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No sign of mayors

September 20, 2010

BayBuzz columnist Brendan Webb offers this engaging history of Hastings’ mayors, but first his amiable “homage” to Hastings’ current leader, Lawrence Yule. Be sure to click the image to view full-size … you’ll want to check out Lawrence’s bookshelf!

Here is Brendan’s entertaining history of Hastings mayors …

No Sign of Mayors

By Brendan Webb

So you fancy being mayor, do you?

Do you rather like the idea of wearing a bright red robe trimmed with ermine and a great golden chain around your neck, presiding over council meetings and formal civic occasions as the town’s number one citizen? The pay’s pretty good and you get a ratepayer-supplied car, a flash office and best of all, the key to the mayor’s grog cabinet.

After that though, it’s all downhill.

You are the face of your council, the person journalists grill about council cock-ups and funding fiascos. You can parry them with torrents of media statements that fill the columns of community papers, but eventually you succumb under torrents of ill-informed letters to the editor and relentless requests for documents under the Official Information Act.

So why would you want to mayor in the first place?

Perhaps you want to be remembered by history. Have some kind of permanent reminder that you once carried that gold mayoral chain on your broad shoulders.

Don’t bank on that.

I doubt that the residents of the small street not far from my house, named after the first mayor of Hastings, Robert Wellwood, would know of the 23 year-old Irishman who followed the lure of the goldfields across the world to Otago, swagging around New Zealand before ending up as a Hastings sheepfarmer and proud owner of handsome new saleyards in the growing town.

Local brewer and cordial-maker George Ellis got a street named after him, as did Tasmanian-born W Y Dennett, who also followed the gold rush through Victoria and Otago, ending up enlisting in the colonial forces and seeing action during the Maori wars.

There is no trace of one of the town’s most colourful early mayors, dairyman and farmer Horace Simson, described as “tall, elegantly dressed, sporting a cane walking stick, boastful and self-confident” whose spirited oratory attracted big audiences.

Concerns over flooding helped borough councillor James Garnett into the mayoralty for a term, although he died shortly after re-election in 1913. A tiny street now bears his name.

Printer and publisher William Hart saw the town through the early years of the First World War before being narrowly ousted by the flamboyant Horace Simson, whose public speaking reputation soon lost its appeal and he almost lost his deposit when he stood for office again in 1919. Hart’s name adorns two streets in Frimley.

Ebbett Park in the Raureka area of Hastings is named after solicitor and amateur ethnologist George Ebbett, who became mayor in 1919. His rare collection of late-19th century Maori carvings and artefacts, bought in Auckland two years earlier, were intended for his own garden. When his wife donated land for the park, some of the carvings formed the gateway of the park and created a scary entrance for youngsters like myself in the 1950s.

His successor, George Maddison, the youngest mayor in the country at the time and the son-in-law of the town’s first mayor, Robert Wellwood, faced the tough years of the post-war 1920s. He had the dubious distinction of having both a street and public baths named after him.

George Roach, who turned his father’s drapery store into the province’s largest department store, inherited the mayoralty during the Great Depression, and is the only Hastings mayor to have been ordered to vacate office — not by irate ratepayers but by the Controller and Auditor General, over a contract for carpeting the Municipal Theatre. He was backed by his council and returned unopposed, only to face the disaster of the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake in 1931, whose casualties included customers crushed in his store by falling masonry. Roach tried to get Heretaunga Street widened in the aftermath of the quake, setting his own store further back as an example but lost the bitter battle with other retailers.

George Maddison beat him in 1933 to begin an eight-year mayoral term. His deputy, A. I. Rainbow faced the difficult years of World War 2 and got his name on a street sign; but not accountant R.D. Brown, who took the town into the early l950s, or lawyer Ed Bate who took office in 1953.

Ron Giorgi, an amiable and popular RSA president, ran both the mayoralty and a prominent retail business from 1959 to 1974. As a young reporter, I would hover in his shop while he fitted out customers before turning his attention to the weighty matters of office.

His successor, Jim O’Connor, was the mayoral nominee for a group of builders keen to overhaul an outdated district scheme and some serious sewerage and drainage issues.

His lack of sophistication and troublesome diction at council meetings concealed a shrewd instinct for dealing with the increasing influence of council officers over council policy. He would often slip me council reports ahead of crucial meetings so that ratepayers got wind of big decisions before they were a fait accompli. I would then be publicly reprimanded by the mayor at council meetings, while the furious town clerk conducted an unsuccessful witch hunt for the source of the council “leaks”.

One-time Social Credit deputy leader and teacher Jeremy Dwyer was next in the mayor’s seat. He brought a cheerful but dedicated approach to the role. Polio had left him with a shortened leg, which necessitated the wearing of a heavy-soled shoe. It never diminished his cheerful attitude and he would recall, with great amusement, how groups of youngsters would listen politely to the mayor until it was time for questions … when the main topic of fascination was his large-sized shoe.

Ron Giorgi has a park in Flaxmere named after him but there is no O’Connor Avenue or Dwyer Drive on the maps of Hastings, just the long-forgotten names of British colonial rule in India.

In 1997 I spent two weeks in Hastings’ Chinese sister-city of Guilin. One day, while walking past its government offices, I suddenly saw Jeremy Dwyer in a series of photographs on a large display board fronting the street, showing him planting commemorative trees during a visit to Hastings by a Guilin delegation.

But in the city he served with great dedication as mayor from 1986 until 2001, he rates a brief formal mention on a plaque amid the shrubs in the Chinese garden in Cornwall Park. But you have to look pretty hard to find it.

As for his predecessor Jim O’Connor, there’s just no sign at all.


This brass plaque in Cornwall Park’s Chinese Osmanthus Garden is the city’s token reminder of former Hastings Mayor, Jeremy Dwyer.

Comments

2 Responses to “No sign of mayors”

  1. Kate Moriarty

    on September 21st, 2010 6:45 pm

    We often think of Jeremy as we admire the many beautiful trees that were planted beside Hastings' streets during his time in office, quite transforming the city.

  2. Derek Williams

    on September 21st, 2010 7:34 pm

    How very interesting. I am familiar with the JJ O'Conner years as a contractor then.

    He ran a plumbing firm and got all the Council work even when put out too tender. It was normal at the time with similar in Napier and elsewhere.

    Its more sophisticated now but still thrives as we found in Sports Park contracts

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