Classroom ideas for teachers and students

This page contains a broad outline as to how the feature on the 1940 New Zealand Centennial could be used by teachers and learners in social studies and history. Students in particular will find this to be a concise summary that will assist them with revision.

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The 1940 Centennial

Between 8 November 1939 and 4 May 1940 more than 2.6 million people visited the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington; a daily attendance average of about 17,000 people. Four years in the planning, and with considerable public investment, the Centennial Exhibition represented the Labour government's and the country's value systems. It was designed to celebrate New Zealand's progress as a nation over the preceding 100 years; it was a deliberate act of national self-definition. Prime Minister Michael Savage said of the exhibition that 'we have history in a nutshell'.

In February 1990, a carnival billed by promoters as 'New Zealand's biggest event ever' opened in Wellington to mark New Zealand's sesquicentenary, or 150th birthday. A joint venture between the Wellington Show Association and the 1990 Trust - a high-powered regional organisation - $150,000 worth of fireworks launched what was known as Sesqui, a six-week carnival expected to attract 30,000 visitors a day. The Wellington regional and city councils jointly underwrote the event by $1.4 million.

Sesqui struggled to attract visitors and closed after only two weeks with debts of $6.4 million. The closest it got to meeting its attendance figures was when 32,000 visitors took advantage of a decision to waive all entry fees. Many days the numbers struggled to reach 5000.

The contrast between 1940 and 1990 couldn't be more striking. Critics of Sesqui argued that it was no more than a mediocre trade fair that reflected little of New Zealand society or heritage; the Centennial Exhibition was a triumph of national spirit and pride. What had changed in the intervening years?

This feature is of great value to teachers and students studying at a variety of levels. 

Social studies

Classes at Levels 4 and 5 could use the 1940 Centennial to look at the causes and effects of a significant event from New Zealand's past (Time, Continuity and Change). How did the actions of people at this time influence not only the lives of individual people but how was New Zealand society as a whole was shaped by this event; How did New Zealanders participate individually and collectively in response to this issue? One approach could be to put the 1940 Centennial into a broader study of New Zealand's first 100 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. the comparisons between 1940, 1990 and the present could also be explored.

The nature of the celebrations provides an ideal opportunity to explore the level 4 achievement objectives for Culture and Heritage by considering how individuals and groups pass on and sustain their culture and heritage. Classes at lower levels could consider the 1940 centenary when looking at other celebrations of identity such as Waitangi Day.

NCEA History

This feature could support a research topic at any level of NCEA history. It does however have obvious relevance to theLevel 2 topic on the Growth of New Zealand identity 1890-1980 and in particular the following achievement standards:

  • 2.6- the 1940 Centennial provides a good examination of individual or group identity in an historical setting.
  • 2.3- there are any number of excellent historical sources relating to this event which can be used as practice for final assessment.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this topic go to Centennial- NCEA 2 activities.

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