Our Wellington

News | 8 July 2021

20 Twenty One: Michael Arthurs

During six decades of Council work, Michael Arthurs has seen incredible change across the city he knows like the back of his hand.

Portrait of Michael Arthurs with the 20 Twenty One series yellow logo.

In a way, Michael Arthurs has always had Wellington city in his blood.  

His dad was a city councillor for three terms in the 1950s, and after joining the City Council himself in 1962, Michael is now closing in on six decades of proudly serving the capital. 

In that time he’s played a number of key roles for the Council, most notably as Chief Quantity Surveyor for 23 years, and seen incredible change across the city he knows like the back of his hand. 

He’s also witnessed the evolution of the workplace, from hand-written reports and typing pools to the modern digital office. 

“I’ve definitely seen a lot of change,” he says. “It’s been a privilege and really exciting to see how the workplace has changed with technology coming in to make everyone’s lives a lot easier.” 

Michael’s first taste of Council work came in the form of a school holiday job as a labourer at Berhampore Nursery in about 1959. 

He then started fulltime at the Council on 15 January, 1962, as a 17-year-old quantity surveyor cadet. 

“When I started there was also a lot of opportunity for advancement,” he says. “You came in at a young age and started from scratch, and there was a lot of on-the-job learning.” 

Michael studied while he worked, organised his own training, and attended night school. 

He quickly became involved with the financial side of building contracts, helping with tenders and estimating the materials and labour required for a job. 

Early projects included building the Newtown flats and Arlington Apartments, but also libraries and swimming pools. 

His dad, Jack Arthurs, served as a city councillor from 1950-59.  

“Dad was passionate about helping people. He worked for the labourers’ union, and the reason he was in that was to help the workers who weren’t able to help themselves.” 

Michael remembers a particular perk of being a councillor, related to the Council’s milk department. 

“Dad was a keen gardener and we had a large vegetable garden. Dad would get horse manure from Council’s Tory Street Milk Department stables.  We’d get it delivered by a truck and then that was the weekend’s work, shovelling it into the soil.” 

Yellow 20 Twenty One logo showing portraits of three Wellington City Council staff.

In 1972 Michael became the city’s Chief Quantity Surveyor, leading a team of four. 

Back then they were based on the fifth floor of the Municipal Office Building. There were  “lots of corridors and individual offices” in which smoking was allowed. 

Quantity Surveying involved lots of documentation. “Everything was done by hand, you wrote everything down. And you’d end up with hundreds of pages of documents.” 

The preparation of  schedules of quantities involved thousands of calculations which had to be done by hand or using a Friden calculator, then checked by someone else. 

Once the documents were prepared they were taken to the typing pool, typed up and then proof-read. If there were changes they were done using twink. 

“And because you were wanting to make 30 copies the typists typed the data onto stencils, then duplicated using a Gestetner machine. 

“The document might have 200-300 pages, and once they were all printed out they had to be collated by hand. 

“We used the desks and any empty floor space to lay them all out and collate them, then it all had to be sent to the libraries department for binding. It was a big job.” 

Perhaps Michael’s most high-profile project was being part of the Civic Centre development team, working for Roger Shand, and with Ian Athfield and other well-known architects. 

Michael was given responsibility for the financial aspects of the project, including gaining special delegation to sign off payments of up to $5 million. 

“When Civic Centre was built we created the heart of the city, the place was really alive.” 

Michael moved into a role as Buildings Manager in 1995, as staff came from offices all over the city to work in the MOB and CAB buildings. 

Michael’s unit was in charge of everything from maintenance and contracts, to security and furniture. 

He was also “thrown” various jobs including looking after the James Smith Parking Building, the Abattoir Mutton Chain building, and helping to deliver the Pigeon Park  tiles project. 

Black and white portrait of Councillor Jack Arthurs from Wellington Archive.
Michael's father, Jack Arthurs. Wellington City Council Archives, 00158-773.

That position became Property Projects Manager in 2002, then in 2006 his Council run almost came to an end when his position was disestablished. 

“That was a tough time. Eventually Chief Executive Gary Poole  called me down to his office and said, ‘You don’t need to go anywhere’. 

“And he asked, ‘Where did I think I could fit?’.” 

Michael’s suggestion was as a Building Officer, his current role since 2006, where as part of the Building Warrant of Fitness Team he makes sure building owners are carrying out their responsibility as required by the Building Act and that buildings are safe for the occupants, and that life safety systems like fire alarms are being tested and maintained. 

“I’m passionate about making sure  buildings in our  city are safe. I’ve inspected nearly  every building in Wellington that needs a WOF - and there’s about 3000 of them. I know them inside and out.” 

A father of five children and grandfather to six, Michael says he’s proud of his service record, and is the patron of the Council’s 20+ Club - the group of staff who have worked at the organisation for at least two decades. 

“I used to be a bit embarrassed by the fact I’d been here so long. You’d sort of avoid talking about it.  

“But now it just rolls off the tongue, and I’m proud of it. 

“And with 60 years around the corner, I’d like to leave an unbeatable target,” he jokes. 

It’s 2021, so we’re sharing stories about 21 of our people who have worked at Council for 20 years or more. Find out more about the series in this story.