by Nancy Mitchelson*

Caption: “Boogie Don’t Walk” – scenes of signs in a shop reflection during the trial mall. “Reflection of Pedestrians in Record Shop’s Window” – Week of Trial Mall, 7 May 1979, 1979-1979, Queen Street Trial [Pedestrian] Mall, ACC 432 Box 1 Item 10t Record K1 Record ID 502449, Auckland Council Archives.

 

It was first week of the 1979 May school holidays and Auckland’s main thoroughfare was to be closed for a trial pedestrian mall. A trial was initially approved due to pressure from the Tramways union, whose trolley bus drivers wanted to ensure public safety if a permanent mall was to be given the green light.[1] It was argued that the school holidays allowed the mall “to be seen as an event,” and it also gave an opportunity for the public to experience Queen Street in a carless, fumeless, and relatively noiseless state.[2]

And what an event it was.

A carnival-like atmosphere was created for one week in the Wellesley/Victoria street block. 14,000 dollars was spent on signage, performers, makeshift rotundas and stages, seating, planting, and a research programme to determine its success. Activity wise, there was a merry-go-round, giant draughts and chess, mirror painting, collage and a “wheelchair pancake competition for disabled children.”[3] Potter Mary Angton was in attendance, who offered “children a chance to try their hand at throwing pots.”[4]

Giant chess and makeshift café seating during the trial mall. “Mall Practices in Queen Street”, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, June 18,1979; “People Seated and Standing in Queen Street” – Week of Trial Mall, 7 May 1979, 1979-1979, Queen Street Trial [Pedestrian] Mall, ACC 432 Box 1 Item 15r Record ID 502530, Auckland Council Archives

 

If you didn’t fancy taking part in any activities, there were plenty of performers to entertain as you shopped. To name a few: clowns, a Wizard Speaker, a Punch and Judy Show, street theatre, Joe the singing ‘cowboy’ Hume, puppeteer Jonathan Acorn, maypole dancers and a Māori cultural group.[5] The libraries were there with books and storytelling and so was New Zealand’s answer to the Wombles and Basil Brush in the form of anthropomorphic “Ning and Nong, the lulubirds…and of course Little Bong!”[6]

The aforementioned ‘Little Bong’ and ‘Ning’ performing for children during the mall. Also, street artist/clown Danny Lord entertains a large crowd. “Mall Practices in Queen Street”, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 18 June, 1979.

 

By some accounts, it was a great success. The giant chess set proved to be very popular, as was the wizard. 1500 children under seven rode on the merry-go-round.[7] Noise levels were reduced by approximately 5 decibels, and CO2 levels never exceeded the max level. There was a 13.7 increase in the number of people in Queen Street during the mall week, and 70% of pedestrians surveyed thought the mall was “good or very good.”[8]

But it was swings and roundabouts (quite literally).

Within the mall area, 41% of retailers reported financial losses.[9] Mr. Frank Carter of Stone’s Shoe Shop lamented “it’s not much good to me having a street full of kids, when I’ve got a window display of women’s high fashion footwear priced from $60 to $260.”[10] This sentiment was echoed by the owner of Hartman Furs, who argued that children were not in the market for fine furs and during the mall period a fight broke out in her shop.[11] W.J Taylor, from Taylor’s Plaza shoes, noted that his trading was down 26%, and blamed it on The Wizard drawing large crowds that blocked off the entrance to the shop.[12]

The trolley bus was another issue altogether. An article in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly argued an apt slogan for the mall would be “go to a poetry reading, and get hit by a bus.”[13] The apparent safety of a carless mall was undermined by children, who were touching the sides of the moving trolley bus and large crowds of people drawn by entertainers often interrupted the bus route.[14] The warning alarm to signal that the bus was approaching was far too loud which led a satirical critic in the Sunday News to say it “made Fritz Muller dive for cover, thinking the Gestapo were after him.” The volume was eventually reduced.

Scenes of the trolley bus during the trial mall. The image shows a child touching the side of the moving bus “Pedestrians and the Trolley Buses” – Lunch time, Thursday, 10 May 1979, 1979-1979, Queen Street Trial [Pedestrian] Mall, ACC 432 Box 1 Item 7f Record C5 Record ID 502375, Auckland Council Archives. The second image shows the makeshift stop purpose built for the mall. “Design Elements of the Trial Mall” – Week of 7 May, 1979, 1979-1979, Queen Street Trial [Pedestrian] Mall, ACC 432 Box 1 Item 9l Record E8 Record ID 502421, Auckland Council Archives.

 

Protest action infiltrated the trial mall on the Tuesday by members and supporters of Māori protest group He Taua. They were speaking out in opposition of the previous week’s events which saw the group try to stop a racist haka performed by engineering students, resulting in violence and undue arrest.[15] Although they very briefly occupied the trial mall, it challenged the childish carnival façade created by Auckland City Council.

More challengers came in the form of “scruffy in appearance, bad language entertainers” who moved into the mall without council approval, trying to make some money off the crowds.[16] In fact, in survey results, many Queen Street business owners mentioned the fact that the mall encouraged “layabouts” and not the “right type of people.”[17] This alone exemplifies the narrow-minded view that stalled mall proceedings in the first place.

An advertisement by ‘Outreach Space Works,’ regarding ‘junk’ needed for their planned sculpture of found material during the mall trial. These same sculptures are what Mr Johnson, the president of the Central Auckland Business Association, called a “disgrace.” “Queen Street Mall” – Temporary Closure – May 7-11 1979 – Wellesley Street and Victoria Street, 1978-1979, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 1101 Item 1101b Record [64-141-06-07] Part 7 Record ID 673670, Auckland Council Archives.

For one week, whether it was loved or hated, Queen Street was transformed into an epicentre of pedestrian activity. The issue comes with the fact that those who loved the mall were largely children or families from outside the area, and those who disliked the mall were business owners with properties in the area. This balance of power influenced planning efforts, preceding, throughout, and after the Trial Mall period. As a result, a pedestrian mecca on Auckland’s main street lasted only for a brief week in May 1979, and never again since.

 

*Nancy Mitchelson was awarded first-class honours in History at The University of Auckland, having completed a Bachelor of Arts. She  was one of four students awarded a 2019 Summer Scholarship at The University of Auckland out of a highly competitive field and her award was funded by a Jonathan and Mary Mason Scholarship in Auckland History. Her research project focused on the efforts to Pedestrianise Queen Street in May of 1979.

 

 

[1] Projects and Design Division Department of Planning and Social Development, The Queen Street Mall Pre implementation Report, 1979-1979, Publications, ACC 398 Box 6 Item 6g Record ID 400178, Auckland Council Archives. 

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] “Mall Practices in Queen Street,” New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 18 June,1979.

[5] The Queen Street Mall Pre Implementation Report.

Queen Street Mall – Temporary Closure – May 7-11 1979 – Wellesley Street and Victoria Street, 1978-1979, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 1101 Item 1101b Record [64-141-06-07] Part 7 Record ID 673670, Auckland Council Archives .

[6] Ibid; “My, What a Big Bird,” Auckland Star, 10 May, 1979.

[7] The Queen Street Mall Pre Implementation Report.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] “Mall Practices in Queen Street,” New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 18 June,1979.

[11] The Queen Street Mall Pre Implementation Report.

[12] Queen Street Mall, 1978-1980, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 925 Item 925h Record 64-141-05 Part 3 Record ID 420307, Auckland Council Archives.

[13] “Mall Practices in Queen Street,”,New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 18 June,1979.

[14] The Queen Street Mall Pre Implementation Report.

[15] NZH, 9 May, 1979.

[16] The Queen Street Mall Pre Implementation Report.

[17] ibid.