Brian Rudman: Fringe theatre as Nibblegate comes to a head

One of Governor William Hobson's first acts after signing the Treaty of Waitangi was to travel to his new capital of Auckland and in June 1840 join Ngati Whatua chief Apihai Te Kawau to proclaim a large "Government Domain" east of Grafton Gully.

Over the ensuing 146 years there has been some nibbling at the edges of the city's great park. Just how much has disappeared, no one is quite sure.

But two or three years back, with apartments springing up on former railways land on its eastern boundary, and adjacent Carlaw Park, the one-time home of rugby league, being readied for intensive development, it seemed a good time to take stock.

Last September, after two years of pressure from Parnell activists, including one who became a city councillor, Richard Simpson, Auckland City voted to probe its land records and produce a definitive report on the parks boundaries.

It was tabled just before Christmas - and Councillor Simpson is less than happy with the results.

His own research, based on maps and papers going back to 1840, concluded that 4.3ha, including parts or all of Carlaw Park, had gone missing.

The council's property department, in a $5000 investigation, has concluded that between 1893 and 1987, 3.6ha has been clipped from the domain, but only 48sq m of that cannot be accounted for.

The report also notes Carlaw Park "was not part of the domain as defined in the Public Domains Act 1860".

It does, however, concede that "the Carlaw Park land may have been in the Auckland Domain as it was known in the 1840s but that land was set apart for hospital endowment in 1856".

And that seems to be the nub of the problem in getting to the bottom of the missing land. Just where do you start.

Mr Simpson wants to start at 1840, but the property department, while checking out 1860 and 1893 plans, has concentrated, in its report, on differences between "the original domain as defined in the Auckland Domain Vesting Act 1893 and the current domain as defined in the Auckland Domain Act 1987".

Before your eyes start glazing over, this hunt for the original boundary is not just a geeky probe into the past for the sake of it.

It does seem relevant to pin down whether the railways did snaffle more over the years and whether some of that was sold in recent years for housing development. And, for that matter, whether any of it can now be recovered.

It would also be interesting to know how Carlaw Park grandstand, according to the 1987 boundary as defined in the report, clearly sits inside the Domain boundaries, and whether Auckland ratepayers are entitled to reclaim the land, especially now that it is up for redevelopment.

To answer such questions, the city's finance committee has asked property officials for further investigation, and to report back in March.

The 1860 act defining the Domain put it at 79.32ha, "more or less".

In 1865, 2.05ha on the eastern boundary was taken for the new railway from Onehunga to the city.

Some time before 1890, a small area of Domain was set aside for a morgue, which later became part of Auckland Hospital grounds.

Over the years there has been a certain give and take between the council, which assumed ownership of the Domain in 1893, and the hospital.

The largest transaction was in 1922, when the hospital swapped 1.78ha of Domain in return for 2.4ha of land in Pt Chevalier which is now Coyle Park.

In 1947, the hospital nibbled up another 1.7ha. What the city received in payment is not noted.

Thirty years ago, 1011sq m of parkland suddenly went missing, thanks not to the doctors but to the poor clerks having to convert all the land documents from the old imperial measurements. They made a conversion error.

And for those of you wondering about the Auckland Bowling Club greens and the Auckland Tennis Association stadium, both are located within the Domain. But their occupation is strictly legal, as both have leases authorised under the Auckland Domain Act 1987

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