Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Rudman's city: Cracks widen in potty pottery battle

By BRIAN RUDMAN

Has there ever been a more weird and pointless battle than the one raging over relics from the old Crown Lynn Potteries?

In one corner is self-taught pottery expert Richard Quinn.

In the other is Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, along with just about everyone else associated with the pottery museum planned for the restored Ambrico kiln in New Lynn.

So strange is the tussle that Mr Harvey is now recommending in a private memo to his councillors that the west's pottery treasures be "given to Te Papa or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as colonial crockery. In other words, we remove the source of Quinn's obsession as far away from this city as possible."

The saga goes back to 1988, when the dying New Lynn Borough Council obtained the abandoned brickmaking kiln from Ceramco. A committee was established to restore it and Mr Quinn, from nearby Avondale, got involved.

In 1989, with the owner's permission, he spent nine months scavenging around the adjacent closed Crown Lynn Potteries site. He became Steptoe for the proposed new museum.

Some relics he obtained were gifted from Crown Lynn to the museum. Mr Quinn says he bought other stuff personally for $5 a trailer-load or a dozen beer, taking it back to the kiln. He also spent time digging up old bricks and pottery shards.

When a display shed was built alongside the kiln, it soon filled with relics - everything from plaster moulds for toilet pans to a vintage cargo hoist on wheels. Added to the haul were donations from other pottery families and collectors.

In May 1993 the new Waitakere City Council reached a loan agreement with Mr Quinn over his property, but this soon went sour. The cause? Mr Quinn says a promised burglar alarm was not activated. In September, after two attempted break-ins, he began sleeping in the museum shed.

Dissatisfied with council inaction over the alarm, he then began moving stuff out of the shed. The council responded by trying to change the locks. Mr Quinn objected, the police were called and, after a struggle, he was arrested. Mr Quinn says he was injured and that police called him a thieving blankety-blank dole bludger.

No charges were laid but seven years on the bitterness remains. "When a couple of cops do you over it does wonders for your outlook."

Since then his life has been consumed - his word - with the battle to retrieve his relics.

Waitakere chief executive Mark Dacombe has been a prime target. So has the mayor. The Ombudsman is regularly updated - and, at times, berated.

Meanwhile, which relics are his remains a matter of confusion.

A year ago the council had all 2300 items photographed and catalogued. Then, with a security guard at the door, they were packed and secreted away in containers to hidden storage.

Mr Quinn was outraged. Offered a catalogue to identify his treasures, he refused. The mayor waded in with a letter calling for "an end to this emotional blackmail and nonsense which gives you both pleasure and pain."

The slanging continues. Mr Quinn says the council is demanding receipts to prove ownership. The council's manager of public affairs, Wally Thomas, denies this, saying that other than items known to have been donated by others, Mr Quinn can "tell us what is his and take it away."

The reality is, Mr Quinn has nowhere to take them. Not that that seems to be the issue any more. The issue now is self-esteem.

"I'm unemployed. They thought they could do what they liked. I don't count."

Mr Harvey is similarly spitting the dummy. "I have been terrorised by experts and I refuse to be intimidated for one more month by Mr Quinn of New Lynn."

Says Mr Quinn: "I'm from Avondale."

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