September 21 2012 saw me visiting the Nathan Homestead on steep Hill Road, on the occasion of the launch of a heritage photo exhibition there.
According to Lawrence D Nathan, in his reminiscences published by the Manurewa Historical Society, his father David Lawrence Nathan purchased 100 acres on Hill Road in 1910, a year after he married Simone, from France. Lawrence himself was born in 1910, and recalled that once the first Nathan homestead, called "The Hill", was built, the family stayed there during summer, and moved back to Auckland for the winter. The original building was added onto in the early 1920s to accommodate the family more comfortably. By that time there were four children, and Manurewa between their winter home as well. Another 120 acres was purchased.
"In December 1923 at 5 o'clock in the morning," according to Mr Nathan, "the big wooden house caught on fire. There was no local fire brigade and water pressures were quite inadequate so in 30 minutes the whole building was destroyed. My mother's first care was to see that my sisters and my youngest brother who slept upstairs got out. My brother Dennis and I slept on a verandah downstairs so could readily escape but Dennis aged 10 did not realise that there was any hurry and when he was told to get up and get out of the house he went as usual to the bathroom and had his cold bath before getting dressed ...
"I will always remember that at about 8.30 in the morning when all the family, very distressed, were standing contemplating the still smouldering ruins, a man arrived and said to my father, 'I am the French Polisher and have come to polish the dining room table, where is it, please?' This was too much for my mother who burst into tears."
The Nathan family decided that they didn't want to leave their lovely gardens and estate at The Hill, so a new building was designed by architect D B Paterson, this time from brick, and constructed by Otahuhu's Thomas Clements Ltd. The family moved into their new home, the one standing today, in 1925.
The present-day management at the cafe inside gave me permission to photograph these two well-dressed ladies.
Just up the stairs, a case containing "part of original Military Mile Post No. 16 from the corner of Great South and Myers Roads, Manurewa. Erected c.1861." It's part of the historical society's collection.
This, from a plaque just beside it on the wall:
"Wooden Mile Posts were erected on the fledgling Great South Road by the Royal Engineers in the early 1850s. The road was due for repair because of increased traffic, there was also an increase in Military traffic, which led up to the Land Wars of the 1860s. A constant stream of military supplies was directed by Deputy Commissary General Bailey, from the Penrose Depot to Mercer. Drivers of vehicles were expected to cover certain mileages each day; they frequently complained that they had no knowledge of these mileages.
"To overcome this ... Bailey arranged for Military Mile Posts to be erected from the depot at Penrose, the first being No. 8, signifying 8 miles from Auckland. The furthest south was at Drury ...
"The ... mile posts are of wood, mostly Totara, in the form of a right-angled triangle ... Appropriate numbers were carved in the short sides, which faced the road, showing distances from Auckland ... They were all installed on the eastern side of Great South Road.
"The old Manurewa Borough had two mile posts, No. 15 ... at 88 Great South Road, and the second, No. 16, near the corner of Myers and Great South Roads. [This] rotted at ground level and was rescued by local resident Russell Craig as it lay on the ground. He gave it to the Manurewa Historical Society for safe keeping ..."
Upstairs, a wonderful collection of ceramic images, featuring Manurewa and general Manukau community and history.
This is (according to the info panel) a painted glass window from a church at Alkmaar in the Netherlands. The church was built in 1600, and demolished late in the 19th century. Lawrence Nathan's maternal grandfather bought two of the church's windows at auction before demolition, and gave one to Simone and the other to her brother Albert. Simone Nathan's window was installed in the second story of the first homestead -- and so was lost to the 1923 fire.
Albert gave his window to his sister for the new home. It is said to date from 1681, not as colourful as his sister's one, but shows an undetermined coat of arms. When the family left the homestead in the 1950s, the window was removed, but was reinstated 17 September 1986.
Just after the photo exhibition opening, I asked the historical society folks where the Nathan's water tower is, and was pointed in the general direction of an area of bush just beside some tennis courts. If you want a bit of a jungle Indiana Jones thrill, go look for the water tower. Brush aside fern and palm fronds, looking for heritage.
Again, according to Lawrence Nathan, "At the back of the house there was a useful but unattractive stand of 16 tanks for the artesian water pumped up by a clanking windmill. My father decided that the new water tank should be built to look more handsome and be more in keeping with the new house. He gave the architect a postcard with a picture on it of an old Norman Church and our new water tower was built to look like the church tower in the picture, but surely no church in Normandy has a Kiwi on the weather vane surmounting it."
Sorry, folks, I couldn't see the weather vane ...