Monday, 18 September 2017

Presbyterianism on the peninsula

On the last Sunday in September the Awhitu Central Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary. Travellers who pass through Awhitu Central on their way to the Manukau Heads lighthouse will be familiar with this iconic building.
Ref: Bruce Ringer, Awhitu Central Church, 20 August 2017.
The Awhitu Central Church was opened as the Awhitu Presbyterian Church on 23 September 1877 (in accordance with the wishes of the donor of the land, George Garland, it also accommodated both Anglican and Methodist congregations). It is today the last active church of four Presbyterian churches which were opened on the Manukau Peninsula during the 19th century, although two other equally picturesque buildings survive.

When the Awhitu church opened there were already two Presbyterian churches in the nearby Pollok settlement. One had been opened by members of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on 22 May 1870, the other by members of the Church of Scotland on 14 June 1870. The former building burnt down in 1882. The latter can still be seen on the southern approaches to Pollok village, although it is no longer a church. The last formal service in the Pollok Presbyterian Church was held on 30 October 2011. It has since been sold and is being sensitively converted into a private residence.

Brian Campbell, Pollok Presbyterian Church, ca 1996. Auckland Libraries, Footprints 01047, courtesy of Mrs Melita Campbell.
Bruce Ringer, former Pollok Presbyterian Church, 28 August 2017.

Further south is the Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, opened on 14 November 1886. Because of improved roads, this became superfluous to parish needs during the 1960s. The final service was held there in May 1975 and the building was sold to a private buyer. Because of its location on a windswept ridge high above Lake Pokorua, the church has long been a favourite subject for photographers and artists. It has been restored to use for weddings and other functions and is currently on the market again.

Ref: Bruce Ringer, 'For sale': the former Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, 20 August 2017.
Awhitu Central Church remains in use with weekly services and activities and is part of the Waiuku & Districts Combined Churches parish, based in St Andrew’s Centre, Waiuku. Perhaps the Awhitu church can no longer command the numbers in its congregations seen in the photograph below, taken when the local manse was opened in 1915, but it remains a vital and integral part of the Awhitu community.

Ref: William Beattie, At the opening of the new manse, Awhitu, May 4th 1915. Auckland Libraries, Footprints 04710, reproduced courtesy of Waiuku Museum Society.
The building itself is part of a small but perfectly formed historic precinct that also includes the cemetery, the Awhitu war memorial cenotaph and, across the road, the old Awhitu School, now used as a community centre.

The Awhitu Central Church’s 140th anniversary service will be held at 2.00 pm on Sunday 24 September 2017. Instead of a sermon there will be brief talk on the history of the church and its place in the community.

Author: Bruce Ringer, South Auckland Research Centre

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Gatherings on the Manukau exhibition

The Manukau Harbour is the second largest in Aotearoa. Loved and enjoyed by many, Te Manukanuka o Houturoa has always been a source for food gathering and has long provided the means for navigating the expansive coastline.

Photographs from the Auckland Libraries heritage collections form the basis of this exhibition which is on now at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi, Auckland.

Ref: John Thomas Diamond, The shoreline on the Cornwallis Peninsula with John Diamond rod fishing, 1957. West Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries, JTD-08E-00513-2
This exhibition will travel around the edges of the Manukau Harbour as if spread by Te Hau a Uru, the wind that blows from the west, from Titirangi to Waiuku.

7-28 September: Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Titirangi.
30 September-14 October: Nathan Homestead, Manurewa.
17 October-4 November: Waiuku Library, Waiuku.

Ref: James Richardson, Stereograph of the Nihotupu Creek, 14 April 1923.
West Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries, TAB-P-0243
The images serve to illustrate the rich bounty of the harbour in former times and present recorded journeys made across the breadth and length of this waterway.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Going West archive - Out of the box

In looking back over 22 years at the creation of the Going West Books & Writers Festival archive, it would be great to be able to say that it was a well-planned exercise, deliberately designed to create a record of the best, and sometimes eccentric, voices of our writers and thinkers. This is unfortunately not the case. The very existence of the archive was more, in the first year, a matter of serendipity and happenstance.

The very notion of a New Zealand writers festival out west, referencing Maurice Gee's novel Going West, was the brainchild of book seller and history lover, Murray Gray – with some substantial support from Mayor Bob Harvey. For 10 years it included a steam train adventure replicating the voyage captured by Maurice in his book and starring luminaries of the literary world. Just once we enticed Maurice up to the west and he read from Going West on the Henderson Rail Platform. What a moment that was!
Maurice Gee reads at the Henderson Railway Station 1997. Photographer Gil Hanley, Going West Festival Collection, GOW-003, Auckland Libraries.

The archive also includes audio, so you can listen to a short extract from Maurice’s speech.

But in 1996 when Going West staggered into life with a one-day writers festival in a freezing Corban Estate concrete warehouse and a trip by railcar, called prophetically 'Raising Steam', from Auckland to Helensville, with stop-offs for writers' readings and performance, there was not a skerrick of mental or emotional energy left for any thought of recording the voices for posterity. However, we did need good amplification and fell into the hands of one Dave Hodge who was a professional in sound production, mostly in the world of music concerts. At some point on that hectic first day he said to me in passing, 'Oh, by the way, I'm recording this on broadcast quality tape' – to which I replied, 'OK, that sounds good'.

Sound engineer Dave Hodge (centre) with his sound crew 1996, Going West Festival Collection, GOW-003, Auckland Libraries.
And so the archive was born to include a full audio record. Even in that first year, some iconic words were spoken; not the least being the opening words in Te Reo from Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. Later, Maurice Shadbolt, Dick Scott and Kevin Ireland on stage together doing a very good 'grumpy old men' act - each within grasp of a glass of whisky. And, by contrast, a trio of new women writers, at that point largely unknown; Stephanie Johnson, Deborah Daley and Emily Perkins. The contrast was delightful.
The Literary Process - Debra Daley, Emily Perkins, Stephanie Johnson, 1996. Going West Festival Collection, GOW-003, Auckland Libraries.
Writing About Our Town, Kevin Ireland, Maurice Shadbolt, Dick Scott, 1996. Going West Festival Collection,  GOW-003, Auckland Libraries.

For the second year of the festival it was a no-brainer that we wanted the redoubtable Dave Hodge back, and so began a partnership that has lasted 21 years. Each year he recorded every word on broadcast quality tape; then CDs and latterly a whole festival on a memory stick! Each year he painstakingly cleaned and edited and gave me a perfect record of Going West.

So what was I to do with them? In a frantic work life as the Arts Manager for Waitakere City, I did the obvious; kept them in a cardboard box under my desk! Enter Robyn Mason. Someone tipped her off that I had a box of stuff that she would be interested in. I still recall the look of surprise and shock on her face when she saw my treasure trove and the casual conditions in which it was being kept. The relief for me of finding a home for what by then I realised was a national treasure, was enormous. The collection was originally gifted to Waitakere Library and Information Heritage services, known to many now as The West Auckland Research Centre in the super citified  Auckland Libraries - and the rest is – well, history.

Subsequent years of recording have been made possible by the generous support of Auckland Libraries who effectively have enabled Dave Hodge to keep recording at broadcast preservation standards. Auckland Libraries now hold 21 consecutive years of recordings and archives which are described through the Local History Online database.

The contents of the Going West archive are beyond description here. Just one aspect of it is that it holds the voices of some of our most honoured and prolific writers, now dead.

Maurice Shadbolt reading from One of Ben's; probably his last public appearance. Allen Curnow reading The Bells of St Babel just six days before he died. Michael King, rewriting and presenting  his keynote address four days after 9/11 – a stunning exposition on tolerance and forgiveness. Nigel Cox, entrancing us with his response to New Zealand on returning from Berlin. The marvellous Margaret Mahy tickling the audience with her delightful reading from The Illustrated Travellers Tale in 2000. This is but a fraction of what is there.

Auckland Libraries has done an enormous amount of work to make the archive accessible and available. There is, of course, always more to do. There are conversations underway as to how that might happen. In the fast speeding world of online and digital technology, the possibilities are mind-bending. But with all this, what remains at the heart of the matter is a collection of precious words that express the best of us as human beings.

This year's Going West Books & Writers Festival takes place on the 8th, 9th and 10th September. Go to to see the programme and book tickets.

Auckland Libraries has compiled an easy to access Going West e-reading list for your literary pleasure -

Written by: Going West Festival Trustee Naomi McCleary, with support from
Auckland Libraries Principal Oral History and Sound Sue Berman