Tuesday, 18 January 2011

New Lynn, New Lynn

New Lynn, for many Aucklanders, means Lynnmall (New Zealand’s first retail shopping mall) and Crown Lynn (the now ‘iconic’ pottery). When I was a child, Dad drove through it on our way to the West Coast, specifically Piha; now that I live close to New Lynn it’s where I do Significant Errands.

When I heard about the plan to amalgamate Auckland’s library systems, my fervent wish was to go inside the New Lynn War Memorial Library sometime and use it, as a legitimate member. I’d passed it and only just refrained from pressing my nose against the (expansive) windows: I lived in Auckland City and it was in Waitakere — out of bounds, I thought, though I’ve now learned that New Lynn’s library has quietly given free membership to ‘outsiders’ for several years.

This is a busy place, a different sort of busy from my local library in Avondale, which is often full of excitable schoolkids. New Lynn seems quieter, more studious... especially when you go upstairs to the reference desk and the ‘learning centre’, which is full of people gazing into computer screens as if they were crystal balls.

On my first visit, though, there was a kerfuffle. It was just after the amalgamation and an elderly gent had come in to pay a bill, perhaps for his water rates. Waitakere City residents used to be able to pay these in the library, but post-amalgamation a laminated sheet of paper stated that some bills now had to be paid elsewhere. This man may not have seen it, and perhaps he was a little deaf. Anyway, there was a lot of shouting, all from his side of the counter, and some of it was about “the bloody Maoris”, whose fault it surely wasn’t. Somebody had to be blamed, and no doubt he’d been cross about the bilingual library signs for a while.

A staff member (shelving books I think, and senior) came over and tried, in hushed tones, to assure Mr Disgruntled that the library still cared about him. He stomped out. I hope he made it to the post office, which now accepts payments. It’s half a minute’s walk for most of us, but may be a longer one for someone aged 75-plus.

Change is hard. Some of us in Auckland have celebrated our freedom (as far as libraries are concerned) of the now enlarged city by engaging in a literary kind of trainspotting: reserving vast numbers of books and noting the new and interesting places they come from — not to mention how quickly they turn up. But there were always going to be people such as Mr Disgruntled who felt left out of the loop. Then there are others in the centre of the loop, library staff, for whom amalgamation may sometimes have felt like a tightening noose.

But back to New Lynn. Its library is in Memorial Place, just behind Lynnmall and close to one of its pedestrian exits. I walked through Memorial Square, between the fragrant plantings of non-noxious jasmine, taking in the “LEST WE FORGET” etched into granite and the white wall of Anzac poppies in bas relief. Then I passed the cycle stand, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the display of New Lynn ceramics to enter the library. 

In this second visit, on a day when we lapped up rain after weeks of relentless sun, the library was a lot less busy, perhaps because 2011 is still doing its warm-up. School hasn’t started, and people are just getting back from their holidays. I had books to return and nothing in particular to collect, though at the New and Recommended shelves just inside, the National Portrait Gallery’s Gay Icons and Living with Books from Thames and Hudson jumped out at me. These coffee-table books seemed like a frivolous follow-up to previous borrowings such as Library Service in New Zealand and New Lynn Jubilee 1929–1989: The History of New Lynn — maybe that was why I ended up taking them home.

On the retail and light industrial chunk of Great North Road that many people think of as New Lynn in its entirety (it’s not — there are streets of houses), I wonder if the suburb is in search of itself. I muse that “New Lynn” and “history” don’t seem like great mates, but I’m an outsider, and visiting the Waitakere Central Library’s local history collections may disabuse me of that notion.

The jubilee history spans the life of New Lynn from its first town board meeting at Mrs Shaw’s Temperance Hotel (a Great North Road landmark better known as the New Lynn Hotel, demolished 2008) to the borough’s 1989 amalgamation with Waitakere City, and a couple of years ago local councillor Derek Battersby announced an intention to produce something more comprehensive. Dick Scott’s 1979 Fire on the Clay: The Pakeha Comes to West Auckland, a Ceramco commission, mentions interesting early bits in the chapter ‘Burned clay, burned fingers’. It outlines the early days of brick-making by the Gardner brothers in what one called ‘a wilderness of scrub and gorse and blackberries’, and the arrival in 1905 of competitor Albert Crum.

New Lynn’s first library opened only in 1957. Less than a decade later, the borough librarian Miss Tibbles pressed for more space. “If we are to keep pace with the growth of population and the emphasis on intellectual pursuits that this scientific age demands, plans are now needed for the over-all extension of the library,” the Western Leader quoted her as saying in June 1964. A revolution in the public attitude to libraries was evident worldwide, she said, with people appreciating that they were the key to progress. 

The present building, designed by Moller Architects, opened in 2005. It’s much more spacious than the first — and no doubt lighter and more airy. There’s low-key civic art, with the diverse clientele alluded to in a mural whose hibiscus and lotus represent Pacific Island and Chinese migration.

These days, New Lynn is undergoing a redevelopment with major initiatives in transport services, including what’s claimed to be the biggest rail project in New Zealand for decades. “Think Newmarket today; think New Lynn tomorrow”, trumpets a Waitakere City webpage: “New Lynn has a future that one day will see it rival places like Newmarket as one of the most prestigious town centres in the Auckland region.” It’s ambitious — and how many places can be that elite? Concept plans show the residential aspect reformed too, with high-density housing for “up to twice as many people as presently live in New Lynn”. (The 2006 Census recorded a population of 56,355.)

Little surprise, then, that the redevelopment keeps New Lynn’s reference librarian very busy. And by the time it’s done, there’ll be a lot more of New Lynn for the library to collect and serve.

Photos: The bike stand outside New Lynn Library (including a Lynnmall shopping trolley with an identity crisis); the library’s New and Recommended shelves viewed through a display of Crown Lynn pottery; the present library building.


  1. Following my request, New Lynn’s reference librarian has sent me info about the redoubtable Miss Tibbles, borough librarian from about 1962-1970.

    In 1936, Catherine Tibbles came to New Zealand from England. She continued her teaching career, then graduated with a diploma from the NZ Library School and worked as a librarian at Dunedin Training College as well as Auckland’s Central Medical Library. She lectured at the library school and went on to the New Lynn Library. There she was elected Honorary Secretary of the 'Friends of the Library' at their inaugural meeting, in 1962. Miss Tibbles died in NZ at age 95, in 1993.

    This info came from resources at the Waitakere Central Library’s JT Diamond Local History Room. I’m impressed.

  2. I bought some Crown Lynn on Trademe (as you do) & when I picked it up met a lovely young man who lives in New Lynn who is working on local history including Crum.