Myra Giese was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 1922 and died in 2015.
Myra lived at 65 Roxburgh Street for 30 years. From the moment she arrived, the enthusiasm of the community impressed her.
“We had community cafs – community cafés – which were Friday night; and different families served meals – usually two families together – of all various different ethnic backgrounds. This was long before we had all these interesting restaurants around. So I know I remember doing a Mexican evening and with the Greek people they had a Greek one, and we had a Chinese one; and we had really extraordinarily good meals for very little money. And, again, it brought the group together and it brought young people together – young and old – which is very important. . . . It was not a fund raiser, but it was a fun raiser.”
She was soon introduced to the Mt Victoria Progressive Association and later became its president. The things that were important to her were “the sense of community, keeping Mt Victoria residential. . . . Getting people to know each other from different backgrounds because safety in a community is when you know one another.”
While she was president, too, she came up with the idea of olive trees for Mt Victoria. “I’d come from California and had lived in an olive grove and noticed the olive tree at the foot of Roxburgh Street. I thought it would be fun for us to have it. And I was assured: ‘Oh madam, we do not grow olive trees in New Zealand.’ ‘Sir, have you looked down there? There’s a very big olive tree.’ ‘Oh, is there erally?’ And I stood for Wellington City Council and there is a lovely photograph of me with an olive tree right in front of my house and I was taller than the olive tree. And I’m five foot one and three-quarters so that was quite an achievement. The thing now is taller than my house.”
“I think it’s interesting, when I look back at the diversity of the people on the Residents’ Association committee. Some were, I would say, to the right of Atilla the Hun and some were probably to the left of the socialists, but we were able to respect one another and work together because we had a unified goal. . . . .building community and keeping this residential community.”
“I think it was in ’77 or ’78 the Mt Victoria Newsletter was born . . . it was very much a community affair . . . gradually it ended up that I got an editor – a different one – eleven editors each year. And so end of November/early December all my friends on Mt Victoria would avoid me because that’s when I got the editors for the next year.”
Myra helped start the Mt Victoria Housing Trust, too. Now the Wellington Housing Trust, it recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. “There were two houses – one was I think on Brougham Street (it was sold recently) and one or two on Elizabeth Street.” She remembers “cleaning the blasted houses when a tenant had left or getting it in order. Very good at scrubbing floors and refrigerators.”
On a more personal note, she remembers a wonderful Dutch shop that used to be in Majoribanks Street “run by two Dutch twins – very, very tall – Fresians. And I didn’t know there were two of them; and I was walking along Oriental Parade and I said ‘Hi’ and this man just walked by me. And the next day I went to the Dutch shop and he said ‘Hello’ and it wasn’t until a couple of years later and I saw them both at a concert that I realized there were two, six-foot-two Dutch guys, identical twins. But the Dutch shop was tremendous. It had exquisite bakery. Not a good thing to know if you want to go on a diet.”
Myra’s home was perched on the escarpment overlooking Clyde Quay. “When I look at Waitangi Park, I think sort of nostalgically that we used to have the rubbish trucks parked below us. Every once in a while they’d have a hangi sort of in the corner and it smelt delicious up here. And it was important to watch how those trucks were parked because, not only were there seagulls down there, but also cats. And some cats would hop from the top of one truck to the other. And once in a while the trucks were parked a little bit too far apart and you could see the cats put their hands on the hips and say, ‘how dare you not park your car properly.’”