From 1950 to 2010 the Bureau International des Expositions (the organisation in charge of overseeing international expositions) sanctioned 20 world’s fairs, but New Zealand participated in only five – all but one in the Asia-Pacific region. In each case the aim was to avoid a ‘hard-sell’ trade fair and present a rounded image of New Zealand and its people that would increase trade and attract tourists.
Fairs New Zealand attended
- At Osaka Expo 70 in Japan, 7 million visited the New Zealand pavilion. It was one of 76 countries represented.
- Brisbane World Expo 88 was designed to mark Australia’s bicentennial. New Zealand had one of the largest exhibits, with the theme ‘New Zealand through the eyes of youth’.
- Seville Expo 92 in Spain marked the 600th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America. New Zealand emphasised its own tradition of discovery in the antipodes. As at Brisbane, Ian Fraser was commissioner general, and Logan Brewer played a leading role in the design. Although 111 countries were represented, the New Zealand pavilion was highly ranked.
- The theme of Expo 2005 in Aichi, near Nagoya, in Japan, was Nature’s Wisdom, so the New Zealand pavilion, designed by Story Inc, highlighted the refreshing beauty of New Zealand’s natural environment.
- At Shanghai Expo 2010 in China, New Zealand was one of almost 100 countries with a pavilion. It featured an open rooftop garden.
There were consistent messages in New Zealand’s presentations at these fairs.
Beautiful New Zealand
New Zealand continued to present itself as a beautiful, clean and green country – a good place to visit and safe to buy from.
At Osaka visitors enjoyed a bush walk represented by Susan Skerman’s 600 screen-printed acrylic panels. There was a painted aluminium mural by John Drawbridge that depicted, through sky, hills and sea, the ‘distinctive clarity of the New Zealand atmosphere’.1 At Brisbane patrons queued beside a 60-metre-high waterfall, sauntered along a bush walk and saw a glow-worm cave. The entrance at Seville was a high rock face, designed to look like the coast English explorer James Cook would have seen when he first saw New Zealand in 1769, with penguins and gannets. The Aichi pavilion featured at its heart a large piece of pounamu (greenstone).The Shanghai Expo featured New Zealand as a ‘city of nature’ with a pōhutukawa tree outside, and hot pools and geysers within.
Māori New Zealand
The New Zealand presentations continued to make Māori culture a major element of New Zealand identity. At Osaka Māori dancers performed regularly, while New Zealand Day featured Īnia Te Wīata singing with the Māori Theatre Company and a drama of the legendary hero Māui fishing up the North Island. The same theme was present at Brisbane, where the Māui story was projected onto a film of mist. Both there and at Seville Māori performers entertained the waiting crowds. The Shanghai pavilion was designed around the Māori creation story and was subtitled ‘living between land and sky’. A huge pounamu (greenstone) boulder, designed to make a link with Chinese jade, was a feature.
A taste of Kiwi
The New Zealand pavilions gained support through offering food. At Osaka it was lamburgers, ice cream, cheese and milkshakes. In Brisbane a Lockwood lodge on the edge of the bush walk sold smoked eel, seafood, venison and wild boar. At Seville it was kiwifruit, venison and mussels. The pavilions in each case had a shop with the usual Kiwi souvenirs – All Black rugby jerseys, pāua-shell jewellery and furry kiwi toys.
Kiwi way of life
Of all the pavilions, the one at Osaka put the greatest emphasis upon the Kiwi way of life. There were images of New Zealand sports and typical occupations such as builders and farmers, and slides of social services, city and country life and the New Zealand weekend. The three-screen film, This is New Zealand, combined scenic images of New Zealand with shots of people at work and play. On New Zealand Day there was wood chopping, champion shearer Godfrey Bowen showing off his skills and performing rams. There was a display of New Zealand pottery, with its Japanese influences.
In Brisbane New Zealand’s adventurous way of life was displayed in an area that looked like a woolshed. The exhibition at Seville put an emphasis on New Zealand as ‘exotic, sophisticated and culturally aware’ – so there was a fine display of New Zealand-made glass, and soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performed.
For over 150 years exhibitions have sold New Zealand, or at least an idealised version of New Zealand, to the wider world. Whether tourism, trade and reputation have benefited as anticipated is an open question.