Friday, July 3, 2009

West: a new history of West Auckland

I attended the launch of the book West: The History of Waitakere tonight, held at the Waitakere City Council chambers. I have been looking forward both to the launch, and to obtaining the book (it retails for $79.99, but they took $10 off tonight as a launch special. According to the Western Leader, the book cost about $280,000 to produce, receiving $180,000 from Waitakere City Council, $35,000 from the ASB Charitable Trust and $39,500 from the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts.

My thoughts:

It is a beautiful book, and it has fulfulled one monumental aim, to try to compile together as much of the essense of "westie-ness" as possible within constraints of funding, page numbers, etc. Reading the book, you definitely get a feel for the story, both past and present, and it has turned out to be great timing in terms of the publication. With Auckland's Super City just around the corner, this volume will fit in nicely with other "swansong" municipal publications prepared in years past by other authorities lost in amalgamation. I also think that the book is a good starting point in terms of research into West Auckland, for those who make the effort to do so.

I liked the geological summary at the beginning by Bruce Hayward, the underpinning of the entire area. This will prove a great resource. The chapters on the history of Te Kawerau a Maki and Ngati Whatua in terms of West Auckland (the former claim mana over the whole of West Auckland, and surrounding districts, the latter claim the Auckland isthmus and that they are tangata whenua in Waitakere City) provide information on the complex history of Maori settlement and resource use in the area.

Some parts of the work stand out as areas where a little more research would have assisted with accuracy.

In David Luxton's chapter "Struggle Country", "Long" John McLeod is referred to, the difference between Thomas Henderson's possible early mill and the one sighted by J. C. Loch in 1861 "all down to one man, "Long John McLeod, a lumberjack ..." McLeod wasn't just "one man" -- his partner until the late 1850s was Cyrus Haskell, who was a lumberjack, while McLeod was more an engineer.

In "Read All About It" by Rene Bridges, mention is made of a local paper owned by Noel Roseman called the Avondale Dispatch. This is (excuse the pun) news to me. I've heard of The News operated by Avondale's Arthur Morrish, but not mentioned in the chapter (although it extended in coverage out to Swanson), and I've heard of the Avondale Advance (which the chapter does mention.) Not the Dispatch, though. I'll leave that one open for now -- if Waitakere City Library has copies of this, I'd love to see them. It isn't in their catalogue, however. Or anywhere else. [Edited to add, 12 November 2018: A reference to the Avondale Dispatch has been found. A single issue, either complete or in part, in Council Archives from the late 1940s. Looking forward to sighting this.]

In "Fire in The West" by Robyn Mason, the date of 1852 crops up again with reference to Daniel Pollen. I imagine it will take a long, long time for this ill-founded belief that Pollen's brickyard and pottery works started at that time to finally fade away. It is ill-founded: Pollen purchased his property on Rosebank in 1855, a son was born there in 1856, but by 1860 he was over at Eden Crescent, having left the management of his brick works at least in the hands of John Malam. In 1852, Pollen was on Kawau Island during the first part of the year, moving to Auckland later on. The not-totally-accurate Goodall map of West Auckland brick and pottery yards is reproduced without correction. Also, mention is made of "the Craig family's Glenburn Fireclay & Pottery Co (Avondale)" in 1929. In that year, while the Craig family were finalising purchase of the Glenburn site with John Melville and James Fletcher, it was already (and had been since 1920) run by these two men. In 1923, the business became known as Glenburn Fireclay & Pottery Co.

Tara Jahn-Werner in "The Children of Hauauru" writes of Avondale having movies screened in the area "as early as 1920" (actually, movies were shown much earlier, at least 1910). The Avondale Public Hall is described as "a tiny corrugated tin hall" (the hall is wooden, with a corrugated tin side closest to the Hollywood Cinema, and has never been "tiny") and the cinema is described as a neo-classical building constructed when the hall was moved over (no dates are given, but the neo-classical part of today's Hollywood -- the facade -- was built in 1915, and served as the grand front for that same "tiny" hall until 1924). Jan Grefstad's history of the Hollywood Cinema has the details.

In "City of the Dead" by Matthew Gray, reference is made to Waikumete Cemetery being "home to a mass grave filled with most of the 1128 Aucklanders who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918." I know that local West Auckland historian Audrey Lange has disputed this. I was on a bus trip with West Auckland Historical Society a couple of years ago, when Audrey took us around on a brief visit to the cemetery, and showed us where an area of land beside a memorial to those who had died during the pandemic wasn't a mass grave, but actually a series of individual graves, very few marked with a stone. The "mass grave" story crops up in other places, such as Waikaraka (no mass grave there), and to do with the removal of remains from Symonds Street cemetery when the motorway was put through later on last century. I'd always been told, and believed, that the remains were in a mass grave in Waikumete -- until I saw that the remains had actually been cremated, and returned to special deposit memorials in Symonds Street.

The book includes a summary of early development of the area's schools -- but there's only four references to churches in the area, and most of those references are just side references. I realise that the editors were constrained by space restrictions, but even a two-page list of the area's churches and the dates they started would have been a useful tool for researchers. The West Auckland Historical Society is similarly treated -- two references, one to published works used as reference by the authors, the other a mention of Mill Cottage.

All in all, though, it can't be said that West is a white elephant. The team took on a big task, and achieved a book which, hopefully, will provide a historical research resource as well as several glimpses into what Waitakere City in 2009 is all about.


  1. and I also wish there was a bigger portion dedicated to at least the 500 or so years of Maori settlement to the brief 200+ years of Europeans the book embraces.

  2. I agree with you there. I'm surprised more Maori input wasn't sought.

  3. I read your comments on the book West (a few years late) with interest. Although I haven't seen the book myself I am sure my gt gt grandfather William John Smith who lived in Titirangi for 53 years raising a family of 16 children and then New Lynn for the last four years of his life didn't get a mention. As when I visited the J T Diamond room to do research on my family and only found two tiny references, one to him and one to two of his sons. He was a bushman from 1854 and about 1881 bought 20 acres at the bottom of what is now South Titirangi Road and became an orchardist. In fact the Bay at the bottom was originally called Smith's Bay.. Although he was literate and was involved in his community, the first school and the Roads Board, he has not left a very big footprint for me to find, let alone anyone else.

    With a strong interest in early Auckland (family arrived 1841 and 1848) love your blog Timespanner.

  4. No mention of him in Marc Bonny's book on Titirangi either, which is a shame. If you read this, please email me, and I'll put you in touch with Marc.