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Few places in Wel­ling­ton are as rich in social his­tory as the Basin Reserve. Nowadays, it is regarded inter­na­tion­ally as one of the world’s old­est and best crick­et grounds. Since the 1860s crick­et has always been its main pur­pose, but for much of last cen­tury it doubled as a ven­ue for all kinds of oth­er sport­ing and cul­tur­al gatherings.

This photo shows an inter-pro­vin­cial ath­let­ics meet­ing in 1950. The crowds were there, though, to see a guest appear­ance from the world’s fast­est woman, world record-hold­er Mar­jor­ie Jack­son from Aus­tralia. Earli­er in the year she had won four gold medals at the Brit­ish Empire Games in Auck­land. Still to come were golds at the 1952 Hel­sinki Olympics, and fur­ther world records.

Before­hand there had been loc­al rumours that Jack­son had not been racing much lately and there might be a loc­al upset. But, as the photo shows, that was a for­lorn hope. In fact, she beat her own 100-yard world record, although it did not count, as she had been swept along by a gale-force tail wind.

Elite women ath­letes were still some­what of a nov­elty in 1950. In pre­vi­ous dec­ades, con­ser­vat­ive sports admin­is­trat­ors had decreed that women were not cap­able of such exer­tion, and Jackson’s vis­it promp­ted some dis­cus­sion in the sports pages about wheth­er such achieve­ments might make women less ‘fem­in­ine’.

Today, the Basin has been remod­elled as a crick­et oval, regarded by many as one of the best test match ven­ues in the world. It is classed as an his­tor­ic area by Her­it­age New Zea­l­and, but that his­tory is under some threat. The grand old stand shown here, built in 1923 and now hous­ing the New Zea­l­and Crick­et Museum, may soon be demol­ished as an earth­quake risk, after years of neglect.

More wor­ry­ing is the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency’s ongo­ing determ­in­a­tion to build a con­crete fly­over up against and over­look­ing the Basin’s north­ern face — des­pite that pro­pos­al being soundly rejec­ted by a board of inquiry last year. A summer’s day on the Basin embank­ment could nev­er be the same after that.


(The Ath­let­ics New Zea­l­and Nation­al Track and Field Cham­pi­on­ships are on in Wel­ling­ton this month, 6–8 March, at New­town Park)


Cap­tion: Basin Reserve, 11 Decem­ber 1950, 114/235/02, Even­ing Post Col­lec­tion, Alex­an­der Turn­bull Library