MPs visit Savage Cres state house treasures

HAPPY AT HOME: MPs Annette King and Iain Lees-Galloway visit 96-year-old Jack Shortt, a long-time resident of Savage Cres.
HAPPY AT HOME: MPs Annette King and Iain Lees-Galloway visit 96-year-old Jack Shortt, a long-time resident of Savage Cres.

Like the term "state housing", the name "Savage Cres" does not call to mind the pretty collection of cottages built in wartime Palmerston North that has been marked a treasure of our national heritage.

The garden suburb nestled in Palmerston North's West End was built between 1938 and 1945 by the first Labour Government, and is an early example of New Zealand social welfare philosophy, according to historians involved in the conservation of the area now a Palmerston North City Council conserved heritage trail offered for public walks.

Labour housing spokeswoman and Rongotai MP Annette King and Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway were taken on a tour yesterday by Savage Cres historian Margaret Tate.

A booklet recently published to accompany Savage Cres tours classed it a garden suburb built on early 20th century town planning ideals. Houses were built in a range of early 20th century architectural styles, including art deco, traditional British and moderne cottages, and looped around a large green space.

Yet the resident who has lived on the street the longest has never actually seen it.

Jack Shortt, 96, now lives alone on Savage Cres, since moving there with his young family 65 years ago. He has been blind since he discovered a live army shell at Foxton Beach that exploded, costing him his sight at age 12.

Then a civil servant, Mr Shortt was provided the state house as he was a welfare officer for the Foundation of the Blind, helping up to 400 people at any one time across a huge area that spanned Otaki South to Te Awamutu, Palmerston North and Wairarapa.

The New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation national championships one-time title-winner was transferred from Auckland in 1947 to Savage Cres, but the house was too small for his family of five so they shifted into a larger three-bedroom property in 1955, where he still lives.

His house is today distinguished by the large antennas on his roof, which transmit from the old "ham" amateur radio Mr Shortt keeps in his spare room. Its large aerial looms over the backyard, and his daughter, Lesley, said a neighbour once spotted him, up a ladder, fixing the aerial at night-time and told the blind man it was dangerous to be on the roof in the dark. "He said, ‘it makes no difference to me!'."

In an oral history account by Mr Shortt recorded by Manawatu-Horowhenua Historic Places Trust members, he defended the state housing precinct he could not see.

"People say, ‘oh, you live in a state house do you?' They want to come and see what we've got and then they would change their minds."

Mrs King said the state housing area, which today comprises 70 per cent privately owned property, was enduring and something to be proud of, compared to the "ticky-tacky boxes" typical of other state housing districts around New Zealand.

"I think that it's just as relevant today as when it was built 75 years ago. First home buyers were sold a well-built, affordable home."

Manawatu Standard