The Ken Abercrombie Collection

This blog post looks at the Abercrombie family’s outings during the 1930s and 1940s. The memories of this West Auckland family were documented by Ken Abercrombie through 4 photo albums of exquisite hand-coloured family snaps. These albums are held at the West Auckland Research Centre and you can view the first album online. A significant and attractive feature of the albums is that the majority of the prints have been hand-coloured and captioned by the photographer.

Ref: KRA-PA-02-049-00, Ken Abercrombie, Album 2, West Auckland Research Centre
Ken Abercrombie (b.1916) was a keen photographer, first becoming interested as a 16 year old boy when his parents gave him a camera – a ‘Balovo’, a German make.

Ref: Ken Abercrombie's camera, early 1930s, West Auckland Research Centre
At this time the Abercrombie family were living in Blockhouse Bay where Ken’s father, Roy had started a carrying business. The photo below shows his International truck.

Ref: KRA-PA-02-031-04, Ken Abercrombie, Album 2, West Auckland Research Centre
Ken started documenting through photos these latter years of his growing up on the doorstep of Auckland’s West coast and the Manukau Harbour, and also later, capturing that of his own family after his marriage in 1941. He compiled 4 fascinating albums centred around the many family trips and outings all around Auckland’s west coast, the Waitakere Ranges and the coastal settlements on the Manukau Harbour, such as Cornwallis and Blockhouse Bay.

In addition he had a great love of ships and would look in the newspaper for the shipping movements in the Manukau before going down to Onehunga to take photos. A carpenter by trade, Ken’s skills were put to use for another hobby, that of building model ships.

Ref: KRA-P-0001, Ken Abercrombie, West Auckland Research Centre
The photo above shows Ken Abercrombie and the Taniwha, his fourth model, having previously completed models of the Kapiti, Apunui, Hotunui, all Northern Steamship Company ships. The Taniwha is built to scale mainly from photos, books and Ken's memories from regularly travelling on the steamship from Auckland to Paeroa as a young man. The model is complete in every detail with figurines on board. It took two years to complete and was his retirement project.

The family was involved with the Elim Gospel Hall and it was through the church that Ken met his wife, Myrtle. There are a number of photos in the albums from Elim church camps and Sunday School picnics. The photo below show scenes from the Eastern Beach Camp in 1939.
Ref: KRA-PA-04-005-00, Ken Abercrombie, Album 4, West Auckland Research Centre
Other subjects outside of West Auckland covered n in the albums include: the 1939 Ngaruawahia Regatta, Coronation Day in Auckland City in 1937, Ahipara, Hamilton and a few images at Waiouru in 1942.

Ken also wrote about his memories growing up in Blockhouse Bay in an unpublished document/manuscript entitled 'Experience Of Early Life At Tuakau and Blockhouse Bay', which covered the period from 1920-1939. He noted that '[m[y brother and I grew to love the beach and we soon learned the arts of boating and fishing'.

Ref: KRA-PA-02-045-01, Ken Abercrombie, Album 2, boat on its way down Endeavour St to the boat ramp, West Auckland Research Centre
Ref: KRA-PA-02-045-02, Ken Abercrombie, Album 2, boat on its way down Endeavour St to the boat ramp, West Auckland Research Centre
The following is an excerpt of reminiscences by Ken from his manuscript:

'The Avondale South Domain was then available to campers who came out from the city for a few weeks at the beach. The water was clean then and snapper and piper were plentiful. Cockles could be gathered and boiled on the beach. The campers sometimes held a community sing at night, the songs from the early sound pictures known then as the ‘talkies’ being used. Moonlight and Roses, Sonny Boy (Al Jolson), There’s a rainbow round my shoulder, Tip-toe through the Tulips, and other old favourites made up their repertoire.

On summer nights when the tide was suitable my brother (Gordon) and I would go flounder spearing with a neighbour. A kerosene tin cut in half diagonally down its length and provided with wooden blocks at their bases with candles set in, provided two lights. The bright tins acted as good reflectors.  Quite a number of people used this type of light for floundering. When we were a little older we would go out to gather scallops on one of the banks which was uncovered only after a spring-tide. We learned that it was best to go when the moon in perigee coincided with the spring-tide. The low fall of the tide at such times ensured a good bag of scallops.

The Depression of the 1930s was now upon us and Father found it very difficult to keep up the payments on his ‘Buddy Stewart’ truck. Most of the men in the district were on ‘relief work’ and during this period several streets were formed. Among these were Tiverton Road, Whitney Street, Kinross Street and Endeavour Street. The majority of homes had coal stoves and relied on my father to supply the coal. Many were in dire straights and got behind with their payments. It was a distressing position, one could not very easily refuse to supply more coal to these homes but on the other hand it was the cause of Father not being able to meet payments in full on his truck on every occasion when they fell due. I remember a customer who complained bitterly at the ‘exorbitant’ charge of three shillings to transport a plough, a set of disc harrows and a set of chain harrows to a property off Godley Road on the Titirangi side of Green Bay. The proper charge would have been about nine shillings, three times the amount asked.

Firewood was available in the form of mill-slabs from a small mill operating in Kinross Street, (then an unnamed track) opposite what is now Craigavon Park. The mill was cutting pine timber from trees cut around Green Bay and Blockhouse Bay.  Father sold it in long lengths as it came from the mill.  Customers did their own cutting-up with hand-saws and axes.

Strawberry growing was common around Blockhouse from about 1928 onwards, the main growers being Basil Daveron, W A Woods, Karl Johanson, ‘Billie’ Johnson, Hinton and Crudge.

The plants, manures, straw and crates were supplied by Turners (of City Markets), in return for the selling of the crop. To reach Karl Johanson’s gardens we cut a track off what is now Exmnister Street. It was a clay surface and was occasionally unuseable in wet weather. At the height of the strawberry season we would start collecting at 4.30am in order to have the fruit into the market in good time for the sale which commenced at 6am.  At this stage I had left school and, there being no jobs available, I helped my Father on the truck. We ran three trips daily for about two months in the summer – at 6am for fruit, home, then at 8am we did a round of florists for Parr's nursery, also anything else for the markets. A quick pick-up of empty strawberry crates and anything else from the markets, which by then included supplying a couple of green-grocers on our route, and we returned to Blockhouse usually about noon. A third trip was run about 2.30pm back to town to collect anything else from the markets, Farmers and other city firms and deliver everything sometimes by about 6pm. After Christmas the business would dwindle to a low level'.

Ref: KRA-PA-02-051-00, Ken Abercrombie, Album 2, West Auckland Research Centre
Copyright: West Auckland Research Centre and Abercrombie Family. Images sourced from this ebook and blog post may be used for private study or research. Please contact the West Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries for permission to reproduce images from this ebook for any other purpose.

Author: Vivien Burgess, West Auckland Research Centre