Monday 19 September 2005

Who remembers all the old movie houses in Dunedin? In the days when entertainment choose was very limited, they ruled supreme. From north to south we had the State theatre , opposite Arthur Barnetts in George St. which was positioned in, what was in those days, the ‘dead end’ of Dunedin. Close to the Town Hall we had the Octagon and opposite, the Regent. Next door to the Octagon was a large shop selling flowers, fruit and vegetables. Today, it is the site of Forsyth Barr’s seven storey office block. The Regent, with its elegant foyer featured chandeliers and a marble staircase where the patrons were welcomed by the manager wearing a tuxedo. Further along, opposite the Savoy was the Empire, later renamed the St James with its ceiling of thousands of little lights replicating the night sky. Around the corner was the Strand later called the Embassy. When known as the Strand, it was managed by a little London Jew by the name of Harry Marsden. He used to let kids in for free if there were any unoccupied seats. He was a lovely man and many years later I was able to repay his kindness to us. It came about many years later when he had left the movie house business and was standing for the position of Union Secretary for the hotel workers in Otago/Southland. We managed to get our hands on hundreds of voting forms and as the American gangster, Al Capone said, 'Vote early and vote often.' We obliged and he was duly elected secretary and became a very good one too.

Back to the movies. Up High Street was the original St James theatre which, in its earlier days housed the very popular Fuller's Vaudeville. Around the corner was the old Grand, later to become the Century. Last time I was in Dunedin it had been demolished and the site left derelict. Out South Dunedin was the Mayfair which operates as a live theatre venue now. It too is under threat of demolition.

Dunedin had four cable car routes. What a shame not one of them has been retained. One left from outside the Grand Hotel and travelled up High Street to the Mornington Terminus in Mailer Street. We often on that line because we could jump off at Hope Street before the conductor arrived to collect our penny. This line was, in my opinion to the line in San Francisco's Market Street which is now a great tourist attraction. Other Dunedin cable lines ran up Stuart Street, Rattray Street and the scariest one, the Maryhill Extension, serving very steep streets, winding its way up Glenpark Avenue to Mitchell Avenue where we attended our first school, St Francis Xaviers.

The American shipping line known as ‘The Matson Company’ ran three very luxurious ships, the Mariposa, the Monterrey and the Lurline. Their ports of call were Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu, Sydney and Auckland. Paul Hannah and his sister, Vera, once travelled on the Mariposa to visit their sisters, Rosie, Queenie and Maria Who were at this time living in America. How eagerly we listened to their stories of that great holiday and shipboard life. Television was not yet in New Zealand so news of it brought excitement. However, Paul’s description of his trip to Las Vegas topped the lot. Sadly, the Matson Line went under because it couldn’t compete with the American wage scales for its crews.

Speaking of ships, when Phena Michael first went to Australia as a youngster, she sailed on a ship called the Awatea. It took three and a half days to make the journey and cost ten pounds (ie $20)! At that price level, even I could afford a cruise. Things have sure changed. Phena lived in Sydney for many years and was renowned for her hospitality to any of our people who visited during that time. She is another unsung hero of ours. I once said to her ‘Josie, I love you even if you are a black midget,’ and she kissed me with tears of a laughter in her eyes. She made Sydney magical and when she left to come home, things were never again the same. Moira and I also came back to New Zealand and I have regretted it in a lot of ways. Still, our son, Stephen sends us tickets twice a year to return for a visit.

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