Vacant Lot of Cabbages: Weird & Wonderful NZ Stories

A DigitalNZ Story by Daz Martin

A public protest with an unusual culinary twist! "Weird and Wonderful" series created by DigitalNZ's Community Manager exploring the fun and eccentric parts of our history.

History, Protest, Cabbages, Urbanism, Urban Development

The Vacant Lot of Cabbages, AKA The Cabbage Patch

Wellington, New Zealand. 1978

In 1978 a public protest took a turn to the bizarre when New Zealand contemporary artist Barry Thomas took to a vacant lot in central Wellington to protest the lack of park space in the central city. 

The site on the corner of Willis and Manners Streets in Wellington had formerly been the site of The Roxy Cinema, which closed in 1974 then later demolished to make way for what is now the Duke's Arcade.

Having sat empty for two and a half years - Thomas and friends organised the protest took the form of an "urban garden" - in which Thomas and his friends cut through a wire fence, delivered a truck-load of top-soil and planted 180 cabbages on the site. 

Truck delivering soil to the 'Vacant lot of cabbages' site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Barry Thomas cabbage planting

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Hugh Walton watering the cabbage patch

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Aerial view of cabbage patch site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Mid growth

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Man walking past cabbage patch site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

A six month occupation.

The cabbage patch was organised as a protest of the site being turned into another mundane commercial building. Thomas called on Wellingtonians to make the space their own, and the site was filled with a range of out-of-place items, including and IBM computer, a lounge suite and a brightly coloured tricycle. It quickly became home to informal meetings, pop up performances, events and arts activities. 

Although the City Council cleared a lot of the items from the site for health and safety reasons, the cabbage patch remained for about six-months.

Going out with a roar.

In June - with the help of many volunteers, the site was planted out with native trees and plants and murals painted by students from Wellington College. Thomas and friends organised an arts festival called The Last Roxy Show which featured live performances and organisers giving away free coleslaw!

The festival ended with Thomas donning a Cassock he found in an op-shop and ceremoniously burning the cabbages.

Native plants delivered to the cabbage patch site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Barry Thomas raking the cabbage patch

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

'Vacant lot of cabbages'

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

People, caravan & horses mingle on the cabbage patch site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

People, plants & caravan on the cabbage patch site

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Burning the last cabbages to end the occupation

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The memory lives on.

In 2012, documentation from The Cabbage Patch was placed into the archives at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and along with items from other content partners such as the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library - you can find images, stories and more about Barry Thomas and The Vacant Lot of Cabbages / The Cabbage Patch through Digital NZ.