Since I started reading books about radio in the 1920s in New Zealand I have found an endless stream of possible tangents and diversions. I am just back from pursuing one.
One of my books about radio said that one of the first radio “stations” in Wellington started in somebody’s house in Newtown. At that time all radio was regulated by the the Post Office (which controlled telegraph and, by extension, wireless). One of the men who started up the radio station mentioned that he lived practically next door to the post office in Newtown, and I wondered where the post office in Newtown was in 1921.
This is what it looked like:
Which is rather fine. Later photographs show it with a clock.
It was opened by the Premier, Richard Seddon. The Evening Post gives generous coverage of the opening ceremony in August, 1900. Richard brought his wife, and the Minister of Public Works, and at about 3 o’clock the Mayor of Wellington and his party began to speechify. Local schools had been closed early and the Post reporter noted the high number of children in the audience. They probably got very little fun out of the speeches, but the building was certainly nice, and Seddon was a real celebrity.
A Mr. Brightwell congratulated the government on erecting such a fine building, but also asked that Wellington South not be neglected, and put the case for the tram lines being extended to Island Bay. Seddon responded, others pitched in (I sense the school children at the fringes growing restless), and then the official party retired for an hour,
I imagine that after such a jolly good round of toasting Mr Seddon was considerably more sociable by 4.30pm.
Having read all of this I wondered whatever became of the Newtown Post Office. After all, I wanted to find the place where one of Wellington’s radio pioneers began his work, and to do that I needed to find the site of the old Post Office. A little bit of hunting on line turned up another photo which put that building into a wider perspective.
The Post Office is the brick building on the far left, and the buildings in the centre are St. Thomas’ Church and Hall. Apparently the Post Office was opposite a match factory, about where the Newtown Mall is now, and seeing as the match factory is no longer there a quite large part of me (the ironic part) hopes that it burnt down.
All of this translates, fairly grimly, into this scene in 2011,
I took Rosamund in her pushchair down to the site of the old Post Office and took these shots with our camera. I took those pictures with mixed feelings (and a Canon Ixus 105). I don’t think that it is snobbish to say that the architectural landscape has changed for the worse in this little bit of Newtown.
On the other hand there was some kind of consolation to be had. That consolation came first when I noticed that the church that was on the site of the old St. Thomas’ had a St. Thomas Centre in it, and my heart leapt when I saw this out the front of the ugly, modern, breeze block building that stands there now:
Stepping back I noticed a low wall made of similar stone (the garden littered with rubbish and beer cans),
Which is all that remains of a fine block of buildings. A bit of a pillar, and a bit of wall. Bits you can see the mum and kids walking past in the photo below (with some young loafer leaning on the post office behind them).
The church on the site now is the City Mission. There are a lot of organisations around Newtown that seek to help the less fortunate. Newtown has long been a Salvation Army area, but other groups have been equally active. While I stood on the footpaths taking photos it was obviously the hour that the night shelters were clearing out for the day, as weary, worn out men and women in their mismatched, and discoloured clothes shuffled past me one by one.
Curiously this was also a consolation. Not that suffering and isolation are still with us, but that the impulse to help, which was a powerful force in the Victorian era, is still in evidence in Newtown with all of its thrift shops, and soup kitchens, and programmes to help streetkids and refugees and the poor. That this impulse has survived the last 100 years is probably more important than that the lovely old buildings have made way for a petrol station, and a video store and a McDonalds.
Still, it would be nice to have both the impulse and the buildings.