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Memories of a 1970s Miramar teenager

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by Stephen Moore
I’m a 61-year-old who was raised in Newtown until 1976, then lived in Miramar, Lyall Bay and Hataitai. I have never lived anywhere else.

For me, the 1970s started with duffel bags with drawstrings, duffel coats and leather watch covers that buttoned down to protect the glass, progressed to Rongotai College with its smell of coffee from the Faggs factory, a headmaster who would lecture us to get off the grass and on to the hard stuff, the whack of the cane to clear a detention card (65 in first year mostly for socks down or shirt-tail out), then the freedom that came with a car licence and sneaking underage into pubs to view live bands.

The most obvious change for me has been the development of Miramar Avenue. It’s a shopping street now, but it used to have fuel tanks down the northern side (a bit smaller than the larger California Tank). I have a distinct memory of coming home from pubs in town late one night with my mate and climbing into the compound then up the ladder to the top for a quiet beer(s).

gasworks Miramar
Photo from Stephen Cook’s Miramar Gasworks Tramway website

There was the gasworks just through the Miramar cutting and south of Miramar Avenue. In the 1960s my granddad would take us grandchildren with him to the gasworks to buy creosote which he used to paint fences. In the early 1980s my dad built a bus shed on the site (Landmark Construction) where oil and creosote flowed from the foundation holes which my uncle collected and lugged to Hamilton.

The land above Palmer Head accessed from Bowes Crescent was the playground of teenagers. There was a multitude of tracks for off-roading on your push bike in the days before mountain bikes were invented. It was also the place to go to get parts for your car as there were lots of wrecks tossed off the side of the road that connected Bowes Crescent and Moa Point (which has now been closed off), and there used to be car and motorbike sprint races held there until an unfortunate accident.

The best part was the underground remains of the Palmer Head observation station that authorities had not managed to destroy. My mate who found it showed me how to wiggle through a small hole in the ground and into a tunnel that had chest-deep water. The underground area was basically intact with wiring on the walls. In short it was a straight tunnel through to what was a very large old engine/generator room. The tunnel then turned right 90 degrees to a similar-sized room next door and another smaller room with three concrete stands.

Of course, being stupid, we lit a very large fire underground to provide light as we tried to dig our way past an obstruction. The result was we filled the whole area with thick smoke that we had to crawl through to get out.

On the upside, as we sat outside getting our breath back we could see all the smoke escaping from various points telling us how it was laid out underground. I was told many years later when I took the Wrights Hill people there, that the room with the stands was a chart room for plotting ships.

greta point tavern

Not many people remember that the eastern suburbs were a dry zone with the nearest public hotel being the Greta Point (unless you count the airport bar). As a bar it was quite upmarket compared to many bars in town, with a public bar and a restaurant that included a mezzanine floor and a suspended row boat. I understand the bar was sited in the old Union Steam Ship laundry building which was eventually moved to the wharves in town; now the shell of the building houses Foxglove and One Red Dog.

The big advantage over drinking at the Greta rather than in town was you could spend your bus fare on buying the one last pint and if we were lucky the kitchen staff would give us the leftover roast bone to chew on as we staggered home back down Cobham Drive.

patent slip

Greta Point’s Patent Slip was memorable. When I was a kid, dad would have to navigate the car past the rudders of ships that had been hauled up the slip and in later years it became the fishing mecca for the local populace. Unlike Miramar or Burnham wharf, you were close to the water and could easily collect mussels to bait fish traps.

Talking about fishing spots, part of the allure of Shelly Bay was the sunken minesweeper Hautapu. I must admit that as a poor swimmer, I never climbed onto it or under the wharf as my mates did, but it was fascinating and a magnet for fish.

Burnham wharf on the other hand had a nice area under it to stay out of the rain and out of sight of the guards, and Miramar wharf was the location where pieces of the Wahine were taken after being cut up. I remember being fascinated by ordinary objects like hand basins being attached to large sections of ship and thinking it looked unreal as they were out of place.

The southern end of the airport was a great place before it was blocked off. Accessed via the “road” access that crossed the taxiway beside the large hangar (before they built the current road), you could park at the end of the runway and drink while watching the runway fairy lights before they blocked that off too. There were also blue penguins which had a fierce bite if picked up.

The Boeing 747 SP planes were spectacular, so it was annoying when they built the concrete block wall at the northern end of the runway to “protect cars” from the blast as they turned to align with the runway because it blocked much of the view.

Speed – while Wanganui has the Cemetery racing circuit, the Rongotai industrial estate once held street motorcycle races on Kingsford Smith Street and Tirangi Road in which my cousin raced his Yamaha RD 250. I believe they had 10,000 spectators at each event for several years. Even more exciting for me was Tannadyce Street in Strathmore where my cousins had ball-bearing trolleys that were steered and braked by foot. We’d ride down this very steep street (often skidding sideways) leaving wheel marks and rubber from the heels of our shoes (sorry mum) on the footpath.

My grandparents’ house in Monorgan Road where they lived for 40 odd years backed onto the golf course. We used to search the water traps for lost balls. The back straight had a dip causing golf players to lose sight of their balls as they walked to the green. This made it possible to whip out and grab their balls to add to the stockpile. Rather than theft, we considered it payback for damage to my grandparents’ shed and cars. They also came in handy for late night games of golf when we stayed overnight.

In conclusion, what brought home to me about how much the area had changed was teaching my kids to drive. In the past, generations of drivers learnt in near-empty streets in Lyall Bay beside the runway and in the Rongotai industrial estate. But that’s all gone and everywhere now is very busy. There aren’t even supermarket car parks to learn in anymore with today’s 24/7 lifestyle.

Lastly: as fishing was and remains so popular, I have never understood why successive Councils and Harbour Boards have reduced access to wharves and not provided replacements. I certainly hope the Council doesn’t remove car parks around the Miramar Peninsula as they have done on the western shores of Evans Bay or this will further restrict access to fishing sites.

Stephen Moore’s family has lived in the southern and eastern suburbs since the 1870s when his great-great-grandparents farmed in Island Bay/Berhampore supplying milk for Wellington Hospital. His great-grandparents operated a cartage business and built the first picture theatre in Lyall Bay. His grandfather was raised in Lyall Bay from the early 1900s and lived in Monorgan Rd for 40 years and his parents who were born in Wellington have lived their whole lives in Newtown and Miramar.

16 comments:

  1. Claire1, 4. September 2021, 11:05

    Stephen that was an interesting article with great historic photographs.

     
  2. Pauline, 4. September 2021, 12:06

    Thank you Stephen. As an old Lyall Bay/Rongotai girl (many years older than you), so many memories…
    Was it the Seaside picture theatre, later called the Tatler before it closed? And we all went to the Kilbirnie picture theatre….

     
  3. Bin Chicken, 4. September 2021, 13:29

    Love this. The good ol’ days. You’re right about the fishing spots. Miramar wharf was a melting pot of people and cultures all able to catch themselves a low cost feed while socialising. A real shame it’s been closed.

     
  4. Stephen Moore, 5. September 2021, 8:07

    Yes Pauline, you are right about the name of the picture theatre. I think it became part of Kerridge Odeon in later years when it was managed by my great aunt. Dad does talk about other uses for the building such as skating and using a horse to tow hay bales around to polish the floor. Funny that reminded me of helping my granddad to oil the wooden floors at Seatoun school in the 60s where we poured the oil on the floor and used a rubber squeegee to spread it.

     
  5. gary walton, 5. September 2021, 10:05

    I grew up in Sidlaw Street, so i know all about the army bunkers at Palmer Head, they were great playgrounds. We would also go fishing at Miramar wharf. Good memories.

     
  6. Ruth Cullen, 5. September 2021, 11:44

    Fascinating read. My mother went to Lyall Bay primary school before her parents moved to Monorgan Road next door to Scots College.

     
  7. Kev pretty, 5. September 2021, 16:27

    Great read cuz

     
  8. Peter Kerr, 5. September 2021, 16:29

    Maybe it’s time to start insisting that Miramar Wharf be once again opened to the public. If it needs repair work, then so be it. Once, it provided decades of recreational space for people fishing; once it is opened again, its public value will be re-realised. It’s far too easy for the port authorities to hide behind a health and safety notice, and then allow the issue to quietly fade into history. Low cost feeding has attained a lot more relevance lately.

     
  9. Claire, 5. September 2021, 19:29

    Peter: they repaired the Eastbourne wharf recently. Maybe Miramar is next – it’s a great viewing and fishing area.

     
  10. Ian, 6. September 2021, 8:48

    I thought East-by-West Ferries had applied to use the Miramar Wharf for their new electric ferry service across the harbour. Or have I got that wrong?

     
  11. Stephen Moore, 6. September 2021, 10:36

    I’d like to see some smaller wharves closer to existing fishing sites around Miramar and on the south coast. Means you would be less likely to catch tackle on rocks and weeds when casting. I know my uncle really liked the Mahanga Bay wharf before it was demolished.

     
  12. Pauline, 6. September 2021, 11:40

    Ian. During the 2nd World War I had an aunt in the Wrens and she used to go in from Lyall Bay by tram to the city and then caught a ferry to the naval base at Shelly Bay. Quite a journey!

     
  13. Violet, 6. September 2021, 13:19

    Thanks for your article. I also grew up in Newtown and moved to Miramar in my teens – it must have been the late 70s or early 80s. But my fave early memory of the times is the wonderful smell coming from the bread factory on Hansen Street, Newtown. Mmm…

     
  14. Stephen Edlin, 6. September 2021, 16:26

    I was and still am a Miramar boy,and your memories are very similar to mine Stephen. How could anyone forget the odious smell hitting you when you walked or drove through the Miramar cutting. The smell coming from the coke manufacturing process turning it into Gas. Other interesting smells came from the WCC incinerator next to Miramar Wharf. We also had Taubmans paints in Stone Street and International Paints close to Miramar North school. I can still remember the grey water that ran down the gutters which came from the Vesta Battery factory over the road from the Miramar Girls’ Home. It’s interesting that so many of these old industrial buildings are now used in the Miramar film industry

     
  15. Vaughan Kearns, 12. September 2021, 13:43

    Well done Stephen, a great synopsis. I thought I was reading my own story of growing up first in Newtown then over to Miramar for my teenage years. The dirt tracks, the golf course, Greta Point Tavern, Miramar Wharf.
    The only thing you missed were the Japanese squid boat flotillas at Miramar and Burnham wharves, and driving cars up and down the airport runway once it was closed for the night. Kearnsie.

     
  16. Stephen Moore, 14. September 2021, 13:00

    Vaughan – yes I had forgotten about the squid boats – thanks for reminding me :-).

    Re driving on the runway, while I had heard about it, that’s one thing I can honestly say I never did.

     

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