10 Questions with Tania Mace


Q1: Where did the idea for this book come from? 

I’d always been interested in the history of the area and I thought I’d like to write a book about it — fortunately for me Grey Lynn is also home to award-winning publisher Nicola Legat, who has been part of this project since the very beginning. 

Q2: It’s a simply massive amount of research and it seems that you have been into almost every archive there is. How long did it all take? 

A really, really long time. My children were both at primary school when I started writing this book — now they are at high school and university. 

Q3: What were some of the research challenges? 

You go down so many rabbit holes — sometimes you find what you need but other times you spend far, far too long searching for a tiny, elusive detail that sometimes didn’t even make it into the book. In the end, there are many sources that can shed light on the history of a place but you have to understand that primary sources were not created with the historians of today in mind — and because common terms, place names, street names and numbers have often changed over time, there can be much to untangle. 

Q4: Were there some real breakthroughs and surprises? 

Buried well down in those rabbit holes were many surprises and breakthroughs — it’s one of the joys of in-depth research. One of the surprises was finding that George Baildon, who would later become Mayor of Grey Lynn Borough and Auckland City, lived in the same humble dwelling where artist Theo Schoon lived in the 1950s and 60s. When I was having trouble writing the introduction, I suddenly realised that the story of the area could be introduced through the history of two humble houses and the people who lived in them — the Baildon and Schoon house being one of them. 

Q5: The book is full of remarkable characters. Can you tell us about a couple of them? 

There are so many — it’s been an area where the people are generally broadminded and accepting, so it’s no surprise to find that there are quite a few quirky characters who have made it home. Two examples that spring to mind are visual artist Theo Schoon, who lived in Arch Hill in the 1950s and 60s, and performance artist Warwick Broadhead, who lived in Grey Lynn for three decades from the late 1970s. Schoon was an exotic addition to the arty set, having been born to Dutch parents on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He spent much of his childhood in Java before being sent to school in the Netherlands, later studying art in Rotterdam. He was well known for his fascination with Māori art and his displays of Javanese dancing. While living in Home Street he painted and developed his obsession with carved Māori gourds — gathering seeds from far and wide, growing gourds that tangled their way over the front fence and through the back garden which he later harvested, dried and carved. He influenced other New Zealand artists including Gordon Walters and Westmere potter Len Castle. Warwick Broadhead was known for his highly creative performance pieces, many involving a wide variety of amateurs. Brought up in conservative Mount Roskill, Broadhead moved to Sydney as a young man, where he studied dance and immersed himself in the gay scene. He returned to New Zealand and in the 1970s formed the Full Moon Follies, an amateur performance group that put on theatrical events every full moon. He subsequently devised and performed in many elaborate solo and group shows throughout New Zealand and around the world. In true theatrical style, he professed his love for his house in Selbourne Street by marrying it. Broadhead and Schoon lived their lives in their own way and on their own terms, something that many other locals have done before and since. 

Q6: Newish residents may not realise how industrial Grey Lynn once was as most of the industry has now moved on. What’s a standout manufacturing operation from the past? 

Due to its size and longevity I’d have to pick Warnock Brothers’ factory on the edge of Coxs Creek, where the shopping area on southern side of Richmond Road that includes Mitre 10 and Farro is today. As a soap and candle manufacturer, it was one of the many early industries that was forced out of the increasingly densely populated inner city when its smells could no longer be tolerated. In 1874 Warnock Brothers’ new Richmond Road factory was up and running, and with room to expand they were soon also producing leather, scoured wool, fertiliser and coconut oil (using imported copra). The area became a centre of meat processing, so by-products including hides, fat and bones were close at hand. The Warnock factory was joined by other manufacturers making similar products but Warnock’s outlasted them. 

Q7: And of course before that Grey Lynn, Westmere and even Arch Hill were mostly farms and this was the edge of town. When did that start to change? 

The transition from farm to residential suburb happened over a really long time. The first residential subdivisions date from the late 1850s and 60s, but just because an area was subdivided for residential use, didn’t mean that suddenly it was full of houses — the supply of subdivided suburban land often well outstripped the demand and some residential sites were purchased by speculators who left them undeveloped, selling them years later for a profit. Farms continued to be subdivided in the nineteenth century and through the early decades of the twentieth century. 

Q8: The book is full of wonderful photographs. Do you have a favourite, and why? 

Oh, there are so many. I really love the photo of the A. B. Wright and Sons’ horses (including their famous greys) loaded up with a record shipment of kapok for delivery to Tattersfield’s bed factory in Richmond Road — the horses are so beautifully turned out and it’s a sight long consigned to the past. Glenn Jowitt’s fabulous image of White Sunday at the Congregational Christian Church of Sāmoa is another favourite. You really get the sense of anticipation as mothers busily get their children seated, having no doubt spent many hours preparing for this special day. There are also many wonderful photos of musicians and artists — I really love the one of Street Chant alongside a pink skip outside a house in Sussex Street — very cool and very Grey Lynn. There are also beautiful architectural drawings and wonderful paintings — along with the work of famous artists there are lovely paintings by lesser known artists, including Harold Young and Jack Hutchison. 

Q9: How would you summarise the spirit of these three close neighbourhoods over time? 

They were working-class suburbs, unremarkable in some respects but remarkable in others. The populace was concerned enough about the social ills of drink that they voted dry in the early twentieth century, becoming the first North Island electorate to do so. They voted for political candidates that understood the needs of working class people, and Grey Lynn was one of eight electorates to vote in a Labour MP in 1919, the first year Labour candidates stood in a general election. As the years wore on, the proportion of rented dwellings increased. The houses in Grey Lynn and Arch Hill in particular became run down — providing cheap rental accommodation close to the city for the many post-war migrants coming to the city from rural Māori communities or the Pacific Islands, as well as artists and students. This interesting mix of people gave the area a relatively youthful and edgy vibe. Many locals were concerned about issues of social justice — the Polynesian Panthers were formed in Arch Hill and many locals participated in protest action, including during the Springbok tour. There were also other changes coming — the rundown houses of suburbs closer to the city were being bought and restored and it was only a matter of time before the wave of gentrification reached Arch Hill, Grey Lynn and Westmere. Today’s residents are wealthier and more likely to be home owners than renters. It’s a friendly community to live in — one with a creative vibe and a social conscience. 

Q10: You have lived in Grey Lynn for over 30 years. Would you ever live anywhere else? 

Having spent my childhood moving from place to place, it’s been wonderful to put down roots and become a Grey Lynner. I love living here and have no plans to move.