Government House: The first ‘Auckland’ building?

Ben Schrader

The Maoriland period (1890-1910s) was the genesis of New Zealand cultural nationalism. Recent research on Maoriland cultural production and consumption – in literature and the wider arts – has shown how traditional Māori culture was used to provide Pākehā with a pre-history to the settler state and a distinct social identity. An area of Maoriland so far overlooked is the built environment. The period also saw an awakening Pākehā interest in preserving colonial historic buildings. These were increasingly viewed as important in shaping a distinctive Pākehā sense of place and social identity too.

This talk examines the 1910 public campaign to save Auckland’s Government House. A government plan to demolish the building for a new university generated the largest public campaign to save a historic building in the city’s history. The general view was that the building was a pivotal part of Auckland’s heritage and its demise would rob the city of a vital emblem of colonial Auckland. Faced with overwhelming opposition, the government judiciously backed down.

The campaign suggests that Maoriland’s construction was more complex than previously recognised; that it not only appropriated Māori culture but included aspects of Pākehā (material) culture as well.