The fortress-like exterior of Garrison Hall in Lower
Dowling St, Dunedin, belies its long history as a major
entertainment venue, including, for the best part of the past
50 years, as a home for television production.
Now documentary maker NHNZ is planning to vacate it,
Charmian Smith explores some of its history.
Clockwise from top right: Playschool special, Cinderella,
Rawiri Paratene and Barry Dorking; Garrison Hall today;
Beauty and the Beast host Selwyn Toogood and some of his
beauties(clockwise from left): Jean McLean, Denise Brady,
Lorraine Isaacs, Shona McFarlane, Johnny Frisbie; The
original Spot On presenters (back) Evelyn Skinnner and
Douglas Blair, (front) Ray Millard and Erin Roozendaal.
Photos by Charmian Smith, Jane Dawber, Television NZ, NZ
Solidly built into the rock of Bell Hill, Garrison Hall
stands redoubtably at the bottom of Dowling St.
Even denuded of its crenellated turrets and flagstaffs, the
buttressed foundations, Scottish baronial facade, and the
rampant lion and unicorn with the motto "Dieu et mon droit"
(God and my right) above the main entrance, proclaim its
military origins. But despite the pomp and circumstance of
its appearance, for most of its life it has been used for
• Stroll through a hall of memories
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For almost 50 years it has been home to television
production. But even from its early days Garrison Hall was
one of the city's most important venues for concerts,
lectures, early movies, church services, sports, banquets,
civic and social functions and meetings, as well as for army
drill and military events, the purpose for which it was
Many celebrities appeared there: Roald Amunsden and Ernest
Shackleton gave lectures on their trips to the Antarctic; H.
M. Stanley described how he met Livingstone in Africa; famous
singers performing there included Nellie Melba and Clara
Local boy Joe Scott, at the age of 12, became the New Zealand
walking champion, beating the Australian champion William
Edwards in both 7-mile and 100-mile races. In about 1880 he
beat the English champion in a 50-mile race, winning 500 in a
"This event, being of international character, excited an
extraordinary amount of interest, and Dunedinites were
fortunate in arranging the match. Special trains ran from all
parts of the land and the Garrison Hall was packed to
suffocation, many thousands being unable to gain admission,"
according to W. F Ingram in The New Zealand Railways
Magazine in 1935.
As late as 1948 Garrison Hall was still in use for sports,
according to Dave Howell, who joined the New Zealand
Broadcasting Service in 1957 and in the 1980s was electronics
operations manager at Garrison Hall. He remembers going there
as a child with his grandfather to watch men's basketball,
sitting in the mezzanine gallery that surrounded three sides
of the hall.
From the early 1960s to the end of the 1980s, Garrison Hall
was the bustling hub of television studio production and
transmission in Dunedin, first for New Zealand Broadcasting
and later reorganised as Television New Zealand.
On July 31, 1962, a couple of years after its Auckland debut,
the first public television in Dunedin was broadcast from
DNTV2 in Garrison Hall. In the early days local news
programmes such as Town and Around, the popular Old
Time Music Hall, panel games such as You Must Be
Joking, quiz shows like Top of the Class, and
Alison Holst's cooking shows, were produced there.
According to Michael Stedman, now head of NHNZ, who started
working at Garrison Hall in 1964 as a film editor, Hal Weston
was responsible for the expansion of the station's
productions in the 1970s. Mr Weston succeeded Alf Dick as
station manager and turned it into a facility whose
production output was at one stage greater than Avalon's, the
Wellington television station.
"Hal looked for programmes to produce in Dunedin that weren't
seen to be competing with other centres. They wanted to do
smart stuff like dramas, but Hal looked for high-volume
productions such as Beauty and the Beast and
University Challenge. The whole growth of children's
programmes - Playschool, Spot On, Viewfinder - was a
deliberate strategy. Natural history was a strategy. He left
a remarkable legacy," Mr Stedman said.
By 1967, work had expanded and administration and production
staff moved out of Garrison Hall to Orbell Chambers in Stuart
St, and later to the Methodist Central Mission (now Forsyth
Barr) building where news and film staff were also