A trip down memory lane.
April 2, 2018
It’s an iconic photograph.. 1937. The ‘father’ of the welfare state in New Zealand, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, carries a large table into number 12 Fife Lane, Miramar, amid throngs of spectators and press.
An historic moment: New Zealand’s first Labour prime minister – a working man for the working class – not afraid to muck in. David McGregor, son of the first tenants, will say years later Savage unceremoniously dumped the table as soon as he was out of the prying view of cameras.
It is the most famous address on Fife Lane, a tiny street that straddles Crawford Green and the Quadrant in Miramar. Barely more than 150 metres, it’s quiet and homely, the whine of planes taking off from the nearby airport the only sound that interrupts sighing of the sea and southerly.
Theresa Nysse currently lives at number 12. She’s just returned from the hospital, visiting her mother who has pneumonia and high blood pressure. She’s unwell herself – sniffling, she’s reluctant to talk at first, but ends up inviting me inside to look around her home.
The Nysse family has lived there for 27 years. Last year, new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited to announce an end to selling off state houses under the Labour government. She brought along a cake to mark the occasion.
“I’d say my cakes are better.” She laughs. “Jacinda brought a sponge cake. I’m not a fan of sponge, but it was alright. I think she bought it.
Theresa points to the spot where Ardern cut the cake with her mother. It’s not far from where her dad’s fingers are buried in the front garden.“Dad’s fingers are buried in there. It’s just near that tree.
“We’re thinking of [digging] it up – it’s in a jar – and taking it to the cemetery because a lot of – like what we believe – bad stuff is happening in the family, like people dying.”
“He got his finger[s] amputated because he couldn’t open his because he had an arm operation and it just damaged the nerve. So they amputated his fingers because his nails were digging into his [hand].
“We don’t believe in giving our body parts to other people. We have to keep it where someone is stable, living, you have to bury it at their house.
Theresa says she likes living on Fife Lane – “it’s very homely,” – but sometimes she wishes it wasn’t the first state house because the media keep turning up on the doorstep. But she’s met three prime ministers now – Jim Bolger, Helen Clark and Ardern.
A photo of a young Helen Clark holding Theresa’s baby sister sits proudly – along with numerous other photos of the ex Prime Minister – in the living room.
Did John Key ever stop by?“Hell no,” says Theresa. “I wouldn’t let him on my property.” She bursts into laughter.
Near the corner of Crawford Green and Fife Lane lives a older lady who plans to move soon. She wants to remain anonymous. She’s lived there eight years but she’s lived in Miramar all her life. She moved to the property with her late husband.
She says their house was built on the site of a state home previously occupied by sports commentator Gary Ward. The old state house was shifted off the section and found a new site in Newtown.
She likes living in the street, but the section and gardens are too big for her now, she says.
“It’s beautiful for me, watching the Green, with everything here and it’s peaceful. I’m just about ready to shift on.
“It’s beautiful and sunny and it’s always been very clean and good suburb. There’s never really been any trouble around.”
She’s particularly proud of her son, Andrew. He’s a “doctor of philosophy” – and has written two books about the history of Iran. The Oil Kings and The Fall of Heaven.
“It’s very political,” she says.
People stick around in Fife Lane. Cynthia Owens, an insurance broker who lives halfway down the lane, has lived there for 17 years. “It’s a lovely little lane actually. It’s quiet.”
Lately her experience living in Fife Lane has been marred by the stoush between nearby residents and travellers unwilling to pay for parking at the airport. A 24-hour parking rule has been enforced in nearby streets close to the airport, but Fife Lane is just outside of the zone.
“The worst thing for us at the moment of course is all the parking from the airport. They’ve shifted the problem from one part of Miramar to the other part. It’s really bad. Tonight, no one – residents or friends, family – won’t be able to park in the street. Most weekends now, it’s really bad. From Thursday nights onward it’s shocking.”
It’s an historic place in the foundation of New Zealand, but it’s as quiet and unassuming as the archetypal kiwi. A sleepy street in a sleepy suburb in a sleepy nation’s capital that you won’t find bragging about its groundbreaking past.