My Homes in Oxley Crescent

My Homes in Oxley Crescent

1984 BRITAIN: Miners’ strikes; Margaret Thatcher; American cruise missile bases … to name a few negatives.

New Zealand was very different to this. When my first husband (Dr Rob Griffiths) gained a job with Civil Aviation, our family of four settled in Wellington for our first five years in New Zealand. 

21 Oxley Crescent: In 1988 we began planning to move south because Rob had designed and initiated a correspondence course to be run from Otago University (his Postgrad Diploma in Aviation Medicine came to be well regarded both here and internationally).

Looking at possibilities in Dunedin, I spied Oxley Crescent in an aerial shot taken from above Larnach Castle. The flat part of the road, facing north-east, seemed to get the sun, and the views of the bay and wider harbour were stunning. After viewing several properties in Broad Bay and Portobello, we made an offer on a house in Frances Street. Too late: it had sold over the weekend so, back in Wellington, we cast our minds over other properties that might be suitable.

Our two boys (Daniel and Edward Griffiths, 8 and 7) were due to attend Broad Bay School, and we wanted a house to do up. I remembered that aerial photo of the ideal spot, so when 21 Oxley Crescent came up for sale, that was it! The house was previously enjoyed by Cecil and Mary Robertson, known as Robbie and Pam as a holiday home.  Robbie was a former ODT journalist.  No. 21 was tiny: two bedrooms, barely bigger than the beds we fitted into them, off a living area. And a dirt-floored basement area which included a shower, WC and basin, literally under the staircase leading to the back door and onto the scrubby flat level below. In 1989 we shifted in.

21 Oxley Crescent in 1989

Life changed in 1991 when Rob returned to Wellington and I didn’t. The boys were settled at Broad Bay school, I loved living here, and enjoyed my work at Arthur Barnett Curtain Call.

This job helped develop my passion for colour, textiles and interior design, which led to a 30-year career in related industries.

When I subsequently met my current husband, David, we set about renovating and expanding number 21 (Kanuka Cottage) and over time my house became smart enough for us to offer ‘self-contained accommodation’. Dunedin Visitor Centre was very supportive of this venture. In 1993, there were three motels on the Peninsula and only a scattering of cottage-style accommodations. At peak times, tourists and visitors to the Peninsula often couldn’t find accommodation closer than Milton.

The panoramic views across Turnbull’s Bay to Yellow Head are now enjoyed by travellers from around the world, as they are by our own family when they stay in their ‘family bach’.

A previous owner of note was James Bruce Irwin (in 1973 –1980). He described himself as a medical illustrator but while living in Oxley Crescent went on to craft botanically accurate pencil drawings which are included in the text book Flora of New Zealand,  Volume II, 1978.

This explains the homemade skylight cut into the eastern gable, supplying light for the artist and for his orchid collection which apparently was hung on hooks around the room and watered in situ!

One of James Irwin’s botanical illustrations for ‘Flora of New Zealand’ Volume II
completed whilst living in Oxley Crescent

27 Oxley Crescent:  In 1991 our family shifted temporarily into town (Kanuka Cottage still operating as holiday accommodation) intending to return to the Bay when it fitted in with our lives. Norma Mason (36 Oxley Crescent) to the rescue, informing us that number 27, the home of the Hoogweg family was up for sale.

Hans and Sonja Hoogweg had raised four children in this small house and, in 1977, added a sleep-out in the yard below the house to accommodate them all. (This meant there were a WC and bath plumbed into the basement, tucked into the clay bank between the old timber piles.) At some point around 1977 both the sun porch and deck overlooking the harbour had been closed in to create an open plan living area. This explains the sloped ceilings and floors!

Although it was ours from 1998, it was four years before we moved in — a variety of tenants later. And some drama!

‘Neighbourhood reporting’ informed us of many comings and goings to this house and a covert inspection revealed large cannabis plants growing in the painted-out glass house. Those tenants were told to leave.

At the end of 1999, not long before midnight, we had a phone call — Norma Mason again, ‘You’d better come down. Your house is on fire!’

Luckily this house is constructed of aluminium ‘weatherboard’ panels, but the sleep-out, the seat of the fire, was completely destroyed. No-one was hurt and thanks to the efficiency of the local volunteer fire fighters and a calm night, the blaze didn’t spread to the neighbours, Syd and Jackie Fogden (number 29) who were hosing down their house two metres away.

Fire damage to 27 Oxley Crescent

A silver lining to this destruction was that we rebuilt The Studio on the site: more space for us plus another option for tourist stays.

36 Oxley Crescent, the pink house: At some point George W. Mason lived at our house (number 27). As a young adult (around 1945) George worked for a haulage company and used his truck and connections to ferry the timber and other materials to build his house at 36 Oxley Crescent. He owned all three sections of the corner plot, one of which always had sheep on it which he ‘borrowed’ to keep the grass down. George assured me he had hand-picked every piece of rimu and kauri that went into that house.

The pink house at 36 Oxley Crescent

My first meeting with Norma (and her toy poodle Chocolate) was while house-hunting in 1989, when we (my original Wellington family) were forced to walk up the road to view our first house here. The occupants of (I think) number 24 had felled a tall pine tree which had fallen the wrong way, across the road, and blocked it! Chocolate was always to be seen sitting in the sun in the front window of number 36. Although Norma denied it, she observed everything that went on in Oxley Crescent and was an engaging source of local info. After she died, George lived on in the house and after he passed away in May 2005, we (mainly for sentimental reasons) purchased the house from his daughter June.

Oh, and it’s no longer pink!

By Alison Thornicroft

Comments are closed.