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AUCKLAND CITY HARBOUR NEWS, JUNE 5, 2013
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The 'crank' who saved our beaches
Sir Dove-Myer Robinson: In his heyday.
It seems like old times -- Greater
Auckland (referred to regularly in
this column as the not-so-great-city)
is in an uproar.
Well not exactly. Auckland is just
living up to its reputation.
Various minority groups holding
council seats -- and looking to keep
them in the October elections --
have that unitary plan to cope with.
They're trying to smooth the
hackles of critics raising under-
standable hell about what they fear
will change their life and their
specific surroundings forever.
In my working lifetime, I can't
remember more than one Auckland
city council united behind a mayor,
working as a team for the better-
ment of the community which elec-
ted them to serve.
Too often jealousy and ill-feeling
ruin any hope that oneness of spirit
and co-operation would replace bad
feelings and back-biting.
Closest was the reign of Sir Dove-
Myer Robinson in the 1950s-1960s.
Interestingly, he was never physi-
cally far from the centre of the city
he was to dominate.
Campaigning money in his deep
pockets came from his Childswear
clothing factory on the general area
which is now Aotea Square.
There he held court to the media,
planning successive and successful
An advocate of pure food and a
natural life and totally opposed to
fluoride, he'd be a Greenie if he was
Robbie's campaign against a
Browns Island sewerage plan which
involved discharging unpurified
sewage into the Waitemata, set him
up against Sir John Allum who was,
all at the same time, mayor, chair-
man of the drainage board, trans-
port board -- and his pet project,
chairman of the harbour bridge
authority, among other things.
A rare Allum mistake was to see
Robbie as a noisy crank when he
began beating his personal political
He could never have seen some-
one from the Robinson Auckland
and Suburban Drainage League'' as
likely to finally displace him.
Auckland historian Graham Bush
would later label this clash as
between two men of steely charac-
ter who ... deserve being ranked
among the half-dozen greatest men
in Auckland municipal history''.
Robbie made his first unlikely
move in a by-election, taking a
vacant city council seat as a min-
ority of one in 1952.
As a spin-off, he joined the drain-
age board as a council representa-
Within a year, Sir John Allum
had been ousted after 12 years. A
pro-Robbie team with little local
body experience, including among
others, the formidable university
geographer Dr Ken Cumberland,
were on the council.
A strong vote for these United
Independents'' with Labour cost
Citizens and Ratepayers the
majority they had come to think of
as their permanent place by right.
And Robbie became chairman of
his old adversary, the drainage
Ultimately, and not surprisingly,
the Allum plan for Browns Island
was scrapped and Robbie's oxi-
dation pond alternative replaced it.
By 1959 Robbie was mayor. Rejec-
ted by voters in 1965 -- and never a
man to take no'' for an answer -- he
stood and won another term three
Yes, Robbie had his secret ways.
Like a meeting which approved the
overseas experts' plan for the
Mangere sewerage plant.
It deliberately went on well past
Why? Because the Herald hadn't
given Robbie the support he
believed he deserved.
By the time the meeting reached
the Mangere drainage decision on
its agenda, the Herald's deadlines
The evening Auckland Star,
which had backed the Robbie plan,
had the story first.
That may not have boosted the
Star's circulation, but Robbie saw it
as justified comeuppance in a dec-
ade of battles and blood-stained
backs, libel claims, dirty linen, com-
missions and backroom conspira-
The final outcome: Auckland and
Sir John Allum got their bridge.
And in his nine years as mayor,
Robbie and Auckland won the con-
troversial Mangere drainage
scheme he advocated, saving Auck-
land harbour from Auckland's
sewage and the first form of area
governance he had urged.
He was a founding member and a
chairman of the new Auckland
Regional Authority he had urged.
He drew the votes of those who
recognised his strengths and for-
gave him his sometimes annoying
singlemindedness -- the weapon he
aimed at bloodyminded tenants in
He also had occasional flashes of
local government circus, not only
walking from Remuera to the town
hall but doing it shirtless and with
media cameras in tow.
He could be crass and maddening
as well as inspiring. If current
columns about A-listers'' had been
wasting time and space then, they
would have made much of his per-
Whose name on October voting
papers will be remembered 60 years
Auckland raised a statue of Rob-
bie. He would have liked that.
But if you want to share the real
monument to him, look out at the
clear waters of Waitemata Harbour
and breathe in the fresh sea air
which the Browns Island scheme
would have polluted.
The crank'' saved the harbour for
In the mailbag, a voter sums up:
''I understood that the rationale
for amalgamating all Auckland's
cities into one big body was that it
would be cheaper. I really believed
it. It sounded logical -- one mayor
instead of four or five, one adminis-
trative centre, and so on.
Instead, our rates continue to go
up with no additional or recognis-
able benefits. As soon as they got
into office the councillors voted
themselves bigger salaries and as
far as I can make out, most of the
people who staffed the five cities
still seem to be in other positions.
I wonder how much unnecessary
money was spent on designing and
repainting signs and logos spatter-
ing all the new cities' cars and
trucks with this dinky new label-
We have a mayor and council
who seem to be intent on diminish-
ing democracy by not listening to
the concerns of the people who elec-
ted them, and who instead initiate
expensive projects which are their
It feels as though they think they
have the right to impose their lim-
ited vision and understanding on
the people who live here now, and
on the people of the future who will
be the victim of their decisions and
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