Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: So Farewell Then, UCSA

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  • Michael.Higgins,

    My first visit to UCSA was in 1976 to see Space Waltz playing a seated gig in the ballroom. I remember a light show courtesy of the cars driving past on Ilam Road; and, afterwards, hearing 'Paint It Black' wafting across the still evening. It was a night that suggested possibilities that were then beyond my experience as a sixth former at a single sex, Catholic boys school. My next visit, two years later, was the first day of Orientation, and the Detroit Hemroids played in the Shelley Common Room. A few months later The Enemy rewired my expectations of music in the Ballroom. Over the next five years I spent way too much time in that sprawling complex with Radio U (pre-RDU) and temporary studios in dressing rooms and meeting rooms before we got our first permanent home in 1981 (after Students Against The Tour moved out). I discovered more nooks and crannies working on the bars. I remember Saturday nights in the upper common room doing the aftermatch for the rugby club (with the senior players drinking their fines of a quart of beer for every minute they were late for the pre-match meeting) and then a surreal hour shooing out the last of them while GUSS (?) (gay students club) set up for their disco. Nice piece Emma. Thank you.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2013 • 2 posts Report

  • amanda.mamaloco, in reply to amanda petrie-peter,

    weird apparently one of my not quite superpowers is the ability to bend technology

    Otuatahi-the flat city • Since Jul 2008 • 1 posts Report

  • Sister Mary Gearchange,

    I am of mixed emotions about this. I will not miss it because it is not, and has not, been the building I remember for some time. But at the same time there is the obvious nostalgia for the strong memories associated around it. Clubs days, signing people up for clubs they didn't need or want while also trying to get rid of the nutters that you know would be a disaster. Shagging in the room opposite the LCR and forgetting to close the curtains first. Taking a cafe burger to a lecture and being asked to leave the room because of the unique aroma they managed to generate. Discovering what a Jellybean was (Thanks, Phil!) and that the UCR happy hour staff would actually sell you a jug of the stuff. But shouldn't. Working on elections desks and being able to eat that week as a result. Learning to play card games, but never being any good at them. Meeting nice people that wouldn't shag me.

    The building itself I didn't think much about at the time. Brutalism was simply what you grew up with in ChCh in the 70's. It's what you saw so it was simply part of the landscape. It's only with getting older, seeing a bit of the world and gaining some context that you discover that the building does stand out, but only because it was such utter crap in terms of design and fit out. It does make you wonder how Warren & Mahoney stayed in business given their buildings are universally such utter crap. But I've also since discovered that that's NZ building all over for the 50's-90's: generally crap.

    Thinking about it more, however, I realize that I won't miss the UCSA building. At all. I will, however, miss the memories of people and events that it prompted each time I've been back in NZ and drove past it. I want to live that time again because I now realize that it was wasted on me then. Which I suspect just means I'm oldening faster than I thought.

    Since Oct 2015 • 19 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    I mainly recall cramped RDU and Student Job Search down those narrow corridors and a brilliant Orientation gig where Brent McLachlan managed to out-engineer that acoustically awful architecture for Bailter Space and others to spread the joy. Otherwise more familiar with the cafe and the seats outside than the common rooms.

    Had already spent too long inside the Auckland equivalent to find the place unusual. Impressed that the UC Students Association owned it and therefore made all the money from its catering etc businesses. Also that the Uni had insisted in the internationally protest-riven 60s on adding the mounds and that narrow bridge to stop students charging across to the Registry building en masse.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Michael.Higgins,

    My next visit, two years later, was the first day of Orientation, and the Detroit Hemroids played in the Shelley Common Room.

    Well now. It would be remiss not to point out that I've just had published an article about all that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Sister Mary Gearchange,

    It does make you wonder how Warren & Mahoney stayed in business given their buildings are universally such utter crap.

    Bless 'em, Warren & Mahoney's Twitter account has linked to the column and is favouriting tweets calling their building "ugly as fuck", etc. You have to admire that.

    Discovering what a Jellybean was (Thanks, Phil!) and that the UCR happy hour staff would actually sell you a jug of the stuff.

    They would. Oh gods, the smell.

    Thanks, people, for reminding me what the Shelley was called. With a few exceptions, we just treated it as a hallway. There's an architectural success for you.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Jeanette King,

    Great to read all the memories. Wish there were more photos. And lovely to hear from Sister Mary Gearchange (above) - would be wonderful to have one of the t-shirts. Late 70s - Māori club in the Upper Common Room with Tainui Stephens and assorted others, orientation battle with The Wizard and Alf's Imperial Army - with everyone ending up in the Avon. The caf, orientation bands in the Ballroom. Yes, great memories. But she was a tired old lady for a while before the quakes ...

    Ōtautahi • Since Oct 2010 • 43 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Jeanette King,


    Wish there were more photos.

    I had a quick ferret through Phil’s site. More photos taken in various flats of mine than actually at uni, but there are a couple of the LCR.

    This is our corner of the Lower Common Room. Note the way those huge concrete overhangs handily prevent any actual sunlight from penetrating the room. Note the carpet, and the orange couches. Can't see Xeno's pickle, thankfully.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Miche Campbell, in reply to Jeanette King,

    I was in more than one of those there Orientation battles. My favourite was the time I was placed on the other side of the Avon with a small siege engine and tasked with flinging flour bombs at the enemy. One of them landed in a band member's open guitar case, and he was not very happy with me.

    Dunedin • Since Feb 2011 • 79 posts Report

  • Jarrod Gilbert,

    What a terrible shame. So many memories. I had some of the best times of my life in and around that building. I shall bust in and take photos of the whole place as soon as I can.

    Since Oct 2015 • 2 posts Report

  • Hebe, in reply to Russell Brown,

    and also a Toy Love show in which Chris Knox appeared to nibble on a broken light bulb

    Not sure he ate it.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Mellopuffy,

    Wow. Lots of memories. Tripping out (but totally straight, I was working later that evening) to Roy Montgomery in the Ngaio Marsh. Hanging in the smokers cafe through lunchtimes. The falafel wraps, cheap build your own sandwiches and filter coffee. Sitting chatting to Paul & George in the Student Activities office. Having beer poured on me while I snogged a random guy on the riverbank. Drinking jugs at Bentleys. Photographing Bailter Space, working backstage at Shihad, almost starting a fight with some loser that tried to sneak in the back door. Working UCSA reception for a time. Reading the news (badly) at RDU. 3Ds, Lemonheads?!?, moar Shihad. Sweet & sour pork and rice from the Chinese takeaway. Truly awful espresso coffees from the new café because Robert Harris was the chosen coffee. Thursday's in Black. The Woman's Room. Another landmark building from my youth gone.

    Dunedin, NZ • Since Feb 2007 • 63 posts Report

  • Mellopuffy, in reply to Jarrod Gilbert,

    I remember you adopting this kitten that couldn't walk properly and keeping it in your office.

    Dunedin, NZ • Since Feb 2007 • 63 posts Report

  • Hebe,

    I’d like to say I can remember but it’s more smudges of the many punk gigs in the Ballroom, Topp Twins and engineers puking in the amphitheatre, the small room at the end of the corridor by the Shelley, the upstairs caf, the upstairs common room, the subterranean toilets, and lying among the daisies on the riverbank in the sun. And the stairs: always meeting people on the stairs and going somewhere unintended.

    Often, especially in my last year at UC, I would walk through the Student Union to get to class, and never make it over the bridge. The world in there was quite enough to be getting on with.

    Sister Mary Gearchange: good lord, you have risen.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Robert Urquhart,

    Unfortunately all my pre-2009 photos are offline but I shall attempt to poke through them over the next week and maybe pull up some representative ones from KAOS stunts during the 00s. For now the best I can do is this battle in the amphitheatre, with glimpses of the corner of the main cafe and "The Foundry" in the background.

    I also met a lot of people who were and are very important to me through time spent in that little corner of the world.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2009 • 163 posts Report

  • Jarrod Gilbert, in reply to Mellopuffy,

    He was called Wobbly. I loved that wee guy.

    Since Oct 2015 • 2 posts Report

  • Hebe,

    The Gordons: I saw them lots. UV lights that made whites glow and made me throw up, without fail.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    There were definitely times when the UCSA building was more like home than whatever flat I was living in - when I hung around until there was no one else left.

    I remember there being lots of little corners (and sometimes the whole UCR) where a young couple could squirrel themselves away for a quick... um...conversation.

    I remember Student Health where they were always a bit cross if you let yourself get sick and every prescription was for three boxes of condoms.

    Eating dubious food and drinking even more dubious beverages in Jimmies whilst calculating the speed of light in pineapple lumps per pico second or casting ourselves in an elaborate Lord of the Rings parody.

    Sitting on top of the big brown heaters in the LCR with the man who would later become my life partner and snarking about the people walking past.

    Walking in one day to find all the LCR furniture had been shifted round to resemble the deck of The Enterprise.

    Like many of us I hadn't fitted in at high school and Uni was the first time I felt like I had a tribe. I haven't been in the UCSA building for a Lo g time and I've lost touch with many of the people I knew there but I liked to think about the line continuing.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report

  • Andrew Johnson,

    It's so weird - I had a very very large number of formative experiences in that building, and every time I've gone back to Chchch since the quake, I've been kinda surprised that it's not open.

    I spent over 10 years on and off in the Uni performing art clubs, even up to working at UC in the 00's. The Ngaio Marsh theatre is a huge, staggering loss to NZ performing arts. I'm not overstating this. Enormous numbers of NZ actors, writers, directors, and comedians got their first real taste of the craft there. The current Court Jesters at Court Theatre, 48 Hours teams around the country, chunks of Sam Neill's and Rhys Darby's career... all of these things are a testament to the UCSA and how its SPACES let us try things and grow.

    Dramasoc, Musoc, and Comedy Club didn't just rehearse, argue there, and flirt there - the UCR became the home for smaller shows in the 90s and 00s, and any spare space in the building got used for rehearsal pretty much every night of the year, unimpeded by authority figures and supported by good natured and sometimes conspiratorially helpful security staff. It was a place of experimentation - and some astonishing theatre, comedy, and improv over the years. Without it, many people I know who now work in the arts would NEVER had had the chance.

    And much of that culture is now being lost, especially with no replacement for the Ngaio going in.

    Aside from that, the beer, the baked potatoes in the cafe, the gigs in the ballroom, the endless games of pool in the corner of the main cafe, the sitting in the sun in the amphitheatre - there was CANTA and RDU, tucked in their little niches around the edges of the Ngaio. Both the starting point for endless fiddling with journalism and media, and for many of us, a crucial part of the uni experience.

    Sure, I got a degree or two at uni. But all my REAL education was at the UCSA.

    Auckland, mostly. • Since Nov 2006 • 8 posts Report

  • Richard Westenra,


    So many KAOSians in here! Hey all.

    Many/most of my favourite memories from uni involved the UCSA in some way: Tui/lemon lime & bitters in plastic jugs at the Foundry. Reorientation gigs and unicycling in the ballroom. Snow sports club committee meetings (hey Alice!). Jib the Foundry. The Stein. Getting way too competitive about KAOS killing rounds. That hypnotist in the Ngaio Marsh. Pretentious letters to the Canta editor. Pub quizzes in Bentleys. Talking shit in the LCR. Awful hair.

    I miss it.

    London • Since Oct 2015 • 1 posts Report

  • Josh Petyt,

    Wow. So many people with such vivid memories. I was there 91~94 and don't remember much specific about the building at all. I remember it being pretty big and and I remember those massive sandwiches that they made up for you in the cafe. I have horrible memories of watching people outside pissing on anything remotely green during Steins and the whole cup of sour cream they dumped on your nachos was even then a bit shocking.

    Japan • Since Apr 2014 • 45 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Just as a Chchch writer (Paul Cleave) wins the Ngaio Marsh NZ crime writers award (for a second time) The UCSA is throwing away her memorial theatre, has anyone told Elric Hooper?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • David Haywood,

    Thanks for writing this piece, Emma. I was too unhappy and socially awkward (between the ages of 12 and 33 approximately) to do any of the fun things at university described here. But it's interesting to find out what people were doing, and nice to know that they were enjoying themselves so much. A shame to see the venue for all those happy memories disappearing (despite its appalling ugliness and uselessness as a work of architecture).

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report

  • Neil Graham, in reply to Lilith __,

    I remember studying in the Library and coming to retrieve my boyfriend from Time Out when I was done. The first time I was invited into the Women’s Room, and how conspiratorial and revolutionary it felt.

    I met a girl over a game of Bloxeed (Sort of a more combative Tetris) in the Time Out. I'm not entirely sure what happened but when I went home she walked with me and talked about stuff. Now we have a daughter in intermediate.

    The Women's Room I had less experience with save for a quick... um...conversation, but that seemed rather conspiratorial and revolutionary at the time too.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 118 posts Report

  • Darel Hall,

    My first encounter with the UCSA building was in 1985. I have maintained a long and fruitful relationship with her and so many who lived within her walls and grounds. And live many of us did.

    The New Zealand branch of Yoshukai Karate Club trained at the UCSA from 1980.

    To our youthful knees, the hard concrete floors of the Upper Common Room were like rubber mats fit for protecting innocent children at play. Were we innocent?

    The lino covered Shelley Common Room and carpet covered Lower Common Room were comparative luxury.

    The mighty Ballroom. The UCSA didn’t always manage to keep her pristine. The ritual pre-class included scanning for at least the obvious glass shards. During class we bled more from the feet than the head.

    Post-training we’d get some drinks delivered by trolley. In the early years: quart bottles in crates delivered to the Ballroom. Later, pints and jugs in whatever the bar was currently called.

    The most important part of the UCSA was and is that current students define the spaces. Every group can create a place where they belong.

    Yes, there is management. Yes, the university has a view (hence, the trees along University Drive to protect unsuspecting tourists in buses from seeing students). But students have genuine power.

    That freedom to self-define goes to the heart of the university project. Many posts have talked about how the UCSA supported that. That’s what good students’ associations do. Students' literal ownership matters.

    Christchurch • Since May 2007 • 18 posts Report

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