Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
The Communist Party had offices, and a Unity Centre, in this building from during the Second World War until the 1960s. The Centre was used to hold public meetings, socials, and Communist forums, while the offices arranged the Party’s interventions in campaigns across Wellington. This building will have been home to meetings on the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, campaigns against ‘all white’ All Black tours of South Africa, Communist election campaigns and more.
Particularly notable were the Centre’s large murals, inspired by the work of Diego Rivera and illustrating the Party’s commitment to anti-racism, internationalism, and the Soviet Union. These would be covered over when the Centre was rented out for dances (the punters complained), but provided a striking backdrop to Party events.
The murals were designed and painted by Party members Judy Evans and her father Guy Harding. Evans explained some of their background to another long-time Wellington communist and cultural worker, Rona Bailey, in 1987:
“When Dad and I worked together on those murals we had intense enthusiasm. We believed in what we were painting and we loved the challenge of doing it. You could say that Dad was the brains of the outfit. Being a cartographer and draughtsman he was slow and thorough. As for me, then a ticket writer and display artist, I plunged ahead with abandon. I needed to be curbed and Dad needed to be hurried so we went well together. Dad did all of the lettering and the research into many subtitles that he enjoyed whereas I did most of the pictorial work. It is a strange circumstance after about forty-five years to have to recall that period of my life. Memory dims and the present has always taken precedence over the past. From a young communist and idealist I am now a retired orchardist’s wife. How time changes people! No more am I a communist although I would feel no disgrace in people knowing I had been one. But a radical – yes!”
When the Party moved out of these offices in the late 1960s the mural went missing. Rona Bailey, on her own search to document radical Wellington, located seven of the eight panels in “a broken-down shed in an old house near Kent Terrace” in 1975. Weather damaged and rat-bitten in parts, they are now stored in the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Want to learn more?
Judy Evans and Rona Bailey, “The Unity Centre Murals”, Sites 16 (Autumn 1988), pp, 71-72.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Radical Wellington