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Creating a National Spirit: Celebrating New Zealand's Centennial

1: Business As Unusual: Managing and Funding the Centennial Exhibition

page 25

1: Business As Unusual: Managing and Funding the Centennial Exhibition

Wellington had not hosted a major industrial exhibition since 1895 and, in 1930, the mayor, Sir George Troup, began a campaign for the city to hold a centennial exhibition. The depression intervened but his successor, Thomas Hislop, revived the idea and led a deputation to Rt Hon M.J. Savage in January 1936 to ask the government's support. The Prime Minister's discussion with the deputation focused his attention on the centennial and in May the government made a policy statement that included its willingness to give financial support for a centennial exhibition. This would take the form of a grant of up to £50,000 (initially on the basis of one pound for every two pounds' worth of shares sold) and a loan of £25,000. This would be nearly one third of the £250,000 of the government's budget for the centennial celebrations.

The Centennial Exhibition fell short of Dunedin's in that it could not claim the coveted 'international' status. Before 1928 no rules had governed the running of international exhibitions. As these events grew in frequency, cost and political significance the need for minimum standards and sensible scheduling arrangements became obvious. In November 1928, therefore, many nations signed a convention on the use of the term 'international' for exhibitions. Signatories could not attend 'international' exhibitions not endorsed by the Paris secretariat. New Zealand was not a signatory, but Australia, Canada and Britain were, so the New Zealand High Commissioner urged caution in August 1937 when the Wellington company directors began talking about their exhibition as 'international'. The word 'empire' was acceptable, but J. W. Heenan, undersecretary of the Department of Internal Affairs, preferred the title the 'New Zealand Centennial Exhibition'.1 The New Zealand High Commissioner to London helped to secure the King's consent to act as Patron (the Prime Minister served as Vice-Patron and the Minister of Industries & Commerce as Honorary President).

The Wellington promoters followed the Dunedin model and formed a limited liability company to organise the exhibition, the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Company Ltd (the exhibition company). Its articles of association provided for up to fifteen directors, one to be nominated by the Wellington City Council (WCC), three by central government and the remainder to be appointed by shareholders.

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The directors (initially styled provisional directors), all men, came from the greater Wellington area. They were:

Thomas Hislop Mayor of Wellington
Douglas McGowan Chairman, Wellington Harbour Board
Charles Turrell General manager, New Zealand Shipping Co
Charles Todd Chairman, Todd Motors
Sir Charles Norwood Chairman, Dominion Motors Ltd
Charles Westwood Earle Managing director, Wellington Publishing Co
William Appleton Director, New Zealand Guarantee Corp Ltd
Walter McLay Managing director, Bryant & May, Bell & Co
John Thomas Martin Director, Wright, Stephenson & Co
Sir Alexander Roberts Managing director, Murray Roberts & Co
Frank Campbell General manager, the Scoullar Co Ltd
R.H. Nimmo2 General manager, Hamilton, Nimmo & Sons

The government directors were:

J.W. Heenan Undersecretary, Dept of Internal Affairs
F. Johnston Assistant secretary, Dept of Industries &
G.J. Read Trades & Labour Council

The provisional directors met for the first time on 25 September 1936 at the city council offices. One of their priorities was the appointment of key staff. They could not make permanent appointments, but quickly secured the services of Charles P. Hainsworth on a temporary basis as 'organiser' for £15 a month. Hainsworth had plenty of experience. A former general manager of the Glasgow City Corporation's Department of Exhibitions and Trade Affairs, he had come to New Zealand in 1924 to manage the Dunedin exhibition. Early the following year the full exhibition company board confirmed him as general manager at £1500 a year and hired Colonel H.E. Avery as secretary-treasurer (£350 p.a.). Hainsworth and Avery had clerical assistance and could also call on the services of Wellington City Council engineer, K. E. Luke, and other city council staff.

When the company directors met for the first time on 16 March 1937, it was not a smooth meeting. The chairmanship was contested keenly, Hislop having to go to a second ballot to beat Todd by a single vote. Nevertheless, the directorate appears to have settled down and to have worked efficiently. It had to. Much of the work fell to committees of directors and coopted volunteers.

One of the provisional directors' first priorities had been selling shares to raise funds. They issued their prospectus on 30 September 1936, setting the company's nominal capital at £150,000, distributed in £1 shares. These could be paid for at 2s 6d page 27 on application, 2s 6d on allotment and the balance in calls not exceeding 2s 6d at intervals of at least three months. Directors hoped that these provisions would encourage small investors to participate, and several hundred individuals took up shares, often as few as a single share each; but the table below confirms that the Exhibition Company was anything but a small investors' punt, and the share issue remained undersubscribed. Over half the applications were made in the first round, allotted in December 1936, when directors issued 75,090 share certificates. After that demand continued to fall until late 1939, when directors authorised the last few very minor issues.

New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Company Ltd: Shareholding

Local Government
Wellington City Council 24,800
Wellington Harbour Board 10,000
Others (Auckland, Eastbourne, Feilding, Lower Hutt,
Masterton, Napier, Palmerston North, Petone,
Wanganui city & borough councils,
Manawatu County Council) 4,800 39,600 (28.9%)
Crown 30,949 (22.6%)
Transport (500 shares +)
Union Steam Ship Company 5000
Overseas Shipowners' Allotment Committee 5000
Anchor Shipping 500
Dominion/Ford/General/Todd Motors 3800
Society of Motor Mfgrs Traders Ltd, London 1000 15,300 (11.2%)
Major Financial (500 shares +)
BNZ 5000
Bank of NSW 1000
Union Bank 1000 7000 (5.1%)
Other Major Shareholders 500-2000 shares each
(Coulls Somerville Wilkie, Cadbury Fry Hudson, DB,
Fletchers, Hannahs, Hislop TCE, ICI, NZ Breweries
Ross & Glendinning, Sargood, Son & Ewen, Shell,
Woolworths, Wright Stephenson) 11,800 (8.6%)
556 other shareholders (average 58 shares) 32,254 (23.6%)3

The share register shows that average New Zealanders kept their wallets firmly shut. Many of the small businesses and the petty proprietors who took shares seem to have hoped for a direct spin-off from the exhibition. Hotel keepers, carriers, electrical firms and other contractors bought parcels of five to twenty shares, five being more common than twenty. There were some non self-employed investors, but virtually all buyers of single shares were described as foremen, labourers, builders, page 28 electricians, painters, plasterers or drivers. One man used Fletcher Love Construction's business address as a contact point. Not surprisingly, many of these blue-collar shareholders were later marked 'gone, no address' in the register.

Few Aucklanders or South Islanders invested. True, many of the_contractors were nationwide operators, but the overwhelming majority of corporate and personal investors came from the capital. The exhibition may have carried the name 'New Zealand Centennial', but the people who bought shares were largely Wellingtonians.4 Nevertheless, despite the issue being undersubscribed by about £15,000, the company felt that it had placed sufficient shares to justify making a start. With the help of the State's purse, the show was on the road.

One of the first decisions to be made was the selection of an architect. Among a number of applicants there were two main contenders. The first, a consortium of Atkins & Mitchell, Crichton, McKay & Haughton, J.M. Dawson & King, and Gray, Morton & Young, wanted a panel of architects, something Alan Mitchell had seen work successfully at the recent Century of Progress exposition in Chicago. Opposing them was Edmund Anscombe, who had designed the 1925-6 Dunedin exhibition. Anscombe invited company officials to inspect his offices, where he had laid out the bait of 'a comprehensive exhibit depicting the practical side of Exhibitions'.5 But Anscombe came with a chequered history. He had felt slighted by the directors of the Dunedin exhibition and had clashed with most of them; and in 1928 had privately printed The Inside Story of the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition, Dunedin 1925-26, fifty pages of festering, wounded pride.6 As Anscombe had also criticised Hainsworth in that book for lack of leadership and imagination, the board must have viewed his candidacy with some misgivings.

The appointment subcommittee favoured a panel, but the wider board leaned towards Anscombe and, by six votes to three at the 5 April 1937 board meeting, invited him to participate in a panel. The subcommittee was clearly unhappy with that decision and the panel declined to add Anscombe, 'a gentleman whom three of them had met for the first time only that afternoon'.7 Anscombe warned against the costs that would accompany divided control.8 The board gave the work to Anscombe ahead of Gray, Morton & Young by eight votes to five.9

Selecting the architect was child's play compared with building the exhibition complex itself. The site, at exposed Rongotai, has fairly been described as a 'dreary place' whose 'amenities included a rubbish tip in one corner'.10 The wind was so bad that flag manufacturer Hutcheson, Wilson & Co, advised the company to take the flags down each night to reduce damage and save money.11 Furthermore, an unusually bad summer and autumn in 1939-40 would ensure that 'there were not more than twenty evenings when the beautifully-lit grounds with fountain, reflecting pools, statuary, trees and flowers ... could be appreciatively viewed',12 but wind and weather were just part of the story.

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The real problem was the site's proximity to the Wellington aerodrome, which had almost as much influence on the finished buildings as Anscombe's design. The official history skated over this rather lightly13 but in April 1937 the company learned that Civil Aviation had increased the height restrictions on construction around the airport perimeter significantly. 'This will sterilise a very large area of the Exhibition site in relation to the erection of buildings,' the company warned the city council.14 Days later it told Civil Aviation that the new restrictions would 'probably result in the cancellation of the Exhibition project'.15 Whether this was true or not is impossible to say, but the broadside had the desired effect. Civil Aviation relaxed its restrictions over part of the site but warned the WCC that it would hold it fully responsible for any accidents.

Anscombe, who freely admitted 'the Exhibition as a whole is a menace to flying',16 had to work within these tight restrictions. Beacons and flagpoles required the approval of Civil Aviation and the Marine Department. Civil Aviation inspected zealously. In mid-1939 it ordered the removal of flagpoles and radio masts and reductions in the height of the already-built central, north and south wings and the Titirangi Road tower near the entrance gates. City engineer K. E. Luke, who had been negotiating on the company's behalf, observed that dispensations already granted to the Australian and British pavilions had set a precedent: he recommended
The men who built the Exhibtion with the Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, and members of his cabinet (bottom centre). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ,

The men who built the Exhibtion with the Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, and members of his cabinet (bottom centre). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ,

page 30 lopping back the Titirangi Road entrance towers and then applying for further concessions later.17 The company complied, although Anscombe complained that his central tower required a pole to create a 'festival' atmosphere, 'otherwise it becomes merely a monument'.18 These restrictions caused delays and cost money, especially with the crucial British pavilion. The architect was preparing to leave for New Zealand when the UK Department of Overseas Trade discovered the height restrictions.19 It sought advice on waiving them or building elsewhere but settled for chopping the height of its design by more than a third.20

Hainsworth and Avery could draw on the technical services of WCC employees, but much of the work fell to directors and coopted volunteers. The committee structure followed established practice. The seventeen formal committees were: accommodation, admissions, amusement park, catering, ceremonial, electrical, executive, finance, furnishings, horticultural, music and entertainment, publicity, space and exhibits, sports, traffic and transport, works, and the London advisory committee. In addition to these there were also informal and ad hoc committees. Subcommittees were formed between mid-1937 and mid-1938 as needs arose. Few began as informally as the Women's Committee, which was set up in June 1937, formed from among the directors' wives. In two areas the company's work was simplified. The National Art Gallery's decision to run a centennial art exhibition saved the company the trouble of organising one; and although the company formed a sports subcommittee, its role was limited to helping to prevent calendar clashes. Wellington held sporting activities in conjunction with the exhibition, but the Centennial Games took place in Auckland.

Two of the more important committees were the transport committee and the accommodation committee. Because Wellington's hills restrict transport, serious thought had been given to locating the exhibition in the central city area on the Thorndon reclamation. The site was too small for this, however, so the organisers selected the more spacious Rongotai site, which had been made more viable by the completion of the Mount Victoria road tunnel in 1931.

Nevertheless, planning for the exhibition required careful cooperation between the WCC, which ran the trams and buses, the Eastbourne Borough Council, which operated the harbour ferries, and the Wellington Harbour Board, which controlled valuable shore fringes suitable for parking. The transport committee supplemented its numbers with representatives of the New Zealand Railways Department, the Union Steam Ship Company, the council tramways and the Automobile Association. Tramlines were extended, the harbour ferries were given the use of the Miramar oil jetty and the aerodrome was made available for parking each evening after 7.30. For the first time in New Zealand's exhibition history, car parking became a major issue. The exhibition car park offered 1,262 spaces. The company estimated that motorists could find another 5000 in the streets nearby but advertising emphasised the wisdom page 31 of taking public transport to Rongotai. To speed traffic circulation the City Council banned bicycles and horses from the Mount Victoria tunnel between 10 am and midnight during the exhibition season.21 Twenty extra officers were drafted in to control traffic.22

Accommodation was even trickier, for Wellington was not a traditional visitor destination. At first the exhibition company looked to the private sector to meet the challenge, but it came to realise that it would have to provide some itself. State housing construction was booming in Wellington, but a request to allow state house tenants to take in billets during the exhibition received a frosty response from the State Advances Corporation. The corporation replied to the effect that granting a concession for the exhibition would set an undesirable precedent. Nor did the expanding bureaucracy help. In November Internal Affairs declined a request to delay the demolition of the Hotel Arcadia, whose site was needed by the fast-expanding Social Security Department.23

The accommodation committee had little more success with alternatives. It discovered that the secondary schools and the dental school used their accommodation over the summer months. Plans to have the Winter Show building owners operate it for the city council as a hostel, car park and motor camp dragged on for months without result. The company failed to interest the Automobile Association in building a motor camp (despite seeking quotes for tents and stretchers for a 'canvas camp'), although one was eventually opened in Miramar under council control.24 Like most subcommittees, the accommodation committee also fielded its share of outlandish suggestions, one of the strangest being an offer from the Holm Shipping Company to sell its ancient coal hulk Holmwood for conversion to an accommodation ship at the Miramar wharf.25

The company was involved directly in two accommodation ventures: an accommodation bureau which opened in the central city in early 1939; and an attempt to take shares in the Exhibition Hotel at the exhibition site, seeking funding for this purpose from the bank. By now, though, the Bank of New Zealand was alarmed by the company's indebtedness and refused to support the hotel project, which had to be funded by the City Council, the exhibition company, Fletcher & Love, Anscombe and 'the Misses Scott'. It exceeded its £36,500 construction budget by almost £10,000.26 During its short and busy life the Exhibition Hotel Ltd made a net operating profit of £12,741, but liabilities were estimated to be in the region of £25,000.27 After the Exhibition Hotel closed its doors Fletchers paid the other shareholders two shillings for each of their one-pound shares in order to close the books.

The high profile of the company and its close links to the government obliged it to be particularly sensitive to the social and political environment in which it operated. A by-law under the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Act 1938 prohibited attendance by 'common prostitutes and persons who habitually consort with thieves page 32 or persons who have no visible means of support' as well as the usual range of felons.28 Shortly, though, it would be under accusation of prostituting itself. Trading on public holidays such as Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day was frowned upon by an influential sector of New Zealand society. The official catalogue had promised that the exhibition would be closed on these days, but the company soon yielded to pressure from some exhibitors to open for restricted hours. Predictably, evening opening on Good Friday brought protests from the Plunket and Salvation Army stalls. The latter warned that opening 'will give the impression that Our Lord is being sold again for "thirty pieces of silver"', while H. C. Harcourt, manager of the Little Theatre in Playland, closed, accusing the company of hypocrisy in not respecting this day while sending young men to fight 'a Godless enemy'.29 The company got into even worse trouble over Anzac Day. Twice it had asked the influential Dominion Executive Committee of the RSA's views on Anzac Day opening, so it should not have been surprised when the RSA complained about restricted opening.30 As we shall see in chapter 6, the waxworks and chamber of horrors in Playland also stirred up much fuss.

The company's deepening relationship with the organs of state influenced every aspect of its activities. From the very start officials and civil servants had interacted comfortably, both seeing the exhibition as a project of national importance. When the company was considering running large fireworks displays, for example, Avery sent a memo to Hainsworth that 'in conversation with Mr Heenan I understand that Mr Perryman of the Govt Explosives Dept will be glad to assist with any advice in regard to Fire Works Displays etc.'31 But there were tensions. The government's interest in showcasing New Zealand products and services at Rongotai was no doubt partly motivated by its concerns for the country's shrinking reserves. Between 30 April and 30 November 1938 these dropped from £28.6 million to less than £8 million.32 The Comptroller of Customs watched Rongotai closely. Tt is noticed that the statement is made by Mr Fletcher & Love that New Zealand materials will be used as far as practicable,' he wrote in June 1938. This is somewhat indefinite and I shall be glad if you will inform me, for the information of the Minister of Customs, what steps are being taken to ensure that in the construction of the Exhibition buildings New Zealand materials will be used wherever such are available in suitable quantity . . . '33

From then on company and architect dutifully reported high usage of local cement, wallboard and timber products, but Anscombe drew the line at locally produced urinals. He liked neither Otago manufacturer McSkimming's price nor their product, which he considered would have a £400-500 lower salvage price than English ones. Throughout the second part of 1938 architect, company, manufacturer and the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce exchanged letters about the purchase of 100 urinals, pans and basins. When Anscombe held his ground, the department nudged McSkimming, noting that 'the Department is anxious that page 33 the resources of New Zealand industries should be fully explored to supply the Exhibition with as much material as possible'.34 Under pressure from the department, McSkimmings buckled, promised to improve its quality and received a thank-you letter from Industries & Commerce minister DJ. Sullivan, as well as encouragement from Anscombe, who interrupted his Christmas holiday to pat backs in Benhar, Otago, and to point out 'that they should look upon the installation as an exhibit'.35

Those lavatory fittings were merely one example of trade politics rippling through to Rongotai. Throughout 1938 the Labour government had been dithering over how to control the exchange crisis. Import controls, finally imposed in December, reduced the exhibition's attractiveness to overseas exhibitors. This was not so bad for the Australian and British governments, which had already agreed to erect buildings to house non-commercial exhibits, and were not looking to recoup costs. It was a different story, however, for Canada. The senior dominion had been embarrassed by cost overruns on the 1939 New York World's Fair and needed commercial exhibitors to pay its way. Already it had held back until British participation had been confirmed.36 Now the Canadian Trade Commissioner in Auckland sought discounts from the company, which feared the loss of a significant dominion exhibit. 'As a result of the import selection policy . . . Canadian exporters have been completely cut out of the New Zealand market, and they naturally are not interested in spending money in advertising products which cannot be sold,' he complained.37 Canada did participate, but set up shop in heavily discounted rental space instead of constructing its own court.

War, of course, dealt a harsher blow than even the toughest exchange controls. The outbreak of hostilities between Germany and the British Empire cast a dampener over everything and brought the cancellation of an expected exhibition highlight, the visit by the Welsh Guards Band. The world-famous band had already weathered one challenge from the New Zealand Musicians' Union, which had sought coverage of the bandsmen—all enlisted British soldiers—while they were in New Zealand. However, by the time that Industries and Commerce relayed the Department of Labour's decision that the soldier-players were employees of the Crown and therefore could not be compelled to join a union,38 the point had become academic. The world was again at war.

Briefly it even looked as though the entire exhibition might have to be cancelled. On 31 August 1939 directors had held a special meeting to discuss contingency plans should war break out. They recommended continuing and sought the guidance of D. G. Sullivan, the Minister of Industries & Commerce. He wanted the exhibition to go ahead and Cabinet agreed. Nevertheless, everyone knew that the takings would be down, the war trimming both exhibitor and visitor numbers. To take just one example, the gap left by the highly popular Welsh Guards could not be filled.

The war was merely the last blow to the company's struggling finances. In February directors had formed an economy committee to scrutinise expenditure.

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This razor gang conceded that Anscombe's costly fountain was essential, but it pruned lighting and maintenance costs and called for more economies, especially in construction, which at £246,735, was running nearly 10% above estimates.39 Not even the smallest opportunities for economies were overlooked; Luke asked Avery to police the grounds' internal roads closely to reduce damage to the crushed brick surfaces, as 'the class of finish to these roadways was not designed to carry traffic at excessive speeds.'40

But it would have taken more than trimming and pruning to prevent the need for a government bail out. The company had relied on share sales and public subsidy, but with construction costs rising and share sales tapering off, it became clear that the overdraft would balloon before the gate takings began to flow in. In October 1938 the nervous Bank of New Zealand opined that 'as the Exhibition is a National one, and one that should benefit the City of Wellington, it is only reasonable that it should be guaranteed by the Government or by the Wellington City Council'. Nevertheless, the bank agreed to meet up to 75% of the amount required 'from time to time', but with a strict upper limit of £75,000. It also demanded a mortgage on the assets.41

Hainsworth and Avery readjusted their estimates again, but could not avoid the conclusion that they needed government help. The original arrangements were a subsidy of £50,000 (one pound for every two pounds worth of shares sold) and an interest-free loan of £25,000. The Crown had later replaced the loan with a straight purchase of £25,000 worth of shares and had agreed to double the share subsidy, but its acquisition of shares had also reduced the value of the last move. Late in November 1938 the company warned the Minister of Industries & Commerce that the company's overdraft would probably hit £100,000 in July or August 1940—£25,000 above the Bank of New Zealand's limit. Would the government cover the gap? In January 1939 Sullivan agreed, offering £25,000 at 4% interest.

But this was not enough. A month later Hislop reported that the situation had again deteriorated. The company had optimistically budgeted on selling all the floor space but sales had stalled at 34.8% sold, with a further 33% reserved. It now seemed that much of the reserved space might not be taken and that it would be unwise to bank on selling more than 75%. This would cut the projected space revenue by £27,000 and help push the company's overdraft to an unsustainable £127,946 by September 1939. To make matters worse, this would technically breach its accommodation with the Bank of New Zealand for the overdraft, which depended on selling all the floor space. In view of this, Hislop asked Sullivan to cancel the recently agreed £25,000 loan and to guarantee the BNZ account for up to £125,000 in return for a debenture over the company's shares and physical assets.42 The Minister of Finance, Walter Nash, consented. The state would guarantee the overdraft.

It was wise to exercise caution about sales. In September 1939 Hainsworth reported that nearly half the exhibitors had not begun to build. Some were leaving it page 35
The official opening of the New Zealand Centennial Exhibtion, 8 November 1939.. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, S.C. Smith Collection, PAColl-3082, G-46297-1/2.

The official opening of the New Zealand Centennial Exhibtion, 8 November 1939.. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, S.C. Smith Collection, PAColl-3082, G-46297-1/2.

late, but clearly there would be many empty spaces. As sales had practically ceased, Hainsworth gave existing exhibitors additional space and offered more to community groups. The Exhibition builders took more empty space for storage and administration. Between them Fletchers and the exhibition company filled most of the embarrassing gaps, putting in more visitor lounges and rest areas. This came at a price. Hainsworth estimated that net receipts would fall £50,000 below earlier predictions.43

At least the show went on. Governor General Lord Galway opened the exhibition on 8 November before 40,000 people. He and his family made numerous promotional visits, opening key pavilions and Playland in stages in order to maximise publicity. The company also brought in other celebrity visitors, politicians, members of diplomatic circles and heroes such as General Freyberg and US Admiral Byrd, who visited on 29 December. The loss of the Welsh Guards cost the company a £600 broadcasting fee but the National Commercial Broadcasting Service, the city council and the company went to great lengths to ensure that the service's huge railway broadcasting car got to Rongotai.

The company's promotional efforts were also helped by those of others. The shipping companies and the railways had been including the exhibition in their page 36 timetables and on their posters for some time and the city's tramways put up fresh facilities at key tram stops. Major city retailers such as James Smiths set up exhibition souvenir departments in their stores or made the exhibition a theme or tag to their regular advertising. The Department of Internal Affairs had permitted the use of the New Zealand coat of arms, which appeared on souvenirs sold at Rongotai's numerous souvenir stalls as well as at external venues. Other businesses chimed in on the theme—Castle Tea gave the event a special boost by offering to exchange coupons for season tickets£240 coupons earned a 30-shilling adult's season ticket, 120 a child's ticket.44

But the war limited visitors from overseas and, hampered by an uncooperative climate, visitor numbers fell well short of the 4,250,000 that Avery had crudely estimated by adding a million to Dunedin's 1925-6 tally. The final gate of 2,641,000 was disappointing given that each 100,000 admissions represented an additional £3100 in revenue.

Major Sources of Income

Admissions/car park fees £99,014 10s 3d
Fees £80,827 6s 5d
Amusement park activities £24,117 3s 2d
Government grant £50,000
Concessions (catering, film, cinema etc) £5265 3s 9d
Other £7335 17s 6d
Publications £354 5s 10d

In the event the government continued to bail out the company. Its March 1939 decision to guarantee the overdraft left it little room to wriggle and, as the holder of £30,949 of the £136,903 capital, it was by far the largest investor. Besides, there was a war on and the roomy complex, strategically located next to the airport, could be readily adapted to defence purposes. On 26 February the government issued a Treasury advice note for £70,080 19s 10d, taking over the assets and liabilities of the New Zealand International Exhibition Company Ltd.45

Major Liabilities

The bank overdraft, interest and liquidation costs were £70,080 19s 10d
There was a contingent liability for grounds restoration £25,000
And a similar liability for Rongotai College land restoration £6000
Total assets were: £65,000
Leaving a deficit of £36,080 19s 10d

There were would be nothing left over for distribution. For a short time directors and politicians explored the possibility of distributing £5000 amongst the smallest shareholders, but that would have created insurmountable administrative difficulties. The government took over the buildings in June and began adapting them for the use of the Air Department.46 By that time, with France collapsing, New Zealanders' interests were firmly elsewhere.

1 Directors' Minutes, Book 1, New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Company Ltd (NZCECL) Archives, box 10, file 456.


Nimmo replaced provisional director, advertising executive J. M. A. Ilott, whose travel requirements precluded his involvement


All figures from NZCECL Shareholders' Registers, NZCECL Archives, box 16, file 456.

4 There were few investors outside Wellington, although a number of large Dunedin corporate investors may have had something to do with memories of that city's 1925-6 exhibition.

5 E. Anscombe to NZCECL, 17 March 1937, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 27.

6 E. Anscombe, The Inside Story of the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition, Dunedin, 1925-26 (London, 1928).

7 Architects' Subcommittee, 12 April 1937, Directors' Minute Book no.l, NZCECL Archives, box 10, file 456.

8 NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 27.

9 Ibid. Interestingly, in a letter to Hislop dated that day, Anscombe wrote 'regarding the statement that I am a difficult man to work with', and appended letters of endorsement from Dunedin as well as a promise to forfeit £1000 if he ever failed to carry out the directors' instructions to their entire satisfaction.

10 Evening Post, 8 November 1939, quoted by Greg Bowron, 'A Brilliant Spectacle: the Centennial Exhibition Buildings', in John Wilson ed, Zeal and Crusade: The Modern Movement in New Zealand (Christchurch: Te Waihora Press, 1996), p.40.

11 R. Wilson to H. E. Avery, 5 February 1940, NZCECL Archives, box 3, file 95.

12 Appendix to the Journal of the House of Representatives, Department of Industries and Commerce, 1941, H-44, p.22. According to N. B. Palethorpe, Official History of the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition (Wellington: New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Company, 1940), p.117, 'of the 154 operating days, 105 days were fine and 49 wet or windy; of the wet or windy days thirteen were Saturdays or holidays.'

13 N. B. Palethorpe, ibid., p.30.

14 NZCECL to WCC, 21 April 1937, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 15.

15 NZCECL to Controller of Civil Aviation, 27 April 1937, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 15.

16 E. Anscombe to NZCECL, 27 June 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 15.

17 K. E. Luke to NZCECL Works Committee, 27 June 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 10, file 450.

18 E. Anscombe to NZCECL, 27 June 1939.

19 His Majesty's Trade Commissioner to NZCECL, 22 December 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 50.

20 Ibid., 4 January 1939.

21 Transport Committee minutes, NZCECL Archives, box 10, file 446.

22 Dominion, 2 November 1939.

23 Undersecretary Department of Internal Affairs to NZCECL, 9 November 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 6.

24 A photograph of the first campers using the motor camp appeared in the Dominion on 1 November 1939,

25 S. Holm to NZCECL, 23 March 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 6.

26 NZCECL to Department of Industries and Commerce, 18 May 1940, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 4.

27 Directors' Minute Book, 17 May 1940, NZCECL Archives, box 10, file 458.

28 By-law Under New Zealand Centennial Act 1938, New Zealand Gazette, no.145, p.3578.

29 H. C. Harcourt to NZCECL, 11 March 1940, NZCECL Archives, box 23, file 110.

30 See NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 26.

31 Secretary to General Manager, 22 September 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 1, file 94.

32 Keith Sinclair, Walter Nash (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1976), p. 170.

33 Comptroller of Customs to NZCECL, 2 June 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 53.

34 F. Johnston (Department of Industries and Commerce) to P. McSkimming, 16 September 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 53.

35 E. Ansombe to NZCECL, 12 January 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 53.

36 C. Hainsworth to H. E. Avery, 15 July 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 3, file 116.

37 W. F. Bull to L. J. Schmitt (Department of Industries and Commerce), 9 June 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 57.

38 Department of Industries and Commerce to NZCECL, 11 August 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 41.

39 Economy Committee Minutes, Directors Minute Book no.2, 27 February 1939.

40 K. E. Luke to H. E. Avery, 3 November 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 3, file 114.

41 Manager Wellington BNZ to NZCECL, 4 October 1938, NZCECL Archives, box 2, file 44.

42 Thomas Hislop to D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Industries and Commerce, 15 February 1939, NZCECL Archives, box 3, file 111.

43 Directors' Minute Book no.2, 2 October 1939.

44 T. and W. Young to NZCECL, 13 July 1939, box 1, file 14.

45 Liquidation, Transfer to Government, Treasury Advice Note, 26 February 1941, NZCECL Archives, box 16, file 536.

46 Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, Department of Industries and Commerce, 1941, H-44, p.21.