The Children's Library of Upper Riccarton

An Unexpected Benefactor

Although the grants to the Upper Riccarton Children's Library from the J. R. McKenzie Trust came from a national organisation, by chance John McKenzie the founder of the fund, lived locally, up Yaldhust Road on the outskirts of Christchurch, and was personally familiar with the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library. The founder of one of New Zealand's larger retailing chains, and owner of the country's foremost harness racing stud farm established in 1928, Sir John McKenzie [as he became] had on occasions visited the War Memorial library. After World War II added poignancy came with the Anzac Day services held at the War Memorial - the oldest son of John McKenzie, Donald, was listed on the Memorial Board as one of those from the district who had given their lives in that war.

As with many of his era who had been forced to leave school at 13, McKenzie placed enormous value on education and formal learning and qualifications and spent much of his life trying to ensure others had the opportunities he himself had not enjoyed.

Sir John McKenzie died in August 1955 in London whilst on an extended overseas trip at the age of 79. Described as New Zealand's greatest benefactor, John McKenzie had contributed in excess of one million pounds to charities in his lifetime and bequeathed a further 160,000 pounds upon his death. Many were the accolades and tributes that poured in from around New Zealand and overseas. These included public tributes not only from the Governor-General, and the then New Zealand Prime Minister, Sid Holland, but also one from the recently resigned Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Winston Churchill. It was typical of McKenzie, who respected character not status, that he left a request that there be no flowers sent. Rather he asked that people donate a book, to an institution probably few even knew existed, the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library at Church Corner.

McKenzie a keen member of Rotary International, known to his colleagues as "J.R." or Jack, had made the New Zealand Rotary Clubs the main agents for allocation of funds held by his Trust funds. One of the country's newest Rotary Clubs was that which had been established in Riccarton, in 1953. The attention of local Rotary Clubs had been focussed on the War Memorial Library by Sir John's unusual request. A joint delegation from both Christchurch and Riccarton Rotary clubs arranged to visit the War Memorial library to see if there were other ways they could help. Perhaps they could purchase a major item, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, for instance, whose normal cost was well beyond that of a voluntary library. The men at Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library were dubious, as much as they appreciated the gesture, they could not see their members using an encyclopedia set very often, certainly not enough to warrant the costs involved to Rotary. Nor could they see any great need other than more stock in general, which hardly seemed a distinctive memorial to McKenzie.

The Rotary men asked if they could just have a moment to discuss the situation amongst themselves. They were ushered through the door into the back room. "What's all this?" asked one, eyeing the curtained bookshelves. Maurice Fazackerley, one of the Riccarton Rotary members was able to explain. "It's the children's library, my wife and some of her friends have set up. Very successful really". The other men were curious. When they heard how the six women had started it, how their numbers how grown over the years, the hundreds of children that crowded in and out of the library each week, looking around the relatively small room they were amazed. "Well there's the project we're looking for," said one, "Why don't we see if we can build them a proper library. What could be better for a memorial to Jack McKenzie than a children's library? And it will be supporting those who are making an effort to help others as he always did himself," added another Rotary member. All agreed. It would be an enormous project for a new branch (Christchurch Rotary offered back up) but such a very fitting memorial to the spirit of McKenzie. "I've got something to tell you" said Maurice Fazackerley to his wife Joan when he arrived home that night.

A site for the new Children's Library was soon found, almost directly across Riccarton Road from the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library. The land on the corner of Hansons Lane and Riccarton Road was in an open paddock but on the west-side of this, at the start of Main South Road, some years previously a village of pensioner cottages had been constructed by the government. Following an approach from the Riccarton Rotary Club a small unused section of this land, fronting the road, was given by the Crown, happy no doubt to offer a site that would become a memorial to Sir John McKenzie. This in turn was vested by the Rotary in the Paparua County Council, whose eastern-most boundary ran along Riccarton Road and down Hanson's Lane. On June 21st 1958 a photo appeared in a city newspaper of a group of men and boys gathered around a huge stump. Members of Rotary led by the Chairman of the new library committee, Cecil Rhodes, were tackling the considerable task of clearing the site ready for the builders. "This is the way the Riccarton Rotary Club has decided to pay tribute to the late Sir John McKenzie, who lived in the district and gave more than 1,000,000 [pounds] to youth work through the Rotary". Noted a later newspaper report "The total cost of the memorial is approximately 3,500 [pounds] and of this sum Rotary clubs throughout the country have contributed 1,596 [pounds]."

The balance was found by Riccarton Rotary Club plus donations of building materials by business firms in and about Christchurch. The builder was Mr Dick Bonniface. All in all, not only for the women who had founded the library but also for the members of the Riccarton Rotary Club it was a considerable project to create a whole new building and organise all the fittings necessary. The building was purposely designed so that its back wall could be extended by 11 feet at some later date, if so needed. A valued help was the Paparua County Council, no doubt more than happy to get such an excellent new facility in their district without capital cost to themselves. Instead they agreed to give the Children's Library the standing of a sub-committee of the Council, voiding any need for a separate legal body. As well as bearing responsibility for maintaining the building the Council also undertook to monitor accounts and prepare an annual balance sheet on behalf of the library. In its turn, the Upper Riccarton Children's Library handed over 115 pounds to the Paparua County Council, money they had been setting aside over the years towards the day they might be able to purchase a building themselves, now happily no longer needed. Nonetheless the women of Upper Riccarton Children's Library could not but feel a pang of regret at the loss of their library’s original name and identity, the entity they had worked so hard to establish.

Next page