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Elder statesman of Auckland heritage retires

Published: 20 June 2019

Spending his whole working life in the past, George Farrant, Companion of NZ Order of Merit (CNZM), is looking to the future.

And no, it’s not spending his retirement in the garden or bringing out the power tools but the heritage work still to be finished that he's looking towards – the beloved St James Theatre and penning his first book.

At the end of the month, George will bring down the curtain on his 37-year career as principal heritage advisor at Auckland Council. By that time he will have spent around 11,680 days on the job, equating to nearly 93,440 hours.

A man of many facets, many might say a diamond, George has been a heritage advocate since his early days, working with the British School of Archaeology in the 1970s on an expedition to the Middle East where he unearthed an ancient city in northern Iraq dating back to 2600BC.  

The director of the dig at the time was Sir Max Mallowan, husband of Agatha Christie. George recalls her visits to the site and the accomplished author bringing along her own wooden toilet seat – now proudly owned by George!

While George was interested in archaeology, his passion was architecture. He began his career as an architect in the practice of John Goldwater in the late 1960s, spent time in London, returning to the Auckland practice of Neville Price before joining Auckland City Council as Manager – Conservation and Urban Design in 1982.  

Here he set about designing an assessment system of heritage sites, objects, significant views, landscapes and areas, which form the foundation of Auckland’s heritage regulations today. He collaborated with iwi to identify places of cultural significance and led negotiations with landowners to protect these sites.

While at Auckland City Council, George focused his efforts on some of Auckland’s best-known civic landmarks - the Town Hall and the Civic Theatre, the Auckland Art Gallery and Pah Homestead.

Most recently, he led the removal into storage, piece by piece, of the large 1950s mosaic from the former site of the Odeon Theatre on Queen Street. The ceramic tile mural was one of the last surviving New Zealand works by ex-pat architect Maurice K. Smith.

His knowledge of the city’s history and the stories and secrets hiding behind many of the city’s walls and doors is legendary.

Just like the scheduled places he has worked tirelessly to protect, George is rightly deserving of the title of a “significant heritage asset of considerable importance to the Auckland region.”

 

Humble to the end, “Sir” George said on receiving his CNZM “If I’ve managed to achieve anything significant in my heritage career it has been less through my personal efforts and much more by being in a position to guide, catalyse, and stimulate the achievements of many hundreds of supportive, skilled and committed professional colleagues.”

George Farrant, CNZM, is a treasure in this own right. And who knows? Maybe his ghost will be seen hovering over the organ pipes in the Auckland Town Hall in decades to come!

Read more: Heritage Arts

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