Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland: stories of change

In Aotearoa / New Zealand, as in the rest of the world, we find ourselves facing a time of unprecedented and unsettling change. Our biggest city Auckland, economic powerhouse and largest population centre is currently engaged in a difficult task of re-calibrating for the new environment. While we as citizens of Auckland face this collective challenge, we are also presented with an unusual opportunity; a chance to decide what the next steps in the city’s journey will be.

Image: Mark Gosper. Auckland City, April 2020.

The following podcasts have been drawn from across our collection, each reflecting on an aspect of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland's journey to date as we look toward the stories yet to be told.

“In 1900 Auckland was home to five hundred gas lamps and fifty thousand people. A city in name if not yet in earnest, it was barely past its frontier beginnings. A canyon of robust stone buildings now hinted at permanence astride a lumpy isthmus, lapped by the tides of two large harbours, this unpretentious outpost of Britain remained wedded more to nature than man.” So begins our first track taken from the popular Books and Beyond radio and podcast series, hosted by Karen quoting from Maurice Shadbolt’s Dove on the Waters, and Louisa who celebrate Auckland’s anniversary with poems, historical recollections and scenes from classic and contemporary literature which pay tribute to our beautiful city.


Listen to the track here.

Hēnare Mātene Te Whiwhi praises the well-behaved European population of Auckland in the next track. Te Whiwhi was an influential young rangatira and closely related to Te Rauparaha to whom he is writing here. He was impressed by the British monarchy which inspired him to establish a similar system of governance for Māori in Aotearoa. Such attempts were frustrated by events such as the mid-century Waikato wars, sorely testing Te Whiwhi’s idealism and striving for peace among his people. The track initially appeared as part of the Kīnaki series which presented a sample of letters written to Sir George Grey and his contemporaries in te reo Māori.


Listen to the track here.

Also seeking harmony in settler New Zealand was Sarah Mathew, wife of the surveyor Felton Mathew, who arrived at the Waitematā Harbour in 1840 to assist her husband in selecting a site for the capital of Aotearoa, New Zealand. The couple soon moved into a tent in the area we now call Britomart. In a box beside the tent was what Sarah refers to in her diary as, “my devoted piano”. In this track from our 2019 spring concert series Dr Polly Sussex gave us a glimpse of recreational music in pioneering life in early Auckland using examples from the musical scrapbooks of the family of early missionary Henry Williams. Now held at Auckland Libraries, these scrapbooks of hand copied music contain fine examples of the sort of music played. Not many families had grand pianos at that time, so the practical second-best was the square pianoforte on which Dr. Sussex performed.


Listen to the track here.

Far from “a canyon of robust stone buildings” which “hinted at permanence” Auckland’s centre of gleaming sky-scrapers and bustling footpaths is now the busy hub of what Hugh Dickey labels our “primate city”. In his talk from our 2019 HeritageTalks series Hugh presented a fresh perspective on the growth of our towns and cities revealing a story behind the statistics.


Listen to the track here.

A significant part of Auckland’s story of growth is migration, both domestic and international. Aneta Jean Hart’s experience is one common to many Māori who became part of the “urban drift” from rural New Zealand to the cities during the early to mid-twentieth century largely in search of employment. Hart worked in the cannery department at Westfield freezing works, a large employer which was based alongside the southern railway line near Ōtāhuhu. The works was one of many employers which provided a surrogate community for people displaced from papakāinga to the melting pot of the city. She also lived for a time at Camp Bunn, a transit camp for people waiting on State houses to be built.


Listen to the track here.

Dorothy Butler was also looking for a home; a playcentre for the young people of Birkenhead. Told by the all-male local council she could have an old tin sports shed, if she moved it, she recalls of the experience, “I can remember baking hot scones for all these dripping rats of men”. Not one to take the heat off a task she jumped at the opportunity when an old home set for demolition appeared to be the perfect prize. Her persistence eventually saw success in creating a place that the children could call their own: “I mean if you look back on your life you see it as a series of strong women ultimately getting what they want”. Listen to Dorothy’s first-hand account in a track which originally featured as part of the Suffrage exhibition “Wāhine Take Action


Listen to the track here.

Women were often on the front line of calls for action and change as further illustrated by Elizabeth McRae’s recollection of His Majesty Theatre’s demolition in the early hours of a January morning in 1988. The theatre, alongside the Mercury off Karangahape Road were long time homes to many local Auckland theatre productions and had become a beloved part of the city’s cultural scene. Hear Elizabeth talk about Auckland’s theatrical scene and the protest in a track from our series which accompanied 2019’s Curtain Up! exhibition.


Listen to the track here.

Many of Auckland’s oldest buildings can be found in the city’s suburbs where change is often, though not always, at a more gradual pace. You may be living in one yourself. If you’ve ever been curious about the history of your home, or indeed any older building, our series on researching your property is full of potential pathways to find out the stories behind your brick walls. The track selected here focuses particularly on the services offered by Auckland Council’s Heritage Unit. You can find the complete series in our HeritageTalks 2020 playlist.


Listen to the track here.

In our final selected track University of Auckland student Isabella Wensley interrogates the symbolism of Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill. Her research was conducted as the result of a Summer Scholarship awarded by the University and supported by the Auckland History Initiative. The obelisk which stands atop the hill is she says “a complicated monument that can and does communicate different messages. Dictating exactly what message is intended would always be silencing the voice of another… even the most identifiable spaces so closely linked to Auckland are not really always ours, and sometimes the use of them can be outside of our control”.


Listen to the track here.

We hope you enjoy these stories of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland; reminders that while we are shaped by our history our environment is ever changing and part of a conversation in which we can all participate. What messages would we want our city to say about us?

Author: Mark, Research Central



Comments

  1. Love the weaving of Tāmaki Makaurau stories/paki, into the most beautiful korowhai, Mark

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