For us lot here in New Zealand Christmas has already become a dull ache in the pit of our collective stomachs. The remnants of the ham has been relegated to downstairs fridge where over time it will be slowly whittled down to a hundred white-bread sandwiches. The recycling bin is over-flowing with bottles of vino and wrapping paper.
This Christmas eve I hit the town with a couple of old friends: the wild and wonderful Teressa, the Egerton sisters - the divine Eileen and her youngest sister Louise. Eileen and Teressa are the the girls I hung out with as teenagers. The years it seems have not mellowed or restrained us. We hit the worryingly empty streets of Wellington with a vengeance. Drinking, dancing and singing with the reckless abandon of people who don’t give a dam about what other people think. I must however apologize to the selection of songs we brutally slaughtered on the sacrificial altar of Karaoke.
However the evening began with us all arranging to meet. This left a small problem that Teressa has been away from New Zealand for about twenty years. Were should we met her? Hmmm. Wellington is a ever-changing movable feast at the best of times. A creature that regularly sheds its skin to become an entirely difference genus and sex as it pleases. However there is one constant. And that’s where we arranged to meet.
The bucket fountain.
In 1965 Cuba Street (named for one of the boats that brought the first settlers to Wellington) was closed to traffic so the council could remove unused tram lines. While it was closed the pedestrians of Wellington grew fond of the idea of Cuba street being a mall. During this time a campaign started to keep Cuba Street closed to traffic and, in 1969, the Cuba Street pedestrian mall was officially opened by then mayor, Sir Francis Kitts.
The mall was designed by architects and town planning consultants Burren and Keen, now as work progressed these two gents decided what Cuba Mall really needed was a water feature. However funds were tight and all that was left in the budget was a mere $1000. Burren and Keen decided that they would take this money and whip up something themselves. Just a temporary feature that would hold the fort until more funds could be raised to replace it with something more grandiose I suspect.
In a garage somewhere the bucket fountain was cobbled together using a combination of good old kiwi ingenuity and madness.
The bucket fountain as it came to be known was originally a very plain colour scheme - reports vary between black and white buckets to all yellow buckets at its first unveiling. Back in the day, however, the council in their wisdom decided it could stand to be more festive so added the current multi-colour scheme. A stroke of bureaucratic genius in my humble opinion.
Naturally this garish unwieldy creation was met with indifference and derision. Reports seem to suggest that the creators themselves were non-to-fond of it either and were among those to rallied to have it replaced. However the water-tight purse strings of the WWC conspired to keep it in pride of place. Now over forty years later the bucket fountain is still standing.
The Bucket Fountain is recognised as one of Wellington’s quirkiest and most well known landmarks. The Wellington City District Plan includes recommendations on how best to develop Cuba Mall. Within these recommendations the plan states, “The much maligned/much enjoyed sugar-scoop bucket fountain should resume pride of place in the Mall.”
Yes it’s a very silly creation but if you walk down the mall on any given day you will see someone stopped watching the buckets waiting for the succession of smaller buckets to fill the lower one so it can unleash its final payload into the pond. They will be bemused tourists with their backpacks or loud American accents. They will be small delighted children clutching onto their parents hand. Or men in business suits reflecting on their by-gone youth. Due to Wellington’s high winds the fountain regularly spews water over passers by and creates a river down the mall but that, again, is part of its hokey charm.
My first produced screenplay - Stickmen - featured a scene set by the bucket fountain. I figured movies of towns always had scenes based around landmarks of that town - the Empire State building, the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish steps so my script should feature the bucket fountain. When we neared filming our money was tight so the producer was looking (quite rightly) at reducing locations. She asked me if there were any exterior scenes that I wanted to keep. I said the bucket fountain. She smiled and agreed - that one had to stay.
As a child no trip into town was complete without a ride on the rickety wooden escalator at James Smiths and a visit to the fountain of playful buckets. It’s whimsical, impractical and utterly mesmerizing. A landmark that I hope will still be standing in another forty years. No doubt I’ll be meeting Eileen and Teressa there then. Merry Christmas you lot thanks for stopping in over the last few months I’ve got some fun stuff coming up so stay tuned to the Wood of Kings.