Historical Significance or Value
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is of significance for its strong connection to New Zealand’s history of organised labour, the union movement and the Labour Party. The hall built in 1937 retained the same function as the original hall on the same site, providing continuity of historical association. It forms a continuation of the story of the hall it replaced which was steeped in political history of the state development of the coal mining industry around Runanga, the union movement, the Labour party and the political aspirations of a number of key figures in the early miners and labour movements. Painted slogans based on original slogans adorn the parapet of the street façade and recall the miners’ union intentions of the early twentieth century and link to international labour movements.
Architectural Significance or Value
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is noted for its ‘frontier style’, incorporating neo-Georgian and Commercial Italianate features that were more frequently found in utilitarian buildings in the nineteenth century than in the late 1930s when the replacement Hall was constructed. This use of a combination of styles long after they were in vogue, together with the Hall’s large interior, evokes an earlier era. The external form and design of the building, along with the main spaces inside the building, are original to the 1937 construction. While changes have been made to the building over time, the interior design of the auditorium retains most of its original fabric.
Social Significance or Value
The occupational culture of miners dominated the values of the close knit community and the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) was a focal point of Runanga township. The hall encapsulates a social understanding of the lives, work and community relations of mining families, along with the struggles of organised labour. While the current hall was built in 1937, it is recognised as representing a continuous stream of history back to when the original miners’ hall was constructed in 1908. The importance of the hall to the miners’ union and the Runanga community was shown by the fact that the current hall was built less than nine months after the burning down of its predecessor. The replacement hall was built to continue the function of the original hall and until very recently the hall continued to be used as a venue for social and community events. Of all the institutions in the mining town of Runanga to have left a lasting impression on generations of people, the Miners’ Hall (Former) is said to have be the foremost. It was the centre of communal activity, a place of meeting and activity and the initial place of more than a few young blossoming relationships.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is representative of the community hall building type in form and use, though the specific workers/union association is related to the hardy mining community of the West Coast. The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) was not only a focal point for the social life of the Runanga community, but also reflects a wider movement in New Zealand relating to the working classes, the organised labour movement generally and the Labour Party in particular. The current hall continued the function of the original miners’ hall, being the venue for meetings where important miners’, union and labour issues were discussed and debated, and where national significant decisions were made.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is a tangible symbol of a unique amalgam of New Zealand social and political history in the early twentieth century. Both the hall and its predecessor have a strong and lasting connection to some key figures associated with New Zealand’s political heritage, including Patrick (Paddy) Webb, socialist, union president and Labour Government Minister of Mines.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) was held in high esteem by the Runanga and surrounding communities. For a few decades from around the 1960s, with the cessation of the union, sale of the building for an industrial purpose and dwindling local population, public esteem for the place decreased. However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former). The Labour Party continues to demonstrate its strong interest in the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) through site visits, letters of support and inclusion of the hall in its Labour History project. Various publications about the West Coast include a photograph of the former Miners’ Hall as the classic image associated with Runanga.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) has the potential to educate the public on a range of issues, including the establishment and growth of New Zealand mining and labour movement politics, community co-operation and the social life of a small town on the West Coast.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is the largest building in Runanga and as such is a landmark. Its scale reflects the original intended function of the hall as a gathering place for the community. It commemorates the social, political and mining history of Runanga.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Miners’ Halls that survive in New Zealand are rare, as opposed to memorial and community halls which can be found in almost every New Zealand town and city. The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is one of only two known to be extant on their original site (the other being the Thames Aluminium Company Building/Miners’ Hall) and is the only hall directly associated with the establishment of the Labour Party.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is part of a regional complex of sites that illustrate aspects of the history of coal mining; local, national and international. It is located near the vicinity of sites such as: the Coulthard and Hall memorial; the Brunner coke ovens; the Brunner disaster memorial; the Brunner bridge; the Tyneside chimney; the Stillwater cemetery; the Blackball mine chimneys; the Blackball mine manager’s house; and the Buck’s Head hotel in Taylorville. As such the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is part of a wider historical and cultural landscape in the Grey District on the West Coast.
Summary of Significance or Values
The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is of special significance because of the hall’s close association with the Labour Movement and the Labour Party in New Zealand’s history. The original hall had been integrally associated with the rise of the Labour Movement, and the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former), built in 1937, had been its immediate replacement. The replacement hall is considered to be a continuation of the history and culture embodied in the original hall. It is a relatively rare remaining example of a miners’ hall and has strong potential for public education.
Te Tai o Poutini
Te Tai o Poutini (West Coast) has a long history of Maori occupation. The Ngati Wairangi and Patea people occupied the area largely undisturbed until about 1700 when Ngāi Tahu from the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu began to predate on their territory in order to claim the highly prized pounamu (greenstone) resource. A succession of battles ensued over the next century and the descendants of the 18th century Ngāi Tahu chiefs form the foundation of Poutini Ngāi Tahu today. The small town of Runanga is situated 10 kilometres north-west of the Mawhera/Grey River, on the South Island’s West Coast. Major settlement areas for Poutini Ngāi Tahu were located near Runanga at Te Aka Aka o Poutini (Cobden) and later at Mawhera Pa on the south bank of the Mawhera River.
State Coal Town
When the Seddon government passed the State Coal Mines Act in 1901, a model residential town for miners was planned a few kilometres north-east of Greymouth near Point Elizabeth mine. Through the State Coal Mines Act, Premier Richard Seddon was aiming to compete with private mines, not only to provide cheaper coal but, more importantly, higher safety standards and better working conditions. As Runanga was one of those towns where this was to be achieved, its very origins are linked to the organised labour movement.
The town was initially named Kotare (Kingfisher) but was changed to Runanga (meeting place) by an Order in Council in 1903. According to Te Ara, the Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, the name Runanga was agreed in discussion between Premier Richard Seddon and Poutini Ngai Tahu leader Tahuru, apparently commemorating a past meeting place in the area. The Runanga township was established on Crown land. From 1904, when the first coal was produced at the Point Elizabeth mine, the government has operated a series of large-scale coal mines in the district. The land for the settlement was withdrawn from coal reserve and leasehold residential sections were subdivided in 1903. The town began to progress in 1904 when the coal mines began producing coal in the area. A sawmill was established in the town to supply timber for building and some houses were erected and occupied by 1905. The population was made up of miners and their families.
Birth of Labour Party
In the 1890s industrial relations had reached a crisis in New Zealand. Unions were formed by workers in significant industries such as maritime, agriculture and mining. Confrontations with employers, including strikes, took place around the country. However, after suffering some defeats, the unions began to look to politics as another way of addressing their issues. Initially many of the unions supported the Liberal Party, though in due course the Labour Party emerged with its own particular identity.
Runanga mine, as a State Mine, and the town itself, became particularly important to the growing union movement. As labour historian Len Richardson notes, the mine ‘became a mecca for socialists who saw it as an experiment in public enterprise and the forerunner of wider nationalisation within their industry. In the meantime, Runanga offered activists like [Patrick] Webb a safer environment in which to spread their socialist gospel’.
Miners had always been part of the organised labour movement. The State Miners’ Union was formed in 1905. Soon after this, Robert (Bob) Semple, coalminer, trade unionist and politician, proposed the Union construct their own hall in Runanga. This original Runanga Miners’ Hall, built on the corner of Mills and McGowan Streets in Runanga, opened in December 1908. While impetus for its construction came about through the Miners’ Union, resources to construct it were provided by employees, by way of the union, the mines as employers, Greymouth business people, as well as the State. As such, it was hailed as the first co-operatively built hall in the country. It was a key meeting venue for the union.
That original hall was a place where significant decisions were made affecting politics nationally. The New Zealand Labour Party as it exists today had its origins in a number of socialist groups coming together, including the organised labour movement represented by key figures from the West Coast mines. Since 1916 these various groups had coalesced to become the modern Labour Party. The original hall hosted notable local, national and international labour speakers on socialism and the Labour movement. They included figures such as Harry Holland, Peter Fraser, Bob Semple, Pat Hickey, Patrick (Paddy) Webb and Robert Hogg.
Replacement Miners Hall
The original Runanga Miners’ Hall was destroyed by fire on 2 January 1937, possibly as a result of politically motivated arson. Its replacement building, the present Runanga Miners’ Hall, was built and opened on the same site in less than nine months, on 20 August 1937. It was designed by the same mine engineer who had designed the original miners’ hall, George Millar, and was built by Jack McMillan of Cobden. Typically large scale, its design differed from the original hall. In recognition of the opening of the new Miners’ Hall in August 1937, Minister of Mines in the first Labour Government, Patrick (Paddy) Webb, noted that the old hall ‘ …was of wonderful service to the Labour Movement. It might truthfully be said that with the opening of the old Miners Hall, the dawn of a new day for Labour commenced. … No town in Australasia has played a more important part in the building up of the Labour Movement than the town of Runanga. May the new Hall ever last to be the Temple of Labour for the West Coast.’ Indeed, although the replacement hall was not the specific venue associated with such momentous political change as its predecessor, this new hall did continue to serve the functions as the original hall. That is, it provided a venue for union meetings, and political and public gatherings. The hall is reputed to have seated 158 upstairs and at least four times that on the ground floor. The opening of the new hall followed only two years after the election of the first Labour Government in New Zealand, in 1935, and its political connection remained. It also happened to serve the community at a time when coal mining activity was peaking in the general district (between 1939 and 1942). It therefore continued its role in the Labour movement but the new hall does not appear to have been the place of significant political change that its predecessor had been.
Nevertheless, the replacement 1937 hall was specifically the site of some notable happenings. It was the site of a large memorial service at the death of Michael Joseph Savage in 1940. The following year, in 1941, John A Lee spoke at the hall, campaigning for his Democratic Labour Party after splitting away from the government. The hall was also the venue for speeches by Paddy Webb, as Minister of Mines, and by miners’ leaders during the conflict between the Runanga Miners’ Union and the Labour Government in 1942. In 1951 the hall was the headquarters for the union when they struck in support of the locked out watersiders.
As in other mining towns, the union hall was a centre for numerous social activities such as dances, formal dinners, talks by visiting speakers on a range of subjects, theatrical performances, wedding receptions and the showing of movies. The latter was a key long-standing function; for 33 years the 1937 Runanga Miners’ Hall was the community’s movie theatre until it closed down in 1975 due to declining patronage following the widespread introduction of the television.
The State Miners Union ceased to exist in the 1960s and it relinquished its ownership of the hall. The building was used as a factory by Matai Industries, making wooden goods under a Labour Party initiative through Prime Minister Norman Kirk until 1975. Cement render was added to the exterior of the building, probably during this time as a factory. After a period of about five years of closure, in circa 1980 the hall became the Runanga District Community Centre. In 1983 it was renovated by the Grey District Council and was opened by the then Governor General, Sir David Beattie. The original slogans that had been painted on both the 1908 and the replacement 1937 halls were repainted as part of a Millennium project refurbishment of the Runanga Miners’ Hall in circa 2000. The hall continued to be used for various community purposes until it was closed in early 2012 following a report suggesting that it is earthquake-prone.
‘World’s Wealth for the World’s Workers: United We Stand Divided We Fall’
Slogans adoring the 1908 hall, and repainted on the 1937 hall, were originally painted by a young sign writer, James Begg Kent. Kent later became Labour MP for Westland from 1947 to 1960. Kent stated that he painted the slogans at the instigation of Pat Hickey, who was based at Runanga in 1907 and again in 1909-10. In 1906 Hickey had returned from the United States of America where he had been involved with the militant Western Federation of Miners (WFM). The WFM were in turn one of the founding groups behind the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The slogans ‘World’s Wealth for the World’s Workers: United We Stand Divided We Fall’ were used by the IWW and other militant unionists around the world.
There were a number of miners’ halls throughout New Zealand but the Runanga Miners’ Hall appears to have played a particularly significant role in the labour movement. The Thames Aluminium Co Building, originally constructed in 1886, is a rare survivor of a miners’ hall (Category 2 historic place, Register No. 1886). Another building, the Miner’s Café situated in Waihi (Register No. 2688), was initially built as the Waitekauri Miners Union Hall in circa 1895 but was moved to Waihi in 1903 for use as a Baptist Chapel. Many miners’ halls have been demolished, including the Blackball, Millerton, Waihi and the original Waiuta Miners’ Halls. The original Waiuta hall (built 1910) was destroyed by fire in 1941. The replacement Waiuta hall is comparable to, but not as grand as, the present Runanga hall, and stands relocated at Totara Flat in the Grey Valley.
Most New Zealand towns and cities have community or memorial halls. However, while of a similar type and serving a similar function to those halls, Miners’ Halls were specifically for mining communities.
The Runanga Miners’ Hall can also be considered in an international context. The Runanga Miners’ Hall provides a direct link with an international workers’ movement, and this is expressed in a practical sense through the financial help that British, Australian and New Zealand miners gave each other during strikes. Miners and mining unionists travelled between the mines of Colorado, British Columbia, Broken Hill, Witwatersrand and New Zealand’s West Coast. In all these places they lived in communities like Runanga and met in halls like the Runanga Miners’ Hall. However, few such halls are left anywhere in the world.
Associated historic places
The hall is in the near vicinity of a number of other historic sites that recognise aspects of coal mining history. These include: the memorial to State Mine employees, John Coulthard and William Hall (killed in 1917 during a payroll robbery near Runanga); the Brunner coal mining remains historic area (Register No.7051), the Suspension Bridge at Brunner (Register No. 7399), the Stillwater Cemetery graves relating to the Brunner mining disaster of 1896, the Blackball Coal Mine Chimneys (Register No. 5005); the Blackball Community Centre (Former miner manager’s house, Register No. 5043), and the Buck’s Head Hotel in Taylorville (the site of the hotel where union meetings were held in the 1880s).
The small town of Runanga is situated 10 kilometres north-west of the Grey River, on the South Island’s West Coast. The Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) is located on the corner of Mills and McGowan Streets in the township of Runanga, north of Greymouth on the main road between Greymouth and Westport. The building has a large rectangular plan, approximately 23 metres long by 15 metres wide.
The main, eastern, elevation fronting McGowan Street contains central entrance doors and has round-headed windows in the Georgian style. Its stepped parapet rising to a curved gable is decorated in paint as follows: WORLD’S WEALTH FOR WORLD’S WORKERS - MINERS’ HALL Opened Dec 2nd 1908 – UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL. The other elevations to the hall are simple and unadorned. The slogans were repainted as part of a Millennium Project by Les Holmes. Materials used in the construction of the Runanga Miners’ Hall (Former) include timber framing for the roof, walls and floor. The front elevation is clad in rusticated weatherboards, while the south elevation has plaster over rusticated weatherboarding and the east elevation has galvanised corrugated steel cladding. The roof is corrugated steel.
Original internal linings comprise timber match lining to ceilings and walls, with timber panelling, dado mouldings, strip flooring, architraves and skirtings. All joinery is timber.
The main entrance leads to a short corridor, off which are rooms on either side, with the main hall to the west. The auditorium of the hall is a large open space with a coved ceiling, high panelled dado, flat timber floor and a shallow raked balcony.
The interior of the building has undergone modification overtime, especially from the period when Matai Industries used the building prior to 1975. This includes concrete block added to the base of the north wall and an addition of a kitchen, asbestos sheet and long run cladding and extensive glazing to the north. More recent modification includes the addition of internal linings of Gibraltar Board, plywood, hardboard and softboard, and the flooring in concrete of the north rooms.
Ian Bowman has noted that the Runanga Miners’ Hall has a ‘frontier style’, incorporating neo-Georgian and Commercial Italianate features that were more frequently found in utilitarian buildings in the nineteenth century than in the late 1930s when the replacement Hall was constructed. This use of a combination of styles long after they were in vogue, together with the Hall’s large interior, evokes an earlier era.
Construction of present Runanga Miners’ Hall
Alterations to the hall by Matai Industries.
Repainting of slogans and removal of cement render
Timber, glass, corrugated steel.
2nd April 2013
Report Written By
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives
‘State Coal Mines (Report on the Working of) for the year ending 31st March, 1904’, 1904 Session I, C-03b
Grey River Argus
Grey River Argus
20 August 1937
M McKinnon, (ed.), New Zealand Historical Atlas, Ko Papatuanuku e Takoto nei, David Bateman, Auckland, 1997.
I. Bowman, 'Conservation Plan; Runanga Miner's Hall, Runanga', June 2011
Labour History Newsletter
Labour History Newsletter
Clayworth, Peter, ‘Runanga Miners’ Hall: the early years 1908-1920’, Isuse 55, August 2012, pp24-29.
Ewen, J M, Runanga: Home of Champions – School and Community Centenary 1906-2006, 2005.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Southern Region Office of the NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.