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Native Land Court Building

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11 Rutland Street And Market Place, Whanganui

The Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) in Wanganui was built in 1922 and is a rare, if not unique, example of a purpose-built Native Land Court building in New Zealand. The construction of the building became necessary during the second decade of the twentieth century after the premises leased by the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board in Wanganui proved inadequate for their ever expanding and very important work. The Aotea Native Land Court and Maori Land Board's district covered a large area of the south and west of the North Island, encompassing Wellington, the Manawatu, and all of Taranaki. The purpose-built building in Wanganui acted as the administrative headquarters for the Aotea Maori Land Board. Court hearings for the Aotea District were held in both the Native Land Court building in Wanganui and at local venues as necessary in farther flung parts of the district.

The Native Department approved the plan to construct the building in 1917, but due to the First World War and subsequent change of site on which the building was to be erected, the construction did not begin until 1921. The site on which the building was erected was a prominent one in Wanganui, in the heart of the local business district and in close proximity to Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens, a significant and traditional Maori site. The building was completed in May 1922.

The building was designed by John Campbell, the Government Architect with the Public Works Department, with much input from his team of Llewellyn Richards and Claude Paton. The construction was carried out by A. G. Bignell, a prominent local contractor. The interior of the building included a courtroom and office space for the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board staff.

The building operated as the administrative headquarters for the Aotea Maori Land Board until the boards were disestablished in 1953. It continued to be used for Native Land Court meetings until 1981. In the years following the building's construction, at least two alterations took place. In 1933 strengthening work was carried out by A. G. Bignell after it was discovered that the original foundations had not been properly tested and were causing subsidence, in addition to being an earthquake threat. The expansion of Native Land Court, Aotea Maori Land Board and Native Department staff working in the building from 1938 caused acute lack of office and courtroom space in the building. Interior work aiming to rectify this - at least to some extent - was not carried out until 1952 due to the Second World War and subsequent shortages of building materials. Further plans for alterations to the building were made in the early 1960s, but at this point it is unclear if and when these alterations took place.

The building is of special historical value as it embodies one of the most significant aspects of New Zealand's historical development - changes relating to the legal status of Maori owned land. The Native Land Court was responsible for the large-scale and often unwilling transfer of Maori land into the hands of the Crown and Pakeha private purchasers, in order to facilitate European settlement. As a very rare example of a purpose-built Native Land Court in New Zealand, this place has a unique ability to remind all New Zealanders of the impact of the Native Land Court and this complex part of New Zealand's history. Its close proximity to Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens, a site of great traditional significance for Whanganui Maori (also being used as an encampment when attending the Native Land Court), provides both a physical and historical link between places that reflect contrasting Maori and European understandings of land use and ownership. By engaging with the wider issues that this place represents, there is potential for New Zealand society to grow and develop through acknowledging the conflicts of the past.

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