Conserving and restoring Auckland’s precious heritage: Motukorea – Browns Island and the Parnell Station

When I last wrote about Motukorea – Browns Island in February, I promised to keep readers posted on progress – so here goes. To recap – after the island was rescued from the ignominious fate of becoming Auckland’s sewage outfall thanks to the heroic efforts of Dove-Myer Robinson, in 1955 it was purchased and generously gifted to the ‘Mayor, councillors and people of Auckland’ by brewery magnate Sir Ernest Davis. The island was managed for many years by Lands & Survey and then DOC until in late 2015, after an attempt by the government to include it in a Treaty settlement, Auckland councillors decided that it was time the council took management responsibility itself. That has now been delegated to the popular and highly respected regional parks service – making Motukorea – Browns Island our latest regional park.

Volunteers land on Motukorea - Browns Island regional park to being restoration work

Volunteers land on Motukorea – Browns Island regional park to begin restoration work

On a recent superb mid-winters’ Saturday, I was with 32 volunteers, mainly from the Outboard Boating Club, who landed on the island to begin making the island a regional park. According to park ranger Jonah Kitto-Verhoef, as a result of an estimated 96 hours work, approximately 6000 weeds were cleared from an area of 2 ha, mainly around the central cone. (Not bad – that’s 3% of the island). At the same time 50 kg of mainly plastic rubbish was cleaned from the beaches. More volunteer trips are being organised. The work is rewarding and there is lots to see on this largely unexplored and very historical island so close to the city. If you are interested in helping please register on the volunteer website:

Parnell Station building designed by the famous railways architect George Troup and built in 1908.  Superbly restored by Kiwirail.

Parnell Station building designed by the famous railways architect George Troup and built in 1908. Superbly restored by Kiwirail.

Now for an update on the new Parnell train station. An article I wrote last year was entitled ‘Parnell Station – a long time coming’; how true that is. The station was opened by Auckland Transport (AT) in mid-March, but only for Southern Line services only. Western Line and Onehunga trains are not stopping during weekday working hours, and AT management remains uncommunicative about when they will.

Ironically given my efforts over many years to get the station built, earlier this year I met with AT to express my concern about opening the station when it was nowhere near finished.   First of all a walkway proposed and funded by the Waitematā Local Board, designed to connect the station to Stanley Street via Nicholls Lane to serve Auckland University was not in place and won’t be until late December. AT has also failed to build an underpass to connect the two platforms.  More than a passenger-unfriendly inconvenience, the temptation to save a 100-metre-walk by just dashing across the track is a serious safety hazard, especially in such a busy part of the network.   Nor is there yet wheelchair or disability access.  And signage to the Museum is non-existent. These defects and others have drawn the ire of bloggers but instead of criticising AT, the anoraks have turned their politically-motivated bile on me – for having the station built there in first place.   No surprise that these are the same beady-eyed intensification zealots who targeted me for opposing aspects of the Unitary Plan before last year’s local elections.

Confounding the “Greater Auckland” detractors who claimed no-one would use ut. Fast forward four years Parnell Station in Feb 2020.

I am actually more than happy to take all the credit for the station’s location, in the historic Waipapa valley (for so long a wasteland), handily placed to Parnell Village, Auckland Domain, Auckland War Memorial Museum (surprisingly close, 7 minutes walk, from the Museum’s doors), planned intensive residential developments and Auckland University, but that wouldn’t be fair to KiwiRail and AT engineers, the Parnell Business Association (formerly Parnell Inc), Parnell Community Committee, Parnell Heritage, Parnell Trust, Auckland Museum and the Waitematā Local Board.

The station’s real success story thus far, is its centre-piece, the splendidly restored 110-year-old heritage station building, designed by renowned railway architect George ‘Gingerbread’ Troup, of iconic Dunedin railway station fame. Thanks to former AT project manager Nick Seymour; and to KiwiRail for fulfilling a commitment made in 2007 to the ARC whose elected members saved the old building from demolition when it was at Newmarket. KiwiRail under the direction of General Manager Brent Lancaster and heritage architect Dave Pearson of DPH Architects, engineers Structural Design Ltd, the KiwiRail Project Management Office (Aiman Grace and Markum Ellis), and builder Libbet have done a superb restoring this prime example of Auckland’s railway heritage.

KiwiRail has re-tiled the roof, reproducing the original Marseilles tiles, replaced the chimney, retained the original doors and windows restored to their original appearance and functionality, strengthened and replaced the corroded stanchions of the surrounding veranda, removed inappropriate modifications, and strengthened and repaired compromised aspects of the structure. Resplendent in its traditional railway station colour scheme of Canterbury Clay, Deep Chocolate, Marino, Ivy Green and Pioneer Red, the kauri building has both the sturdy workmanship and the elegance typical of the Edwardian era – Auckland’s ‘belle epoque’.

The historic station building, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and the Parnell Village evoke a common heritage theme for visitors to Parnell.  The station is the new gateway and the central link for these attractions only a few minutes by EMU trains from Queen Street and Queens Wharf Cruise Ship terminal. Like the actual station itself, due to decisions made (or rather not made) by Auckland Transport the restoration of interior of the heritage building is yet to be agreed upon but this is an essential next step in making the most of its full potential.  However in order to persuade Auckland Transport to get on and complete the job, there needs to be a community consensus on its future use.  I welcome the leadership of Cheryl Adamson of the Parnell Business Association in organising a community-led approach to achieving this.

I personally support a mix of commercial and community use for the building, with promotion of the Auckland Museum also essential.    As a user of the station the ability to buy a ‘to go’ coffee would be great.     I am sure the early-bird commuters there on dark winter’s mornings, almost all of them heading south, would appreciate a coffee as well..

Finally the present situation of a locked and sealed station building is a real security risk.  This same building has already survived on arson attempt during its time at Newmarket.  Its needs to be opened, completed and ‘warmed’ by community occupation and use.

KiwiRail deserves a lot of credit for honouring its obligations so successfully. We are confident the new Parnell Station, like the station building itself will stand the test of time. It’s now over to Auckland Transport to get on and get the job finished.

A version of this article appears in the August 2017 issue of Ponsonby News.

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