Monday, January 5, 2009

Drawing the line: the establishment of the Whau Highway District

In terms of Avondale’s history, the establishment of the Whau Highway District in October 1868 seems to have come about almost as a result not of the settlers’ will so much as it was the will of the Superintendent of the Provincial Council. While there were landowners from the Whau who had put their names to the February 1866 petition to the Superintendent for the Mt Albert district board to come into being, by the time the new Highway District was gazetted in October of that year, only a sliver of Avondale had been included. All of Blockhouse Bay and virtually all of New Windsor (placed under Mt Roskill Highway Board control by the beginning of 1868), plus all of Rosebank and Waterview lay outside the Mt Albert Highway District boundaries. The new highway district included Josiah Buttress’ Stoneleigh farm, Buchanan and Palmer’s lands leading down to the Whau River, half of today’s Avondale Racecourse, the present area from upper Rosebank Road to Wolverton Street east of Great North Road, then land bounding Oakley Creek until the line headed east again. The Whau Presbyterian Church, for example, was now in Mt Albert; the Whau Hotel, just down the road, and the local store, was not.

Come June 1867, and the Superintendent announced intentions to extend the already factional Mt Albert district even further – this time, including Rosebank and Waterview, as well as the Sandringham, Newton and Arch Hill areas. The Mt Albert ratepayers gathered at the Whau Road schoolroom, and heard Dr. Thomas Aickin, chairman of the meeting (whose property had been outside the 1866 district boundary), say “he had been conversing with several gentlemen who were pretty well acquainted with the district, with reference to the proposal of the Government to extend the district. He found that the idea was not altogether acceptable to those from the neighbourhood of the Whau. But those who were then assembled were not, in his opinion, sufficiently numerous to decide for the district. It had been suggested therefore that that meeting should adjourn, to get a larger one, at which a decision might be arrived at.” A deputation had already called on the Superintendent, who “was of opinion that the districts should be as well defined as possible, as well as in many instances much more extended in area than at present.” (Southern Cross, 29 June 1867)

John Bollard (whose property had also been outside the 1866 district boundary) attended the next public meeting on 3 July. He proposed, “That the whole of the district shown on the plan be divided as follows, vis., that portion of land south-east of the present Mount Albert district be amalgamated with the Mount Albert district; the district between Cox's Creek and the Whau to be a separate district; and the southern portion, near the town, as shown on the plan, to be constituted into a suburban district." He thought that under the present circumstances it would not be advisable to have the Mount Albert district enlarged.” Thomas John Sansom from Waterview seconded the proposition. Mr. Galbraith from Mt Albert proposed instead that the Mt Albert district remain the size it already was. (Southern Cross, 4 July 1867)

Of course, wishing for everything to remain the way it was in 1866 was a bit like the metaphorical ostrich with its head in the sand. The Provincial Government’s gears continued to grind slowly toward establishing Mt Albert as a dominant territorial authority, with both suburban and rural ratepayers and all the arguments that entailed, whether the settlers liked it or not.

The Mt Roskill Highway District was in the process of being formed by September 1867. What we now know as Blockhouse Bay was drawn into the boundaries of this new district, and parts of the south-eastern corner of Mt Albert wanted to join in.

Nevertheless, in December 1867, Mt Albert’s new boundaries were gazetted, taking in all of Avondale and Waterview north of Wolverton Street, but placing New Windsor and Blockhouse Bay with the new Mt Roskill district.

The Mt Albert ratepayers were not pleased. At a public meeting in March 1868, they instructed that the Superintendent be advised that they wanted the boundaries back to the way they were in 1866, with the exception of the Sandringham area. (Southern Cross, 18 March 1868) This, however, did nothing to change the situation.

What probably did more to settle the boundaries down to those with which we are more familiar was the establishment from 1868 of local educational districts. The one for the Whau was massive then, taking in the Henderson area, and included Blockhouse Bay. There were contrasts between the Whau district and that of Mt Albert – Whau settlers voted to have a special rate for educational purposes, while the Mt Albert ratepayers, despite the urgings from John Buchanan, voted against such a move. (Southern Cross, 7 May 1868)

In September, the Whau settlers met at the Public Hall, and decided they wanted a separate district. A deputation from Mt Albert approached the Superintendent that month, recommending that the Whau district be separated, and he said he’d think about it. (Southern Cross, 17 September 1868). Five days later, the Whau settlers held another meeting at the Whau Hotel, this time to vote on establishing their own highway district, (Southern Cross, 23 September 1868) and sent their own deputation to the Superintendent, made up of John Holloway, John Bollard, George Thomas and William Motion. They asked for the Oakley Creek to be the new boundary, and to have New Windsor, Stoneleigh and Blockhouse Bay included. William Motion, from the Low & Motion Mill at Western Springs wanted to be included in the new district – which would have meant that the Whau district would have taken in the asylum grounds and possibly even Pt Chevalier as well. Mainly, this was because he didn’t want to be included in with the Newton district. (Southern Cross, 25 September, 1868)

Another meeting, this one of the Mt Albert settlers, was held on 29 September. There were long discussions about the new Whau district, mainly concerning the New North Road (which, with the adjusted boundaries, would have its extreme western end under Whau control beyond Oakley Creek). Mr. Phillips proposed “That, in the opinion of the ratepayers convened at this meeting, it is undesirable that the boundaries of the Mount Albert district should be so altered as to divide the control and supervision of any portion of the New North Road. In moving this resolution the speaker said it was not likely that the people living at one end of the road would care about having their money spent on the other end.” Bollard retorted, “… the ratepayers of the Mount Albert district took a very narrow-minded view of affairs. It was not likely that the end of the road in question would be neglected by the Whau settlers, as it was to their interest to keep it in good repair. He did not think it right that the Mount Albert people should thrust their district right into the heart of the Whau. It had no right to go so far as it did and in all probability it never would have done so if certain parties in the Whau District had not wished to be tacked to the Mount Albert District, but every one of the people who had then wished to go into that district had now petitioned to be cut off again. It was most unreasonable for them to wish to cut the Whau into halves. He, as a ratepayer of the Whau, would be prepared to spend a fair proportion of the rates on the end of the New North Road.” The meeting voted to approach the Superintendent and state agreement as to the establishment of the separate Whau district. (Southern Cross, 30 September 1868)

In October, the Whau Highway District came into being, but didn’t include Blockhouse Bay and New Windsor. In September 1869, the Whau ratepayers met to consider the notion of amalgamating those parts of Mt Roskill’s district with their own. In Bollard’s opinion, “The Whau Highway District was far too small, and it would be for them that evening to consider the propriety of enlarging it by a union with part of the Mount Roskill district The interests of the two districts were identical, and they would be in a better position to form the roads most urgently required were the district extended, so as to include a larger area of ground and a proportionately increased number of ratepayers.” In particular, even then, Bollard had a plan to form a long road to the Manukau Harbour, which we now know as Blockhouse Bay Road. John Buchanan agreed with Bollard. Fortunately for them, so did Joseph May, the chairman of the Mt Roskill Board, who apparently recognised that it would be better for the Whau to have New Windsor and Blockhouse Bay than it would for these two areas of hilly scrub and wilderness to remain under his control. Their remoteness caused John Holloway to express his doubts, but he was reassured by Bollard that they wouldn’t become a road-cost burden to the Whau district. (Southern Cross, 7 September 1869) The new boundaries were soon gazetted.

Much of Blockhouse Bay was Crown land at that stage, the main land sales still two decades away. Bollard gambled that (a) a canal would go through to the Manukau coastline close to Blockhouse Bay, and (b) that settlement there would mean a rates intake to pay for roading. He succeeded in having Blockhouse Bay Road formed in the 1880s-1890s, the backbone of the by-then Avondale Road Board district, but his predictions as to the canal and rate of settlement were way off. The state of Blockhouse Bay’s roads were to be a point of contention well into the 20th century, and contributed to the causes of the amalgamation of Avondale with Auckland City in 1927. The boundaries that were agreed on in 1869, though, still form the basis for the Avondale Ward boundaries within Auckland City today.

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