In November 1950 William Lewis Robertson deliberately stepped in front of the train to Melling.
Gisborne Herald, 21 November 1950
Before departing he penned what can be seen as a very long suicide note. In his Final statement Robertson set out his involvement with schemes to develop community centres and consumer co-operatives in the state housing areas of Lower Hutt. Things hadn’t worked out the way he had hoped and the statement charts his disillusionment. He blamed Labour politicians, particularly local MP and Minister of Finance Walter Nash, for the failure.
Robertson, a Canadian, arrived in New Zealand in 1930 and became involved with the consumer co-operative movement. In 1945 he was employed by the government to assist with the development of community facilities in Naenae. The government envisaged Naenae as a ‘Garden City’ of 10,000 people. At it’s heart would be a community centre supporting commercial, social and cultural activities. Renowned architect Ernst Plischke was engaged to design the centre.
Evening Post, 21 April 1945
Naenae Community Centre. (Archives NZ. Nash 1535 0466 0520 2912 Income Support Service)
Things started well, with Robertson establishing the Hutt Valley Community Planning Council and Consumer Co-operative in 1945. The Co-operative opened a store in Seddon Street in 1946 which was popular with residents. Robertson was able to extend the ambit of his activities to take in Taita and Epuni but things soon began to falter. The government withdrew its support for the health centres that were to be included in the community centres. Planning for the centres was protracted. Plischke resigned in frustration in 1947. The government committed to providing half the funds with the community raising a loan to pay for the rest. Each household was to be levied to pay back the loan. However a majority of residents rejected this proposal when polled in 1948. Shortly after the result was reversed in a second poll and planning proceeded but the enabling legislation wasn’t introduced until late 1949, just before Labour were voted out. This was too late for Robertson, by then the decision had been made to reassign him to an unrelated position. He refused to accept matters and was sacked. He spent the next 10 months writing his final statement.
Hutt Valley Consumer Co-operative Store, Naenae, 1945 or 46? (Ref. 6920 Hutt City Libraries)
The statement ends with, “So now this is it. I have done what I could. It seems that there is no place for my talents and services. So I must go.” There can be no doubt about what he meant – the coroner is listed as one of those to whom the statement was to be distributed.
The Final Statement provides valuable historical information about Lower Hutt in the 1940’s when it was transformed by state housing. It also reveals something about Robertson, suggesting he was self-important and obsessive. He was remembered by a colleague as a loner who lacked charisma.
The Final Statement can be read here: