A pic­to­rial story of our band ro­tun­das


With the sound of pe­riod mu­sic softly play­ing in the back­ground, the lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion at Ara­toi will in­duce fond mem­o­ries of brass bands and carol con­certs in the park for some gallery-go­ers.

An or­na­ment to the town is a Turn­bull Gallery tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cus­ing on the his­tory of the band ro­tunda in New Zealand, a civic phe­nom­e­non which in large part sprang from the en­thu­si­asm for band mu­sic in days gone by.

Over 100 ro­tun­das were built through­out New Zealand from the 1890s to the 1930s – Welling­ton alone had nine. The of­ten el­e­gant struc­tures, many of which have sur­vived to this day, shel­tered mu­si­cians while they per­formed for the pub­lic, pro­ject­ing their mu­sic out across parks and botanic gar­dens, beaches and city streets. They have also been used for other pur­poses too, in­clud­ing royal vis­its, farewell events for WW1 troops, speeches and protests.

Bring­ing a lo­cal fla­vor to the ex­hi­bi­tion, Wairarapa Ar­chive has con­trib­uted im­ages and his­tory of Queen El­iz­a­beth II Park’s own ro­tunda. This was built by the Master­ton Bor­ough Coun­cil in the then Mu­nic­i­pal Park to cel­e­brate the corona­tion of Ed­ward VII in 1902,

The coun­cil’s first choice of a site was in the mid­dle of the Oval but this was un­der­stand­ably met with con­ster­na­tion by the town’s cricket and rugby play­ers, so the cur­rent a lo­ca­tion by the grand­stand was cho­sen. The new ro­tunda was mod­elled on one on the prom­e­nade in Napier, with sim­i­lar or­nate pil­lars and lacy wrought iron dec­o­ra­tion. It was opened with due cer­e­mony on 3 June 1903.

By 1979, the ro­tunda was in a sad state after years of ne­glect, and the parks and re­serves com­mit­tee de­cided to de­mol­ish it. But a Mrs Muriel Mor­ri­son ral­lied sup­port for it to be re­paired and, with as­sis­tance from the Master­ton Lions Club, the Mas­ter Plumbers As­so­ci­a­tion and pub­lic dona­tions, the ro­tunda was re­stored in time for a treeplant­ing cer­e­mony with the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1983.

The col­lected pho­tos show a great range of styles from the plain and pro­saic. The ex­hi­bi­tion paints a pic­ture of a less cyn­i­cal age when days out were shared by the whole com­mu­nity and had a clear fo­cal point.

An Or­na­ment to the Town: The Band Ro­tunda in New Zealand is on at Ara­toi un­til 26 Novem­ber.

A group at a band ro­tunda in Govern­ment Gar­dens, Ro­torua in 1905 (Ref: PAColl-6348-50. Alexan­der Turn­bull Li­brary), and the Corona­tion Band Ro­tunda, Master­ton (Photo: Wairarapa Ar­chive).

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