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AUCKLAND COUNCIL with George Wood

Michael King Writer’s Centre: A North Shore Gem

GEORGE WOOD is a North Shore ward councillor on the new Auckland Council. The former three-term mayor of North Shore City lives in Forrest Hill with wife Myra.

The Michael King Writers’ Centre at Devonport is New Zealand’s first full writers centre.  It came into being after the untimely death of Michael King back in 2004. 

At a memorial service held at the Bruce Mason Centre, soon after Michael’s death, the late Dame Christine Cole Catley floated the idea of setting up a writers centre on the North Shore.  Dame Christine initially favoured a centre behind the Frank Sargeson house on Esmonde Road, Takapuna.  The Frank Sargeson property didn’t work out but we then found the former Signalman’s House on the slopes of Mt Victoria in Devonport.
Following the history of the various writers is something that I find extremely interesting.  There are facilities and accommodation for two writers to stay at the centre at any one time.  They are selected from all around New Zealand and I have met some very interesting writers who have availed themselves of the facilities.   Geoff Chapple, who wrote the book ‘Te Araroa – The New Zealand Trail’ was the first writer to take up residence.   The name Barry Brickell has been part of the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport for a number of years now, as a visiting writer.  Barry, a long-time resident of Coromandel, has made his name in the New Zealand art world through his art, pottery and writing.  He spent his early years in Devonport but has now firmly ensconced, through his potteries and the establishment of the Driving Creek Railway, in Coromandel.
Myra and I decided to check out the exploits of Barry Brickell a few Sundays ago.  Instead of a two hour drive we took the 360 Discovery ferry from downtown Auckland over to Coromandel on the day-trippers return.  I must say this was one of the most enjoyable journeys as we cruised across a flat calm Hauraki Gulf. 
The 360 Discovery ferry takes a leisurely trip down to the eastern end of Waiheke, then a whistle stop at Rotoroa Island, the former Salvation Army treatment centre for recovering alcoholics.  It was an hour-long cruise across the Hauraki Gulf to the ferry terminal at Hannaford’s Wharf in Te Kouma Bay, a 10 minute shuttle bus trip into Coromandel.
Barry Brickell’s studio and the Driving Creek Railway lives up to expectations:  It is a place of great Kiwi ingenuity with many pottery kilns scattered around the facility along with workshops and a retail store.  The trip up the 2.7 km railway was a wonderful experience.  Taking around 30 minutes each way it was amazing to see how Barry and his helpers had built this rail system of tunnels spirals and bridges up the side of a large hill to raise in elevation of around 170 metres.
Returning to the Michael King Writers Centre it is interesting to see why Barry Brickell has been selected as a writer in residence in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.  He sees writing as an “essential dimension” and he pursues it with considerable vigour in the same way that he previously put considerable effort into his physical pursuits.  On the Michael King Writers Centre website it quotes Barry Brickell as saying:
“I am very grateful to the Michael King Writers' Centre for giving me a special opportunity to pursue my work which otherwise could have resulted in yet more put-offs. Any result of my residency needs to acknowledge the great range of acquaintances and friends who have contributed to a very rich life.  I am very grateful to the Michael King Writers' Centre for giving me a special opportunity to pursue my work which otherwise could have resulted in yet more put-offs. Any result of my residency needs to acknowledge the great range of acquaintances and friends who have contributed to a very rich life
in every sense of this word. I yearn to pass on my inner joie de vivre, warts and all."
North Shore residents should be justly proud of what has been accomplished at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in such a short time.  We are indebted to the persistence of Dame Christine Cole Catley and all those who have worked tirelessly to establish the writers' centre.

by George Wood

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