Auckland City Council is kissing itself goodbye with a $120,000 book on the 20 years of its life. Franklin will pay $19,900 for a tome on its 21-year history; Waitakere published its memoirs last year. If so inclined, toddle into your local — soon-to-be-regional — library and cuddle up with the true confessions of Watercare.
But in a one-room flat above a takeout curry house in Onehunga, a little known historian has spent decades pecking out his unique account of our place and our people. We are privileged to reproduce this exclusive excerpt from:
Tamaki Mucking-Around: The Strictly Unofficial History Of Auckland by Davey Norris
Before there was Auckland there was Tamaki Makau Rau, which is sometimes translated as "the isthmus of one thousand lovers" and other times as "the bride sought by a hundred suitors". According to the only surviving eyewitness account of the first encounter between local Maori and English settlers, the Government Translator was halfway through the phrase "mistress of one thousand lovers" when he realised there were missionaries present, and suddenly developed a lisp.
Maori settled the area around 1350; their population is estimated at 20,000 in pre-European times. Remains of villages can be seen around volcanoes such as Mt Albert, Mt Eden and One Tree Hill. There are also earthworks on many smaller cones. The local words for these are "quarries" or "motorways".
In January 1832, Joseph Brooks Weller, one of three wealthy merchant brothers in Otago and Sydney, bought the land that's now Auckland, North Shore and part of Rodney District. It's understood he paid less than 500 pounds ($1000). It was and is a bargain: to date, Rodney Hide is estimated to have spent at least $200.8 million for control of roughly the same area.
After the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840, Governor William Hobson had to select a capital for the new New Zealand. Forced to choose between Auckland and Wellington, he picked Russell. It wasn't long before rowdy New Year revellers and the unreliable Rawene ferry drove Hobson south to Auckland.
The Queen City remained capital until 1865, when it lost the job, beginning a tradition that would be followed down the decades: the Ellerslie Flower Show, V8 Supercars, Rugby Sevens … Hobson arrived in Auckland on 15 September 1840 to find that a ship carrying 130 colonists had arrived three days earlier, looking for him. The Governor blamed his late arrival on "heavy traffic near a prominent hill that the native people call 'Wyweera'."
From early times, government officials lived in the eastern suburbs; workers got the cheap seats in Freemans Bay. Around College Hill and Three Lamps 100 years later, folks sniggered they'd got the last laugh when century-old cottages with no off-street parking sold for ludicrous prices. But it was only a do-up: everyone knows real political power still lies east of the Rose Gardens.
Auckland was the base for George Grey's military operations against the Maori during two terms as Governor. He built roads for rapid movement of soldiers, civilian settlers and a combination of the two known as Fencibles. This brought Pakeha influence and law to the South Auckland region though the English settlers rapidly decided they did not want to be in the same borough as those people on the other side of the Tamaki River. The local chief, Te Irirangi, saw which way this was heading and treated with the settlers, going so far as to change his name to Howick to show his appreciation for their feelings.
Town was growing to the West, too, thanks to the market garden, kauri logging and gum-digging industries in the Waitakere Ranges. Many Dalmatian (now Croatian) immigrants planted vines, leading to complaints from the constabulary about young men spending their Saturday nights congregating on street corners to drink cheap plonk and pull hoof-stands on their horses.
By 1900 Auckland was New Zealand's metropolis. The inner city had become over-crowded and needed to expand. The answer was public transport: trams and North Shore ferries carried thousands of workers into the centre every morning and back to their homes in the evening. This was such a successful concept that things could only get better with the arrival of the motor-car.
Soon, with Auckland claiming one of the world's highest car-ownership rates, the young city's development was freed from narrow corridors along tram and bus routes. Roads could be built anywhere. And they were. Soon there was no more grass to pour concrete on, but not enough roads for the number of cars, and everyone was complaining about the traffic jams.
The answer was crystal-clear: build more roads, import more cars, and run down public transport. In 1959, the Harbour Bridge linked North Shore and the city; the next year the Southern Motorway united pastoral suburbs with Symonds St. That's where it stopped, dumping several thousand more cars on top of Queen St.
However, far-sighted planners conceived a ring-road through the suburbs to take traffic around the clogged centre. Thousands of family homes in Hillsborough, Mt Roskill, Mt Albert and Waterview would be demolished to make way for roads for cars so families could drive to and from their homes further out of the central city. It seemed a wonderful idea. Fifty years on, it is still a wonderful idea.
Unless, of course, you live in Hillsborough, Mt Roskill, Mt Albert or Waterview. Those good folk will have been cheered to hear that Steven Joyce, the Transport Minister, is speeding up the half-century-long process of completing the ring-road so that, in just a few years, they'll finally be able to drive over their old homes to their new ones.
But, from the moment the first waka crested a wave, found a current, swung around the tip of Waiheke and sighted what would come to be called Waitemata, "Sparkling Waters", Auckland has always been a port. A city of sails. A city of comings and goings.
A city on two harbours: one rough, rugged, treacherous, murderous; the other calm, unhurried, jewel-like. So precious, so fragile that for the past century it has been jealously guarded; its trustees have been paid vast sums to lock it away behind a red fence, to hide it behind stacks of unlovely containers, to protect those sparkling waters from everyday Aucklanders frivolously yearning for it to become a playground for boaties or families or children.
The Best and Worst of Auckland
Jottings from Davey Norris' notebook
The inner-city suburbs were the birthplace of the Father of a Nation – Michael Joseph Savage; the lather of a nation – Robert Muldoon; and the little dynamo that could – Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. If anyone deserved to become the first mayor of a unified, regional metropolis, that was "Robbie". Dreamer, schemer, wily, willing, feisty, fearless: he embodies everything that's missing from Aotea Square in this council's term. Especially his statue.
Few who crammed Eden Park for the last test of the 1956 Springbok tour realised they would witness history: the last time an All Black would tell the truth in an after-match interview …
"Take no prisoners," was the generals' last instruction to their men. Within minutes bruised, battered, bloodied combatants wandered, dazed, in the mud, clutching bashed heads or broken limbs. Soon after, the authorities decided to stop playing league at Carlaw Park …
Arthur Lydiard coaxed Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and a generation of young men to jog through the Waitakere Ranges in loose-fitting shorts and vests. They quickly became champion runners …
Winter after muddy winter, thousands jammed Eden Park to watch flowing, running, crash-tackling, try-scoring footie for the Ranfurly Shield, the national championship or the Super Rugby tournament. The only difference between then and now is that it used to be Auckland running, tackling, scoring and winning.
Auckland has always loved a good time, and no one gave better times than Flora MacKenzie. The site of her famous parlour is to become a backpackers hostel. Few of Flora's customers stayed that long …
Stark-naked, save gold paint and a G-string, Freda Stark danced in the Wintergarden underneath the Civic. Centrepiece of a bisexual love triangle that ended in murder, she was called the "Fever of the Fleet" for her contribution to Marines biology…
Hard-living, hard-dealing, Phil Warren brought the greatest names in rock'n'roll to Western Springs. He attained respectability as chairman of the regional council. Only Auckland could immortalise the man who drove around town in a gold Rolls-Royce with a tinny-boat that picks up rubbish in the Gulf …
Rainbow's End brought roller-coasters, bumper-boats, dodgems, crazy golf, terror falls and a heart-in-the-mouth pirate ship to entertain kids. Before that they'd been happy with pedal-cars and a parrot on the Farmers rooftop. And a parade at Christmas.
ARTS / LITERATURE
A morals charge drove Frank Sargeson out of purse-lipped, censorious Wellington. No one has been able to explain why he found life sweeter in Takapuna.
The Maurices Gee and Shadbolt grew up in West Auckland and found the inspiration for dozens of novels and short stories. Perhaps that's an idea for a local TV series.
Pressed to name the most heinous crime committed in the city, many would come up with the Bassett Rd machinegun murders, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, perhaps the Parnell Panther or the Dawn Raids. But for the greatest crime against the greatest number look no further than Orakei: the eviction of Ngati Whatua and arson of their homes in 1951, just in time for a spruce-up before the Queen drove, smiling and waving, along Tamaki Drive. And for good measure the forces of the Crown came back and did it to them all over again, just up the hill at what some call Bastion Pt, in 1978. Shame. And shame again.
ARCHITECTURE / CONSTRUCTION
What building defines Auckland's contribution to man-made splendour and achievement: the gorgeous frippery of the Civic, thrown up in a few weeks in 1929 for $200,000 and repaired in 2000 for $42 million? The thrusting Skytower? The majesty and grace of the Museum? The Hobson Bay sewer tunnel: after forcing citizens to suffer this indignity for decades, the city declared its wreck a historic place and preserved several metres of unloved remains in one of our most beautiful bays?
No: the "extraordinary engineering accomplishment", "arguably the world's most complicated 4-way interchange" – and still not finished after more than six decades. Spaghetti Junction, the symbol of "everything that's wrong with our transport infrastructure — an incredible lack of foresight and planning, a clogged artery, and a lack of alternative transport options."
MILITARY / INVASION
Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatua, Hobson and the British Army, Grey and the Fencibles … all arrived unasked, took what they wanted, and left the inhabitants bereft and bewildered. But none of these invaders has succeeded in pillaging Aucklanders and their environment so comprehensively as the Australians — Westfield and Progressive.
Additions and suggestions can by forwarded to Dave Norris via: