• Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections D_GBB_0012 – Devonport Community House 1985.

Transit housing in Devonport 1947-1963

Local History with David Verran

Following the war effort from 1940 to 1945, there continued to be restrictions on house building due to shortages of building materials and tradespeople.   As a consequence, from August 1944 to around May 1962, buildings originally built by the Public Works Department for the United States forces were used by the Auckland City Council for transit housing at Western Springs (on and near Motions Road).   Transit camp tenants were to move to state housing when available.

The Auckland City Council managed two other transit camps; one was on the north-western part of Victoria Park (in use from February 1946 to April 1959) and the other utilised buildings moved from Camp Hale in the Domain to nearby Titoki Street (in use from June 1946 to February 1964).   Camp Bunn (in the Pilkington Road, Panmure area) was also used for transit housing from 1946 to 1961 and there were others across New Zealand.   From the late 1950s, successive government policies ensured there was adequate housing stock, particularly for those on lower incomes.
In January 1945 the Devonport Borough Council approached the government for a similar transit camp for Devonport residents awaiting state housing.   The Council recommended buildings at the north end of the military camp at Narrow Neck become a transit camp, although buildings at Castor Bay were also considered.   However, the government said it still needed the Narrow Neck site, and that camp was later used for Naval transit housing.   In 1946 twenty-seven state houses were under construction in Devonport.
Instead, in April 1947 the Devonport Borough Council approved the use of the former Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) hostel on Takarunga/Mount Victoria as a transit camp.   Situated on the southern side of the maunga, the hostel was next to the Manual Training School (opened in 1912) and Devonport Primary School.   The Council had to provide a water supply and drainage, while the government supplied the buildings and any alterations necessary.   The site had previously been used from 1939 to 1941 for an anti-aircraft battery, and was home to the 18th Battery from 1939 to 1940.
Two former dormitory blocks were now converted into a total of fourteen dwelling units.   A guard room and another building provided another two, while the former officers’ quarters provided another two as well, the combined mess provided four and the former quartermaster’s store another one, to make a total of twenty-three.   Four of the units had five rooms, seventeen had four rooms and two had just three rooms, and one was needed for the caretaker.   Separate ablution blocks and laundries were also made fit for purpose and the old band room made available as either a children’s area or a community hall.   Initially the buildings were available to the Council for five years and by April 1947 there were already seven applicants for dwelling units at the camp.
The camp was occupied from September 1947, with occupants paying rent to the Devonport Borough Council.   The Council’s Housing Committee gave preference to local residents, and while all were state housing applicants (around half being returned service people), they didn’t automatically achieve the same high priority as those in other transit camps, who were chosen directly in line with State Advances and Rehabilitation Department criteria.   By May 1948, there was the Mount Victoria Transit Camp Committee to advocate for the interests of camp tenants.
The camp was closed in May 1963 and all but two of the buildings removed in July 1964.   The land then again became part of Takarunga Reserve.   Buildings which were still serviceable were transported to, for example, Snells Beach, Rakino Island and Okura, as well as being reused in Devonport.   The concrete paths were all dug up and the refuse went to the local dump.
The two buildings remaining on the Kerr Street site are now used by Whare Toi and the Takarunga Playcentre.

By David Verran

Issue 109 May 2020