We are lucky enough to live in a country where we can freely speak our minds and support any political party we wish. Today more so than ever the internet, twitter and social media allows individuals to vocalise their opinion in public not just journalists and politicians. Cuba St has been host to protests from the day of its inception.
In 1839 the surveyors off the ship Cuba pegged out the town plan hammering pegs into the vegetable gardens and areas around the Te Aro Pa. Iwi from this Pa had not authorised the sale of their land to the Wellington Company, other Pas in the region had. Men from the Te Aro tribe stealthily slipped out at night and pulled the pegs up out of the ground. They continued this action for some days until finally the Cuba surveyors took up arms and put an end to the protest.
In my life time I have marched down Cuba St, one such time being the 1970’s anti Vietnam War protests. I joined my siblings with hundreds of other mostly young people protesting at NZ’s involvement in the war. I vividly remember watching a long haired young man setting fire to the US flag outside the doors of the Town Hall and being arrested for the act.
In the 1880s Workers Unions were established in the country, a consequence of a decade that became known as the hungry 80’s. Many of the residents in Te Aro where out of work and the area became overcrowded and slums emerged. Disease was a huge problem, there was serious pollution with open sewers and belching smoke stacks this took its toll on the inhabitants. Typhoid took hold and many deaths occurred around Cuba & Ghuznee St. 1886 was the worst period of that economic downturn and protest marches became a way for the effected community to highlight their plight. These protest marches helped gain support from the wealthier members of the township which eventually lead to social and infrastructure reforms at the turn of that century.
The woman’s suffrage movement was strong in Wellington, with educated woman leading those from the Te Aro area in gaining signatures for the petitions and attending the mass rallies demanding the vote for woman. Men who believed the sky would fall in if woman got the vote circulated anti-suffrage petitions in the local pubs, as women were also campaigning for prohibition. In 1893 the woman triumphed, however there will still residents such as the Chinese who could not vote. Today feminists still meet in Cuba St, I see that they had a gathering and concert at the San Francisco Bath house just last weekend.
In 1913 the Wellington wharf was busy exporting the golden fleeces grown in the surrounding region; the workers went on strike for increased pay and better working conditions. There were protests at the wharfs. A special military police force would march from their barracks in Buckle St down Cuba St to the wharfs. During this strike there were numerous bloody clashes; such as when disgruntled farmers rode into town on horseback and clashed with the striking workers.
Again in 1951 the wharfies went on strike with protests around the Queens Wharf area as well as marches through Te Aro area including Cuba St. This strike was unsuccessful for the workers it seems the same outcome will occur for the current wharf strikers.
The protest movement to stop the bypass at the top od Cuba St was also unsuccessful. However the protest did influence the council so much regarding the artists studios that were demolished the council set up Toi Poneke Arts Center in response.
In December a man protesting at the world financial management system, drove his car into Cuba Mall and set off an explosion. He has been described as foolish as he did endanger the public. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mShPAx-iUC0
Protest is still alive and well in Cuba St and NZ, but it seems the physical act of protest has moved into cyberspace where it can gain more supporters across the world rather than just from the street.
Ref: EP/1971/1880-F View of the crowd of about 4,500 anti Vietnam war protestors gathered in Cuba Street outside the Wellington Town Hall. They were listening to addresses by a former Australian serviceman, a protest organiser, and Mr P Potiki, the president of the New Zealand Race Relations Council. Photographed by an Evening Post staff photographer on the 1st of May 1971. Ref: PAColl-4920-3-11-02
Union march at the intersection of Cuba and Dixon Streets, Wellington, taken 2 May 1951 during the Waterfront Strike by Photo News Ltd. Unionists are met by police officers as they arrive at Dixon Street.
Buckle Street, Wellington, during the 1913 Waterfront Strike. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972 :Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-049061-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23032408
Bedroom in “The Old Shebang”, Cuba Street, Wellington. Williams, Edgar Richard, 1891-1983 :Negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, colour transparencies, monochrome prints, photographic ephemera. Ref: 1/2-140322-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23129628
Meeting of anti-motorway campaigners, Thistle Hall, Cuba Street – Photograph taken by Craig Simcox. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1998/0527/7A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22707549