Medical Transport from Yesteryear!

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A most enjoyable afternoon was held at the Selwyn Library on 1st October 2017 when representatives from AFS and St John brought artefacts used to ferry the sick and injured in the past.

Nina Crawford Spoke about the American Field Service organisation.  This started in WWI when American soldiers, some in their teens, wanted to help, and the volunteers continued during WWII in Burma, India, Egypt, etc.  In 1947 Stephen Velatti, a volunteer, wanted to see more arise from the War service and called a meeting of ‘tinkers and drinkers’.  To form a legacy for the future they set up the student exchange programme which is now 70 years old.  The programme started with US hosting students from nine different countries, NZ being one of these right at the start.

At the 50th anniversary of AFS it was decided to restore an ambulance as an icon, and in 1995 a 1917 truck was restored as a replica of an ambulance.  This was launched in 1997 in Invercargill and driven/shipped right up to Kaitaia.

Four young German people arranged for the ambulance to be shipped to Hamburg for the German celebrations – they worked for the Ford Motor Company who sponsored it and donated the scholarship for NZ students.  The ambulance has travelled up and down NZ for the past many years.  The person driving the vehicle needs special skills as there is no gear lever but plenty of pedals!

AFS is the oldest and largest exchange company in the world.

Guy Marks then spoke about the Order of St John which can be traced back to 1099.  Gerard the Blessed started a hospice to help the needy, sick and injured.  In 1880’s St John in the United Kingdom was almost lost, but the French Order of St John encouraged people to continue.  The main purpose is to teach first aid.  In 1885 St John doctors arrived in NZ to teach first aid, and those who learnt it formed groups that became the St John Ambulance Brigade.  In 1920 St John started to get involved with ambulances and by 1932 had taken over responsibility for ambulances in Auckland.

Peter, a retired ambulance driver, described what it is like to drive an ambulance.  In the early days, the vehicles were Austin Elans and had to be crank-started and there were no front brakes.  The next make used was Buick, and a number of different makes have been used through the ages (Daimler, Dodges, Chev Sierro – 170km/hr easily up the Bombays!, DAF Leyland – the worst vehicles to drive, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce).  The tyres gradually improved to give a more comfortable ride until finally air tyres were used.  During the War mudguards were painted white so that they could be seen at night.  Frames and panels were aluminium to keep the weight down.  Women drivers started in 1982.  The new yellow/black colour scheme was introduced in 2015.  Ambulances cover 100,000 km in the city before going to rural areas for a further 4-500,000 km, and then they are decommissioned.

The Ashford Litter was so called as it was produced by a doctor from Ashford in Kent in 1906.  It cost 2s/6d for each ‘ride’ carrying people up to Auckland Hospital.


2017 AGM – and the new Cathedral organ

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Andrew Moyes (above), Managing Director of Nicholson & Co., UK, gave a fascinating presentation on Holy Trinity’s new organ at our recent AGM.

Nicholson & Co. was founded in 1841 (same as Parnell!!).  The founder, John Nicholson, died in 1895 and Andrew is the seventh Managing Director in 175 years.  Nicholson & Co. is one of three firms in the UK capable of building large organs of the scale of Holy Trinity’s.

How do they design and build such a large organ?  It is rare to have the opportunity to design a brand-new cathedral organ.  On the strength of their organ design for the Llandaff Cathedral in Wales, they were invited to Auckland in 2012 to give a proposal for the new organ.  Andrew accompanied by their Tonal Director, who designs specifically for the acoustics, came out.  Originally there was a bridge in the cathedral which broke the building into two parts.  So, Andrew saw a great opportunity for the organ to be built in the space where the bridge was, a perfect space in the middle of the building.

Organ builders have two criteria:

  • it is a musical instrument so sound is paramount
  • it is a huge piece of furniture so how it looks is very important.

If the organ is put in a chamber, it cannot be heard properly.  So, the pipes need to be in a position where the congregation can see them and receive the high frequencies of sound, from the smaller pipes, clearly.  The big pipes (32’ long) give low frequency sound which will spread well everywhere and thus may be hidden.  In the Holy Trinity these two aspects came together very well with excellent acoustics and visuals.

The original organ in the cathedral was placed where it was difficult to be heard and hence needed to ‘shout’ which was not good, ie it had to be played with more force and would lose the finer nuances.  They employed a Frenchman, Didier Grassin, who worked for an American organ building company, and he came up with a very ingenious design without visiting the building placing the organ where the two parts of the building collide: the more austere 1930’s design and the Maori-inspired nave.  This has changed completely the cathedral’s interior.

How is the organ built?  It took 20 months to build.  It was so large it would not fit into the factory so was built in three sections and only came together in Auckland.  It took 6 months to install, two teams of four men in 6 week relays.  The final installation took place at the beginning of 2017 and it was finished at Easter.

What are the components of the organ?  There are 5,432 pipes ranging from the biggest at 32’ long to the smallest that is the size of one’s little finger.  The biggest pipe is made of wood and weighs two-thirds of a tonne and is built in three sections.  This organ is the biggest to have been built in the UK for 63 years.  The organ weighs 40 tonnes.  It was packed into seven 40’ containers which were loaded into the ex-refrigerator holds of the ships to give extra protection.

There are two consoles, where the organist sits, one on top of the transept and the other is a mobile console that can be wheeled around.  The connection from the consoles to the pipes is digital.  The sound itself is air blown through the pipes.  The air is generated by six electric blowers.

The Holy Trinity organ is the largest musical instrument in New Zealand and the largest organ in Australasia.  Why is it so big?  This is due to the acoustic space and to give a large tonal palette.  The bigger the organ the greater the variety of tonality.  The Auckland organ is very versatile and has an enormous repertoire of performance potential.


New Patron

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Stephen Goodman, Patron of Parnell Heritage

Stephen has had a long family history in Parnell.  The family has lived almost continuously in the area since his grandparents moved here in the early 1930’s.  Having “Robbie”, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, as a great-uncle, a father who was an Auckland Councillor for 11 years, as well as being Deputy Mayor, and a mother who was Mayoress for 12 years and then an Auckland Councillor for a further 12 years, it was inevitable that he would take an active interest in the local community.  He has a strong belief in ensuring Parnell remains the best suburb in which to live and that its past is not forgotten.

Stephen’s involvements include:

  • 19 years on the Parnell Community Committee, including chair
  • Hobson Community Board
  • Ewelme Cottage Management
  • Kinder House Committee
  • Founding member of Parnell Heritage Committee in 2005 and, later, its chair.


So there is no doubt that Stephen is committed to represent local interests and residents.  He strives to preserve our heritage and respect property rights.  He is an advocate for a vibrant, culturally diverse and safe community for everyone to enjoy.

Evening at Selwyn Library

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A very convivial evening at the historic and beautiful Selwyn Library on Thursday 16th March 2017 provided a perfect venue to learn about the historic building and Bishop Selwyn’s work for the Anglican Church community in Auckland.

Over 40 people attended and enjoyed the company, the array of drinks and delicious food provided by the Parnell Executive team, along with stories of the early church.

old SL.jpg

The above photograph shows the original Library and its shelves of books.  Today the books have gone, mostly to St Johns College and perhaps some returned to England with Bishop Selwyn.


We were very grateful to Bishop Ross Bay (above), the current Anglican Bishop, who gave many insights into the history of Bishop Selwyn’s time in 19th Century Auckland and the buildings he inspired.  Bishop Bay, a volunteer fireman no less, described what it is like to live in the Selwyn buildings today and the slightly quirky aspects of living in such an historic environment.

After answering questions from a lively audience Bishop Bay went off to cook dinner for his wife and guests.  Dr Warren Limbrick then took the floor and presented further background to Bishop Selwyn’s tireless work.  Dr Limbrick is producing a second edition of his History of St Stephen’s Chapel at Judges Bay with the support of Parnell Heritage.  He has a wealth of knowledge of the Selwyn era in 19th Century Auckland and added fascinating detail to the stories.

Julie Hill, co-chair of Parnell Heritage Inc., presented Dr Limbrick with an Honorary Lifetime Membership of the society in recognition of his service since its inception on 17th March 2005.

No doubt the Selwyn Library has hosted many happy events throughout its history.  We all went home feeling privileged to have enjoyed another such gathering with great company and many memories from Auckland’s past.

Stall at Parnell Farmers’ Market December 2016

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We enjoyed a delightful morning in the heart of the bustling Parnell Farmers’ Market on a bright sunny December morning. All sorts of things were for sale at the market from the freshest vegetables to beautiful hand-made gifts.  There was lots of interest in Parnell Heritage and especially in our journals and cards, and our gift-wrapped sets of Journals 1 to 5 at a special price of $20 were very popular.

Email if you would like to buy journals or heritage cards.

Our Christmas 2016 raffle was drawn and many congratulations to Jean Draffin who is enjoying the basket of goodies.

Parnell Rose Festival

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What an amazing event this is!  And our stall was a great success, especially with our very rare Parnell Heritage roses on sale.  We were offering rose tea and it was great to speak to so many people interested in all aspects of Parnell past and present.

Yes, it was windy to start with and a few drops of rain, but then the sun came out for most of the day.  The rose gardens are magnificent with abundant beautiful roses wherever you look.  A steady stream of people of all ages enjoyed the event, along with several pets, and an amazing variety of delicious snacks and fruit ice creams were on offer too.

So a thoroughly enjoyable day for us all!