Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whatever became of the Rosebank Domain?

(Updated 18 January 2019)

Around 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene era of geologic history, the extreme point of Rosebank Peninsula was formed. It is part of the East Coast Bays formation of mudstone and sandstone which appears, here and there, around the basin of the Waitemata Harbour. It shares its geologic story with Blockhouse Bay's headlands and ridges, another older part of the district. The rest of the Rosebank Peninsula, the "Flats", is much younger, part of the Puketoka formation between 2 to 5 million years ago.

The historical aspects of the point at the end of the peninsula from before 1878 are a mix of Maori oral memory, and of Pakeha recollection passed down and related to John T Diamond in the 20th century. These days, although the site has a number recorded on archaeological databases (R11/74), it isn’t regarded as archaeologically significant anymore, due mainly to lack of evidence and the destruction wrought before a survey could be properly carried out, in the middle of last century.

Diamond, going by recollections from Dick Malam and Dick Ringrose, recorded that 

“the Maori camped on this point while on food gathering expeditions right up to the time of the Waikato wars, but with the scare of being invaded the residents of Auckland demanded that camping there should be stopped. However after the war was over the Maori did camp there again but only up to the early 1880s. Many of the Maori at this site were known personally to the workers at the nearby brickyards.”
Datasheet for R11/74, Avondale-Waterview Historical Society archives.

Ngarimu Blair, of Ngati Whatua o Orakei, in 2004 identified the point as Rangimatariki, referred to in Judge F D Fenton’s 1879 judgement report:

“[1792] … a battle took place between the two parties [Ngaoho and Ngatipaoa] at Rangimatariki, near the Whau, in which Ngatipaoa were defeated with heavy loss: ‘You may see hangis (ovens) to this day,’ says Tamati Tangiteruru. Apihai says that this engagement was to avenge the deaths at Mahurangi, but this can scarcely be, for Ngatipaoa appears to have been the attacking party.”

Angela Bellara, in her book Taua on warfare in Maori society, refers to this conflict by another name.

"In this battle at Mahurangi, Tarahawaiki, by now a principal chief of Te Taou in place of his father, Tupriri (Tarahawaiki was the father of Apihai Te Kawau), was killed by Ngati Paoa. Nga Oho and Te Taou then set up a taua and a battle took place at Rangimataruru near Te Whau. Ngati Paoa were heavily defeated, some victims being eaten.” 
(p. 213) 

Paul Moon, in his book The Struggle for Tamaki Makaurau (2007), wrote that at the beginning of 1792, a group of Ngati Paoa shark fishing off Kauri Point were

"... surprised by a Ngati Whatua raiding party who succeeded in taking their canoe and killing most of the crew. Those who did not die in the initial fighting were taken out deeper into the Waitemata Harbour, to Kiho Kiore (now Boat Rock) and were left on this tiny piece of rock jutting from the sea. It was a devious and cruel gesture. As the tide rose, the huddled men on the rock were swallowed by the water.
"The Ngati Paoa assault force that this event helped to consolidate shuffled into action soon afterwards. It quickly penetrated into Te Taou territory along the Manukau, with another prong probably having let loose its offensive in the Avondale/Point Chevalier area, around the village that was positioned in what is now the Patiki Road interchange." 

(pp. 119-120)

Because of the variance between the place names Rangimatariki and Rangimataruru, there are claims that the end of Point Chevalier, Rangimatarau, was the site of this 1792 battle. Ngarimu Blair, however, did seem fairly definite that Rangimatariki was Rosebank Point.

Along with much of the Auckland Isthmus, the land at the point was obtained from Ngati Whatua by the Crown in 1841, and was surveyed just before the issue of crown grants for the Avondale district from 1843 (SO 834). Then, it was known as Allotment 1, 21 acres, a piece of Crown Waste Land under the control of the Colonial Secretary until 1853, then the Auckland Provincial Council until the dissolution of the Provincial system in 1876. It doesn’t feature in any particular details during this period, apart from what the Ringrose-Malam recollections tell us. It was probably leased out to local landowners as an extension of their grazing lands – John Kelly then Daniel Pollen being the neighbours until Pollen’s death in the 1890s. Those agreements would have carried through under the land’s change of status from 16 December 1878, when it became a education reserve. Now, it earned income for primary school education (hopefully in the same district!) and finally obtained a land title – NA 132/27, increased to 23 acres.

In 1908 came two gazette notices; first, one which changed the status from educational reserve to recreational reserve, the second, bringing the reserve under the Public Domains Act 1881.

From 1914, the point drew the active attention of the Avondale Road Board. This may have been the “Pollen’s Point” for which an application for a grant had been made, possibly by the Road Board to the government, before March 1914 (minutes, 4 March). The following month, the Board invited local nurseryman Hayward Wright to inspect what was now called the Rosebank Park Domain, and submit a report on planting and layout suggestions. (minutes, 1 April) From June 1917, the point was transferred from the Auckland Education Board back to the Crown as a reserve on the title, and soon after, the Avondale Road Board officially became a Domains Board, managing Rosebank Domain, and Avondale South Domain at Blockhouse Bay.

The road to the domain, beginning as a survey line emerging from Rosebank Road around 1907, was an undedicated road by 1916, and named Park Avenue (now Patiki Road) by 1926. In 1928, Auckland City Council officers, after amalgamation with Avondale the previous year, described the domain as a pleasant place where people had picnics. The only time the domain seemed to appear in official records up to that point was whenever well covers, horse troughs or gateways needed replacement. In 1945, when a dead horse needed disposal from Hobson Park, Auckland City simply carried it to Rosebank Domain, and buried it there.

In 1932 came grand ideas which never came to be. In line with the proposals put forward to have Pollen Island transformed into an airport after reclamations linking it with the mainland and the domain area, the domain itself was imagined by David B Russell and F E Powell as a sports ground, an athletic park which would have included a track for motor cycle racing, with tennis and croquet taking place on the long neck linking the domain proper with the rest of Rosebank.

It was the motor cycle racing, and later go karting, which was to dominate the usage of the domain from that point onward. Calum Gilmour, in his book on the history of the Auckland Motor Cycle Club, said that the Ixion Motor Cycle Club in the early 1930s

“…controlled the track at Rosebank Park in Avondale. This was a grass track and fairly rough. Some members of the AMCC were also members of the Ixion Club, and there was a move to amalgamate the two clubs with Ixion becoming part of AMCC. This was attractive to AMCC as it would give the Club control of the Rosebank Park track. The Ixion members voted for amalgamation, and they were thanked for this motion at the monthly general meeting of AMCC held 5th March 1936 … The amalgamation was formally confirmed at the GM on 2nd April 1935.”

Exactly when and how the motor cycle clubs gained Council permission to use the domain I have yet to discover. It was, of course, well out of the way of things, then. No residential subdivisions at Te Atatu on one side, and only the crops and animals on rural Rosebank to disturb.

Rosebank Domain doesn’t appear to have been one of the Motor Cycle Club’s main tracks, but it was certainly utilised up to the mid 1950s. In a draft report from 1966, Auckland City Councillor Watts wrote

“Rosebank Road Domain has always been used for this type of sport and Councillor Dale can remember riding in motor bike races on a track there over 25 years ago. Sport of this type was only suspended when the Ministry of Works used the area during construction of the motorway.”

Night meetings were held by the Auckland Motor Cycle Club at Avondale up to the early 1950s at least.

From 1949, the Domain seemed to be about to disappear beneath the Auckland Harbour Board’s grand plans to turn 1000 acres at Rosebank and Te Atatu into an Upper Harbour Port, with reclamations that would have swallowed the domain, Pollen and Traherne Islands, and halved the width of the mouth of the Whau River, extending on down to Avondale and Eastdale Roads. (Auckland Star, 11 November 1949) The Upper Harbour Development, planned in conjunction with the development of the motorway link between Kumeu and Pt Chevalier (which happened), and the railway link with the new port (which didn’t happen) caught the interest of Auckland City Council. Even when the grand development didn’t happen, the Council still proceeded with the rezoning of much of what was going to be the Harbour Board area of proposed light and heavy industrial usage, and created their own area of light and heavy industrial usage.

In 1957, the government declared part of the Rosebank Domain taken for purposes of the motorway, and during construction (as seen above) the domain was used as a storage area by the Ministry of Works. In 1959, however, the Rosebank Road Domain was still listed among Auckland City’s parks and reserves – 10th largest, comparable in size to Victoria Park.

In 1962, Auckland City Council saw the acres of the Rosebank Domain as “underdeveloped” and surrounded by what was expected to be industrial areas on Rosebank and Te Atatu, and decided that the best use would be as a place for people

“…with noisy hobbies such as go-karts, motorcycles, powered model aeroplanes, cars or scooters. The Auckland Power Sports Association was formed and an area of the domain has been allotted to each club. With the assistance of businesses and voluntary labour, the go-kart club formed a 500-yard tarsealed circuit. Speeds of up to 90 miles an hour will be possible on the 30-foot wide track, which will be opened on May 10.” 
NZ Herald, 20 April 1964

Council formally approved the use of the Domain as a power sports area in November 1963, although at a meeting of the Council in March 1962 permission was granted to the Power Sports Association to use the Domain for an annual rental of £1. It probably helped that the Mayor at the time, Dove-Myer Robinson, had been a past member of the Auckland Motor Cycle Club, and a few of the sitting councillors fondly remembered their days motoring around that grass track at the end of Rosebank up to World War II. The go-kart track eventually opened 31 May 1964 – and was opened by the Mayor.

Immediately, war broke out between Auckland City Council, its neighbouring territorial authority the Waitemata County Council, and residents on Te Atatu Peninsula. Te Atatu had not become an industrial area as had been planned back in the late 1940s. With the halting of the Auckland Harbour Board’s proposals, the suburb had become mostly residential – and they could clearly hear, and suffered from, the noise of the races. Right from 1964, and through into this century, petitions and personal appeals have been presented by Te Atatu residents to Auckland City, and the Avondale Community Board after 1989, all to no avail. Noise tests either didn’t back up the residents claims of excessive noise, or if they did then the sports administrators promised various mitigation measures.

In 1964, the Auckland Amateur Go-Kart Club wrote to the Council expressing their dismay

“… that our venue could be in jeopardy as our decision to move from Panmure was based on the area being industrial and the fact that the Domain was intended entirely for noisy sports. On the strength of this, our club raised by means of debentures and a loan, at most £2000 which has been spent on our track.”

Letter from the Club to the Town Clerk, 19 October 1964

Auckland City Council backed the clubs.

While the reserve was still under the Domains Act, it was supposed to be free to access for all of the public. Whenever the clubs held their meetings, at which there were gate takings (and therefore no free access to that part of the Domain), applications had to be made to Council to hold “charge day meetings”, a fee of £5 paid for each day, and the club paid for the advertising of public notices announcing the temporary partial closure of the Domain.

In 1976, Council officers recommended that the Power Sports Association have a 33-year lease of the Domain. In 1977, the old Public Domains Act of 1881 was superseded by the Reserves Act.

By the 1980s, the Association had gone, and only two clubs used the Domain at that time: the Auckland Kart Club, and Auckland Speedway Riders Club. In 1989, the clubs sought permission to extend their grounds on the Domain. Pine trees were to be removed and infill at the southern end were proposed.

It is unlikely that the former picnic spot, where games of family cricket were played, and from where regattas were observed on the Whau River, will ever be restored as one of our district’s public domains. What history, and pre-1840 history, lay beneath the soils there was virtually gone by the time J T Diamond inspected the area in 1966. Most likely nothing now remains of the site where, it can be said, the recorded history of Rosebank, and of Avondale, began. Too much water has gone under the planners’ bridges – and too many go-karts around the track.

S W Edbrooke (compiler), Geology of the Auckland Area, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences, 2001

Archaeological site reference form, R11/74

"Statement of Evidence of Dr Rodney Clough (Archaeology) on behalf of the NZ Transport Agency, before Board of Inquiry, Waterview Connection Project", Chapman Tripp, 8 November 2010

Chief Judge Fenton's 'Important Judgments delivered in the Compensation Court and Native Land Court 1866 to 1879', 1879

Angela Bellara, Taua, 2003

Ngarimu Blair, in Avondale/Te Whau Heritage Walks, 2006, p.22

Land Information New Zealand

Avondale Road Board/Borough Council notes from minutes, via Avondale History Group (Ron Oates), from Auckland City Archives records

"Pictorial Sketch of Pollen Island & Whau River, Showing proposed Airport & Athletic Park, A comprehensive scheme for an Airport & Recreation Grounds for David B Russell & F E Powell C.E., No. 258/4/G2" (c.1932)

ACC 219/4612, ACC 275/65-125 Auckland City Archives

Calum Gilmour, Seventy-Five Years on Two Wheels, A History of the Auckland Motor Cycle Club Inc 1926-2001, Polygraphia, 2001

Auckland City Council Report on Churchill Park in April 1959 (showing acreages of Auckland’s parks and reserves), Auckland Scrapbook, November 1959- p. 64, Auckland Central Library

Paul Moon, The Struggle for Tamaki Makaurau: The Maori Occupation of Auckland to 1820, 2007


  1. Great post! I found this fascinating to read. Sent through on Twitter btw. Good idea putting the SM share widget there.Thanks!

  2. The north-west side of Rosebank Domain seems to me to be a remnant of the original native forest. It seems old because of the number of different native species in there, although there are no large native trees. Unfortunately there's also a lot of moth plant and climbing asparagus, which are harming the natives. It would be great if that remnant could be restored because much of the coastal margin in the area has died out in terms original plant cover.

  3. Thanks for that, David. Do you have a contact email you could send through to mine ( With your permission, I'd like to let the Whau Local Board know, along with the Avondale Community Gardneners (very concerned about the remnants of Rosebank's natural history) and John Adam the landscape historian.