Today’s folly, tomorrow’s asset?

April 24, 2009

Did the people of North Otago protest about the money being spent on the buildings which are today valued for making Oamaru the whitestone capital of the country?

If the opposition which greeted the proposal to refurbish the town’s Opera House is anything to go by I am sure they did because one person’s vision is another’s folly and it almost always takes time before it becomes an asset.

I’m using the term asset loosely because Opera Houses don’t usually make money.  If it’s looked at on a strictly financial basis I suspect it could be regarded as a liability but money isn’t the only measure of value.

That’s not to say money isn’t important and that’s the main reason for the opposition to the stadium which is planned for Dunedin. People are concerned at not just the cost of building it but also the on-going costs it will impose on ratepayers. That debate has moved to the High Court after Stop the Stadium imposed on injunction on the project.

However, the affordability of the  project can’t be judged in isolation and I agree with the ODT editorial which said:

Alone, the stadium represents a relatively low level of risk for ratepayers and a handsome return in terms of city facilities. Its construction will provide considerable short-term benefits to the city for contractors and labour.

To deny that its existence will not enhance the city and benefit the region is simply absurd. But this project is not on its own. Both councils have several other very costly irons in the fire and their debt projections have quite pointedly illustrated the quantum of risk to the ratepayers. . .

In setting spending and debt priorities for the next 10 years or more at a time of a recession of unknown direction or depth, limited civic public works can be demonstrably beneficial but in a city the size of Dunedin – largely ignored in the Government’s plans for such a programme – these must be prioritised in terms of need, benefit, and cost to ratepayers. . .

. . . the city could defend proceeding with the stadium on this basis, because of the potential short and long-term economic benefits – particularly the association with the university – but if it chooses to do so, it must minimise the debt load on ratepayers by deferring other projects.

We can’t have everything we want and councils, like individuals, have to weigh up the costs and benefits of what they might do before choosing what they can do, knowing that saying yes to one project means no for others.

If the stadium goes ahead – and the Dunedin City Council decided on Monday that if the injunction fails it will – it will be at the cost of other projects which will have to be delayed or turned down.

But if it goes ahead it will be an asset for the city and the province, and not just for those of us here now, in much the same way that the Opera House has provided value for several generations.

If those who regarded the Opera House as a folly had prevailed it wouldn’t be here for us to enjoy today.

The foresight and work of people more than 100 years ago provided an asset for us now and the vision and work of those behind its refurbishment have ensured it will still be there providing value and being enjoyed by our children and grandchildren.

Old but new

February 22, 2009

The architects for the restoration of the Oamaru Opera House were Williams Ross  of Melbourne, a firm which has specialised in theatres.

One of the partners, Virginia Ross, has a very personal link with the project. She was brought up in Oamaru and her family were involved with the arts in the town. She recalled one Operatic Society performance in the Opera House when her father was in the cast, her mother and brother in the orchestra and her grandfather helped in the front of the house.

The restoration retained as much of possible of the old building, its fittings and character and the links with the past have been carried through in the decor.

In the Empire Room, for example, features this floor-to-ceiling representation of Britannia, taken from the programme for a World War I fund raising concert.


Was that a fire alarm?

February 22, 2009

A siren sounded part way through Mayor Alec Familton’s speech during the dinner which preceded the Oamaru Opera House Gala Showcase.

There was some initial confusion. But it soon became clear it wasn’t part of the enetertainment nor was it a hint the mayor had said enough.

A rehearsal of the pyrotechnics for the opening act had set off the smoke alarms so we all had to file out into the rain and wait for the fire brigade to arrive and declare a false alarm before we could go back in.

Not quite what was expected but given the spectacular nature of the pyrotechnics during the show, we could understand how it had happened.


Front of house

February 21, 2009





February 21, 2009

Beck stage at the Opera House used to be cold and bordering on derelect.

The architects have retained the old outside wall complete with graffiti. Messages scored into the stone include a message that rugby sucks and others which suggest that lack of  moral rectitude wasn’t unknown among the youth of previous generations.


Yesterday morning not everything had found a home:


But the dressing rooms which were cold, dingy and dirty are ready for tonight’s gala showcase.



Council chamber

February 21, 2009

More pics of the Oamaru Opera House.

This was the Oamaru Borough’s council chamber and the ODT reporter reminded me the press used to have to sit in front of the mayor’s chair where everyone could see if they were taking notes or not.



The auditorium

February 20, 2009




Inside the Opera House

February 20, 2009

The motif for the Oamaru Opera House is a mask, created by Donna Demente:




Blessing and blessed

February 20, 2009

A medly from a lone piper serenaded those gathered outside Oamaru’s newly refurbished Opera House before dawn.

As the music stopped, the large white curtain which cloaked the building fell:


We were led inside to find Waitaki Mp Jacqui Dean, Mayor Alex Familton, councillors, council staff, representatives from Ngai Tahu and a minister on the stairs facing us.

A blessing in Maori, a reply from the Mayor, a prayer and the combined singing of Whaakaria Mai followed then the voice of a soloist on the stage called us into the auditorium.

The mayor spoke briefly then a young ballet dancer, representing those who will perform in future, took the stage and commanded (yes, that was the word she chose) the Opera House open.

We were then invited to explore the building, and what a treasure it is.

We are fortunate that more that the people from a previous generation gave us this building and that there were enough in the current generation of councillors and supporters who were prepared to work hard to not just preserve but to restore and improve it for the future.

There’s a daylight photo of the outside here and I’ll post some interior shots later.

Opera House opening celebrations

February 11, 2009

The restoration and refurbishment of Oamaru’s Opera House  attracted the usual angst and opposition which attends the spending of large amounts of ratepayers’ money.

While mindful of the need to be very careful with other people’s money, I didn’t want to be part of the generation which let the 100 year old building fall down and I thought there was no sense spending vast amounts on an expensive monument. If it was worth preserving it was worth restoring so it could be used.

More than enough people shared this view to commit to fundraising initiatives which added to donations from trusts, sponsorship and Lotteries contributed towards the $10 million project.

The completion of the refurbishment is about to be marked with a two-week  festival of events  which ranges through music, comedy, sport, politics, religion, alcohol and whatever Confessions of a Pop Tart, with the Funky Hot Mamas provides.

 The programme includes a gala showcase  ; a debate  between local and central government politicians including Jim Hopkins and Rodney Hide; the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra; a church service; the Court Theatre’s Scared Scriptless; Last Night of the Proms; Beer with the Boys; and an evening with Sarah Ulmer.

Opera for Christmas

December 7, 2008

The Solid Energy Ensemble of Southern Opera brought their Spirit of Christmas to Oamaru this afternoon: one conductor, two pianists, 16 singers and 20 songs, and a sponsor not normally associated with the arts.

I’m not qualified to critique them but was captivated and was sitting with people who know a lot more about music than I do and they were impressed.

The concert was in the Opera House which is nearing the completion of its first major restoration and refurbishment since it was opened 101 years ago.

The project has been controversial as any costing $10 million would be, but the results, inside and out, are impressive.


$3m or more for Opera House?

July 22, 2008

Minister of Internal Affairs, Rick Barker, is in Oamaru this morning for what the Oamaru Mail calls “a presentation” at the Opera House.

It is expected he will be announcing a grant towards the refurbishment of the historic building.

The Mail reports a rumour that it could be up to $3m but yesterday the grapevine was tipping as much as $3.5m.

The refurbishment began in March last year and is expected to be completed towards the end of this year.

Raising the $9.7m needed for the project is a huge task for the District but a combination of community fundraising efforts and grants has rasied nearly $6.5m so far.

Opera House Needs Loan

June 18, 2008

A $3 million loan  will be requried to pay for the refurbishment of the Oamaru Opera House.


The grand old lady which graces Oamaru’s main street was built 100 years ago. It is undergoing an extensive upgrade which was to have been financed in part from the proceeds of the Forrester Heights subdivision. But delays in selling the properties means a loan will be needed to help pay the $9.7m bill for the project.

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