A Mother’s Boon

To celebrate Mother’s Day this year we are focusing on places of rest for women in Hawke’s Bay.

The Hastings Municipal Women’s Rest was the first purpose built rest-room for women to be constructed in New Zealand.  Prior to the construction of this brand new amenity, public bathrooms were only available for men, while women were accommodated at department stores and shops. However, under the suggestion of the Hastings Mayor at the time, George Ebbett, a committee was set up to improve and cater for the needs of mothers and the growing number of businesswomen in the Hastings region. The Hastings Women’s rest was designed in a Californian Bungalow style and cost £2500 to construct, largely funded by private contributions. On 8 September 1921 the building was officially opened and almost 100,000 women used the facility over the course of the first year.

W4 (a)Women’s Rest Rooms, Hastings, Dave Williams (d.1972), photographer, gifted by H J Williams, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, W4(a)

W4 (b)Women’s Rest Rooms, Hastings, Dave Williams (d.1972), photographer, gifted by H J Williams, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, W4(a)

The Official Handbook of Hastings – for Tourist, Sportsman and Settler, 1929, stated that the purpose of the Hasting’s Women’s rest was:

“..to serve as a retiring place where young businesswomen may spend their lunch hour and of a place of rest to mothers or women visitors to Hastings. Here they might obtain light refreshments, mothers may attend to their children, warm their babies bottles, leave their parcels, write letters, read journals and attend to their toilet.”

By 1929 there were 170 visitors to the women’s rest daily, acting not only as a comfort stop for women but also as a safe and restful place for mothers and their children. The building still operates today with a few structural changes and is home to the Heretaunga Women’s Centre.

The Napier Women’s Rest was built in 1925 as a memorial to those who served in the First World War. In the aftermath of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake it served as a central support for the northern block of Tin Town with the corrugated iron buildings knitted on to its side. A plaque on the building states that it was destroyed by the earthquake and rebuilt in 1934 but historical photos show otherwise.

7866Memorial Square, Napier, Frank Duncan & Co, gifted by Mrs J Mayes, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, m98/22

3278 fTin Town, Napier, A B Hurst & Son, gifted by Dale Connelly, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 3278f

m2006.140.20(2)Architecture plan, suggestion for Mother’s Rest, Napier, James Augustus Louis Hay (b.1881, d.1948), gifted by Judd Fenwick Natusch Architects, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 6524

The visitor book for the Napier Women’s Rest from 1926-1945, which we hold in our collection, is full of comments such as: a Mother’s joy, a credit to Napier, a restful little spot, an everlasting memorial, an inspiration to other towns. We also hold in our collection the original architectural plans for this building,  titled ‘Mother’s Rest’ by architect Louis Hay who designed it in his signature domestic Prairie style. The Napier Women’s Rest has had various uses over time, mainly as a community centre, and is currently unoccupied as it requires earthquake strengthening.

The constructions of these women’s rest-rooms were an important part of New Zealand’s changing attitudes towards women and creating spaces specifically for them. More importantly over the years the local community has welcomed them and made use of the space to continue the vision as a place for women to rest.

Sarah Powell
Collection Assistant-Photography
May 2014


one of much excitement

At the beginning of June, HBMAG Team Leader’s had a walkthrough of the museum site with the opportunity to look at the progress of the redevelopment.  The last time we visited was in December 2012 when the new wing was at basement level.  This part of the building has progressed significantly – the basement, ground floor and first floors are now in place, with the first floor roof due to be completed shortly.

The HBMAG new wing and main entrance

It was a weird feeling wandering around the building, but one of much excitement.  Some spaces the Bestall Gallery and Century Foyer were familiar, although lacking their usual life.  I remembered back to when we were open, abuzz with visitors and the galleries full of the collections we know so well.  Planning is already well under way for the collection and visitors to return, but for the first time I got a real sense of what the spaces were going to be like.

The Bestall Gallery undergoing earthquake strengthening

In the new wing’s main foyer and entrance on the ground floor I could now imagine staff standing at the reception desk, facing toward Tennyson Street welcoming visitors to the building.  As I stood where the desk would be, I thought to myself that it may be challenge to remain focused with this fabulous new vista looking out towards the Soundshell, the Dome, and glimpses of Hawke Bay’s iridescent blue water beyond.

Views from the first floor balcony gallery

We visited the new education suite, located just off the foyer. I tried hard to imagine the walls that would contain the two teaching spaces.  Students visiting the Museum will have some of the best spaces in the new building with full height windows framing beautiful views on to Marine Parade. I could hear the chatter of children’s voices as they excitedly sat waiting for their teachers and for lessons to begin.

I couldn’t wait to see the first floor galleries.  We had to go outside the building footprint and ascend on steps as the internal stairwells were not yet competed. I carefully held the hand rail and make my way up to the floor above.  What occurred to me when I stood on the Balcony Gallery was what a fabulous space this was going to be for our visitors.  I walked into the two large galleries on this floor imagining the fine art collection surrounding me; visitors wandering around the space delighting in the paintings displayed on the walls.

 Opus architect Richard Daniels points out the new vista on to Marine Parade

As I walked out of the main galleries I headed towards the stairwell on the Marine Parade side of the building.  The stairwells will be one of the most striking features of the new building – large cases, nine by three metres will span the height of the three floors and will be dedicated to displaying the HBMT’s collection.  For some reason I imagined a large, glorious kimono being hung in front of me in the top section of the case. As I approached the balcony overlooking the case, the lighting drew my eyes to the treasures below, enticing me to go down the stairwells and explore further.

 The stairwell cases – looking up from the basement floor

We made our way downstairs to where the new 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake exhibition will be located – it was very dark with only a string of light bulbs draped across the space. We asked the builders to turn the lights on; once they did the gallery felt bigger than it did on the plans.  Some of the team got out their measuring tapes to check dimensions now we could get a feel for this space. It felt contained and the ceilings are quite low.  This was going to be a challenging  space to work with – not unlike the subject matter destined for this gallery, however I know we would persevere and that visitors that see this exhibition will take away their own understanding of the significance of this event to Hawke’s Bay.

The earthquake exhibition space

We continued our tour behind the scenes, past ceilings interlaced with large aluminium air conditioning vents, electrical and data wires trailing from place to place looking for their end outlet, offices walls in varying stages of completion.  I imagine what it will be like as staff populate these spaces once again, busily getting on with their tasks – tables with collection objects being readied for display; then onto the Collection store with rows of treasures in neatly allocated shelving patiently waiting for their turn; other staff work at desks, papers piled high, coloured folders and to-do lists on whiteboards.  It’s easy to imagine that when I follow this route to my new office on the Century Theatre mezzanine floor the enticing smell of coffee and fresh baking in our new café will be hard to resist.

The Design Team studio and office space

There is so much to do before I will make it up to that new office, many more months of planning but, it is exciting dreaming about the day the museum will be open again.  I can’t wait to see all the galleries come to life and the collection once again taking centre stage.  I am looking forward to welcoming back our visitors and being extremely proud of our fabulous new building and all the new stories we will have to share.

Pam Joyce
Marketing Team Leader
July 2012