Skip to main content

The 1920s

Page 12 – 1929 - key events

Massive earthquake rocks Murchison

On 17 June a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Buller–Nelson region. The quake was felt from Auckland to Bluff, and widespread damage was reported in Nelson (where the tower of Nelson Boys’ College collapsed, injuring two boys), Westport and Greymouth. It took half a day for the authorities to realise that Murchison was the worst-hit area. In the steep terrain, the shaking had triggered numerous landslides which blocked rivers and swept away several houses, causing 14 of the quake’s 17 fatalities. The ground ‘was rocking and heaving like a boat on huge waves’, according to a pupil at Whale’s Flat school, who fled with his classmates just before a slip smashed through the school buildings. Due to the danger of landslide-dammed rivers bursting, most people in Murchison were evacuated. They walked overland for 45 km to Glenhope, from where trains took them to Nelson.

Auckland’s Civic Theatre opens

Thomas O’Brien’s spectacular ‘atmospheric’ cinema in Queen Street opened with great fanfare on 20 December. The building’s sumptuous interior design was a riot of Moorish, Indian and Persian imagery, featuring statues of elephants and panthers, palm trees, ornate chandeliers and staircases, and a twinkling overhead starscape. But as the economy worsened after 1929 the Civic ran into trouble. Its owner’s preference for British rather than American films didn’t help matters. O’Brien’s company collapsed in 1932 and he fled to Australia. The Civic survived both the Depression and the threat of demolition in the 1980s, and remains one of Auckland’s best-loved buildings.

Château Hotel opens at Tongariro

The majestic Château Hotel in the central North Island’s Tongariro National Park, the brainchild of tourism promoter Rodolph Wigley, was modelled on swanky European and North American alpine resorts. Sited on a spur 1200 m above sea level, the hotel offered majestic views of Mt Ruapehu and the sweeping plains surrounding it. But like the Civic Theatre, it opened just as the economic slump loomed in late 1929 and was soon threatened with closure. A reluctant Tourist Department eventually took over the business, keeping it afloat through the tough Depression years.

‘Black Saturday’ in Samoa

It was the darkest day in the history of New Zealand’s Pacific Islands administration. On 28 December New Zealand military police fired on a Mau demonstration in Apia, killing 11 Samoans, including the independence leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, and wounding a further 30; a New Zealand policeman was also killed. New Zealand had occupied the former German colony in 1914 and since 1920 had ruled the islands under a League of Nations mandate. During the twenties mounting dissatisfaction with the colonial administration fuelled the rise of the Samoan independence – or Mau – movement. In the aftermath of the 1929 shooting, 1500 members of the now-outlawed Mau took to the bush, where they were hunted by police and marines from HMS Dunedin. An uneasy stalemate was broken when the new Labour government recognised the Mau in 1936, but discontent persisted until Western Samoa gained independence in 1962.

Other events in 1929:

  • New Zealand’s first ‘talkie’, Street angel, screened at Wellington’s Paramount Theatre on 8 March.
  • Arthur’s Pass National Park was established in the Southern Alps.
  • Auckland’s War Memorial Museum and cenotaph, arguably New Zealand’s grandest First World War memorial, was opened on 28 November.
  • The first of Sir Apirana Ngata’s Māori land development schemes was launched. Ngata was Minister of Native Affairs in the United government and its Coalition successor from 1928 to 1934.
  • The carved meeting house Māhinārangi was opened during an 11-day hui at Tūrangawaewae Marae, Ngāruawāhia.
  • Two state hydroelectric schemes – at Arapuni on the Waikato River and Tuai near Lake Waikaremoana – were completed.
  • New Zealand’s first health postage stamps were issued to help fund tuberculosis prevention. Later they supported summer health camps for underprivileged children.

How to cite this page

1929 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated