Albert Park


The Park

In the Autumn of 1972, Gathered around a bronze statue of Queen Victorian in Auckland’s Albert Park, Aotearoa’s first gay liberation protest took place. It was in conjunction with an open letter sent to Auckland’s Mayor to end oppression, supported by the National Women’s Liberation, and a series of public events and a series of television, radio and press interviews.  At the red granite base of the monarch known for her reign of social conservatism, were taped up signs calling for political and social equality and a rallying cry to end Victorian morality.

The catalyst for the protest was academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and her denied entry into The United States. The New Zealand University Students’ Association nominated Ngahuia Te Awekotuku’s for a United States government funded scholarship to tour American universities.  In completing paperwork for the proposed trip, Te Awekotuku’s indicated that as a lesbian Maori woman she wished to look at the American Gay Liberation and ‘Red Power’ (First Nations) movements.  The issuing of the visa stalled.  Having fronted up at the United States consulate on 15 March 1972, and finding out that grounds for declining visas included the category of ‘sexual deviance’, Te Awekotuku’s then went to the University of Auckland campus and made a fiery speech challenging students to be open about their homosexuality. This sparked the formation of gay liberation groups in universities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.[1]

The ground on which the protesters stood that day had seen just over 600 years of human occupation on the shores of Tāmaki Makaurau, ‘the land of 1000 lovers’. Albert Park is one of the city’s most prominent public green spaces, located at the heart of the central business district, and connects two university campuses. It lies beside one of the oldest volcanoes in the region’s volcanic field. It erupted long before human inhabitation and is buried beneath what is now a brutalist concrete car parking building and the Metropolis luxury hotel. The lava flow dammed Te Wai Horotiu stream creating what would eventually become fertile swampland and then an open sewer after rapid European immigration and now is entombed under Aotea Square. These waters still flow down the Queen Street Valley from Karangahape Road and were for centuries a vital source for Mana Whenua, providing kai and water for cleansing and ritual. Albert Parks historical and geographic erasure continues, a palimpsest, as the stream now runs hidden, diverted through subterranean cultivates. The key source of drinking water came from the nearby Wai Ariki, the ‘spring of chiefly waters’. Local Time[2] an Auckland-based collective of artists, writers and educators created a work for the 2013 Auckland Triennial, delivery water from Wai Ariki to all the art venues taking part in the Triennial, addressing hospitality, landownership and the complexities of living in a colonial nation. It was when British troops were sent back to England in 1870 that Albert Park, which had been functioning as an army barracks for two decades before becoming a public park[3].

The urban park space intersects key issues of contemporary life; that of environmental crisis, capitalism, urbanisation, homelessness, crime, sex and leisure. The public park as we know them today are a modern invention, spurred on by the industrial and social revolutions of the nineteenth century. Park design in the nineteenth century was based on a “strategy for moral and social reform”[4] so that the interweaving of nature with urban space had a wider ideological rationale, seeing them as an important instrument for enlightenment and social control. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead once famously exclaimed that parks are ‘the lungs of the city’[5] and in Auckland garden historian John Adam notes that early records of Albert Park refer to a space designed to improve physical and emotional health, ‘it was specifically set up by the Crown as a place for all classes to mix and socialise and where the working class Chartist notion of gender, race and class equality could be upheld.’[6] Along with a diversion from less socially acceptable leisure activities of drinking and gambling. In England this marked a significant shift in Victorian society, as previously parks were enjoy primarily by the upper-middle class[7]. As the classes coalesced, often with alternate views over appropriate park use and behaviour, they became sites of social and political conflict. The escalating tensions led to working class activism for increased access to park space and for greater independence in defining leisure behaviour. These events laid the way for the emergence of urban, multiple-use parks designed for both active and passive recreation.


1350 Maori settled Tamaki Makau Rau “the isthmus of one thousand lovers”

1832 (January) Joseph Brooks Weller, one of three wealthy merchant brothers in Otago and Sydney, bought the land that’s now Auckland, North Shore and part of Rodney District. It’s understood he paid less than 500 pounds ($1000)


1840 (February) The Treaty of Waitangi is signed

1841 Felton Mathew plan for the park conceived “Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme. Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. “[8]

1845 Albert Barracks were built on the previous site of Te Horotiu pa. The barracks consisted of a number of wooden and masonry structures standing in an enclosed area surrounded by a rock fortification built of the local volcanic stone. A portion of this wall remains visible in the adjacent University of Auckland grounds.

“The site chosen for the barracks lay immediately behind the first Government House, Grey’s own residence, on a prominent ridge to the southeast of the town. The ridge was known as Rangipuke, and may have been used for settlement by local Maori. The new fortification – known as Albert Barracks – was designed by military engineers brought out from Britain, and mostly erected by a Maori workforce under the supervision of George Graham, clerk of works for the Royal Engineers. The employment of Maori was an experimental measure, partly caused by a shortage of Pakeha labour, but also because of a belief that indigenous unrest was linked to contemporary notions of ‘idleness’. The men received training in quarrying, well-digging and stonemasonry; their skills were praised by local officials and settlers.”[9]

1881 The imported cast iron fountain forms the centre piece of Albert Park. The fountain dipicts cherubs riding dolphins and a female figure spouting water from a horn, the surrounding pond was initially stocked with carp.

Governor Sir George Grey donation of more than 200 rare and exotic plants to the park

1887 The Auckland Art Gallery opens at the Wellesley Street edge of the Park. The French chateau style building was designed by Melbourne based architects Grainger and D-Ebro.

1893 Sexual acts between men became illegal in New Zealand with a conviction resulting in flogging or hard labour. Homosexual activity was believed an unnatural offence and a breach of moral and Christian codes.[10]

1899 The bronze statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled to celebrate the monarchs Diamond Jubilee. The red granite pedestal survives but the original cast iron surrounding gate has been removed.

1900 The Boyd statue, which is located near Albert Park House, was erected in 1900. It represents Love breaking the sword of Hate.

1901 Thanks to the British brass band movement gaining popularity in the Victorian era, the bandstand became a staple feature of public parks, hosting concerts and other entertaining performances. James Slator’s designed band rotunda is built at the southern end of the park as well as a memorial statue for journalist George M Reed.

1902 Close to the flagstaff and guns is a marble statue of a soldier that once featured a drinking fountain. This was erected in 1902 as a memorial to troops of the Fifth New Zealand Contingent who died in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902.

1904  A marble statue of Governor Sir George Grey is erected.

1908 A group of oak trees were planted by the bank rotunda to commemorate the visit of the United States Navy’s Great White Fleet. Each tree honours one of the 16 battleships in the fleet.

Other notable trees in the park include some fine specimens of Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla). This species is native to the Australian rainforests of coastal northern New South Wales to southern Queensland. Running parallel with the floral border on the Princes Street boundary of the park is a row of tall Mexican washingtonia palms (Washingtonia robusta), also known as petticoat or California fan palms.If you follow the path from the guns and flagpole towards Princes Street, there is a large tree with twisted branches and a flattened base. This is an ombu (Phytolacca dioica), which is native to Argentina. Its massive roots emerge above the ground as the tree grows.[11]

1941 An extensive series of tunnels are built as air raid shelters are built underneath the park. The entrances are at the top of Victoria street, adjacent to th Art Gallery on Wellesley Street and from Constitution Hill.

1953 The floral clock is donated by Robert Laidlaw, the founder of Farmers department store to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria II.

1957 Wolfenden Report UK: Wolfenden Committee recommends decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

1969 (June 28) Stonewall Inn Riot, Greenwich Village, NYC.

1972 (April 11)Gay Day. The catalyst for the New Zealand Gay Liberation movement was the denial of academic Ngahuia Volkering’s entry into the USA on a University of Auckland scholarship to research ethnic and gay minorities groups. The reason given by the US embassy was that Volkering, a Maori Lesbian was a sex deviate. This was followed by New Zealand’s first public queer protest to publise an open letter sent to the Mayor of Auckland to end gay oppression. This “happening” took place in Albert Park beneath the Statue of Queen Victoria with a rallying cry ‘Will Victorian morality ever die?’.

This was supported by the National Women’s Liberation and with a series of radio, television and press interviews.[12]

1977 The two muzzle-loading guns on display were originally brought to New Zealand in 1879 and set up in forts at North Head and Point Resolution to defend the harbour from a Russian invasion. The guns were buried in 1941, as it was feared that they might attract enemy aircraft.

1980 Queer New Zealand film shoots scenes in the Albert Park toilets, highlighting a history of gay cruising within the park

Michael Stevens recalls games with his university friends called ‘the milk run’ “You had to have sex in each public toilet: from Albert Park, down to Customs St, up to Durham Lane, and whoever got back to Albert Park first was denoted the winner.”[13]

1986 (June 9) Homosexual Law Reform Bill passed. Wellington Cenral MP Fran Wilde’s private member’s bill, which removed criminal sanctions against consensual male homosexual practices

The Frank Sargesan Centre and George Fraser Gallery were created out of the brick stables at the Princes St side of the Park

1988 Neil Dawson’s Throwback sculpture commissioned to commemorate the art gallery’s centenary

1990 (April)  Chris Booth’s Gateway sculpture is present to the city, standing at the top of Victoria Street East and is composed of basalt boulders gifted by the Ngati Kura people of Matauri Bay in Northland.

2003 Designer David McNee’s abandoned black Audi-TT convertible was found near the park following his murder in his St Mary’s Bay home in Hackett St.


Albert Park House is home to the collection of Auckland philanthropist Bruce Wilkinson. It features clocks and ceramics – treasures acquired during his working travels between the 1930s and 1960s and later donated to the city.

The Meteorological Observatory is situated at the highest point of the park and has been providing recordings of weather information since 1909. Prior to this, the army at Albert Barracks had undertaken regular weather readings as early as 1854.

The Barrack Wall

By the First World War, the wall had developed a symbolic meaning, and a plaque was erected during that conflict linking its construction to the collective effort of all New Zealanders in Europe: ‘To Commemorate / The Union & Comradeship / of PAKEHA & MAORI / During the Great European War / This Tablet was Fixed by the / AUCKLAND CIVIC LEAGUE / Sept 1915. / On the Remnant of the / BARRACK WALL / Built by Friendly Maoris / in 1848 / After the Burning of Kororareka.’

Nevertheless, a further length was demolished in 1923-1926, when the University of Auckland constructed their former Arts Building, while at least two breaches in the surviving stretch were created in 1914-1918 and 1968 for pedestrian access. Disagreements about the sentiments expressed on the First World War plaque led to it being defaced during the land rights protests of the 1970s and 1980s, after which it was removed. Another plaque, commemorating the barracks as a refuge was erected after 1973, as requested by the University of Auckland Senate and New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga. The university, who now owned all the surrounding land, undertook a restoration programme in 1984, rebuilding one breached element of the wall and unblocking a previously bricked up breach.

[1] Chris Brickell, Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand, (Auckland: Godwitt Press, 2008)


[3] Dawson, B. (2010) A History of Gardening in New Zealand. Auckland: Godwit Press. P 214

[4] Cranz,G.(1982)The Politics of Park Design, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, p253


[6]  Flagler, B. (2013) Ground Work. Heritage New Zealand (Issue 130, Spring 2013, p.14)

[7] [2]





[12] Laurie Guy, Worlds in Collision: The Gay Debate in New Zealand, 1960-1986


Photo: Albert Park, 1972. Chris Brickwell, Mates & Lovers, Godwit, p290

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