It seems like such a long time ago now that a small group sat at the back of Mighty Mighty and announced the best of Wellington. We had a lectern, speeches, and quite a lot to drink. Since then the TAWAs (The Annual Wellingtonista Awards) have grown to a full-scale event, due to the incredibly dedicated work by the organisers, led by the unstoppable Miss Jo McLeod.
It's now the fifth year for the TAWAs and it hasn't slowed down. Gone are some of the previously divisive categories like "Villain of the Year" (featuring a rogues' gallery of local politicians and property developers) but controversy still reigns in categories as simple as "Best Coffee". And sometimes the awards can create real change in the city.
Where other "Best of Wellington" choose to simply point out what the best bits are, the Wellingtonista likes to point out what's missing too. This year's "Most Missed" has five of the best things that have left a gap. The "Most Needed" category has been in place since the beginning. Public transport options, like light rail to the airport or real-time bus information, always feature and tend to be voted highly, but also in the running are better places to drink and play. The year after "Tiki Bar" was listed in Most Needed, Watusi opened.
Never let it be said that the Wellingtonista doesn't play to its base: drinking, dancing, anti-Kerry Prendergast voting, gallery visiting, pedestrian friendly urbanites who skirt so close to being called Yuppies but deftly avoid it by telling you to fuck off. This inevitably leads to the label that the Wellingtonistas have worn proudly for many years: elitist snobs.
Snobs maybe, but elitist? Never! In fact after the first ceremony where WellUrban and Wanda Harland came away as winners, a rule was introduced meaning no Wellingtonista could be eligible for an award. This lead to the odd situation where Damian Christie won for Best Contribution to the Internet by a Wellingtonian.
But elitism is not what the Wellingtonista are really about. They (and I say "they" in that weird way you do when you try to be objectively outside of a group that you are actually in, though not so much recently) want people to see the city in the same way they do and experience everything they do, they just want to do it first. This is part of the reason the TAWAs exist, as Jo says:
"If you're looking at the nominations and thinking 'I don't know most of these places' then you should really make it your to-do list. Get out and explore the best things in Wellington before you vote, because democracy only works if you make informed choices".
With any event like this there are some great stories (expect a book deal soon). In the first year Mighty Mighty forgot we had asked for an area to be reserved but still had a podium for us. In the second year "motherfucking BLAM BLAM BLAM" played to a very amped up crowd and the Wellingtonista was accused by property developer Rex Nicholls of anonymously attacking him – leading the Wellingtonistas (whose names were all over the site) to reintroduce themselves.
2008 saw the voting double to 1,000 and Sam Scott start a battle of words with the WCC, and all the door money was almost lost when the paper bag it was being kept in was thrown out.
The real success of the TAWAs is the acceptance by the nominees. Wellington is a wonderful cliché of the small city where everyone knows each other and local businesses loved coming along to be cheered by the audience, and proudly displayed their nomination certificates in their windows.
"As more and more nominees started coming along, helped along by us taking them nomination certificates, we tried to tighten up the awards categories and focus on nominating things that had people behind them, so they could be there in person to accept, so that it wouldn't be all Claire Terry [from Madam Fancy pants] picking up each prize for other people. And next year we're going to introduce a Hall of Fame category to give others a better chance."
Referring to the time Claire accepted the award for other nominees that she liked if they weren't there, and telling some brilliant stories in the process.
Last year there were a little over 1500 voters, this year that number has fallen off (it's around 750 at the moment). So we need those votes people, because we know you love the best capital in the world.
photos by Mike Roseingrave and Jed Soane