Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
“The use and purpose of streets: history.”
Mark W. Turner, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London, p. 101
This tour won't take you to Te Papa or to the Botanic Gardens, or to carefully-preserved heritage buildings or even to Parliament. This tour is most likely to take you on routes that Wellingtonians have walked a thousand times, through Cuba Mall, Manners Street, and Lambton Quay, and in doing so, invites the walker to view well-travelled roads through a different lens. The familiar sights of shopping outlets, hotels, innocuous street corners featuring restaurants that change menus every season are also the locations of radical bookstores, social struggle, subversive socialising, and sites of violent protest over the past century.
Walking, Rebecca Solnit observes in her history of the habit, follows the pace of thoughts. Everyday life encourages us to pass over the side street, the forgotten remnant, the reminder, all in favour of what is to come next: work, an appointment, a destination. Capital orders our life according to the clock and just-in-time delivery. It’s no surprise that the cliches of mainstream politics emphasise the future against memory, history and the past. Politicians are forever “moving forward”, hoping for “step change”, driving on towards tomorrow. We suggest a more random, more meandering route. This tour takes you through Wellingtons that have been and that might be again: sites of dissent, disagreement, resistance. Its aim is to connect the walker with the city as a place of history, historical memory, connections between the past and present. Our method follows the meandering pace of the stroller. In this tour associations accumulate alongside each other rather than fitting into any too-clear narrative. We want the otherness of the past – its surprises and its radicalism – to stir new thoughts in the present.
And this is just one tour of what could have been many. Create two, three, many Radical Wellingtons! Let a hundred walking tour flowers bloom! This is nothing like a documentary of all radical activity. The limits are our own unathletic feet: we want an amble, a chance for drink stops along the way, one possible route. How much more there is to say! J.B. Hulbert satirised Queen Victoria’s statue on Kent Terrace in the Maoriland Worker. Newtown has its own radical history, from 1913 to the Springbok Tour. The Hutt saw industrial radicalism through the 1970s. Ours is one, partial, account. We would love to follow more.
The history we tell here is not an attempt to capture the history of Māori political activity in Wellington. That history is all around us, from Ngake and Whataitai smashing their way into the harbour’s present form to Kupe’s arrival at Seatoun to the sites of Te Aro pā to the struggles of Taranaki Whānui and Ngāti Toa Rangatira for land rights and recognition to the great national mobilisations of the hikoi against the Foreshore and Seabed legislation of 2004 to the land march of 1975. We do not have the reo, the immersion in mātauranga Māori, the whakapapa to do that history justice. It deserves another app and a tour of its own.
This tour draws instead on the history of working-class and socialist organising in Wellington. For as long as there have been workers in these islands there has been workers’ resitance. Samuel Parnell insisted, on Petone foreshore in 1840, on an eight-hour day. As an old man he was happy to be paraded on Wellington Labour Day marches. The working-class movement, trade unionism, the labour cause, used to be about imagining wholly different ways of life, post-capitalist futures. Women and men met to defend their conditions, certainly, but also to dream, to plot alternative futures, to imagine justice. Has some of that utopian energy been lost today? This tour looks for a lost future in the streets of our past.
Part of our tour will also bring you to not only some of the sites of political organisation of queer Wellingtonians, but social spaces and outlets where the private lives of individuals could find public expression. We introduce the idea of a city within a city, a network within a network of coffee houses, night clubs, theatres, and personal homes. While we do not intend for this tour to be some kind of queer safari, we hope to enable an experience of Wellington from another person's perspective, not only from a different time, but from a different political space, and therefore experiencing a different Wellington entirely. Public space is transformed depending on the way it is occupied, and in queer life, the personal is almost always political.
The tour, like any good companionable work, is a collaboration between us. Our aim has been harmony rather than uniformity. We share responsibility for each of these entries, but have made no attempt to smooth out the creases of disagreement and emphasis between our differing political affiliations, interests, and emphases. Walking with us gives you the chance to quarrel and disagree as you travel along. That’s what radical Wellington involves. Welcome.
Dougal McNeill and Samantha Murphy
Samantha’s work on this tour was funded by generous support from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington. Dougal’s contributions originated as notes for tours he has been running for the Wellington branch of the International Socialist Organisation since 2013. This is intended as an ecumenical tour, and is not an ISO publication, but we acknowledge the concept’s initial support in the political home of the ISO.
Professor Leith Davis at Simon Fraser University gave an initial inspiration for this project. We are indebted to the many fine historians of radical Wellington we draw on in the following pages, in particular Jared Davidson, the Labour History Project group’s work on 1913, Chris Brickell, and Bert Roth. Our other debts are acknowledged in individual entires; they are many. The work of Mick Armstrong, Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow on radical Melbourne set some of these ideas in motion. Our thanks also to Sue Hirst of the Beaglehole Room, Victoria University of Wellington Library, for her ongoing support.