellington, and areas such as Newtown and Porirua have a distinctive Pacific flavour.

Pacific Island immigration

In an era of full employment, strong demand for workers caused a labour shortage. Pacific Islanders were encouraged to migrate to New Zealand, and many settled in Wellington, adding to the city’s diversity.

New attitudes

The baby-boomer generation of post-war children grew up without knowing economic depression or war. Taking prosperity for granted, they challenged social conventions in the 1960s and 1970s.

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, was often the focus of demonstrations. Influenced by protest movements overseas, the city’s youth rallied against the Vietnam War, and attended gatherings such as the 1968 ‘Peace, Power and Politics in Asia’ conference.

The United Women’s Convention held in 1975 was one of a series of feminist events that challenged stereotypes and male dominance.

Also in 1975, thousands of Māori walked the length of the North Island to Parliament on a march (hīkoi) to protest against the ongoing loss of their land. A number of protesters stayed on, camping in Parliament grounds. Such scenes were evidence of a mood for change.

How to cite this page:

Chris Maclean, 'Wellington region - New growth and attitudes: 1940–1975', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Chris Maclean, published 9 Jul 2007, updated 1 Aug 2015