Saturday, February 26, 2011

The woes of a name like the Whau

I have a contention, heretic that I am, that following on from the fact that the original name of West Auckland, in Te Reo, was “Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa”, as referred to in the booklet on the Whau River by the Friends of the Whau, that the original name, and spelling of our river is not “Whau” but “Wao”, named after the district, which in turn was named after the great forest West Auckland was known for. “Whau”, to me, would appear to be a corruption. I’m well aware how heretical that is – but the “wow” pronunciation was the way we locals pronounced “Whau” when I was growing up in the 1960s-1970s. The modern (and still not quite correct) “f” sound is a recent thing.

I've referred to this in earlier posts, here and here.

So, here’s what early newspapers had to say.

Southern Cross 21 August 1847
… an aqueduct from the Wahu river to the top of Mount Eden is already spoken of.

New Zealander 6 October 1847
Mount Eden, for instance, is called by the Natives Maungawao, from a beautiful shrub, the Wao, with large mulberry-shaped leaves and white flowers, which once abounded on its sides.

Southern Cross 28 September 1849
On Monday, the 24th instant, at the Wahu, Mrs. E. Kelly, of a Son.

New Zealander 8 March 1851
… the Town and Suburbs to Hobson's Bridge and Whau

New Zealander 6 September 1851
BOUNDARIES OF THE BOROUGH OF AUCKLAND. The Northern Boundary runs from the eastern head of the Wao creek in an easterly direction along the south shore of the Waitemata harbour to the western head of the Tamaki river …

The European population of the Borough amounts to about 8000 souls, upwards of 4000 of whom occupy the town of Auckland and its adjacent suburbs, whilst the aggregate population of the Pensioner settlements of Onehunga, Howick, Panmure, and Otahuhu, may be estimated at about 2500 souls, leaving a population of about 1500 souls who are scattered over the rural districts of the Tamaki, Epsom, and the Wao, and are chiefly engaged in agricultural and pastoral pursuits.

Southern Cross 27 January 1852
…. access to the metal quarry, the mill, the Manukau ranges, the Waho, and the Kaipara.

Southern Cross 25 August 1854
MR. ELLIOT'S Surveyors being now on the Whau and, Waitemata Distripts, for a limited time only …

Southern Cross 16 October 1860
IMPOUNDED at the Public Pound, Newmarket, by W. Andrew for Dr. Pollen, for trespassing in his Grass Paddock, at the Wahu, One Dark Bay Horse, black points …

Southern Cross 14 June 1865
NOTICE. IMPOUNDED by Edward Lovett, for trespass in Mr. Crispe's oat paddock, at the Wahu flat, on June 10

From 1865, use of the spelling “Wahu”, “Waho” or “Wao” for the district or the river fades out, and “Whau” takes over, always pronounced “wow”. “Going down to the Whau” was a euphemism for entering the Auckland Lunatic Asylum (later Mental Hospital) as a patient.

NZ Truth 6 July 1912
So hilarious was the attack that he was put away in the 'asylum — or "Wow," as the hooligans call It— to recover. … Horatius had been in the asylum — beg pardon, the "Wow."

NZ Truth 14 August 1915
After reading this "Cambist" fears hls chance of a flying trip over the Mad House on the Whau (pronounced Wow) done for.

Edited to add (27 February 2017):

Then, we have Arthur Thomas Pycroft, an enthusiast of nature writing in the Auckland Star, 12 November 1927:
"The flower of the Whau, or Cork wood (Entelea Arborescens) was recently sent to me to identify, and I was asked where it is found in a wild state ... This tree's Maori name is familiarly known here, the Whau Creek, and Maunga Whau, or Mount Eden, are instances. I have recently been informed, however, by two Maori scholars, that Maunga Whau is only part of the native name of that mountain, the full name is Maunga Whau Ngarongo (the Mountain of Peace). Whau in this instance does not refer to the tree."
I'd like to see the original Maori name reinstated -- "Wao".  That would stop any debates as to pronunciation. But, I know in today's world that would be putting the boat up the creek without any chance of paddles. I'm a heritage heretic who can't swim, anyway ...


  1. Well you can add another onto the heretic of heritage list. I agree with you totally it's all there you've done the research it stands for itself. Great post!

  2. Thank you kindly, Liz. I could have added what the gazettes put as well, but -- I think folks get the picture.