Auckland: The wild side

By John Roughan

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

The Buck Taylor Track, part of the Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Supplied
The Buck Taylor Track, part of the Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Supplied

The Harbour Bridge was not the only Waitemata crossing that sent the city in new directions in the 1960s. The causeway built from Pt Chevalier to Te Atatu changed the face of West Auckland.

Glennys Clare McGlashan was 16 years old in 1957, living in Mt Albert, when a boyfriend suggested they go and see his friend who had bought a dairy at Te Atatu.

"I'd never heard of Te Atatu," she recalls, "although I did know about the newly constructed northwestern causeway."

Describing the journey in an essay for the West Auckland Historical Society she wrote: "There was little traffic and the two-lane road seemed amazingly wide to me."

At their destination, Gloria Ave, "there didn't seem to be many buildings. I remember a Shell petrol station across the road from the dairy and the view of the harbour across lush grass farmland."

The dairy buyer had foresight. The peninsula was transformed from farmland to housing subdivisions within three years.

It was home to more than 8000 people by 1961.

The primary school roll doubled from 1958 to 1960. A school at Edmonton Rd had opened with 95 pupils. By 1961 it had 711. The new Rutherford High School had a roll of 154 but it would have more than 1000 pupils by 1966.

The motorway went to Lincoln Rd, where light industry and large retailing was taking root. Housing sprouted beyond Lincoln Rd, reaching Ranui and even Swanson in the 1970s.

As the northwestern motorway was extended it spawned vast new suburbs called Massey and West Harbour, absorbing the older airforce village of Hobsonville.

The drastic transformation has been so rapid that many Aucklanders can still remember when the West was a string of small outlying towns on the Great North Rd and the railway to Northland.

Around the towns were orchards and market gardens where Aucklanders of the early 20th century went for a pleasant Sunday drive, returning with freshly harvested fruit and vegetables, especially Oratia apples.

Until the causeway was built the older towns were sharing in the post-war population growth. Henderson became a borough in 1946. Glen Eden trebled its population between 1945-52 to also reach borough status. Many of the 3500 residents worked in the city.

Titirangi was one of Auckland's fastest growing postwar suburbs, doubling its population to about 2000 in the five years to 1951. By 1958 it had grown to 4700.

With its steep land subdivided five to an acre, Titirangi's soil proved unable to contain septic tanks on every site. Deep driveway cuttings on steep sites exposed ground sewage flows.

In 1963 the Titirangi ratepayers association pressed for the area to have special zoning restrictions for bush preservation.

Though the old towns of West Auckland have now all been absorbed in the city they have given the West a history and character of its own.

George Henderson had arrived from the south just a month or two after Auckland's founding and he and a fellow migrant from Dundee started pit-sawing kauri on the Whau in 1844.

Five years later Henderson and McFarlane opened their timber mill. With a pub to quench the thirst of timber workers, the township, known as "Henderson's mill", acquired an unruly reputation.

A man who was a child at the time recalled for the Herald in 1930 that at Furleys Hotel, two miles out of town, "you ordered your drinks through a small slide, on the other side of which the barman openly kept a loaded revolver on the bar table".

The town also boasted a racecourse that attracted crowds from Auckland.

Meanwhile Glen Eden, with a general store and a blacksmith, had become a coaching stop on the road to Piha and Karekare.

The kauri forest was practically milled out and the West was becoming farmland by the time a railway was built from Auckland to Helensville.

The railway issued "workmen's tickets" that helped bring more population to places along the line. But despite the railway, water remained a ready means of transport for goods and building materials and settlements were established on the Manukau from Green Bay to Whatipu.

By the turn of the 20th century the bush had been cleared, even from the steep slopes of Titirangi, as farmers tried to cultivate the thin soil.

It was water that began to save some of the rainforest in the Waitakere Ranges.

In 1900 an engineer, Harry Atkinson, proposed reservoirs in the Waitakeres to replace Auckland's unsatisfactory water supply from Western Springs and ground bores.

The first dam was built on the Nihotupu Stream in 1902. It was followed by a concrete dam in 1923 and the next year construction started on the Upper Huia dam.

Bush railways had to be built to transport cement and other material from the harbour up to the dam sites. One of the railways, complete with bridges and tunnels, remained running for joyrides until 1960 when it made way for a Lower Huia earth dam.

Henderson had formally adopted its founder's name in 1896. Its streets carried the names of his children, Thomas, George, Catherine, John, William and Mary.

By then the town was also home to a young Lebanese migrant whose name would be written even larger in its history.

Assid Corban bought 10 acres of an old gumfield near Henderson's mill in 1902. He planted it in vines, planning to use viticultural skills he had acquired in his homeland.

Mt Lebanon vineyard started selling wine in 1909. By 1925 it was the largest winery in the country, though no longer the only vineyard in Henderson. In 1919 a Croatian, Josip Babich, had planted his first grapes in the district.

A community of Croatians from the Dalmatian coast had migrated to West Auckland near the end of the 19th century, mainly to work in the gumfields but they soon established orchards and started making wine on the side.

Known as Austrians when they first arrived - their homeland being then part of the Austrian Empire - some of them suffered internment in New Zealand during World War I.

The "Dalmatians", as they were known subsequently, did not migrate in large numbers - the West has never had more than 3750 Croatian-born residents according to historian Paul Moon - but their names remain prominent in the population today.

References: Memories of Te Atatu in the 1960s by Glennys Clare McGlashan for the West Auckland Historical Society.
"Struggle Country" by David Luxton in West,The History of Waitakere, eds MacDonald and Kerr.
"Taking Care of Business" by Paul Moon in West: The History of Waitakere.

The final stop

Former Glen Eden resident Norma Fulton, who lived opposite the Waikumete Cemetery from 1939 to 1974, recalls many a story about it.
When first opened, she writes, the road from Auckland was too rough for hearses and caskets, so they were railed to Glen Eden station.

From there they were "balanced on a type of wheelbarrow and, as reverently as possible, wheeled across the road into the main gates.

"The trains were decorated with a white cross on the front of the engine and had many given names, the "Cemetery Train", the "Final Stop" and "The Funeral Freight".

"On Sundays it was delicately named 'The Perfumed Train' as mourners would come from Auckland laden with flowers."

The mourners at least had return tickets. Mrs Fulton insists the caskets were ticketed "one way".

- NZ Herald

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