Shortland Street

For the past seven years or so I have heard people talk a lot about Shortland Street. Apparently it’s quite popular, but no one will actually admit to liking it.

Well, I’m a big fan. I dig Shortland Street. A lot’s gone on over the years, and I’ve made a fan page to show my appreciation for “The Street”.

Your ship sails into the harbour and onto a bay where anchor is set. You get in a row boat and row to shore and alight onto the wet, sandy beach of what is known as Commercial Bay. A small township is in front of you, behind it the land rises up into hills.

Straight ahead of you a road meanders out before rising up into the hills. This road, named after the sovereign head of the country, follows the path of a creek of water. It’s wet, muddy, slushy and smelly, and not at all pleasant to walk down.

To your left a road rises up a fairly steep hill. It leads up to a large piece of headland where a military fort has been established. At the top of this road, another road, named after the spouse of the monarch, runs off to the right leading to military barracks.

You choose to walk up this road as, even though it is steeper than the other road, is much drier and more pleasant. As you walk up the road you notice the large number of grog shops. “Har har!” you think to yourself.

Well that, my friends, is what Auckland was like in the early-mid nineteenth century. Queen Street was the muddy road, Commercial Bay is now the land from Fort Street down to the waterfront. The headland, Point Britomart was chopped down to be used as landfill. The road going along to the barracks is Princes Street, and the road with all the grog shops going up the hill. Why yes, its the one and only Shortland Street.

At one time Shortland Street was Auckland busiest street. Shortland Crescent, as it was originally known, was the centre of Auckland’s business district. However a fire in 1858 destroyed much of the buildings in Shortland Street and businesses chose to relocate to Queen Street whose creek had since been piped underground.

The street itself was named by Mr Felton Mathew, the first surveyor general. He named it after Lieutenant Willoughby Shortland. Lieutenant Shortland came to New Zealand to be the police magistrate dude, but became Colonial Secretary when the New Zealand government was started in 1841. He was a wanker. No one liked him.

At one time the ocean-side of upper Shortland Crescent was more or less a cliff edge. There was concern that people (possibly patrons of one of the many grog shops) could fall off it. Today we don’t have that worry as there are a number of buildings, including the inspirational studios but more on them later.

The street was originally a crescent and indeed it was crescent-shaped as it extended down the piece of road that is now the western half of the Emily Place fork.

Incidentally, the little triangley-shaped park called Emily Reserve was once the site of St Paul’s church. At the time it was built it was about half a kilometre away from the sea. Then Point Britomart was chopped down and suddenly the church was on the edge of a cliff. Uh-oh. So it was eventually pulled down and a new church built on Symonds Street. The space left was turned into Emily Reserve and more cliff was chopped away to form a road that ran down to Customs Street. Anyway, I’m guessing that when this happened Shortland Crescent became Street.

One good thing about Shortland Street is it has a lot of cool old buildings. There’s the dark brown brick studio building. Formerly radio, then TV, now it’s owned by Auckland University and is going to be turned into a performing arts school type place (“You got big dreams? Well Shortland Street costs, and right here is where you start paying – with sweat.). There’s that choice big building on the corner of High Street and the foxy Jean Batten State Building on across the street. On the other High Street corner is De Brett’s hotel.

In around 1960 De Brett’s was refurbished by Dominion Breweries. To celebrate this a booklet titled “The Saga of Shortland Street” was published. It is an interesting read, especially when the author keeps whinging about how steep Shortland Street is:

“I put off visiting the site of the old St Paul’s for several days before finally I squared my shoulders, popped an anginine tablet into my mouth and set out from the Hotel De Brett to make the climb to the top of the hill. With frequent stops to regain my breath, I reached the tiny park in Emily Place in about 12 minutes, grateful that over the years the hill has been graded to more reasonable proportions[.]”

To which the comment “you bloody whinging slack-arse” must surely be appropriate. I’ve walked up Shortland Street before and I didn’t require any anginine tablets (whatever they are) and I didn’t bloody well need to make any stops along the way. I timed myself walking up the street and from Queen Street to the memorial at Emily Reserve took me just over four and a half minutes. That author also asserts that Shortland Street is nicknamed “Coronary Hill”. Lies! Dammned lies, I say!

As well as cool old buildings there are also cool new buildings, the best being the newish Royal Sun Alliance building. It’s big and the top of the building has this big blue ring of light. It looks choice.

And the beloved grog shops. In 1842 a fellow by the name of Robert Graham wrote of Shortland Street:

“[T]he first shop is a grog shop; the next is Mr. McLennen’s; the third is a shoemaker; the forth is a baker; then a grog shop; next a pork stand; and then another grog shop. There seems to be a grog shop for every three of all other trades put together.”

Today other trades outnumber grog shops, but there are still a few bars along the street.

Shortland Street is a very pleasing road. I heartily encourage everyone to take a walk up or down it. And it’s not steep. It’s sloping. City Road is steep. Kitchener Street is steep, so stop complaining.

Now for a quote from one of my favourite bands, Mobile Stud Unit:

“All my friends live on Shortland Street.
Shortland Street! Shortland Street!”

Leave a Reply