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Opening of Ellen Melville Centre and Freyberg Place

Opening of the restored Ellen Melville Centre with Mayor Phil Goff, Kaumatua Bob Hawke, amd members of the Melville family

On 15 September 2017 we celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Ellen Melville Centre and upgraded Freyberg Place.  I gave a speech on behalf of the Waitematā Local Board. It’s long! This is the Board’s biggest project started in the first days of the Super City so there was a lot to cover and many people to acknowledge.   There are many elements to the project including restoration of the tukutuku panels, a new artwork by Lisa Reihana and the naming of the 5 rooms in the centre. I didn’t want to miss anything out.

I spoke after the Mayor Phil Goff and Andrew Melville (great nephew of Ellen Melville)

In recognition of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori I started with a mihi and tried to incorporate reo into my speech.

Tēnā koutou e ngā rau Rangatira mā e huihui mai nei

E nga matua a Matt raua ko Bob, nāu nei tā tātou karakia, mihi mai rā ki a koutou

E te Whare e tū nei,

E ngā pātū tukutuku,

E te wāhi taonga nei nā Ngāti Whātua,

E ngā Mana Whenua me ngā Matāwaka,

E ngā tohunga toi a Lisa rāua ko Graham,

E te Koromatua,

E ngā hau e whā

Ka mihi whānui ki a koutou katoa, Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Greetings to everyone gathered here today.  I acknowledge this place where we stand and the Ellen Melville centre in the heart of te rohe a Poari o Waitematā.

Thank you matua and Ngāti Whātua Orakei for leading the welcome and honouring us with your presence. I acknowledge mana whenua, the Melville whanau and all the dignitaries.

Thanks to this amazing gathering of people for joining with us and my fellow board members Deputy Chair Shale Chambers, Adriana Avendano Christie, Richard Northey, and Rob Thomas together with former Board members Greg Moyle and Deborah Yates

This is a very proud day. We are about to cut the ribbon on the Board’s biggest project that we’ve been working on since day one of the Super City.

There are many people to thank and many significant elements of the project that I would like to acknowledge.  Following on from the Mayor’s words about Freyberg Place (acknowledging the design by John Reynolds) I’d like to add an acknowledgement for the innovative children’s consultation undertaken by Karen Witten and Penelope Carroll from Massey University. Thanks to feedback from Aira, Angeline, David, Dustin, Elizabeth, Fergus, Jaden, Jennifer, Jessica, Julian and Scarlett –changes were made to the design to add play features like stepping stones and a climbing tree (located right behind us).

I am of course also delighted to see in the design heaps of bike parking where previously there was none.  And all the drinking fountains so there is no need to buy plastic water when visiting the city centre.

As we’ve heard the hall was originally proposed by Ellen Melville prior to WWII as a centenary project – marking the 100 years of the signing of Tiriti o Waitangi –  but work didn’t get underway until the late 1950’s. Inside you’ll be able to see a number of interpretation panels with the history of the hall (thanks to Heritage NZ and Beth Connor for this work) . Yesterday on a pre-view tour I read that the total cost of the hall completed in 1962 and opened as the Pioneer Womens and Ellen Melville Memorial Hall was 56,200 pounds. Raised with a 30,000 pound donation from the Queen Street Business Association (forerunners no doubt to Heart of the City represented today by Viv Beck) 19,000 pounds from the Council and 8,000 pounds raised by 64 women’s organisations.   I acknowledge our funders today.  The City centre targeted rate payers – businesses and residents who have funded the square upgrade and Auckland’s ratepayers for funding the hall upgrade.

We can thank the Auckland City Chief Architect Tibor Donner for the splendid modernist design.    Many of you here will be old enough to remember the hall with a crèche, meetings rooms and excellent public toilets – vital to women visiting the city centre.

However, despite a well-intentioned and creative redevelopment in 1996 the hall was unloved by the end of the old Auckland City Council’s stewardship.  It was hard to access and not open to the public. There wasn’t even a sign in the window advising how to book the hall.  The downstairs two rooms on High Street and the main room on Freyberg Place were leased out.

From day one the newly formed Waitematā Local Board, led by Shale Chambers set about transforming the hall into a welcoming community hub for city centre residents and the wider community.

At the time the population was at about 20,000. Today almost 50,000 residents call the city centre home (ten years ahead of projections) so a community centre is essential.  It is great to see so many of the residents here today, representatives of the Auckland City Centre Residents Group and the RSA Metropolis – our nearest neighbours. This is an Auckland project that has actually anticipated growth rather than reacted to it!

I’d like to acknowledge the Council staff from the Arts Community and Events Department, Local Board services team and consultants who supported the board’s plans from the earliest days.

Strachan Group Architects wrote a creative design solution report in 2012 that captured the opportunities to upgrade the hall to a first class inner city community facility. It included a heritage assessment written by Salmon Reed Architects. In May 2013 the budget was approved by the governing body.  I acknowledge the Councillors here (Cathy Casey – looking at you!) today who were part of that decision making and we must of course thank former Mayor Len Brown for backing our project – one of the few significant local Board projects to make it through the budget cuts that year.

Once the funding was secure we embarked on the restoration that has revealed a rich history.   Thanks to Andrew for sharing with us the story of his Great Aunt, [ the first female Auckland City Councillor].   It wasn’t until I heard Sandra Coney speak at the heritage festival last year that I came to appreciate the impressive qualities of Miss Melville and her progressive legacy to Auckland.

The Hall has been renamed in her honour as the Ellen Melville Centre.   We’ve also had the privilege of naming all the rooms in the centre in recognition of significant women recommended by the NCW Auckland Branch.

The urban lounge downstairs is officially the Helen Clark Room.  We also have the Eleitino (Paddy) Walker Room,  Elizabeth Yates Room, Betty Wark Room and Marilyn Waring Room.  We endorsed the ‘hall space’ in the Ellen Melville Centre as Pioneer Women’s Hall. Thank you to Christine Caughey and Carol Beaumont who led that work.  Apologies that the opening has coincided with the NCW conference in Christchurch but I acknowledge the NCW representatives and PACIFICA group women here today.   We look forward to celebrating together at the community day later in the year.

Within the Pioneer Women’s Hall are Tukutuku panels presented to the New Zealand Pioneers’ and Descendants’ Club by Mr and Mrs Eruera Stirling for the opening of the Pioneer Women’s Hall in 1962.  The Ōrākei marae weavers have restored the patu Tukutuku for the opening Centre.    Thank you to the Stirling whanau, Ngati Whatua and Peter Tilley the Council’s collection services manager (Arts Community and Events Team)   .

The renovation has not only breathed life back into the original features of the hall – including the James Bowie sculpture commissioned for the opening in 1962 that was being used as a door stop – but provided an opportunity to give life to new works.  Thanks to a commission by the Public Art team we have a new artwork Justice by Lisa Reihana located on the O’Connell Street wall. Lisa’s first bronze sculpture.

I’m going to use Lisa’s words to give justice to Justice . Justice is bronze sculpture floating above an exuberant abstract wall drawing, Justice commemorates Ellen Melville – politician, women’s advocate and pioneer. The scales of justice make reference to her illustrious legal career of 37 years. The bronze forms the centrepiece of the façade; it’s a strong, singular form with gentle curves. The whimsical abstract wall composition has a ‘50s feel, taking its cue from the Parnell Baths mural by James Turkington. The Parnell Baths were also designed by council city architect Tibor Donner.

Thank you Lisa for honouring the centre with your stunning work and thanks Mark Osborne for the support of the public art team.

While the centre restoration has preserved and enhanced the modernist heritage features like the door handles on the reinstated entranceway the centre has a modern refurbishment including a new commercial grade kitchen, improved amenities, new audio visual system and café-style seating. In line with our commitment to accessibility all areas of the centre are now fully accessible with the installation of a new lift.  Thanks to Be.accessible and Vivien Naylor for your guidance.

Of course it is not just the physical facilities but the kaupapa of the building that the Board wants to get right from day one.  We have a vision that the Ellen Melville Centre is a thriving community hub that serves the local City Centre residential and wider community by providing a place for gathering and building connections, information exchange and community participation in a range of activities. It is a place where all members of the community feel comfortable and welcome. .  The Board has resolved to support a fully staffed council governed and managed zero waste facility with transition to community managed after three years.

Thanks to our partners –   Splice, the Inner City Network, Waitematā Youth Collective, Auckland City Centre Residents Group and Heart of the City who worked with us on the kaupapa.

This is story of wahine Toa .  The pioneer women both Māori and Pakeha who made a considerable contribution to the foundation of Auckland.  The women who fought for equality and the right to vote.  Courageous Ellen Melville who’s portrait is on display for the first time. The significant NZ women acknowledged with rooms in the Centre.  Throughout  the project and into the future the Waitemata Local Board doesn’t want to lose sight of the central role of women and the significance of the centre as a place for women.   It was only fitting that the project was driven by a team of female project leads.

Our huge thanks to them and all the project team from key consultants  Isthmus Group, Stevens Lawson Architects, MPM Projects and JFC Limited contractors working with Corbel Construction and the artists were John Reynolds, Lisa Reihana and Graham Tipene.  With a support team from Beca, Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd, Holmes consulting group, Ecubed and Plan. Heritage.

I’m going to read all the names out so please come forward.   Homai te pakipaki for:

Lisa Spasic,  Karina Mascarenhas , Gary McShane, Mark Bramely, Les Lewer, Sarah Bishop, Travis Wooller, Yvette Overdyck, Elspeth Gray,  Nicholas Stevens, Nathan Farrant, Tony Munro, Cherie Armer , Vanya Toso , Aaron Hansen, John Reynolds, Lisa Reihana, Graham Tipene, Rodrigo Salas, David Saechao, Mark Kessner, Antony Matthews,  John Brown

Before I make my concluding remarks  I have a very special acknowledgement.  Lisa Spasic, who has worked her guts as the Council’s Senior Project Leader.  She has hardly slept this week getting everything perfect. (Adriana presented Lisa with flowers on behalf of the Board)

I appreciate I have been speaking for some time .  I hope you agree the whole herstory needed to be told and the many people thanked who have been part of the journey.  We know it has not always been easy through the design process, securing the funding, the consultation and construction. Thanks to Shale and those who set the course and all those who have seen the project through. We now have a shining jewel in the city centre that we wish to be inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

Now all that is called for is for us to cut the ribbon and Lisa to hand over “her baby” to Leesa Tilley, centre manager so we can open the doors on a new chapter for the Ellen Melville Centre in the heart of Tamaki Makaurau.

No reira

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Additional thanks

Ateesh Patel & civic events team for organising the opening, Frith Walker, MC for the civic opening, Barbara Holloway & Activation team from the  Auckland Design Office

Related reading

Ancient lava flow inspires Freyberg Place design

Women take the lead on city centre development

A jewel for the city centre Auckland Council media release and video of the refurbishment 

Auckland civic space opens after mayor upgrade, NZ Herald

Photos of the event

 

 

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