Black Asterisk, a boutique gallery in an old Auckland building converted into an art space, is the gatehouse to Ponsonby. I’ve traveled to Auckland specifically to visit this gallery and to see the work of photographer Murray Cammick ONZM.
“Cammick studied photography at Elam School of Fine Arts 1973 to 1975 with lecturers John B. Turner and Tom Hutchins who encouraged him to take socio-political photos for the student newspaper Craccum. Through his love for soul music and Americana, Cammick was drawn to a nocturnal and youthful urban demimonde of Auckland’s Queen Street. Between 1974-1981, he documented an early manifestation of boy racer culture: the young men (and a few women), mainly out of West Auckland, who paraded their restored classic American V8 cars up Queen Street on a Saturday night, and the entourages that followed them. These shots contributed to the series Flash Cars, which Murray showed at Black Asterisk in 2016″ 1
I spent my first day in Central Auckland in the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki 2 and just walking about. This is my home and I experience all those emotional waves of the returning. I’ve come up on the bus to see where I can get to on a bus. I haven’t been on a bus for so long. I’ve spent the night in an unprepossessing but perfectly adequate budget hotel on a Central Auckland street I’ve walked up so many times. I know I could live here – in the heart of this busy and interesting place.
It’s my second and last day here so I must get up to Ponsonby. I cannot help myself. I go back again to my childhood. Back to my Auckland Art Gallery. I have brunch in the gallery café 3 looking out again over the grey concrete stepped courtyard and heavy, dark trees of my Albert Park. I walk around the gallery again. I book in for a guided tour of the gallery which I almost miss because I’m busy looking at the gallery shop. The volunteer guide is new so it’s an experience for both of us. She’s wonderful. I don’t ask what she thinks of me.
I avoid the free and circular buses cruising and crawling around inner Auckland and walk up what was the path of the creek. Early Auckland was built on the foreshore of the Waitemata Harbour at the bottom of harbourside hills and cliffs.4 The gradient of Queen Street climbs gradually and then increases to crest the hill of Karangahape Road. I get so far then I choose the less demanding Vincent Street on the side of the hill as my path to Karangahape Road.
The cold and hard Auckland Central Police Station is still there but it’s role is moving out – still within walking distance – up to College Hill and the cop shop bureaucrats will take over. 5 There are more high rise city living blocks towering over the roadside trees. Vincent Street? This is a street I could live on.
I turn left at the top of Vincent Street up Pitt Street, over Greys Avenue and the big fire station I always ran past in case the fire engines came rushing out. 6 As I walk towards Karangahape Road I pass a truck parked in the driveway of the always austere and imposing Pitt Street Methodist Church. 7 The truck is a mobile social service and provisions centre for a now definable less-privileged Auckland community. I don’t remember there being so many street people and beggars in the uncounted days I spent walking Auckland. I stand outside the ever present Leo O’Malley’s 8 menswear then cross K Road to walk to Black Asterisk.
K Road is still that fascinating combination of absolutely awful and boutique gorgeous tendrils of gentrification among the grime. I’ve eaten again in the wonderful Art Gallery café so can only manage a hot drink and a biscuit in Fort Greene 9 a warm and fragrant bakery café. It’s so comforting I have to force myself to rejoin Auckland’s winter.
I walk past what used to be an amazing timber furniture store and then turn onto Ponsonby Road where the traffic is hurling itself through the intersection towards one of Auckland’s interminable roads to suburban somewhere. And then I’m standing in front of the reason I’ve endured that freezing cold early morning bus ride from the Bay of Plenty – Number 10 Ponsonby Road. 10
Black Asterisk is visually unpretentious. It looks like an old terrace house that has been converted into an art space. I’m left with the impression that I’ve been in someone’s house. But I’m not here for the architecture. It’s the contents I’ve come to see.
The exhibited Cammick images from his Auckland camera night time trawls are few but they capture not only the essence of his subjects but also that Auckland time. I look and look at my Auckland. I notice the ordinariness of the subjects, even the sticking plaster on one of the knees. I point that out to Molly Jones, the Gallery Manager; a tolerant and obliging young woman. I go and look upstairs; some of the art is really out there. I’m told that the gallery owner prefers to support the different and the unusual. I look again at the work of Murray Cammick and then I leave. I did it. I made it to Black Asterisk on the bus. Busted!
I go just a little bit further up Ponsonby Road on the opposite side past the little park on the corner and the groups of dark navy school uniforms walking to their homes.11 In one of the many repurposed early colonial buildings of the area is an arts centre. It’s the Waitemata Local Board arts and maker space. Studio One Toi Tu. 12 More looking. Another wonderfully helpful and pleasant young woman of the arts takes me around the complex so I can photograph what were the old cells of this former Police Station.
I meet artist Sean Beldon 13 painting away in a former retail space. Sean is a lovely, chatty representative of the arts community. He tells me he’s not sure he’ll remain a tenant in the space. We wish each other well and I walk on.
To endemic world 14 an enormous cavern of art. prints and creativity literally bustling with the activity of a dealer. The young man is amazing helpful. If I had been from “overseas” the people I’ve met in these cafes, galleries, the Auckland Art Gallery and my little hotel would confirm New Zealand’s reputation for friendliness.
As I’m on Ponsonby Road, which I’ve walked along so many times, I walk it again and now with tourist eyes look into the cafes, eateries, boutiques. I meet a mother with a narrow stall Flame in Vintage 15 in a narrow mall passageway selling vintage glass contained candles for her University daughter. I look at and listen to locals. There are so many people. It’s like being in Sydney or Melbourne. I look into and around the shops.
I find this beautiful eatery and have a steak sandwich which I decide will keep me alive until the bus from Auckland gets me back to Tauranga. Then I walk back along Ponsonby Road and Karangahape Road. I walk in and around St Kevin’s Arcade. 16 I walk slowly down my Queen Street. Past the Baptist Tabernacle. 17 Past my Myers Park 18 and smile at the line of old shops opposite. I always wished they were my shops. Always slightly seedy and mysterious.
I collect my backpack from my hotel. 19 I’ve some time left so I walk up and around the block again letting Auckland try to entice me into returning. I walk the narrow pavements of Lorne Street, the High Street. I look. I listen. It’s like the close of a business day in any major Antipodean city. I could be in Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney.
The bus station is just up the hill and around the corner on Hobson Street. The waiting room is pre-Covid crammed and steaming with mid-winter travelers. The person next to me is reading. I don’t have a book. I don’t have music and I don’t have headphones. So I close my eyes.
This bus is not a mobile freezer. I sit opposite a headscarfed woman who politely moves when my booted feet inadvertently keep making contact. I’m mortified and tell her I’ll sit on the other side. The trip down the motorway is amazingly easy and the dark and light punctuated trip to Tauranga seems to take far less time. That’s not true as it’s getting on for the next day by the time we’ve arrived, disembarked and I’ve retrieved my car from the car park and driven back into the Kaimai hills.
What was it like. It was so worth it. Both in terms of the miniscule cost of transport to and accommodation in a major world city and the gallery and city experience. A small price to pay to journey home.
Would I do it again? It has to be the simplest way to visit the city from the provinces. It’s like having a chauffeur. My car was unmolested in its little space in a Tauranga parking building (for which I paid a miniscule fee for the stay). My budget hotel was certainly far from flash but the young people I dealt with, who by their accents had arrived here more recently that I had, were more than pleasant and helpful. The food I purchased didn’t seem any more expensive than if I had bought it in a Tauranga café; I ate nothing that wasn’t delicious. And I got to drink superb Zealong tea in the beautiful setting of the Auckland Art Gallery café.
Was it an issue that I was on my own? Never. No, I wouldn’t go out in Downtown Auckland in those hours of alcohol consumption and bar closing but as “an older woman” I had no daytime problems with the besuited, the homeless, the beggars – anyone. And, the only dreadful thing I did was to be late for my wonderful free guided tour at the Auckland Art Gallery. Would I “recommend” a holiday in Auckland. You bet. Get Busted!
- Murray Cammick from the Black Asterisk Artist and Exhbition Statement https://www.blackasterisk.co.nz/artists/murray-cammick
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/
- Art Gallery Café serves Zealong Tea
4. Early post-colonial Auckland. The perspective is that of a settler descendent.
5. Auckland Central Police Station, Vincent Street relocation https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/108483048/auckland-central-police-station-moving-to-new-building-on-college-hill
6, Auckland Central Fire Station Pitt St Fire Station
7. Pitt St Methodist Church This is the most amazing article and page of history of this area https://www.kroad.com/heritage/pitt-st-church/
8. Leo O’Malley’s – is not there any more… https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/116423402/heres-why-i-wont-mourn-the-end-of-leo-omalleys
9.Fort Greene fortgreene.co.nz
10. Black Asterisk 10 Ponsonby Road, Auckland, New Zealand Stuart Broughton Director Molly Jones Assistant
11, Auckland Girls’ Grammar School
12. Studio One Toi Tu http://www.studioone.org.nz/
13. Sean Beldon Artist has a 2020 pop up exhibition coming soon https://beldon.co.nz/
14 Endemic World 62 Ponsonby Road, Grey Lynn Auckland email@example.com 09 378 9823
15. Flame in Vintage. Handmade candles in vintage glass containers 021 630 099
16. St Kevins Arcade
17. Baptist Tabernacle Queen Street https://www.tabernacle.org.nz/our-building.html
18 Myers Park https://www.kroad.com/heritage/myers-park/
19. Ibis Budget Hotel, Auckland Central 20 Wyndham Street 1010 auckland new zealand Tel: +6493089140
Fax: (+64)9/3087200 Contact email : firstname.lastname@example.org
We used the InterCity Bus https://www.intercity.co.nz/
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
Check out Nick Scott’s novel “Temple’s Job” on ARTbop in WORDS Puha – words from the land. ARTbop publishes a chapter on the first Saturday of each month. Chapter 3 coming in August!
And this week’s The Sunday Series featuring Donna Awatere Huata https://www.artbop.co.nz/the-sunday-series-donna-awatere-huata/
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