By Keith Rusden 25 February, 2005
Blockhouse Bay library
(Adapted from a talk given by Keith Rusden (President of the Blockhouse Bay Historical Society), at the Blockhouse Bay Library on the 10th Anniversary of the official opening of the library, 25 February 2005.)
Blockhouse Bay for many years was served by a Mobile Library which visited the area two days a week, Local residents were not happy, however, complaining that it could not supply a wide enough range of reading material. The people wanted access to reference books, a wide range of children’s books, and books to cater for all ages.
In 1990 the Council stated that with some thirteen thousand residents, Blockhouse Bay had the biggest population without a community library.
The Council talked to the Blockhouse Bay residents about neighbouring libraries, because to build a new library would cost over one million dollars not including the land cost. Also it would cost approximately $100,000 a year to run the new library, whereas the Mobile Library bus cost $35,000 per year.
But the Bay residents were tired of having to travel to other suburbs to get their reading material, and a lot of elderly folk were unable to travel to another district.
When Councillor Ross Johns suggested in the Western Leader dated April 29, 1990, that there would be room in the Community Centre for a small library, his comments were like a red rag to a bull.
Jim Gilbert, Chairman of the Community Centre Committee, the late Merle Martin and Robyn Barnaby were the main instigators who were pushing for the Bay’s own local library. Jim Gilbert spent many hours with Council officers, but met with a lot of opposition. Roskill’s David Hay was pushing for a library in Lynfield. He stated that Lynfield had a site suitable for a library, whereas Blockhouse Bay did not. At one of the meetings in the Community Centre it was suggested that a section of land could be available, sited on the opposite corner of Exminster street to the Centre.
Because one of the Councillors had stated that Bay residents did not even know what they wanted, the Blockhouse Bay Protest Committee was formed and they really did their homework. They researched the number of schools, the number of pupils, as well as the requirements of the residents, including the needs of the elderly in rest homes and retirement villages.
A Protest Petition was opened and gained many signatures. Because of their frustration with the Council, the local residents decided to take their Petition in force into a full Council meeting in the Town Hall. From the time this decision was taken, there was just a week before the meeting to advertise the time and date for residents to join forces with the committee.
A bendy bus with seating capacity for 72 was hired and was filled to capacity with standing room only. As soon as the bus was filled they literally went to town or to the Town Hall, that is, to meet up with other protestors who had found their own way in. In all, 140 Bay residents invaded the Council meeting.
Seating was at a premium with both adults and children sitting on the floor of the august Council Chambers. In fact, some councillors could not find their own seats when they arrived. Needless to say, the Councillors did not put out the welcome mat for the protestors, Some individual Councillors became quite abusive and rude. Once again the Bay protestors were asked did they really know what they were protesting about, and did they really know what they wanted.
The group responded by producing the figures they had researched, complete with an architect drawing of a library plan to be built on the corner of the existing village green. The project showed empathy with the existing historical house already on the Green.
Meanwhile there was much waving of protest flags, children and babies were getting restless, and tempers were becoming frayed. In spite of more debate no decision was reached and the Councillors went off to their tea break in the room next door. The smell of coffee and hot savouries wafted into the chamber and made the protestors even more restless.
When business resumed, the debate still raged back and forth until one councillor is reputed to have said — “Let’s give them their Library, and get the buggers out of here.” The Council had never had a meeting like this one, and the Motion was put and passed 19–3. And the triumphant and exhausted protestors returned home to the Bay.
Photo of the library during its construction
The Blockhouse Bay Library eventually became a reality on the perfect site for such a community facility, the Village Green, and was opened by the then Mayor Les Mills on 25th February 1995.
Photo of Blockhouse Bay residents attending the opening of the new library
The residents of Blockhouse Bay turned out to watch Auckland City Mayor, Les Mills, officially open the new library — a mardi-gras and street parade followed the opening ceremony