Forget your old churches and your wine cellars, the most atmospheric place to make music in Auckland - save traditional marae - is the concrete bunker on top of Mt Victoria. Sure, the acoustics aren't conventional but where else can you perform in front of morris dancers waving hankies? "All Blacks psyched out by English haka," crows the poster caption.

Best get there on the Devonport ferry; climbing the hill is part of the whole bunker experience. We did so last Sunday night, in the bitter air, admiring the super moon reflected in the still harbour.

Awaiting us in the bunker were a fire, cosy cushions and a museum-worthy collection of old-time hee-haws. Lindauer's Guide Sophia faces photos of horse-drawn buses and ads for classes in "clogging", which is not a martial art but Appalachian tap dancing. (A pity; "you're askin' for a cloggin' to your noggin" has a certain ring to it.)

In fact, unless one counts a couple of ancient jagged-tooth saws, there's very little martial material in the bunker. It was built 123 years ago to keep out the Russians, but for a third of its life it has served as HQ for the Devonport Folk Club.


Monday club nights - $3 for members, $5 for non-members - are legendary. You get to perform two songs if you want, on your ukulele or your tin whistle, and everybody joins in on the well-known choruses. If you hang around Roger Giles, the Shropshire shepherd-turned-folk-club backbone, he might slug some whisky into your tea. His own backbone's more stooped than it once was, but the beard's as full and the jokes as fast as ever.

Last Sunday the bunker was a fitting host for singer/songwriter Rachel Dawick and her odes to pioneering New Zealand women. Dawick's clarinettist for the evening, Yvette Audain, had dressed for the occasion: her skirt was made of doilies.

With ruddy good looks under an auburn pompadour, Dawick sweetly sang The Washerwoman Blues for a woman who had 14 children and a husband on the road looking for work. She sang of Irish Biddy, a literal golddigger in a hardscrabble menage-a-trois (Dawick heard of her while touring the West Coast by bicycle).

And Dawick sang of chronic swindler Amy Bock, who once pretended to be a man - one Percival Leonard Carol Redwood, no less - and married an unsuspecting woman. She sang of missionary Elizabeth Colenso, Maori-English translator, cuckolded by missionary William Colenso, printer and botanist. She sang of a prostitute in Hokitika who sneered at her rival "Porpoise Mary" (no mention of Luminary Anna, however).

The songs reminded us of an earthy, boozy, prayerful past. Audain's cascades of liquid notes accompanied Dawick's guitar beautifully. Dawick has been living in Ohura, on the Forgotten World Highway between Taumarunui and Taranaki, where you can pick up a house for $25,000. "I'll have four," cried Giles.

Afterwards we made our way out into the cold, damp night and down into the fog to seek other shelter.