Friday, October 17, 2008

Heron Park

Today, Heron Park comprises most of what was once Lots 70 and 71 of the Rosebank Estate sale of 1882, part of Robert Chisholm’s sheep farm. Along with Lots 69 and 68 (Saltaire Street and Glendon Ave), these sections totaling 50 acres between Great North Road and the muddy coast now part of Motu Manawa Reserve were purchased by the Gittos family: Benjamin, John and James. Perhaps this area, with fresh water creeks and access to the harbour, may have been in their mind as a replacement site for their existing tannery at the corner of New North and Blockhouse Bay Roads, straddling the border across the Oakley Creek between Avondale and Mt Albert road districts. (They had been in trouble for some years with their Mt Albert farmer neighbours over water pollution issues from the works). We may never know – the Gittos tannery, after Benjamin’s death, shifted to “Bridgnorth” at Richmond by 1886. The land at Lots 68-71 may have helped to finance the shift to Richmond; a mortgage was taken out with one William Thomas Fairburn of London. He later obtained title through default of this mortgage in 1890, as the Gittos tannery business went into bankruptcy.

Ten years later in 1900, Fairburn liquidated his asset, selling Lot 70 to Walter Frederick Mason, and Lot 71 to John Potter.

John Potter was a blacksmith (he lived in the Larch Street area off Great North Road), a chairman of the Avondale Road Board, and involved in purchases of land in that vicinity (he also bought the site of today’s Lions Hall across the road). To him, Lot 71 was likely just an investment. He sold it in 1904 to a market gardener named Frederick Walker. Ultimately, much of the land in this section fronting onto Great North Road was first taken for better utilization purposes (railway) in 1966, and then transferred to the Housing Corporation for state housing in the Cadman Avenue area in 1977, and so this portion is not part of today’s Heron Park. The remainder, leading down to the harbour, also designated under railway purposes in the 1950s and 1960s, was transferred to Auckland City Council in 1988-1989.

Walter Frederick Mason was a clerk living in Mt Albert. The Mason family retained title of most of the land until 1930. The pattern here was similar to that with John Potter’s land – subdivided, a number of private owners over the course of the first half of the 20th century, then consolidation as the land was taken for railway purposes, and finally transferred to Auckland City Council in 1988-1989.

Heron Park today would almost form a complete area of reserve and possible walkway at least to the reserve at the end of Fairlands Avenue, via a former landing reserve area, except for one section still in private ownership at 48 Fairlands Avenue. As it is, the draft management plan for the park gave the area as just over 10 hectares.

Why was the park taken for railway purposes? Up until the 1970s, a plan was on the drawing board to link the Avondale railway station with industrial development and a possible container port at Pollen Island (Motu Manawa). Immense reclamation was even considered by Auckland City Council in the latter decade, before the bubble essentially popped, and the idea of a Rosebank rail link died. The Crown transferred their holdings along the peninsula either to private owners in the industrial area, state housing (Eastdale Road), or to the City Council (Heron Park). If it hadn’t been for that idea to turn Pollen Island into another industrial hub of activity, though, it is likely Heron Park, with its rolling landscape and relatively quiet hush close to the coast (where even the motorway noise is muted) wouldn’t exist.

Why "Heron Park"? Not after a person, but after the herons said to visit there from time to time.


  1. Really appreciate this, great to know a little history of our local park. thanks

  2. Hi, I was stuck in Auckland during the first lockdown. I walked through Heron Park every day for exercise. It was great with various circuits and views. However, I was struck with some text on one of the sign boards and haven't been able to fully understand it. Here goes "That this incoming tide is not the breaking of waves upon the reef, but the rising tide of humankind reaching for this distant horizon, carried ashore upon hopes and aspirations.
    Welcome to the pillow on which rests the dreams of those who came before you"
    I wondered if it had an historical significance. Any thoughts or ideas?