(From a speech delivered at Pataka on 21 June 2015)
By Graham Kelly
Posted: 2 July 2015
My earliest recollection of my involvement with Porirua was as a boy in the early 1950s, cycling from Khandallah to Porirua, via the old Main Road, through Glenside and Tawa Flat, to visit my uncle’s new state house in McKillop Street, in Porirua East. This was in the days before the Johnsonville to Porirua Motorway was built. Without gears on bikes, it was always a struggle cycling home up the long incline through Glenside to Johnsonville.
As his 10 year old nephews, my brother and I helped him to lay his new lawn and put down a vegetable garden.
The few brand-new homes in Porirua East were well built. His home was brick. The occupants comprised a number of recent immigrants from the UK who were amongst the first to settle in Porirua. Their boat fares were largely paid for by the N Z Government and they were known as 10 pound Poms.
As Porirua East was developing from what was previously Mungavin’s farm, there were large earth moving 'grade-alls' scraping the tops of hills and filling in the gullies. There were no trees as far as the eye could see. There were no, or few, public facilities then – no playing fields, a public telephone box.
Schools were starting to be built and only a few shops were at the start of Mungavin Avenue. People made their own home brew in their basements. There were competitions between neighbours over whose brew was best.
City Centre Developments
Titahi Bay was just starting to have state houses built and Austrian builders were brought out to assemble prefabricated Austrian houses to commence the development of the Bay.At that time, our extended family had Sunday picnics at the south end of Titahi Bay Beach where we played games of cricket from 3.00 p.m., until it was dark - and where we learnt to swim.
I remember some years later, after we were married in the 1960s and after the central Porirua shopping area was built with department store James Smith, Woolworths and others, that we used to drive out to Porirua with our kids in the car, for Thursday or Friday late night shopping. The attraction was plenty of free parking. It was safe for children and it had shops within close walking distance, compared to going into Wellington.
Years later, when we took our children out to stay at the Waikanae Holiday Camp near the Waikanae River, I was talking to the owner who told me that he had just had a school from Porirua East stay there the previous week. On the first morning of their stay, he noticed the children looking up to the trees, riveted to the sound of the birds because there were still not many trees in Porirua East and they were hearing birds for the first time. Thank goodness that has changed for the better.
A significant reason for the new planned redevelopment of the Porirua central shopping centre occurred because of the closure of James Smith’s and other stores and the general run down state of the central shopping area. However the planned redevelopment occurred without much public knowledge, because of the vision of two people. The then Porirua Town Clerk (now called the Chief Executive) John Seddon and the then Mayor, John Burke, on behalf of the Council, quietly purchased buildings and homes and land for what is now the North City Plaza. Had there been any publicity about what they were doing, the price of these purchases would have soared and cost ratepayers far more money. At that time, there was no legislative requirement for public disclosure of Council purchasing of land or buildings. The city got a good deal. The result is now a regional retail hub.
Equally importantly, the two Johns also spearheaded the purchased of the Medical Supplies building on behalf of the Council at about the same time. This now houses Pataka Arts and Cultural Centre, including the City Public Library. This is one of our icons with constant streams of visitors from our city and the region. It has a high national and international reputation.
Mr A D Park - Titahi Bay
When I was elected Member of Parliament for the electorate of Porirua in 1987, we purchased a house above the beach at Park Avenue, Titahi Bay. This had been built by my father, Fred Kelly, in 1936-37. He worked for two guys who had a partnership - an 80 year old carpenter and a younger brick layer who could only assist with building the foundations and chimney. He drove out from Khandallah to the Bay each day on the old main road through Glenside in a model T truck and built the house on his own. It was among less than a dozen on the beach front at that time.
The house was built for A D Park (Alexander Dallas Park) and this was his holiday home. He was Secretary of the Treasury in 1929. Park was the first Patron of the Titahi Bay Rugby Football Club in 1954. He was a Makara County Council member representing the Porirua Riding between 1941 to 1959 and Chair between 1947 and 1959. He was President of the Titahi Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association. A D Park was a Drummer Boy in the Boer War.
Above the garage he built a billiard room with a full size table and only men could go there. It had a very large metre and a half high wooden valve radio which came as part of the purchase. It took three minutes to warm up and the magnificent radio reproduced music of incredible quality. You could hear many international radio stations. After we shifted in we had a billiard evening party and the first game was started by a women's team. I think he would have turned in his grave.
Ngati Toa Land Claim
Just after I was elected as MP for Porirua in 1987, I heard that the Government Ministers were looking for sources of income because of the poor financial state of the economy, by wanting to sell valuable land at the old Porirua Physicatric Hospital site. I went to see Mat Rei at Ngati Toa and asked him if he had a land claim lodged for this area, under the Treaty of Waitangi. He said 'no, because we haven’t researched the issue'. I said, 'get a claim in now and do the research later'. Lodging the claim stopped any sale of the land and Ngati Toa was subsequently successful in settling their claim including this area of land. Only very recently did I hear that Ngati Toa and Curran Construction (who developed the Todd Motors / Mitsubishi Assembly Plant site and the Aotea Block) are about to undertake a major housing development there.
Of great significance to the development of Porirua City was the role that the Hon. Russell Marshall (now a Porirua City resident) played when he was Minister of Education. When the fourth Labour Government was elected in 1984, the country was broke, after the Muldoon era. Something like over 70 cents in the dollar of government expenditure went on the interest on our loans, so there was no money to spend on new policies. In the first few months of that government, Russell convinced the Cabinet to agree to implement an election promise to make tertiary education available to a wide range of students whose families were not just those in the top few percent of income earners. These were largely the only people who could afford to send their children to university. Whitireria Community Polytechnic is the result of that policy and that decision.
Whitireria and about eight other polytechnics were built at that same time in Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, the West Coast and other places, before the axe fell on new spending. After a short time and a change of government, the new government decided these new polytechnics were costing too much money to run. The first Chief Executive of Whitireia Polytechnic was Turoa Royal who worked extremely fast and hard to get as many students to enrol in as short a time as possible to head off the axe of closure by achieving economies of scale. It was touch and go, as pressure built on the Polytechnic and on Turoa and the Board. He was successful and we now have a magnificent tertiary educational institution that enhances our city. Students from a wide range of backgrounds who previously would not have been at this level of study are being given opportunities for qualifications that would have been beyond their reach only a few decades ago.
In the 1990s Kenepuru Hospital’s A & E Department was threatened with closure by the Government. Its opening hours had been reduced to office hours on Monday to Friday and other services were moving to Wellington. After a change of government in 1999 and intense lobbying , I was successful, not only in stopping a further erosion of services but also in having Kenepuru Hospital's threatened closure stopped. The A & E was funded to stay open longer, and other services were brought out to Kenepuru. With new operating theatres built, more operation are now performed and a range of specialists from Wellington Hospital are now coming out to Porirua to see patients. These moves have made it much easier for our citizens, and also those from the Kapiti Coast.
Wastewater Treatment Facility
One of the more significant events occurred in Porirua City with the building of the new sewerage treatment plant, at the south end of Titahi Bay Beach overlooking Cook Strait. Prior to its commissioning in 1989 sewage often floated back to the Beach during a southerly wind. It was not a pleasant place to be at those times with unwanted smell and matter. The sewer-main 'state of the art' tunnel was built in 1960 with the outfall at Rukutana Point. It was massive and was 1960 foot long and 6 foot high and expected to cater for a population of 80,000. Porirua Borough Council was held accountable for the problem but had no hand in the design or construction. The responsibility was shared between Wellington City Council (from their ratepayers from the top of the Glenside/Johnsonville Hill main road (just north of Johnsonville), Tawa Borough Council (for their residents) and Hutt County Council (for the rest of the Porirua Basin). In 1965 the problem and responsibility was handed to the new Porirua City Council which then had a population of 21,500. So the new city of Porirua, which was New Zealand's 21st city, then had a political hot potato on its hand. The new Mayor, John Burke, campaigned successfully on a policy for fixing the problem . He advocated a biological treatment plant and the Council purchased the necessary 81 hectres of Stevenson’s farm land.
One day I got a phone call at Parliament from Mayor John Burke who asked me if I would ask David Lange (the recent former Prime Minister who had just resigned his position, but was still a Parliamentarian) if he would agree to open the new plant. A plaque had to be ordered and would take a month to arrive and there were only five weeks until the opening. David readily agreed to this request. The then Minister of Local Government, Michael Bassett, had originally been asked to do this some months earlier, but in spite of the Council’s best efforts, he would not reply to their invitation.
On the day of the opening I accompanied our former Prime Minister, the MP for Southern Maori, Whetu Tirakatene-Sullivan, on an escorted tour of the plant, including a walk out on the narrow walkways above the large ponds, and told him how the plant worked. We were accompanied by the Mayor, the Chief Executive, and a Council official - Tim Davin. The smell didn’t appear to worry David, but I have a weak stomach. My eyes were watering and I was green around the gills. We then came inside the new building, housing the equipment. It was many stories high. At each end, high above a huge gap in the middle of the building, looking down several floors to massive giant round churners below, were wide 10-foot platforms at each end of the building. On each were pot plants and chairs for Councillors, staff and guests. At the other end was the official party looking across to the other guests. The official speeches commenced and then David was asked to speak and to officially declare the city’s new Wastewater Treatment Plant open. He produced a set of speaking notes, prepared by the Department of Internal Affairs, which he totally ignored and instead spoke about the progress of Porirua City, the positive leadership of the Council,and the new plant, which was built on time and within budget. He talked about the quality of the completed job and the expertise of the designers and workers who built it. And he mentioned some of the very good things happening in our city. You could see the Mayor, Councillors, staff, and construction crew rise with pride, almost as much as the smell that rose up from below. After a very entertaining speech, he said, 'now I am supposed to officially open this plant. Oh well, - “bottoms up”'. The plaque is there to this day and bears testimony to the event. And the Titahi Bay Beach water remains pristine to this day, to be enjoyed by swimmers, beach users, and the very good Titahi Bay Surf Life Saving Club members.
WiFi Digital Divide
Recently, the Porirua City Council has installed free WiFi in the city centre. Fifteen years ago Phil Major (a Porirua City resident) and I, founded the e-Learning Porirua Trust to train our citizens who did not own, or did not know how operate, a computer. At the time there was high unemployment and there was a desperate need to get people into jobs. Their kids needed to be able to lift their educational attainment levels, and having a home computer would greatly assist them with undertaking their homework.
The criteria for the course is to live in Porirua City, not be able to use a computer or have one at home, have dependent children (because we want to train 2 generations at once) and be unemployed or only have a low paying job. The parents are trained for the length of a school term on how to use a computer, write a CV, send emails, and use Word. And they go home with a refurbished computer for themselves and their children. Recent results are amazing. They show that 31% get a job within a year of completing a course and a similar number go on to other training or education. The Trust recently installed WiFi into Cannons Creek, so that our graduates could use this as a cheap option of operating a computer and use the net. The intention is to extend this to other low income areas of the city (Waitangirua, Elsdon, Titahi Bay) because the government has only targeted and paid for the installation of ultra fast broadband to middle and upper income suburbs of N Z.
Our aim is to close the digital divide, reduce unemployment and give the next generation increased educational opportunities. So far we have trained and given a home computer to over one thousand seven hundred families. In addition, the Trust has funded, or made interest-free loans for new computers, worth over half a million dollars, to the 25 low-decile schools in our city. It’s good to finish on a good news story. And in the next 50 years, there will be many more of these.
I'll conclude by telling one more David Lange story.
All electorate Members of Parliament spend most months of the year organising fund-raising events to help pay for their election campaign every three years. One such event was a fun debate I organised at Pataka between the politicians and the students from the local colleges. David was one of the debaters. The subject was 'That Youth is Wasted on the Young'.
During David’s contribution he somehow got tangled up on a story about young people and their relationships and said to the audience, 'I’ll bet there is no-one in this room who didn’t think of sex when I made that last comment'. 'If you didn’t, put your hand up'. He looked around the room and saw a hand held up. 'You didn’t think of sex?', he enquired. The woman said 'no'. 'And who are you?' he asked. She replied, 'Sister Anne'. (She was the principal of Viard College).
Pinky Agnew, the Adjudicator, declared her the winner.