As others remember…
Robbie (Sir Dove-Myer Robinson) is still a lightning rod drawing strong and differing reactions. Like him or loathe him, you could never ignore him. Then or now.
That’s clear from response to the column on his leadership of Auckland based on his memorable victory when he stopped a proposal to pump unpurified sewage into the Waitemata Harbour 60 years ago.
One reader’s response: ‘‘Yes but instead he destroyed the Manukau.’’
Not mentioned in the mail were thousands of midges from the treatment ponds which invaded nearby suburbs. Made victims very scratchy, they did.
And fumes which burnt the paint off homes as they swept through other inner city areas.
Other readers remembered his drive to give Auckland the rail service its current bewildered and bewildering leaders are now desperate for.
From Michael Bassett, historian, former Auckland city councillor and a reformer as Labour Cabinet minister of local government:
‘‘I enjoyed your article on Robbie. You were right to identify his best years as the 1950s and 1960s. He actually had six terms and was the longest-serving mayor in the history of the Auckland City Council.
‘‘But in his final terms (1971-80) he became an old humbug and contributed less and less. I was on the council 1971-1974. He was still out to the wee small hours, much to the exasperation of the mayoral chauf- feur, and he would fall asleep in council committee meetings during the afternoon.
‘‘On one occasion, at a meeting of the finance committee, he went to sleep in his chair. The chairmanship slipped seamlessly to the senior councillor present. We finished the business and filed quietly out of the room leaving the mayor fast asleep.
‘‘Robbie features in the early chapters of my book which will appear in December. It will be called City of Sails: The Auckland City Council 1989-2010. It is the third and final volume of the council’s history. The previous volumes were written by Dr Graham Bush.
‘‘My book deals with the new, enlarged isthmus council that resulted from my local government reforms that came into effect in 1989. The book’s first two chapters summarise the council’s history until the 1980s.
‘‘The rest of the book deals with the mayoralties of Dame Cath Tizard, Les Mills, Christine Fletcher, John Banks (both mayoralties) and Dick Hubbard.
‘‘There were many achievements during those years. With council assistance along the way, the Sky Tower was constructed, opening in 1997. The Viaduct was turned from a grimy old backwater full of rub- bish into a show place at a pace that, in retrospect, beggars belief.
‘‘No-one wanted to be accused of holding up plans for the staging of the first defence of the America’s Cup in 2000. The other major achievement was the development of Britomart.
‘‘The initial grandiose plans were scaled back and the new transport station opened in 2003. By that time the whole project had been 10 years in the making.
‘‘Even today many Aucklanders don’t fully appreciate what a splendid job developer Peter Cooper is doing with those old heritage buildings behind the station. The Britomart precinct is gathering in popularity and will continue to do so.
‘‘Leadership of the council varied at the political level 1989-2010, although David Hay, who was deputy mayor for 14 of those 21 years, left a stamp on many worthwhile projects, most especially the Monte Cecilia gallery and meeting facility in Hillsborough.
‘‘Three CEOs (Bruce Anderson, Bryan Taylor and David Rankin) presided over a talented group of officers, some of whom like Grant Kirby demonstrated extraordinary skill at moving projects along.’’ From Norma Lambert: ‘‘I feel very upset about your article on the oxidation ponds. Yes. He might have saved the Waitemata Harbour but he destroyed the Manukau Harbour. My father attended a meeting which could be the one which you refer to in your column. He was a very quiet man but it was a meeting where he felt very strongly about the result the oxidation ponds would have on the Manukau Harbour.
‘‘He stood up and quietly said to Dove-Myer, ‘You will ruin the harbour.’ Unfortunately, this is what happened.
‘‘My Dad spent his early life coming from the city with his family to holiday on the Manukau. The family later lived by the Manukau for many years and when he married he built a house by the Manukau.
‘‘Swimming, sailing and fishing on the harbour had been a large part of his life and he knew it very well. John McLeod, his father, who once stood for mayor, would have been devastated to have known what had happened to this beautiful part of New Zealand.
‘‘It has taken several years since new technology, which does not use the oxidation ponds, has allowed the harbour to return to a state where people could safely use it for swimming and many fish and birds have returned.
‘‘Many kilometres of shoreline have also been returned for use by the people of Auckland. The weekly testing of the beaches on the harbour now show it is usually 100 per cent suitable for swimming. People are slowly returning to swim.
‘‘I once was surprised to see Sir Dove-Myer visit Blockhouse Bay Beach and when he got out of his car a young teenage lad called out, ‘Are you going for a swim, sir?’
‘‘He did not respond, had a quick look around and left.
‘‘It is very unfortunate that all his work in looking around the world at successful train systems and trying to get the trains running in Auckland did not happen.
‘‘What a different city we would be now with our transport problems.’’
So right, Norma.
Footy note: Mate, have you noticed, mate, how every new recruit to footy stardom starts using ‘‘mate’’, at the end of every breathless aftermatch sentence, mate. They’ve picked it up from the Aussies, mate.
Just like I notice, mate, that the local commentators have caught up with ‘‘They’re on fire, mate’’.
Which reminds me, mate, of the legend of how a young American reporter was sent to cover a big flood, mate.
Back came his story, mate. It began: ‘‘ God sat down on a mountain here today and wept.’’
That drew an urgent message from his news editor: ‘‘Forget flood, interview God – rush photo.’’
How about that, mate?