On August 24, 1864 the first British settlers travelled up the Waikato River and landed in Hamilton, which was known as Kirikiriroa by the local Maori at the time. The settlers established the first militia settlement and the city of Hamilton, as it is known today, was born.
Fast forward to today and the city is proudly celebrating it’s milestone 150th birthday, recognising it’s unique past and looking forward to a prosperous future.
The city has been built on the area’s agricultural assets which have driven economic growth. From the first small group of early settlers the town has grown and the estimated population now exceeds 145,000 with a population boom forecast for the next eight years.
Julie Hardaker is the mayor lucky enough to be heading up Hamilton City Council during such an exciting and promising period, but the city hasn’t always faced such a bright outlook. When Julie was elected in 2010 the council was suffering from capital expenditure that was increasing the council’s debt exponentially and had reached $833 million when she took office.
Swiftly and openly addressing the council’s debt and dealing with the Hamilton 400 V8 Supercar budget blow out was Julie’s major focus during her first three year term. Under her instruction the council put into place a financial plan aimed at capping the debt, reducing it and balancing the council’s budget by 2017.
“I think prior to me coming in the public and even the councillors were certainly not clear what the V8’s cost and they weren’t clear about the extent of the council’s debt.
“I am pleased to say three years later we are in a really good position. We have kept to our financial plan and we have met the milestones that we set… and in fact we’re on target to get to a balanced budget position a year earlier than anticipated.”
Makings of a mayor
When Julie was first elected she took up the role seamlessly, as if it was second nature to her, but her previous career history had unknowingly prepared her for the role and as such, was well equipped to tackle the job head on.
Prior to running for mayor she had a long legal career and had spent time as a business retailer owner.
In 1994 she graduated at the top of her class from Waikato University Law School with an honours degree and in the same year joined Hamilton law firm, McCaw Lewis Chapman as a litigation lawyer. Her legal career saw her become a partner at McCaw Lewis Chapman, in charge of the firm’s financial management and built an employment law practice.
But before she became a lawyer she jumped the ditch to live in Australia, running two successful retail businesses.
Julie says her past careers have given her valuable skills for the role she now occupies. Owning two businesses taught her life skills such as hard work, evaluating risks and understanding customer service. And as a lawyer she learnt how to absorb a lot of information and quickly make decisions. “I found that these skills have really helped me today… plus it’s also really helpful to know legal stuff as well.”
With a successful career as a lawyer you may ask the question, why change jobs? Julie says after a long and enjoyable time spent as a lawyer she was ready for a change and a new challenge.
“I had always been interested in the city and the issues that are happening in the city and I thought it would be a great opportunity to have an influence over what happened in my home town.”
Now thanks to Julie’s savvy skills and open, honest attitude towards the council books, Hamilton is on track for a positive, healthy future, giving the country’s fourth largest city reason to embrace its 150th birthday.
Hamilton isn’t holding back for this birthday, making the most of the special occasion with a year full of community events and activates.
The birthday was officially marked on August 24 with a Public Civic Ceremony. The formal public event acknowledged the day the city was founded and included a powhiri, the presentation of the first Hamilton medal, the first performance of Hamilton’s 150th birthday song and burial of a time capsule.
On November 22 the town will swing into full party mode with a massive birthday party for everyone to enjoy. The central city streets will shut down for the day, making way for the family event which will feature performances, fashion shows, vintage cars, sports activates, a petting zoo, a fireworks display and an enormous birthday cake.
But it’s not just the city celebrating a historic event; 2014 marks a number of significant anniversaries for important organisations and schools in town.
Hamilton West Primary School is also celebrating its 150th birthday, Wintec is turning 90, Woodstock School is marking 60 years, while both the University of Waikato and Melville High School turn 50.
Chance to reflect
The birthday celebrations have given Julie the opportunity to take stock and reflect on her mayoralty so far, but also focus on Hamilton’s busy future.
She says without a doubt her greatest accomplishment in the role to date has been tackling the council budget blow out. But now that this serious issue has been brought under control, Julie and her council have had time to develop plans for exciting recreational assets for the city.
“People love living in Hamilton because it has got beautiful gardens and the river and we have plans to improve these assets even further.
“We have signed off on five new gardens to be developed in the Hamilton Gardens and this is gong to take Hamilton Gardens into one of the best in the world.”
The Waikato River can also look forward to a major facelift. The council is in the process of signing off on a plan that will transform the 16 kilometre stretch which runs through the city. The development will open up the river making it accessible to the public for recreational use.
Julie says there have been lots of attempts to develop a plan over the past 30 years, but none of them have gotten off the ground until now. “This is going to be a transformative project for Hamilton, it’s going to change the way we think about our city, but also the way outsiders think about our city.”
Ten year plan
Julie’s current mayoralty term ends at the start of 2016, but a strong 10 year plan has been put in place that will continue to drive Hamilton forward.
She says the 10 priorities for the next 10 years include continuing to maintain the balanced budget position, developing the city’s infrastructure and creating a comprehensive plan to transform the CBD in order to attract unique retail stores, inner city living and businesses into office space.
“One of our goals over the next 10 years is to lift Hamilton to the third largest city economy in New Zealand; currently we are fourth. We are going to put in place an economic plan that will deliver that outcome within a decade.
“The 10 year plan focusses on building on the outstanding things in this city, not reinventing them. We will invest in the areas that locals prioritise and see as important to our city.”
Hamilton is one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand. The estimated population of Hamilton currently exceeds 145,000 of which around 60 percent of people are under the age of 40. This is expected to swell to over 157,000 by 2022, maintaining the large youthful demographic.
Julie believes the growth can be attributed to its close proximity to Auckland, tertiary institutions that attract a large number of young people from around the region and the high quality facilities including the libraries, playgrounds, swimming pools and sporting facilities that are a big draw card for young families.
“We study the population and population demographic for the future very closely.
We are lucky to be one of the few cities in New Zealand who will continue to grow our young population.”
The council has planned carefully for the increase; one major aspect of that planning has included zoning large areas of land for residential use to make sure the supply of land in residential areas can grow with demand. They have also invested heavily in infrastructure such as the transport networks.
While the council is well prepared for the expected population influx, Julie admits it is still her biggest fear for Hamilton’s future. “Growth is a big issue because we are growing so fast; the challenge is funding it while maintaining our quality of life.
“I think while the growth of the youthful population is great, we need to ensure young people are in employment, being productive and participating in our community and that can be a challenge with younger people
Hamilton has suffered from a slightly maligned view from people who perhaps haven’t even visited the city. Julie says this perception issue has loomed over Hamilton for sometime, but the 150th birthday celebrations have been an opportunity to showcase the city’s many attractions and strengths to the rest of New Zealand.
“The perception of Hamilton is sometimes not as it should be, but when you come to our city and understand what it is like, you realise that the perception held by some is well short of what is actually here.
“I think inland cities often suffer from a little bit of a perception issue, but the 150th birthday has been an opportunity to dispel that. As more people get to know what Hamilton is about and why it is so great to live here, why we are the second fastest growing city in New Zealand, why our youthful population continues to grow, why families come and live here and why there is big investment in our city, you realise this is a great place to be.”
During two terms as mayor Julie has successfully turned Hamilton around from a town facing mounting debt and financial strife to the flourishing, growing city it is today.
“My hope for Hamilton is we continue to grow, but at the same time we maintain our wonderful lifestyle which is loved by many.”
Her actions have instilled renewed civic pride in Hamiltonians, which has been proudly displayed at the birthday celebrations throughout the year and will continue to be felt long after the celebrations are over.