I recently read Murray Edmond’s ‘Time to make a song and dance; cultural revolt in Auckland in the 1960s’ (Atuanui Press, 2021) and really enjoyed his depiction of Auckland and Aucklanders at that time. I particularly appreciated his description of the involvement of Wynne Colgan (1922-2011) in Auckland cultural matters. He was Deputy City Librarian at Auckland City Library until 1982, and originally hired me at that Library back in 1977.
It was fascinating to recall and learn new things about such people as Arepeta Awatere (1910-1976), Bob Lowry (1933-1963), Anna Hoffman (1938-2014), theatre’s Ronald Barker (1913-1968), Tom Pearce (1913-1976), the Art Gallery’s Peter Tomory (1922-2008) and Barry Crump (1935-1996). Also of interest were locally produced films at that time and the Auckland Festival. I was also drawn to Edmond’s descriptions of the North Shore.
I have previously written about North Shore based authors Greville Texidor (1902-1964), Anna Kavan (1901-1968), Karl Wolfskehl (1869-1948), and their links with amongst others Frank Sargeson (1903-1982). Of course, Janet Frame (1924-2004) spent fifteen months living at Sargeson’s in Esmonde Road in 1955 and 1956 and then from October 1963 flatted in Northcote and Devonport. Edmond notes Frame’s poem ‘The road to Takapuna’, which was published in the literary periodical ‘Mate’ (Number 12, 1964, pages 33 and 34).
However, I couldn’t readily find that poem re-published anywhere else. It’s a pity it isn’t more widely known, and more available. Michael King’s ‘Wrestling with the angel; a life of Janet Frame’ (page 258) confirms that Frame would walk from her flat in Northcote across Shoal Bay to visit Sargeson in Esmonde Road, likely via the Exmouth Road footbridge at low tide. That journey no doubt prompted her to write ‘The road to Takapuna’ to reflect her reactions to the dramatic changes to that part of Takapuna between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s.
The poem describes the environmental impact of the reclamation of Shoal Bay from 1957 to 1959 for the construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge’s approach roads. That particularly affected the Onepoto Basin, the Tuff Crater, Barrys Point and Esmonde Road. As well as referring to the deleterious effects on the local flora, particularly trees and mangroves, Frame’s poem also notes the encouragement that reclamation had now given to motor-mowers, as a metaphor for suburbanisation.
Edmond also widens the North Shore frame to include George Haydn (1919-2005), a builder and arts patron who married the sculptor Molly Morell Macalister (1920-1979) in 1945. They lived in Purchas Road in Hauraki, while writer Maurice Duggan (1922-1974) lived in Forrest Hill Road. The Haydn’s house is listed amongst those built by ‘Group Architects’ and dates from 1970.
From 1947 onwards, the ‘Group’ provided new perspectives to New Zealand architecture and some of their houses and other buildings were constructed across different parts of the North Shore. In 2010, Julia Gatley edited ‘Group Architects; towards a New Zealand architecture’ which covers at least some of those houses in greater detail.
However, Edmond’s description of a pre-Bridge ‘North Shore Bohemia’ of the literary and socially unconventional, really only applies to a limited number of individuals, and not to residents of the North Shore in general.
I also disagree with Edmond’s notion that before the Auckland Harbour Bridge was opened in May 1959 the North Shore was more for holiday homes than suburbia. In fact, while in 1931 there was just under 25,000 people living on the North Shore, by 1945 that population had reached around 30,000 and by the late 1950s had jumped significantly to around 50,000. That was particularly in the Takapuna and East Coast Bays areas, and in anticipation of the Bridge.