Marge Harré: an enterprising woman, a restaurant & a West Auckland family, Pt 1

Marge Harré’s story is one of an enterprising and, by all accounts she was an extremely engaging and unique character. She left behind a lasting legacy - one that connects, a house, a community, her wider family history, and the history of West Auckland. Her most enduring legacy has been provided in the book, 'Roadhouse Days: an account of a family, a house and a restaurant' by Drew Harré and David Harré (2009).

'Roadhouse Days' tells the story of Marge and her family’s involvement in the Town and Country Roadhouse Restaurant (1949 to c.1968) in Oratia, West Auckland. Written by Marge’s son, Dave Harré and Dave’s nephew, Drew Harré, this book contains entertaining anecdotes, recollections as well as accounts based on historical records. Many of Marge’s recipes are also included at the end of the book.

Ref : JTD-13A-01995-1,  Oratia Bowling Club pavilion. (Parr Homestead in background), 1963, West Auckland Research Centre
The original Roadhouse restaurant partners were Trude Bethell, Iibbie Woodward/Wheeler, Marge Harré and Jim Wakeling. The family trees of the 3 women link to prominent families in the history of West Auckland, including the Clark, Gardner, Bethell, Miller, Woodward and Harré families. A recent display at West Auckland Research Centre, Waitakere Central Library, for Family History Month, included a Family tree with Marge at the centre.

The documented history of West Auckland has tended to focus more on the innovative and entrepreneurial activities of the men in these families. However, 'Roadhouse Days' shows that some women in these families were also very creative, skilled and enterprising.

Marge loved cooking and her restaurant clientele. The idea for the Roadhouse came from Marge’s friend, Julia Yates who had previously set up a millinery shop in Auckland with her sister Trilby. Julia got the idea from a trip to the USA. On her return from overseas, she said "Marge there is no more pulling bloody cows tits for you! You are starting a Roadhouse. I pinched a menu from this place” (p.19, 'Roadhouse Days').

Marge, however, was innovative in her cooking and didn’t need to follow anyone else’s recipes or menus. Photos of the Roadhouse menus are on display at the West Auckland Research Centre.

Ref: Ref: 580-4030, woman preparing food, 1959-160, Sir George Grey Special Collections
“Marge was in love with her ESSE stove. Her heart and the central fire, deep in the heart of the ESSE, were intertwined. She loved and was loyal to her cast of aluminum pots, her stock pot, her chopping boards and her knives (always a bit blunt) and most of all her kitchen. She spoke of it as “herchapel” [sic]. She loved most of her clients and welcomed them like close family” (p.21, 'Roadhouse Days'). The clients included many people well known in Auckland, as well as people from further afield such as violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Dave Harré fondly remembers growing up  amongst a close knit group of people at the Roadhouse during the 40s and 50s. It was often a lot of fun and occasionally there was drama. He recalls being involved in a cat and mouse game with the police, who sometimes called to check that the Roadhouse wasn’t illegally selling alcohol. On learning of an impending raid, he remembered that “[t]here would be panic. 10 or 11 years old I was sent upstairs, out through a window and onto the roof to lower the “Alcoholic Liquor Prohibited” sign by its chains so it hung above the main entrance. The guests were warned to drink up or hide the bottles” (p.37,  'Roadhouse Days').

Ref: JTD-13A-01996, Parr Homestead, 1963, West Auckland Research Centre
Ref: JTD-13A-01995-2, Parr homestead, 1963, West Auckland Research Centre
The building that became the Town and Country Roadhouse restaurant, was originally built in 1880 by Edward John Parr. By the 1980s it had become known as Albion Vale (p. 67, 'Oratia: My valley' by W. R. Allen, 1984).

Ref: 1052-R4-13, Albion Vale, now Oratia Folk Museum, 1987, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Author: Carolyn Skelton, West Auckland Research Centre


  1. Well, I worked for Drew in Paris in 2000. Great gentleman in love with wine, Italy, fresh bread, opera, human beings etc.. I was wondering: what about his NZ roots? He kept his NZ passport. That was a first kiwi sign. Homemade food and authentic cooking? Evidentemente. Grazie mille Madam and Drew's family!

  2. I new a Drew Harre in the 1970s it was in a village near Portsmouth uk can it be the same person from Oratia
    Regards Owen


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