Comment: Auckland's Review of City Affairs
In 1950s Auckland, a group of concerned citizens decided a periodical to keep tabs on the city leadership was needed. Thus was born Comment, published by Hobson Publications. The editorial board included managing editor Charles Fisher but besides Comment itself, the only other publication from the company appears to be a Hamilton yearbook published in 1955.
From the first August 1955 issue to its last just 15 months later, Comment set out to be an “independent link between the whole council, its Administration and its Ratepayers.” Funded by local businessmen and advertising, 27,000 households were to receive a free copy. A deal was made that Council pay distribution costs and in return have the use of ten of the 20 pages.
It was an interesting time for the council. One-term mayor John Luxford was at the helm and facing a host of issues from inner city slum housing, construction of the harbour bridge, the debacle over sewerage schemes, and the constant transport concerns.
Ref: Auckland City Council, Auckland slums, 1950s, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-973.
There is some fascinating content on Auckland’s recent history in its pages. Dove Meyer Robinson, then chair of the Auckland Metropolitan Drainage board, wrote extensively on the new Mangere sewerage works, calling it “the world’s greatest drainage scheme” and outlining why work had been abandoned on the Browns Island scheme in favour of Mangere. Rapid rail was, as now, an issue, with Councillor Curran writing, “Auckland must in the near future include a rapid transit underground system in its transport plans.” Councillor Hunter commented on the state of the civic workplace: "The Town Hall itself is crammed from top to bottom even to the point of having some of its staff accommodate on the roof of the Town Hall Building.” Work, at that time, had already begun on the new civic administration block in Grey's Ave. And Comment’s editor frequently got stuck into council. In one issue he called the current set up “a three cornered hat from which little proceeds but hot air, which is usually the way with the eternal triangle.”
Ref: E.A. Lawry, Architectural view of Purification Plant, January 1957, South Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries, Footprints 04524.
Ref: Auckland City Council, Auckland City Council staff or councillors..., 1956, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-2117A.
Yet only a few months into its publication, trouble was brewing with the editor admitting it was impossible to publish critical comment on the city; “Both readers and advertisers have been quick to perceive this weakness.” The distribution deal with the Council was scrapped and a new scheme put in place. The first 15,000 people to sign up for Comment got it free; after that, it was a paid subscription.
The scrapping of the deal turned into a stoush that went nationwide in January '56 when NZ Truth published Comment's claims of mayoral interference, and included a rebuttal from Luxford. The mayor claimed council had terminated the agreement, not the publishers, and there had been no interference with editorial he was aware of. The editors shot back, claiming that Luxford had called a writer “to his parlour and left no doubt that it would be wise to slash the article if we wanted the council to continue paying the penny postage.” Even more, he claimed that before the publication had launched, “a handful of small time would-be dictators are furiously at work to destroy it. The latest effort of these back-room boys is to bring pressure to bear on some of our leading advertisers who have made Comment possible. Nevertheless, they leave us undaunted.”
Ref: Auckland City Council, Group portrait of Auckland City Council employees, 1959-1960, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-3939.
Yet in November 1956, the last issue of Comment was published and in its pages there is nothing to indicate its demise. There were the standard 24 pages, the usual council round up, plenty of advertising, and an editorial criticising planners over a scheme to include car parks in every new building. And with that, Comment, Auckland’s Review of City Affairs, ceased to exist.
The Central Auckland Research Centre holds a bound volume containing every issue of Comment.
Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre