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  • Nigel Gamble

Auckland trip 2017

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

Auckland trip 2017

During a recent trip to Auckland, myself and Anna were fortunate enough to be able to visit some interesting old historical sights. In fact I am writing this article from our hotel room in Central Auckland, whilst Anna has gone out shopping for shoes to wear at her sisters wedding, which is taking place up here

in a few days time, I am told this is why we have come to Auckland. Naturally I was very disappointed to have missed the shoe shopping expedition, when I suddenly came down with a bout of not Bl—dy likely syndrome and was forced to remain back here. After all I have a perfectly good pair of work boots / dress boots, what else does a guy need?!

Anyway it was quite by chance that we stumbled across a rather striking brick Chimney protruding into the sky, out of a group of buildings one evening whilst out wondering about the chaos they call the CBD. When we snuck down a narrow ally way past a noisy chap that was busy shouting instructions to his class, from the door way of a fitness centre, I must say this bloke was very inspirational with his yelling, as just like his group of gym bunny’s I to was encouraged to pick up my pace as we walked past.

Past the rhythmic stretching and leaping of the exercise class, the ally way opened into a tranquil court yard, and we found ourselves looking at a beautiful old brick building, beside it towering up into the moody sky a perfect example of a Victorian style industrial chimney.

Today this perfectly manicured part of the city is now the home of a number of beauty shops and markets, a vast contrast to the original purpose of this area which was once used as the collection point for all the rubbish created by Auckland, and once housed the destructor.

Towering 38m into the sky, the chimney of the old rubbish destructor dwarfs Anna- who can be seen standing at its base, beside can be seen one of the remaining double storied horse stables.

Originally built in 1905, the rather ominously sounding destructor was designed to burn rubbish. Heat from the burning rubbish was then used to generate power for the city, however by 1908 it was found that the power generated by the facility was inadequate to keep up with the demand of the ever growing Auckland. And by 1913 it had been shut down, in the years between 1914 and 1918 additions were made to the original buildings, including double storeyed stabling to house 94 horses that were used about the city to haul the rubbish collection carts.

Council offices were also built on the site, however by 1952 many of the buildings were now longer used for the original purpose for which they were built, but the complex was still used up until 1981 as a rubbish collection depot.

Ear marked for demolition by the Council in the early 1980’s, strong opposition forced the council to back track, and instead alterations were made and the old rubbish depot was converted into retail and a market. In 2012-13 the area under went a twenty million dollar refurbishment, and today the precinct houses a number of high end shops and is part of the Victoria Park Markets .

The other point of interest I had hoped to get to during my time in the big smoke, was out to The Museum Of Transport and Technology, or MOTAT as it is called. I have visited before but never when their steam engines were in operation, as I especially hoped to see the beautiful old John Key built Beam Engine running. Upon arriving at MOTAT I quickly made my way toward the historic Pump House building, having read on the MOTAT web site that the Pump House would be running today, I was a little concerned when I noticed that there was little smoke coming from the Chimney. Reaching the boiler room door I soon realised why, with the pressure gauge showing 0 psi I realised that just like my other visits, once again I would not get to see the engines in action. As it turned out the reason the boiler was not in steam and the exhibits sat motionless, was that their only person to hold a steam ticket had resigned from the organisation a few weeks before hand, and they no longer have anyone to keep the boiler in steam. As a very helpful staff member pointed out to me, they are finding it very hard to replace the person that had left, when I made the comment that I hold a steam ticket I suddenly found myself in danger of being offered the position. And was nearly forced into a pair of overalls, but realising that this was Auckland and not South Canterbury, I had to make a hasty exit from that conversation. I did however promise that if I knew of anyone that may be interested in the job, I would point them in their direction. So if you are a steam enthusiast looking for a job in the big city- give MOTAT a ring.

Controls for the engine.

The fly wheel end of the Beam engine.

After having another look around the Pump House and the big old beam engine, that is a most attractive piece of Victorian age engineering, I set off to explore the many other impressive collections on offer. Inside one of the large Exhibition Halls I found a fascinating display of telecommunication through the years, much of this display was interactive and involved the viewer’s input to demonstrate just how things worked. one display that intrigued me was an early telephone exchange, this was a later type of machine, not needing an operator as they had in the past, but instead relied on many moving parts and small electric motors to make the required connections. As you dialled your phone number into the phone, you could watch how the exchanges machinery connected you to the required phone line.

Inside another large building a second interactive display demonstrated how engines and gear boxes worked, a large representation of a watts type steam governor had been cleverly constructed, and by simply turning a wheel fast or slow one could see how the governor worked and how it controlled the engine speed. Various sized gears were arranged on a wall so that by meshing different sized cogs together, and turning a crank one could see just how the different ratios affected the speed at which the last gear in the line turned. This was I thought a great way to teach kids how a gear box works. Other interactive displays like this demonstrated how the internals of a petrol engine worked, as well to see how other contraptions work that we all use in our day to day living.

However for me the star of this attraction was a perfectly restored Marshall portable steam engine, this was in a darker part of the building but lit up with a number of coloured lights, the lighting really made this old portable come to life. And made a very striking display, attached to the engine was a large tv screen which was showing early footage of steam engines and traction engines working as the did back in the day. The footage was complimented by some video footage shot around a number of Canterbury steam rally’s, a few of the faces that could be seen in this footage were rather familiar members of the steam preservation movement here in Canterbury.

The wonderfully restored Marshall portable made a lasting impression as part of the interactive display.

Walking about the ground’s, it was noticeable that much work has been carried out since my previous visit. A number of new buildings to house tractors and earthmoving machinery that were exposed to the weather previously, that said- it is still a little surprising to see their McLaren traction engine and Aveling roller still sitting out side.

It was fantastic to see several large groups of school kids being shown about, these kids ran around the place enthusiastically laughing and giggling with their mates, as they explored the mysterious old machines. Their teachers struggling to keep the little explorers under control, I could believe that they would have all gone home a little exhausted, having spent an exciting time playing with the many interactive displays, hopefully they will have gained some interest in our past, that maybe one day will encourage some of these kids to become involved in the heritage movement as they become adults. Seeing these kids running around reminded me of the important roll our organisation must play in educating, and hopefully encouraging younger people to become involved in heritage as well as our group to insure that our past is preserved for further generations. A point that all of us- as members of this Club must remind ourselves of from time to time. The good news is that since I wrote this article, MOTAT now have some volunteers who readily work at steaming the various items on display.

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