Aotearoa Housing - the settlers

The exhibition ‘Aotearoa Houses: settlers to hippies’ is currently running in the atrium outside the Central Auckland Research Centre on the second floor of the Auckland Central Library. On this blog we've previously featured posts on Hippie Architecture and State Houses

Ref: Pegler for Auckland Weekly News, Showing a settler's house at Poro-o-Tarao, with people posed outside, 19 May 1899, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-18990519-6-1.

One of the topics we included in the Auckland Research Centre display on Aotearoa Housing was settler housing – that style of housing the new immigrants constructed on their piece of land as they began their challenging new lives here in New Zealand. Settler-style houses can still be seen across our countryside from small wooden structures now lying empty and dilapidated, to grander houses beautifully restored. For most settlers, it was a case of being practical and building what you could afford after you’d cleared your land.

These houses had to be functional for you and the family but could also enable rooms to be added on once you were established. Kauri was a popular wood to build with due to the straight grain, great ability to float down a river and because the wood harboured less knots. In regions where less timber was available, settlers such as the Scots made homes from turf while further north in Canterbury, sod-walled cottages were built.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Scenes at the great Cheviot earthquake, North Canterbury, November, 1901. Group of homeless Cheviot settlers: Mr J Auld's house in background., 5 December 1901, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19011205-3-3. 

Not that all settlers took one look at our beloved New Zealand and stayed. Considerable numbers fled, according to Jock Phillips and Terry Hearn in Settlers: New Zealand’s Immigrants, but for those that did opt to tough it out, adopting the new New Zealand customs became a source of pride. Newcomers who showed their Old World roots weren’t automatically embraced. “There was a mock distinction between ‘new chums’ and the old. The ‘old chums’ were tough and adaptable. The ‘new chums’ were yet to be colonised or have ‘the lime juice’ squeezed out of them."

As part of our rural heritage, settler housing reminds us not only of the hardships faced in forging out a new life in a foreign land but also of its legacy to our unique Kiwi landscape.

Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre