Tag Archives: New Zealand

Ahuahu – Archaeology on Great Mercury Island.

Yesterday was the first day of New Zealand Archaeology Week, it is the first time in New Zealand that archaeology has been celebrated with its own ‘week’.  As part of this celebration of the past I attended a lecture at the Auckland Museum about the long term archaeological project being undertaken on Great Mercury Island entitled The Changing Face of Archaeology – The application of technology to the Ahuahu Great Mercury Island Archaeological Project.  The lecture was delivered by Louise Furey, Rebecca Phillipps and Joshua Emmitt.

Great Mercury Island is situated off the east coast of the Coromandel Penninsula and as the name would suggest is the largest island in the Mercury Group.  The purpose of the project is to examine the history of the Maori occupation on the island.  As an island it provides the ideal opportunity to study a landscape as a whole and how people utilised and interacted with the landscape over time.  This post is not a comprehensive study of the archaeology of the island, it is only a brief foray into what is a complex landscape.  I have included links for those who wish to do read more about the work that is being carried out by the archaeologists.

Mercury Island Chart Picture

There is certainly plenty of archaeology on the island to keep the archaeologists busy for quite some time.  Of that which is visible above ground there are twenty-three Pa (defended sites with ditches and banks), large areas of gardens (recognisable by the lines of cleared stones), kumara storage pits, stone working sites and shell middens.  As recent excavations have indicated there is even more evidence lying beneath the surface.

Prior to the current project the island was subject to two other single event excavations.  The first being undertaken in 1954 in the early days of New Zealand Archaeology by then then newly appointed lecturer in archaeology at the University of Auckland Jack Golson.  With a party of archaeology students he excavated a terrace on the Stingray Point Pa (Matakawau) identifying two kumara pits, each pit had more than 80 post holes suggesting a long period of rebuilding the roof structures.  Golson’s work was neve published although this is soon to be rectified.

 

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A reconstruction drawing of how such storage structures may have looked like.

 

In 1984 Professor Geoffrey Irwin of the University of Auckland excavated a Pa in Huruhi Harbour. In 2009 a sever storm eroded about ten metres of sand from White’s Beach to reveal a shell midden and a rich charcoal layer.  Bones from dogs and fish were found within the midden which was dated by radiocarbon to c.1400AD.

From 2012 the University of Auckland and the Auckland Museum have been working in conjunction with Ngati Hei on the previously mentioned long term project.  The island is visited on regular basis with the main excavation season being held in Febuary, which is also a training dig for archaeology students from the university.  The lecture held yesterday focussed on some of the finds from the excavations such as the large quantities of obsidian flakes some of which come from as far afield as Taupo, Mayor Island and closer to home on the Coromandel Peninsula.  Although work/research is still ongoing it is becoming clearer how important Ahuahu is in our understanding of the early prehistory of New Zealand.

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Field School Dig Diaries

Because ultimately excavation is destruction it has long been universally acknowledged how important it is to record as much detail as possible.  In the past this was often a labour intensive activity, if done at all.  Today’s archaeologists now have a raft of technological tools at there disposal and at Great Mercury they are taking full advantage of what is available.  The technology being used on site to record every find, feature and layer includes total stations, laser scanners and drones are in everyday tools for these excavations.

You Tube has several video’s of work being done on the island – the following are links to a couple to get you started if you are interested.

Daily video diary

Archaeology is Amazing

On the Auckland Museum website there is also information on the project  – Great Mercury Island Expedition.

The Making of Maori Society

Variable horticulture within a small garden on Ahuahu

 

 

The Mercury Bay Museum

Whenever I go somewhere new my first stop (after a leg stretch and a coffee) is usually to the local museum.  I have a deep fondness for museums and the people who put their heart and soul into their creation and upkeep.  The Mercury Bay Museum was one of those musuems where the peoples love of their town and surroundings was evident.

Our first visit to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula was in the winter and unfortunately the musuem was closed however we had much better luck on our second visit.  Situated on The Esplanade just opposite the wharf, this small but well thought out musuem tells the history of the area beginning with Kupe who gave the local area the name Te Whitianga nui a Kupe or The Big Crossing Place of Kupe.

 

Originally the site of the museum was an urupa or cemetary for  the local Maori iwi called Ngati Hei up until the 1870s.  But when European curio hunters violated the tapu of the site members of the Ngati Hei removed the remains of their people and reinterred them safely elsewhere.  The Maori history of the area represents only a small part of the musuem and was my one criticism of this otherwise outstanding museum.  The displays of Maori artefacts were not clearly labelled and the display was largely restricted to the walls of the walkway as you entered and could be easily overlooked – personally I think the museum designers may have missed a beat in down playing the 800 years or so of Maori history.

 

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Examples of Tahanga basalt stone tools (and other random stone tools) – this material was traded far and wide – the lack of information on this dispay was disappointing, only personal knowledge helped be identify what the objects were.

 

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Poster on the wall about the Tahanga basalt quarry at Opito
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A display of Maori digging sticks.

The Museum is very child friendly – my daughter in particular enjoyed dressing up as Captain Cook who visited the area in 1769 on the HMS Endeavour.  It was he who gave the area its European name of Mercury Bay after taking his longitude and latitude from the viewing of the transit of the sun across the planet Mercury.

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As you head further into the museum there is a significant display on the wreck of The Buffalo which gave the local beach its name (Buffalo Beach), the Kauri room and shanty shack – Kauri were an important part of the economy in the 1800s, either as logs or from the fossilied resin/gum – a 1950s school room, a 1960s bach, a smithy, two rooms displaying birds of the area and displays regarding the importance of the fishing industry (commercially and recreationally) and agriculture to the area.  A butter churn display harks back to the days when the museum was once a dairy factory producing butter from cream from all over the Mercury Bay area.  The musuem also holds an extensive collection of photos covering the life and times of Mercury Bay and its residents.

 

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The Karangahake Gorge and its Industrial Archaeology.

Summertime in New Zealand means roadtrips and exploring all that our lovely country has to offer.  Me and mine decided to spend some time in the goldmining town of Waihi and of course as always this meant a lesson in history, in particular the area around the Karangahake Gorge.

The Karangahake Gorge is situated between the Coromandel and Kaimai ranges and was formed by the flow of the Ohinemuri River.  It’s steep sides are covered in native bush, a haven for those wanting to experience the great outdoors.  There are plenty of walks and cycle trails to enjoy or you can simply sit by the river and enjoy a picnic.  However not so long ago the visitor would have been greeted by an entirely different scene.

On this visit we did the Windows Walk which takes you past and through several of the stamping batterys and the many associated building ruins then into the old tramway tunnels along the Waitawheta Gorge (an offshoot of the Karangahake Gorge).  Unlike other goldmining areas, alluvial gold is rare in the gorge and almost all of the gold and silver recovered from here was done by deep quartz mining.  This meant only the large well funded companies could afford to operate in the gorge.  The three main players were the Talisman Mining Company, The Woodstock Mining Company and the Crown Mining Company.  (The latter will ring some bells with those of you interested in Cornish mining history as they were a major player in the mining industry of Cornwall.  In fact many of the miners came from Cornwall which was at the time undergoing a decline in mining.  Their skills in hard rock mining was in great demand in colonial lands).  Today so much of the ruins are covered in dense bush, their edges softened by vegetation and with the sound of either the Ohinemuri or Waitawheta rivers filling your ears it is hard to imagine this as a place of heavy industry.

A continous rythmic thumping once filled the air here, as stamper batteries (gold recovery plants) of the Talisman, Woodstock and Crown Mining Companies pulverised quartz rock to free the gold within.” (taken from an information board at the beginning of the walk)

Much of the ore came from the steep sided Waitwheta Gorge and was then transported via aerial tramway across the gorge to the tramway and delivered to the stamping battery where it would undergo a series of crushings to extract the gold and silver which was then smelted into bullion bars.  The Talisman and Crown Mines were two of the largest of their type in New Zealand and together produced in the region of four million ounces of gold bullion.

The following are some of the photographs taken during our time exploring the industrial archaeology of the Karangahake Gorge.

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All that remains of the Talisman powerhouse on the banks of the Ohinemuri River.
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Several phases of building are present at the Talisman powerhouse – here you would have found the boilers and air compressors that powered the machinery for the battery and mines.

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Remains of the Woodstock Battery, note the water wheel for powering the stamping machine.
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Woodstock battery.
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These can be found lying all along the route, heavy cast iron crushers for pulverising the quartz.
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Woodstock battery.
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To increase yields potassium cyanide was used to remove even the smallest particles of gold and silver from the ore.

Once the ore had been crushed in the upper levels of the battery the fine powder that resulted was subjected to the cyanide process.  This involved mixing potassium cyanide with the finely crushed ore in tanks for several days then drawing off the solution and passing it through wooden boxes where the dissolved gold and silver precipitated as a black sludge on zinc shavings.  The sludge was then treated with sulphuric acid to remove the zinc.  The residue was then smelted into bullion bars (of gold and silver)” – From the above information board.

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Remains of the tanks where the powdered ore would be treated with cyanide.

 

One of the main features of the Windows Walk is the tramway, part of which goes through the side of the gorge (a torch is a must if you do this walk).  In its heyday, the ore was transported via tram but because of the steep sides of the gorge a trail had to be cut out of  and through the rockface.

A bit further on from the modern suspension bridge is the remains of the Crown  Mine.

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The entrance to the Crown Mine
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Drawing showing the extent of the Crown Mine in the Waitawheta Gorge.
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Side view of the mine workings through the gorge.
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The now peaceful view which was once dominated by the Crown Mine operations.

Today goldmining in the area is representated by the large open cast mine in nearby Waihi with the now defunct Cornish Pumphouse from the earlier 19th Century Martha Mine standing ever watchful over.

 

For more information –

Department of Conservation – Karangahake Gorge

Ohinemure Regional History Journal – Historic Karangahake Gorge

Waihi – Gold Discovery Centre

Waihi –  History and Heritage

Early Archaeology in Auckland – Otuataua Stonefields.

There are not many places within the city of Auckland where a person is able to get up close and personal with the early archaeology of the region, but the Otuataua Stonefields is one such place.  Although this small pocket is classed as a protected site, it is part of a much wider area called Ihuamato which sadly is under threat by developers.  The stonefields did not exist in isolation and whilst the archaeology is not obvious  to the untrained eye, it is undoubtedly there.  It would be shameful if the council allowed work to proceed with out a full archaeological investigation.  In general atitudes in New Zealand towards archaeology is a case of “there’s not alot of archaeology here” with the implication because we do not have the lengthy timeframes as elsewhere in the world it is not as important.  But this is erroneous and a result of a lack of knowledge –  there are over 50,000 archaeological sites listed in New Zealand…The stonefields and Ihuamato are an important part of New Zealand’s very early history and to say otherwise would deny a people their past and demonstrate a dismal lack of understanding.

 

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Aerial view of the stonefields – the pale lines are stones piled along the natural ridges.

 

Two hundred years ago there were some 8000 hectares of volcanic stonefields in the Auckland area, today the 100 hectare reserve of Otuataua is all which remains.  Dated to around 1300AD and situated near the international airport the reserve was established in 2001 to protect this important part of the archaeological record and is one of the last places where we can see large scale remains of how people once lived and worked in the volcanic areas of Auckland.

When the first Polynesians arrived in New Zealand they bought with them the full range of tropical plants however New Zealand’s shorter growing season and colder temperatures meant that many of these tropical plants could not be grown.  Only plants such as the kumara (sweet potato), taro, yams and gourds had any success, particularly in the volcanic stonefields of Auckland.

 

At Otuataua it is possible to see low mounds of the volcanic scoria stone scattered throughout an area referred to as the mound garden used mainly to grow kumara they extended the growing season by about a month.

“The mounds were built as special garden plots, which used the stone’s heat absorbing properties to help warm the earth and retain moisture.  Archaeologists have found that these types of mounds often contain specially modified soil, with added organic matter and ground shell.”

(from ‘The Otuataua Stonefields – Official Opening Commemorative Brochure’ Manukau City Council)

 

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The mound garden looking towards the later European dry stone wall.

 

It is safe to say that there is probably not a single stone which has not been moved by human hands.  Walking towards the sea, you come across an area of low hills and gullies.  The gully floors seem unnaturally free of stone, here the stone has been stacked on top of the hillocks to leave the gully floors free for cultivation.

 

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The cleared gullies of the gardens as seen from the Pa – the Manakau harbour in the background.

 

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Other interesting archaeological features at Otuataua include the Pa (hillfort or defended settlement) which utilises the volcanic cone.  Auckland has many volcanic cones, all of which were used and settled by the Maori throughout history.  Here at Otuataua it is no different.   Unfortunately this particular cone has been extensively quarried for scoria before the site became a reserve resulting in the loss of a large part of the Pa.   However, it is still possible to make out the terraces on the southern side – these are the level areas cut into the lower slopes and were where Maori lived.

                                                                 The remnants of the Pa.

A second interesting feature is the site referred to as ‘The Big House’.  On an outcrop about half way between the mound garden and the gullies is a rectangular outline of stone.  This is believed to be the foundation of what was once a large house or structure, nearby are several shell middens.  Having never been excavated it is difficult to say what this structure was used for but the presence of the shell middens on the slopes below would indicate meals were eaten here.  Perhaps it was a communal place to share food whilst working in the gardens?

All over Otuataua shell middens can be found, not surprising given the proximity to the coast.  Fishing, shell fish gathering and horticulture were the mainstays of the local economy.

 

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A shell midden – the small white flecks are pieces of shell, note the deep rich colour of the soil, perfect for growing crops.

 

 

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This large mound on the edge of the Pa is a very substantial midden…

 

In Polynesia crops such as kumara are left in the ground until they are needed however here in New Zealand with its cooler climate the early settlers found they could not do this as the kumara will rot.  Instead it became necessary to harvest the kumara and store it.  At Otuataua the visitor will occasionally come across a shallow depression in the ground, roughly rectangular in shape and usually found on slopes or ridges (for good drainage).  These are all that remains of the storage pits for kumara.  Originally these pits would have had timber walls and thatched roofs.  It is interesting to note that the storage pits here at Otuataua are outside of the defended Pa, obviously the people felt secure and safe here on the edge of the Manukau Harbour.

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A reconstruction drawing of how a kumara storage structure may have looked.

 

 

During my visit to the stonefields, trying not to lose both the kids and the dog I was walking along the edge of a eroded shell midden when my eye was caught by an unusual stone.  Unusual because it was not scoria and was very smooth on one side.  The flip side was shaped to fit into the palm of your hand and although I am not much of an expert I am reasonably certain this was a rubbing stone for turning root vegetables such as taro or fern roots into pulp.  A necessary procedure if you wanted to eventually eat it.

 

See the following article for more information on Otuataua  – Photo-essay: Ihumatao and the Otautaua Historic Reserve

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Patupaiarehe – The Fairy Folk of New Zealand

During the research for a post on Auckland’s volcanoes I found an interesting Maori story about how the volcanoes came to be.  The story referred to the Patupaiarehe but who or what were the Patupaiarehe?  Obviously a bit of research was required…

 In Maori tradition the Patupaiarehe (also sometimes referred to as turehu or pakepakeha) were the first people of New Zealand – the first Tangata Whenua.  They are supernatural beings who are rarely seen, fairy creatures of the deep forests and mountains, their houses built from the swirling mists.

They have light skin, red or fair hair and unlike the Maori are never tattooed.  There is some debate regarding their size, some say small, others say they are the same size as humans but then there are the traditions where they are giants.  Sunlight was a curse to the Patupaiarehe, they only venture out in the night or when the mist was heavy enough to shield them from the sun.

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They were hunter/gatherers who ate only raw food – cooked food is an abomination to them.  In some stories albino birds and eels, red flax and red eels were considered to be the sole property of the Patupaiarehe and woe betide any Maori caught taking these.

The Patupaiarehe men were known to lure people away from their homes, particularly attractive young women, they used the magical sounds of the koauau or putorino (types of flutes).  No harm would befall the young women and they would eventually be returned home.  It was believed the cases of red heads and albinos (the urukehu) among Maori were a result of the union between Patupaiarehe and Maori.  Unfortunately, Maori men suffered much more, often being mistreated and in some cases killed.

Of course, if you did not want to be abducted by the Patupaiarehe there were several options available.  Firstly, you could smear your house with kokowai, this was a mixture of iron oxide with shark oil – the smell was repugnant to them.  Secondly, the uses of the cooking ovens or a fire as Patupaiarehe are very much afraid of fire and the smell of cooked food was enough to scare them away.

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However, not all was bad between the Patupaiarehe and the Maori.  Traditions tell how Maori gained knowledge of net making from the Patupaiarehe as well as makatu (magic arts) and atahu (love charms).  String and stick games are also said to have come from these supernatural beings.

 In 1894 an elder of the Ngati Maru, Hoani Nahe spoke of the Patupaiarehe and his words were recorded.

 “Now listen. When the migration arrived here they found people living in the land – Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu, all hapu or sub-tribes of the people called Patupaiarehe. The chiefs of this people were named Tahurangi, Whanawhana, Nukupori, Tuku, Ripiroaitu, Tapu-te-uru and Te Rangipouri. The dwelling places of these people were on the sharp peaks of the high mountains – those in the district of Hauraki (Thames) are Moehau mountain (Cape Colville), Motutere (Castle Hill, Coromandel), Maumaupaki, Whakairi, Kaitarakihi, Te Koronga, Horehore, Whakaperu, Te Aroha-a-uta, Te Aroha-a-tai, and lastly Pirongia, at Waikato. The pa, villages, and houses of this people are not visible, nor actually to be seen by mortal (Tangata Maori) eyes – that is, their actual forms. But sometimes some forms are seen, though not actually known to be these people … Sometimes this people is met with by the Maori people in the forests, and they are heard conversing and calling out, as they pass along, but at the same time they never meet face to face, or so that they mutually see one another, but the voices are heard in conversation or shouting, but the people are never actually seen.

On some occasions also, during the night, they are heard paddling their canoes … At such times are heard these questions: ‘What is it?’ ‘Who are the people who were heard urging forward their canoes on the sea during the night?’ or, ‘Who were heard conversing and shouting in the forest?’ The answer would be as follows: ‘They were not Tangata Maori, they were atua, Patupaiarehe, Turehu, or Korakorako.

Like with so many stories there are those who believe the patupaiarehe are something more than just myth.  There is a subculture within New Zealand who firmly believe that they were the descendents of Celtic tribes who discovered New Zealand some 3000 years before the first Polynesians, pointing at tribal groups such as the Ngati Hotu who historically had instances of red hair and fair skin amongst their people when little or no intermarriages were known.  This is a complicated issue and not one that can be dealt with lightly, whether true or not, the jury is still out on that one…

Celtic New Zealand – Please note that whilst I do not necessarily agree with all that is written on this site I do believe we are all entitled to conduct research.

Stories and traditions are what make our cultures rich and the Maori have their fair share.  Often such traditions are used to make sense of the world around us, I would dare anyone to venture deep into the New Zealand bush and not see the supernatural in its deepest darkest places. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Trip to Kawau Island

Blue sea, blue sky, warm sunshine and a gentle breeze.  It was a perfect day for a trip to the beautiful island of Kawau in the Hauraki Gulf .

Kawau Island is roughly 8 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide, its highest point is Mt Grey at 182metres above sea level.  Kawau is Maori word for cormorant.  For those wishing to experience island life access is by ferry.  The ferry to the island leaves from Sandspit, just north of Warkworth.  Full of day trippers slathered in sunscreen it visits the various wharves dotted along the sheltered side of the island delivering the mail, groceries and other goods.  For the visitor it is a good introduction to an island which has only two short private roads and where the majority of properties rely on access to the sea.  Neighbours visit neighbour either on foot or by boat and kayak.

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School House Bay – there is no longer a school on the island. The few school age children go to school on the mainland.

Island History

Prior to the Europeans Kawau was often fought over by local Maori.  During the 18th century a ‘pirate’ like group of Maori lived on the island – there are at least three known pa sites (two on Bon Accord Harbour and one in the north of the island).  According to tradition the Kawau Maori would attack other Maori travelling around the island, something which was not tolerated for long.  Eventually, other local tribes from the mainland banded together and attacked the Maori of Kawau.  The island tribe was completely massacred and tradition says a large feast ensued at Bostaquet Bay where parts of their enemies were cooked and eaten.  A tapu was placed on Kawau making it no-go area for Maori – the tapu is still in place.

The next important phase of the history of the island began in 1842 with the discovery of copper and manganese.  Miners were brought in from Wales and Cornwall to work the mines and smelting works.  The population of the island at this time was approximately 300.

The remains of the smelting works can be seen in Bon Accord Harbour just along from the present day yacht club.  On a small point between Dispute Cove and South Cove there is also the ruins of pumphouse constructed to alleviate flooding issues.  The pumphouse would not look out of place in Cornwall.  In 1844/45 the mine produced some 7000 pounds of Copper which represented a third of Auckland’s exports for that year.  Unfortunately issues with flooding, shipping and infighting resulted in the mines being closed down in 1855.

In 1862 Sir George Grey, then the Governor of New Zealand paid 3,700 pounds for Kawau Island and turned it into a private retreat.  He turned the former mine managers house into the imposing mansion you see today and imported many exotic plants and wildlife to the island.  In 1888 Sir Grey sold Kawau and Mansion house had several owners and in 1910 it became a guest house and a popular retreat for Aucklanders.  The last private owner sold the house in 1967 to the Government for inclusion in the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park.

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Mansion House, Mansion House Bay – the ferry drops people off here to swim, picnic and walk island paths.

However it was not until the late 1970s was a plan put together to preserve the historical character of the island and thus the house.  Today 10% of the island is in public ownership as the Kawau Island Historic Reserve (and includes Mansion House and Bay) which is administered by the NZ Department of Conservation.   One of the many ongoing issues faced by the island is the damage done to the native flora and fauna by Sir Grey’s introduced species, namely the wallabies and possums.  Both animals have been responsible for the destruction of much of the native bush.  However, slowly but surely the tide is turning and now there are kiwi, bellbirds, tui, kereru and more returning to the island.  Kawau Island is in fact home to two thirds of the entire population of the North Island weka.

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One of the many weka who frequent the picnic benches…

 

The Place I Call Home

For the majority of the time I will be blogging about either New Zealand or Cornwall and if you read the page which tells you about me, you’ll know why.  But as a first post I thought I would share a little of the early history of the place I call home.  I live in a small suburb on Auckland’s North Shore – Birkdale.  Wedged between the greater suburbs of Birkenhead and Beachhaven it tends to be forgotten a little or included into the either of those other suburb and to be honest, the story of Birkdale is inextricably tied to the stories of both Beachhaven and Birkenhead.

Early History

The isthmus of Auckland (Tamaki Makau Rau) is thought to have been first settled around 1350.  A combination of fertile soil for horticulture and two harbours with abundant resources resulted in a thriving population.  On the volcanic peaks (Mt Eden, One Tree Hill etc) which dominate the Auckland skyline there is ample evidence of these early settlements.

The area of Birkenhead, Beach Haven and Birkdale was densely forested and as a result not as heavily populated but it was the sea which drew people to the area.  The sea provided an abundance of resources for Maori from flounder in the Kaipataki Inlet, shellfish from Oruamo Creek and the shark fishing grounds just below Kauri Point.  Evidence for this can be seen in the form of coastal shell middens found all around the coast.

 

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Traces of a shell midden.

Occupation sites are difficult to pinpoint but there is some evidence from oral histories and archeologically of an important pa (hillfort) called Te Matarae a Mana in the area of Kauri Point/Quarryman’s Bay during the 1700s.  In addition it is believed there is at least two other headland pa in the area, although all trace of these no longer remain.

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This headland seen from the beach at Kendalls Bay is thought to be the site of an important pa (defended settlement).

 

The musket wars of the 1800s decimated the local populations of Maori and by 1844 the area of Beach Haven was sold to the new settler government and became deserted.  Eventually, European settlers began to arrive hoping to carve out a new life for themselves.  One of the first families to arrive was the Gruts from the Jersey Islands in 1857.  But life was much harder than many anticipated, the heavy clay soils and dense bush took its toll.

Although the city seems so very close to this part of the North Shore, back then before the harbour bridge the only way to market was by ferry/boat as the overland route was long and arduous.  The first ferries ran from what is now downtown Auckland to Birkenhead in 1854 and remained a vital lifeline for people up until the Harbour Bridge was completed in April 1959.

 

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The view to the city and harbour bridge from Birkenhead wharf.

Strawberries

In the 1870s several families had a breakthrough in the form of growing fruit trees, and by the 1880s some thirty orchards were recorded in the area around Zion Hill in Birkenhead (then known as Woodside) with more being established towards Beach Haven and the present day Birkdale.  During the late 1800s it was discovered that strawberries grew particularly well in the area.  Strawberries and fruit in general, quickly became a major part of the economy.

The whole community were involved in the strawberry picking – Birkdale Primary School was known to be lenient about homework during the picking season.  The strawberry fields became so well known that people would ferry over from the city at the weekend for strawberry afternoon teas and in 1898 the Thompson family began making jam in Birkenhead which eventually became New Zealands largest jam company of Thompson and Hills.

This prosperity encouraged even more people to settle the area and in 1888 Birkenhead (which then still included Beach Haven and Birkdale) became a borough and its first mayor was elected – Charles Button.

Gumdiggers

One of the most impressive features of the North Shore bush is the magnificent Kauri (agathis australis) trees.  Around the roots of these trees it is possible to find a resin called Kauri gum. This gum forms when the resin leaks out of the cracks in the bark, it hardens when exposed to air and lumps will fall from the tree eventually fossilising.  In appearance it looks very similar to amber.

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There are still some impressive groves of the mighty kauri standing in the area.

Maori had many uses for the gum, fresh it could be used like chewing gum (kapia) and as it is highly flammable it made a good firestarter.  When it was burnt and mixed with animal fat it became the dark pigment in moko tattooing.

For the European colonists the export of Kauri gum was of major importance, for Auckland as a whole it was the main export for most of the second half of the 19th century.  Between 1850 and 1950 some 450,000 tons were exported to England.  Its principle use was as a varnish.  Kauri gum when heated mixed easily with linseed oil and at lower temperatures and by the 1890s some 70% of all oil varnishes in England used Kauri gum.

The people who harvested the gum were often transient living in rough huts or tents, it was hard work and not very well paid.  Even so, in the 1890s 20,000 people were recorded as being engaged in gumdigging throughout Auckland, Northland and the Coromandel.  At one point digging for Kauri gum even became a weekend activity for the city side dwellers of Auckland with many catching the ferry to Birkenhead to dig for gum around the suburb.  It became such a problem with roads being potholed and private farms dug into, that local authorities brought in special measures to control the matter.

As it was the quality of the gum in Birkenhead was not as high as elsewhere and eventually the gum ran out, the last permit was issued to a Mr Wheeler of Verran’s Corner in 1931.

From this point on the history of the area now becomes one of entreprenurial settlers, families and a sugar factory.