The Hack Circle was the nickname given to an amphitheatre in central Christchurch .

It was built in 1989 as part of Cashel Mall developments and, for a time, was a favourite hacky sack venue.

As the hacky sack fad receded, it became a popular hangout for a wide cross-section of Christchurch youth, including goths, emos and heavy metal fans. Overall though, it was just a place where youth gathered after making the trip into the city from the suburbs.

In 2006 the Christchurch police claimed it was a venue for 'criminal activity' including robbery and the 'trafficking' of cannabis. But the police were also forced to admit it was a small minority of youth who caused any problems – the vast majority didn't cause any trouble at all.

The real underlying objection to the Hack Circle though was that certain political and business interests just didn't like goths and emos and the like making the Cashel Mall look 'untidy'.

While the business establishment were happy enough with the well-heeled sipping their wines and lattes on the 'Oxford Strip ' of upmarket bars and restaurants, working class youth hanging out with their friends was another matter entirely.

Politically-influential property developer Antony Gough, for example, pushed for stronger police presence in the area claiming that the people who hung out in the hack circle were 'just scary'.

Well, they were different – but scary? The class snobbery of the Christchurch establishment had come into view for all to see.

With business interests making their views abundantly clear, it came as no surprise that the Christchurch City Council voted to demolish the amphitheatre.

On December 14 2006 the city council voted 7-6 to go ahead with plans to build a road through the pedestrian mall, which would spell the end for the hack circle,

Gloria Sharplin, a spokesperson for a protest the occurred at the mall in August 2007 , told The Press newspaper "Young people are being made to feel unwelcome. The hack circle and the fountain are not great places, but it is all you have when you have no money. They can't shut us up and just drive us out of the city

The Christchurch City appointed a business group to manage the area.

This was the Central City Business Association/City Mall Business Steering Committee chaired by Antony Gough.

It also included some of Sideshow Bob's other political mates including Melbourne based property investor Michael Ogilvie-Lee, who was a significant financial backer of Bob's 2007 mayoral election campaign.

Also on the committee was one Dave Henderson - the struggling property developer is not unfamiliar to readers of this blog. Henderson, a man who has pontificated a lot about reviving the central city, had no qualms with demolishing the amphitheatre.

The destruction of the amphitheatre began in February 2008. The suspicion that the council and its business allies just wanted to get rid of it no matter what was confirmed when the mall was simply renovated. No road was built.

Fast forward to today.

The council is now seeking to obliterate all references to the Hack Circle. According to a council press release, it wants to give the amphitheatre a new 'proper name' and is seeking suggestions from the public.

Once again, the council is bowing to the demands of business who say “they believe that the use of the term ‘hack’ lowers the tone of the area and is not in keeping with the image they wish to portray.'

And what image would that be exactly? Drunken patrons pouring out of the 'Oxford Strip' bars on Oxford Terrace or from the South of Lichfield (SOL) bars on the weekends?

Gough owns properties on the 'Oxford Strip' while Henderson's Property Ventures owns the SOL bars.

The Christchurch City Council have set up a 'naming' committee. No appointments have been made as yet but it will include two councillors, two community board members, a representative from the Central City Business Association, and the Council’s General Manager of Public Affairs, Alison Mackenzie.

Conspicuously missing from the committee is a representative of Christchurch youth, who have, once again, been shabbily treated by the Christchurch City Council.

Councillor Yani Johanson moved a motion at a council meeting to get a youth representative appointed to the naming committee.

That motion was defeated, 7 votes to 3.

The usual reactionary lot voted against the motion - Councillors Button, Corbett, Cox, Shearing, Wall, Withers and Sideshow Bob.

In a press release Johanson said:

"I moved a motion that was unsuccessful to get a youth representative appointed to this panel. As you may be aware city mall has been a contentious issue with many young people in the city. I am disappointed that Council has resolved to have a business representative but no young person. I believe that the Council should be inclusive in its approach and involve young people in the decision making on issues that have a significant impact on them. I think there has been lots of negative stereotyping of young people in regards to City Mall and sadly there is a feeling amongst some that Council is kicking them out in favour of retail business. The reality is that this is a public space and that young people should have as much right to enjoy it as anyone else. As such I can see no valid reason why a youth representative could not of been included on this panel."

The Central City Business Association appears intent on pursuing its war against Christchurch youth.

In March this year it came up with the bizarre idea of pumping the music of Barry Manilow through the Cashel Mall in order to 'pacify' the small number of youth who might be causing trouble.

"The intention is to change the environment in a positive way ... so nobody feels threatened or intimidated," Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale told The Associated Press. "I did not say Barry Manilow is a weapon of mass destruction."

This bizarre idea managed to make its way into the overseas media including NBC, Yahoo News, the Shanghai Daily and the Independent.

This is probably not the kind of publicity the Christchurch Central City Business Association is looking for.


  1. Classic Christchurch.
    I used to work at the top of High St so often walked past the kids at Hack Circle and around the old fountain.
    Ordinary kids. Same kids I'd see when I visited my friends houses. Nice polite, successful kids. Just someone's kids.
    Standard response in that city, though and it's not just Bob and his mates. I was there when the council refused to continue support for (I think it was called) "Creation" - an inner city youth arts centre that provided a wealth of activity for young people to hang out be creative. Apparently it was supposed to break even and pay it's own way. In other words - charge kids for staying off the streets and utilise their energy creatively.

  2. Hi Steven, Dave Henderson is not on the CCBA executive.

  3. But he was on the Central City Business Association/City Mall Business Steering Committee.

  4. Sorry Steven but your info is wrong, he was not on the steering committee either. The original lineup of the CCBA was Richard Ballantyne, Paul Wilkinson, Paul Dean, Michael Ogilve-Lee, Maureen Taane, Evan Harris, Clive Weston, Avril Benton, Antony Gough, and Terry McQuinn.

  5. Here's a copy of the letter I just sent to the Star:


    I am interested in the Council decision to appoint a committee to rename the site of the 'Hack Circle,' at the corner of High St and Cashel Mall. Surely you don't want to obliterate the memory of the best informal youth driven initiative this city has ever seen?
    A generation of teens, often at odds with their life situation, found a place of friendship, support and belonging there simply by showing up. Of course, a crowd of young people pursuing social activity, no matter how important to them, can be loud and somewhat messy. No wonder then, that local youth are often rendered at best, invisible, and at worst, a nuisance.
    I think there is something insidious in a naming committee that has not one representative of the demographic that holds the 'Hack Circle' precious in memory. To them, and to parents, like myself, who were thankful for the peer support their youngster received there during some difficult years, "Hack" it is, and "Hack" it will remain, no matter what well connected Joe Blog ends up with his name on a plaque.

    Thank you.


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