Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Avondale's Racecourse and the Second World War

Overlay of the camp areas, on 1940 aerial of the racecourse.

1st Battalion, Auckland Regiment, have daily parades from their homes to the racecourse for training. Avondale (1st Field Regiment, NZA) one of three training centres in Auckland, the others being part of Ellerslie and Carlaw Park. A group of young women called the Independent Younger Set assisted in the canteen at the racecourse during the training programme. This was a group of young women from Remuera, led by Helen Staveley, which formed in May 1940 with the aim to help all charities, in particular the Metropolitan Patriotic Society, and the Red Cross. They appear to have dropped below the radar from October 1940, a month after Staveley left the organisation. 

1st Field Company, NZ Engineers, used the course for training. They engaged in bridge-building exercises across the Whau River, and advertised that they would build bridges on private property within 20 miles of Auckland if “any patriotic owner” either supplied all materials, or required timber to be felled and sawn and ready to lend for such training purposes. They cut down pine trees at Waikumete Cemetery for this purpose. By 26 October, it was reported that several bridges were being built. 

Officers and non-commissioned officers of the 22nd Field Company, NZ Engineers, camped at Avondale, 1-29 December. 

Women’s National Service Corps under canvas at Avondale 29 Dec-7 January. This was the first camp for women trained in war service. 150 attended. 

Weekend camp on Feb 1, 1st Battalion, Auckland Regiment. A cookhouse, ablutions block and “lean-to for vegetables” are constructed. March NZ Engineers officers’ camp. Gave demonstrations of bridge demolition to the Independent Mounted Rifles Squadrons at Avondale and Parau. 

Three month intensive training course begins for new members of the Territorials for home defence service. An overflow camp established at Avondale. A roadway is constructed behind the grandstands due to increase vehicular traffic from Ash Street. Another intake of 180 men in July. Heavy rain caused most to abandon their tents and return home. 

Construction of the camp begins. A roadway was built between the main stand and Ash Street using scoria. Footpaths were constructed using ash carted in from the King’s Wharf power station and the Auckland Gasworks. 


Avondale Jockey Club approach Ellerslie for permission to use their course. Ellerslie agrees by 16 August. The September meeting is the first Avondale hold at Ellerslie. 

POW holding camp established at Avondale, in the wake of the shooting incident at Featherston. This was replaced by the Workers camp from January 1944. 

Establishment of temporary (one month) US Forces camp at Avondale Racecourse (700 men), while the MOB 6 hospital was being built. 

Transit camp for naval personnel established at Avondale on portion of the Army camp. 

Works Department camp set up at Avondale, due to housing shortage in Auckland but a need for workers in essential industries. First draft of 50 single Maori men from Rotorua arrived 3 January, and were housed west of the main grandstand near the racetrack. By the end of February the number housed at the camp was 90, with another 20 expected in early March. By early 1945 151 men were housed there, and was enlarged that year for a further 80 men, taking over the former POW holding area. 

Eventually the Workers Camp encompassed 3.5 acres, including 122 huts, two mess rooms, recreation hall, cook house, vegetable preparation room, washhouse, latrines, shower block and administration building. Each hut had electric light, separate dining facilities provided with contract catering. A large recreation hall was completed by March, the Maori War Effort Organisation handling “the social side of the camp life.” The men were taken to Westfield each morning in trucks, and returned in the evening. They worked in the freezing works primarily, but also phosphate works and New Lynn tanneries and brickworks. 

During 1944 and early 1945, three more such camps were established – at Helvetia near Pukekohe (Maori single women), Waikaraka Park at Onehunga (European single men) and Pukekohe (European single women). Two were run by the PWD (inc Avondale), one by the Agriculture Department and one by the Internal Marketing Department. Overall supervision was by the National Service Department, then (after the war) the National Employment Service. 


At this point, Avondale camp was just occupied by the Army, and the PWD. 

Until the schools’ playgrounds were cleared of debris and rocks, the racecourse was used by Avondale Technical and Intermediate students. 

Auckland City Council begin negotiations to buy racecourse land off Racecourse Parade and at western end by Whau River for recreational purposes. This was acquired by the end of the year, and a lease agreement arranged for central paying areas on the course. 

16 July
Army vacates the racecourse. 

Jockey Club puts in £15,422 claim for compensation. Agrees to accept £6000 cash plus some buildings (two mess halls, a recreation hall, and a cottage at the back of the tote building), and repairs to fences, latrines, stables, horse stalls, tote building, turnstiles and ticket boxes, outside stand, lawn grandstand, judges box, jockey’s board, steward’s stand and casualty room totalling £7500. Claim split between PWD and the Army. 


The YMCA hut was sold by tender. 



The Minister of Defence apparently thought that the Jockey Club’s compensation claim was high, based on the fact that they derived a profit from racing at Ellerslie during the warm, and didn’t donate said profits to patriotic purposes. However, during the camp occupation, the Club paid all rates on the property to Auckland City Council. In a memo on file, the PWD reminded everyone that under the Defence Emergency Regulations, the Club was entitled to fair compensation for any necessary restoration regardless of any profits the Club made while at Ellerslie. The PWD agreed with the Club that all monetary compensation claims were to be waived, in return for receiving buildings valued at just over £4000. This was to save the use of labour during the post-war labour and materials shortages. 

Plans begin to shift the workers camp out. December Work completed in preparing the new Mangere workers camp, to replace Avondale. 

8 February 
The workers camp at Avondale is evacuated. The Club contended that a portion of outstanding water rates was owed by the PWD for the Workers camp, and they asked for additional compensation of more huts. As at August that year, the issue had yet to be resolved.

Official History of the Public Works Dept, Archives NZ files, Papers Past articles and parliamentary papers.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Return to the Orange

Above is how the Orange Coronation Hall looked back in 2006. Previous blog post here.

Yesterday -- this is the new Orange. Tony Smith of Burwood Orange Ltd contacted me in May this year, and invited me to take a look around what his company have done to the old Auckland landmark. With Tony, and another blogger from NZ Jazz, I was given a chance to see inside the building, and what the company have done to both change and restore it.

The development, by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects & Tonkin Zulaika Greer Architects in association, and Dave Pearson Architects, has received a heritage architecture award. The citation read: "It was a wise decision to retain the Orange Coronation Hall and make it the centrepiece of this new development: it has given the old building new potential, reduced the dominance of the new structure. The new, mixed-use building and ground-level public spaces flow around the hall at a respectful distance. Further consideration and respect of the past can be seen in gentle interventions – including steel windows and doors that bring light and open up to a new raised courtyard – that ensure traces of the hall’s former use remain. All that is missing now are tenants. When they arrive, the potential of the hall and adjoining spaces is sure to be fully realised."

The view across Newton Road to St Benedict's Street from the courtyard, freed up by the removal of a 1930s annexe formerly attached to the dance hall area.

I thought, while looking up at the courtyard from the road, that someone had left some chairs outside. But -- these are actually bolted-down art installations, harking back on dance hall seats. A funky touch.

Just as cool -- this orange planter, keeping up the theme. 

And an extra touch -- dance steps by the planter, exterior doors ... if you didn't know this was the famous Orange, slick-as and made for dancing, you soon will do. 

The developers and architects have worked hard to keep as many original features as possible. The ticket office window here ...

 ... and the 1950s sprung flooring in the main hall. The removal of the annexe allows for more natural light to come in, and an indoor-outdoor feel, which (with a planned cafe on the site) will add to people's mobility around the complex.

We even had a look at the Orange Lodge meeting room upstairs, complete with doors still with their "Who's there?" openings.

The developers have made every effort to retain features such as doors and windows. Some have had to go, of course, and there was earthquake strengthening to consider, but overall -- the Orange still has a feel to it that harks back to its days as part of Auckland's popular cultural scene.

Overall -- I like what they've done to the grand old lady, 100 years old come 2022. Normally, I don't like the modern trend of mix-and-match when it comes to heritage features and modern spaces -- but this has both preserved and restored the Orange Coronation Hall, and adapted it for survival into a second century. My sincere thanks to Tony Smith for the opportunity to take a look.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a hill ...

Once upon a time, there was a hill in Hamilton. It was known to Ngati Wairere as Te Kopu Mania O Kirikiriroa (the smooth belly of Kirikiriroa. It was known for the fertility of its soil, and also used for observing the movements of the stars for cropping.

Many of the later settlers liked the Garden Place Hill, but businessmen in the area saw it as a nuisance. It divided the expanded business area in two -- it had to go. There was opposition -- even a Garden Place Preservation Society, but Hamilton Council agreed with the businessmen in the 1930s, and created a special rating area made up of get-rid-of-the-hill folks in the commercial part of town. And so the hill was demolished, bit by bit.

For a while, the cleared area was a carpark. Today, it is a well-used public square. A pity about the loss of the hill, though, at Garden Place.

Brown images via Waikato Museum, b/w image Hamilton Library, HCL-6040, 1939.

Somewhere between the truth and otherwise ... Behind the name of John Douglas Stark

During the course of work I did recently for the Friends of Waikumete Cemetery, and towards the end of research into dozens of names linked with pre WWI and WWI-related burials at the cemetery, the name of Douglas Stark came up. 

Looking into his story, I found that well-known historians, including Jock Phillips who took this image of a memorial in Kaiapoi said to have been modelled on Stark, accepted everything written in the well-known novel by Robin Hyde, Passport to Hell as factual "oral history" without checking -- and so, even have Stark's name incorrect on the Te Ara site, while Cenotaph have his wrong date of birth. 

This was just the start of the swamp into which facts and information on Stark have sunk over time. There was much more, so -- I put together a paper, called "Somewhere between the truth and otherwise ... Behind the name of John Douglas Stark." An online copy can be found here.

For a man who is said to have saved the life, let alone many others, of Gordon Coates, MP during the war -- I feel there should have been a closer examination of Stark's story, both the lies and the truth, before now. Instead, all we have, in the main, is myth ...

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Flipping over burgers

From NZ Herald 10 August 1940

Sometimes, history can be about really mundane things. Like – hamburgers. 

Or more specifically – what was the first “hamburger bar” in New Zealand.

By the looks of things, if you think it was Frisco’s at the junction of Great South and Manukau Roads, in the former Junction Hotel building, it isn’t correct. But, on a Facebook page where I have stated this, I’ve been described as “not knowing Newmarket history” and apparently (according to another commenter there), I need to go back to school. 

Yes. All over hamburgers. 

Frisco’s opened as a hamburger bar and coffee house sometime during the 1942-1943 period. Opinions vary over this, and someone who claims family connections pushes it back to 1939, although the directories of the period don’t show this. Instead, they indicate a tobacconist used the building in 1942. (It was also in the One Tree Hill borough council area, not officially Newmarket at all.) 

Still, this doesn’t mean Frisco’s was the first to flip the burgers.

Auckland Star 9 March 1938

That honour goes to Alan’s Hamburger Bar “opposite CPO”, Queen Street Auckland, in January 1938 [Auckland Star, 20 January 1938, page 1(7)], the advent of which caused the NZ Herald to opine:

Enter the Hamburger Young men in green sports coats and suede shoes, puffed rice and baked beans, and, of course, the universal predilection for gangster films, hare long been cited as tangible evidence that New Zealand is slowly but surely succumbing to the doubtful influence of the United States. The opening of a hamburger bar in Queen Street is expected to raise an outcry from stalwarts who maintain that the Dominion should develop its own culture and eradicate outside influences. For the guidance of the less serious minded, however, it is stated that the correct pronunciation is "hamboiger." 

(NZ Herald, 29 January 1938, p. 30) 

Alan shifted business to Karangahape Road by March that year. 

Christchurch Press, 19 August 1939

Down South, an “American Hamburger Bar” had been in business in Manchester Street, Christchurch for some unknown period, before its owner sold up in 1939, according to ads put into the Christchurch Press.

Then we have Eleanor’s Hamburger Bar operating from 19A Queen Street from March 1940, [Auckland Star 2 March 1940 p.1(6)] clear through to sometime in 1942, quite long-lasting for the period. Eleanor’s ads (an example at the top of this post), in case of doubters, certainly do show what is recognisably a hamburger. 

There was another bar on Pitt Street, possibly at 76, by October 1941, and that too lasted for a period. By October 1942, the Civic Hamburger Bar was open at 336 Queen Street, [NZ Herald 8 October 1942, p. 1(8)] and seems to have lasted down through much of WWII. Out in the suburbs, a Liberty Hamburger Bar operated in 1943 from 262 Great South Road, and up at Warkworth, a Mr B Pearce got permission from the local council to open one in in mid 1943. 

So, when you see someone put up a photo of Frisco’s, and say “the first hamburger bar …” … nah. It wasn’t. It lasted a heck of a long time, and left lots of memories, but it wasn’t the first. Life would be so much simpler if folks checked things out for themselves, instead of just believing “the history books” like blind faith.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A blast from the heavens ...

When squally storms turn violently electric, we all know that lightning follows – and sometimes that flash from the sky can strike where we would least suspect. 

On the Saturday afternoon of 18 June 1932 – that place was Avondale’s St Jude’s Church. In the midst of a particularly heavy thunderstorm in the western districts, where, according to a news report at the time, “several flashes of lightning of more than usual vividness were seen”, one bolt struck the cross atop the church steeple. 

The force snapped off one arm of the cross, before it surged down the roof, tearing the iron sheathing, then entering the church’s electrical system, then flowing across to the telephone line at the adjacent vicarage. 

Reverend Arthur Volkner Grace and his wife Agnes had only started their time at Avondale that same year. They were at home on the day of the storm, probably preparing for the Sunday services, when the cap of their phone’s insulator was suddenly blown off, startling the couple. 

“Fortunately, the woodwork of the belfry and the roof of the church were not affected, while the lightning was not followed by an outbreak of fire,” the news reports went on to describe. “At the same time the electric lights in the building were fused, while the telephone in the vicarage was affected … The lighting in the church was repaired a short time later, and there was no interference with yesterday's services, while the roof did not leak to any great extent.” 

What damage was done appears to have been soon repaired by the parishioners. 

Rev Grace later retired to Mairangi Bay in 1936. 

Image: The church and vicarage on 1 January 1929, 4-8432, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The tales to tell of "Kernel Bell"

These days if I, as a townie Aucklander, say the phrase "Winterless North" to my Northland friends, they'll likely roll their eyes and give me that "Oh yeah?" look. Because yes, there is such a thing as a cold, wet, muddy winter in Northland. 

The blame, if it could be called that, for the cliche still being used today seems to rest with one Col. Allen Bell (c.1860-1936), born in Leeston, Canterbury, who had served with Bechuanaland Border Police during the Matabele and Boer Wars in South Africa, before returning here in 1902. Perhaps it was the Waikato winters on his farm there that really brought home to him the climate difference between there and his new home from 1914 up in Kaitaia and the Far North. 

He didn't come up with "winterless north", by the way. T Mandeno Jackson was using that phrase in the Dominion to flog off sections in Dargaville and the Northern Wairoa to Wellingtonians from 1912. But Bell certainly popularised it. 

President of the North Auckland Development Board, Kaitaia Chamber of Commerce and organiser of the first meeting of the Government Roads Movement, he encouraged MPs to venture north to try out the abysmal roads for themselves, and constantly pushed for better connections for the North with the rest of the country. He won the Bay of Islands seat in 1922, and set up a newspaper shortly after, the "Northland Age", running it for 11 years. He died at Parengarenga on the night of 14 October 1936. 

What piqued my interest was this paragraph from Neva Clarke McKenna's book Mangonui: Gateway to the Far North (1990), writing about a local Mangonui paper called "On Guard": 
"Now and then a good-natured jibe was printed at Colonel Allen Bell of Kaitaia, who coined the phrase 'the Winterless North'. One such jibe read: "Oh, Kernel Bell, oh Kernel Bell, how many a tale he has to tell. Of acres broad and winterless, and sunny climes and loveliness. His joyous smile and pushing way has made Kaitaia's heart feel gay. And while he's sections still to sell, we'll hear some more of Kernel Bell. And so 'twill be when he is gone -- we'll have a job to carry on. But one thing sure, where'er he dwell, he'll advertise, will Kernel Bell."
Image: NZ Truth 4 February 1926

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The leaning (water) tower of Hawera

Reaching Hawera on a recent weekend trip with the committee of the NZ History Federation, during a petrol stop there, I looked around, and asked what the prominent landmark was, visible just along the road. When I was told it was the Hawera Water Tower -- I knew I wanted to take photos and find out more. So, the next morning, before the sun started baking us alive again from 9 am down there -- I set off on a wee walk from the motel, headed for the tower.


Built in 1913, it provided the needed pressure for Hawera's water supply so the settlement's folks could combat fires there. In the same month it opened, January 1914, a sudden earthquake caused the tower to list 2.5 feet to the south. Naturally, people were worried the whole thing was going to fall over, but the local council sorted it by anchoring with reinforced concrete, filling the tanks, then undermining and pouring more reinforced concrete. The lean was reduced to 3 inches.

The tower was made redundant later in the century, and became a tourist viewing platform, accessible by obtaining a key from the nearby i-Site for a small fee. However, large chunks of concrete fell off in 2000, and the tower was closed indefinitely. Public consultation in 2001 came out in favour of retaining the tower, and major renovation and restoration work was completed in 2004. Then, of course, we had the Canterbury quakes -- so the tower was closed to the public again.

The good news is that the structure itself is safe enough, but work is still needed to fully strengthen parts of it. "The water tower itself was safe but eight balustrades on the structure needed strengthening. It's a relatively minor fix and cost compared to what it could have been if the tower itself was found wanting," [South Taranaki District Council engineering services group manager Brent Manning] said. As the tower was a considered a category one heritage building under Historic Places Trust classification, Manning believed the process would take slightly longer but should be finished within the next few months. "I have no idea of that cost but I expect it to be possibly less than the cost of all the investigations we've done to date but nonetheless, at least we know the answers now." (Taranaki Daily News, 13 August 2015)

So, until work is done, and the keep out signs and the orange plastic hazard fencing are removed -- the only ones enjoying the views are the pigeons.

More info: 

Heritage image: Taranaki Stables. Water tower, Hawera. Radcliffe, Frederick George, 1863-1923 : New Zealand post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-006028-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

From Wellington to Auckland at speed - 1923


A new motor-car speed record between Auckland and Wellington was established yesterday by Mr George L Campbell and Mr Leslie F Bedford. The car, a Durant Four, left Wellington at 3 am, and drew up outside the general post office at Auckland at 6.25 pm, after a trip of 15 hours 25 minutes, which is 42 minutes better than the time taken by the previous holder of the record, Mr W S Miller, who did the journey in a Chandler car. Progress telegrams had been received in Auckland during the day and the car was expected shortly after six o'clock, at which time a large crowd of people, including the Mayor, Mr J H Gunson, and officials of the Auckland Automobile Association had gathered in the vicinity of the post office.

As soon as the car stopped, it was rushed by a cheering crowd, and the record-breakers were accorded a flattering reception. When Mr Gunson could get near the car he congratulated Messrs Campbell and Bedford on their fine performance, and welcomed them on behalf of Auckland. Messages brought from Wellington were delivered, and the car, with the Mayor at the wheel, was taken to the garage, while Mr Campbell was carried shoulder-high along the street.

Mr Campbell said that before the trip was commenced all particulars regarding the car and the names and addresses of Mr Bedford and himself were taken by the police. On Saturday he saw Inspector Mcllveney, of Wellington, who warned him of the risks he was taking regarding breaches of speed-limit laws. Mr Campbell replied that it was his intention to observe all by-laws when passing through towns, and that was done. The start was made at 3 am, cars accompanying the Durant, which is owned by the Campbell Motors Ltd, as far as Petone. As the Aucklanders did not know the road to Wanganui very well, Mr Ben Campbell, of Wellington, drove that far. A storm was raging on Paekakariki Hill, but the motorists kept on and reached Hawera shortly after eight o'clock. Rain fell 'till Mount Messenger was reached, while birds proved dangerous, as the car had no windscreen. Unfortunately, a wheel struck a stone, which flew up and pierced the petrol tank, making it extremely difficult to keep up the pressure of benzine.

The river at Mokau was safely crossed by punt at 11.30 am, and here the hole in the tank was soldered by Public Works Department employees. At Uruti the flooring of a wooden bridge was being taken up, and there were just enough planks left for the car to cross. Had the car arrived a little later at the bridge, a delay of several hours would have been inevitable.

The roads were good for the first 300 miles, but the Taumatamaire Hill, the worst road experienced on the trip, was passed over in pouring rain. "We expected that we would have to give it up here," said Mr Campbell, "the road was in such a dreadful state. At Piopio, Te Kuiti, cars met and escorted us to the town, where we arrived at 2.50 pm. It was still pouring with rain, but cleared when we were half-way between Te Kuiti and Hamilton, which we reached at 3.45 p.m. At Ngaruawahia we were offered ropes to help us over the Rangiriris, but we did not use them as the surface was only slippery. We had no punctures and never used chains."

A feature of the trip, said Mr Campbell, was the amazing interest taken by people all along the route. At every township, people simply crowded the street and gave the motorists a great reception. The whole township turned out at Te Kuiti, and the police had to keep back thousands of people at Hamilton. Policemen were posted at every town passed through, but no one stopped the car. Local residents were ready with refreshments wherever a halt was made, and there was no difficulty in obtaining benzine and oil for the engine. The total distance covered was 481 miles. Cars from Auckland met the Durant at Manurewa.

The motorists brought a military despatch for the headquarters of the Northern Command and messages for the Mayor and the harbourmaster, Captain H H Sergeant.

(NZ Herald 15 March 1923)

Image Auckland Weekly News 22 March 1923, AWNS-19230322-46-6, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries