Georgia Kerby, Exhibitions Curator
A wonderful photograph of Cameron Street in 1918 was donated to Whangarei Museum last year. The scene was positioned by photographer Thomas G. Palmer at a very realistic angle, so you feel as if you are on the street looking through the crowd to Bank Street with Coronation Reserve in the background. A parade of mostly women walks past smiling and banging rectangular drums. The other side of the street features a parked car, several men joining the parade and other people walking Cameron Street’s sidewalks.
At first our Collections team thought the photograph recorded a suffrage-related parade owing to the great number of women and the pins a couple are wearing on their lapels. But following further research, and a handy date on the back of the photograph, we can confirm it records celebrations of the end of World War One. The weeks of early November 1918 offered expectation of cessation of war after reports were received from London of talks of armistice. Residents of Whangarei gathered outside the Post Office on Bank Street on the 9th November waiting for official confirmation of peace, however they went to bed disappointed.
The happy day came to Whangarei on the 12th November (a day later than international armistice on 11/11/1918) with a formal declaration of armistice by Mayor John Dent, followed by a public holiday. Residents formed along the streets celebrating together. An article from the following day reads “demonstrations of joy were given by the blowing of motor horns, trumpets and whistles, while tin cans and other tuneful instruments contributed their portion to the spirit of hilarity that prevailed”. Local bands and groups of returned soldiers joined in throughout the day and evening.
We are fortunate to have photographic record of people’s reactions of such a significant event in our local history. This photograph also holds rich detail being one of the less common perspectives of the middle of Cameron Street showing local businesses. R. W. Whitehead’s Drapery and Clothing, operating from 1916 to 1931, is advertised on the corner of Cameron and Rathbone Street. Opened in June 1916. Across the street is Herbert Geissler‘s Saddler and Harness Maker shop. On the other side of Whiteheads are the Central Dining Rooms, possibly Mrs. V. E. Gregory’s baby shop, and Cambie & Co. butchers.
In the days that valued formal portraits and scenic photography, these candid shots of street life hold so much value for researchers and allow us to look into a slice of life of a tumultuous time in our city.