This column may well disturb some people and – even if you have managed to keep your composure through serpentine queues, endemic delays and general overcrowding – your next ferry trip to Waiheke may be a little worse for it. I apologise in advance.
Whatever way we approach it, rain, storm or shine, we’re stuck with the fact that the Pyrmont sandstone facings and handsome pilasters of our ferry building were painted a sickening 1970s orange in some massive bureaucratic lapse of taste decades ago.
More recently, when repairs were in full frustration, the concourse where passengers dance in opposing commuter conga lines between Devonport’s pier one and Waiheke’s pier two was lined with a display of early waterfront photographs showing its once-grand architecture.
The ferry building, built to house all the city’s ferry operators and finished in 1912, towered over the bustling docks, and a few of the earlier images showed its imposing imperial baroque façade and pilasters in all the elegant glory of its original brick and pale Sydney sandstone.
It was, by design, the focus for an extensive ferry network to Bayswater, Birkenhead, Chelsea, Devonport, Kohimarama, Northcote, Orakei, St Heliers and Stanley Bay that was already servicing the growing city in 1904; a smaller, if equally grand, version of its counterparts in other colonial maritime cities around the Pacific Rim including Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver.
It was intended to signal Auckland’s intention to be a major port in the Pacific – the sort of goal-setting of the time that did, with hindsight, achieve some magnificent results for the citizens of the aspirational young settlements. Melbourne aimed to be the cultural capital of the southern hemisphere, setting up a still visible legacy in its architecture, layout and in the city’s psyche.
Auckland was equally ambitious and did in fact remain the de facto capital of the Pacific until the 1980s.
The Harbour Board building on the opposite side of Quay Street went long ago but the late Victorian Customhouse was spared by a whisker and on the eastern side of Queen Elizabeth Square the Chief Post Office’s cool cream Oamaru stone façade will eventually emerge from the shambles of ad hoc management of the inner city rail link construction.
Above these remnants tower modern blocks, white to the bone. The abominable worme (aka The Cloud) is white. Ferries that come and go are, for the most part, white. Quay Street, shorn of its traffic, will be white.
Against this blue and white cityscape, the ferry building just wilts apologetically, a lone, leftover piece of caramel slice in a slightly tawdry lunch-bar cabinet of history.
Whatever else Auckland’s long-suffering ratepayers have to stump up for in the runup to the America’s Cup, a repaint (if not a restoration) of the long-suffering building’s genuine sandstone detail is a priority.
If the early pictures are anything to go by, it would stand taller and restore its architectural integrity, noble proportions and historic identity.
In the meantime, there are other imperatives as the deadline is rapidly running out for citizens to “have-their-say” on how Auckland Transport and Auckland Council spend the windfall fuel tax funding around the Ferry Basin and Quay Street.
Passenger comfort and workability seems entirely missing from the current proposals; a continuation of worse-than-LA-airport queues of no concern to powers-that-be who want us to be an economic powerhouse or any significant forsight, but not if it costs money.
• Liz Waters