If Auckland neighbourhood history ever gets a mention, it seems to be in real-estate flyers and other letterbox fodder with a romantic view of the past. The term "historic" is sprinkled like stardust on all things quaint, curious and vaguely venerable.

Well, we can forget all that and get the true tenor of life in one of Auckland's older suburbs with A Hundred Years in Herne Bay, by an author who has lived all her 96 years in the same house and fills out the other four with what her father told her.

Local history comes across as an agglomeration of the commonplace, in which people slowly built the social and commercial foundations of what we have today. Change was gradual and drama rare, with suburban calm weathering the great events of the century. Yet even in times now almost beyond living memory, the neighbourhood is shown as an orderly and well-regulated unit, well-served by school, church, public utilities and local businessfolk. Most of all it was a network of overlapping lives with many names here recalled - names which cry out for an index.

Adams, eldest in a family of teachers, and Epsom Girls' Grammar headmistress for 17 years until her retirement in 1970, has produced an anatomy of her beloved suburb which evokes her youth, her world, her very life, and is also a fragrant tribute to the natural environment - the gardens, trees and the upper-harbour views which she celebrates in her watercolour paintings. The net of memory is cast so wide that it brings up the odd old boot and tin can. And being a very particular book it tends to fuss a bit about what it cannot recall.

Yet what it can it gives in edifying detail. She and (Sir) Henry Cooper were the two youngest staff members of Ponsonby School in 1929; Watchman Island was big enough for a 30-strong boy scout picnic; Ponsonby wharf used to extend far out into the seaway; the Cashmore timber mill whistle and the Bayfield School bell once set the tempo of local life; tugs towed log rafts to Cox's Creek for the mill which burned down on January 6, 1920; residents could hear the Ponsonby clock strike on a still day - and the "elfin sound" of distant cowbells. Miss Adams and her sister Lesley still think of the Herne Bay shopping area as "the Barn" for its association with the long-gone Wallace St tram barn.

The author's mother counted 14 lights around the upper harbour 60 years ago - and said her daughter would see them spread the whole way round. As they now do.

Adams has fixed for posterity what would otherwise be lost - and saves more endangered information with A Garland from Quatt, a wider history based on the memoirs of her pioneering grandmother, Emma Garland, of Quatt in Shropshire. This spans five generations from the family's 1860 arrival and settlement at Awhitu on the Manukau, to recent times.

Marjory Adams: A hundred years in Herne Bay


Marjory Adams: A garland from Quatt


* The two self-published books are marketed by the author's brother, Lindsay Adams, e-mail or ph 376-1368.

* Jack Leigh is an Auckland journalist.