Jack Diamond's huts

John (Jack) Thomas Diamond often visited the beaches on the west coast of Tāmaki Makaurau as a youngster. There he spent time with his friends Tom, Bill, Bryan and Fred in the 1920s. Jack mentions in his manuscript 'Piha - the first visits': “…we always slept in one of the many mill shacks that were scattered throughout Bethells, Anawhata, Piha and Karekare areas.” 

As an adult, Jack joined the Auckland Tramping Club. On 1 November 1933, he was once again in his element, staying in various huts along the rugged west coast of Auckland. 

Shacks and huts

During the early 1900s, scattered around the west coast of Auckland, simple buildings were built for use as homesteads for Māori and pākehā families, timber mill workers and relief workers employed during the Depression to make the roads.

Image: Albert Percy Godber. Mill bunkhouse above the Glen Esk Falls, 1916.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-04A-00119.

The image above shows a group of people, including a visiting party standing in front of the slab mill house with a bush backdrop at the Glen Esk Dam bush camp above the Glen Esk Falls (Kitakita Falls). There are large firewood piles of tea-tree outside the building and a bush whare centre right. Washing is draped over a fence. Includes Mr. Knutzen (left) and Mrs. Byles (third from left), a midwife who lived on the Piha Road.

Image: Russell Middlebrook. Honeymoon Cottage, Piha valley, 1927,
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-04A-01184.

The image above shows a group of young men at an old wooden house up Piha valley with a view of the valley and cottages in the background. Two men are standing on the centre ridge of the cottage roof.
The huts in the image above also served as dwellings for unemployed people where they could live for free outside of the main towns. Here they were able to be self-sufficient by growing vegetables, gathering seafood or wild pigs and cattle. 

This image shows a dilapidated house, with an external chimney, in a clearing with a view across scrub covered hills to the ocean on the horizon. 'Lone Kauri' refers to a kauri tree on Piha Road just past today's turn off (north side) to Lone Kauri Road, travelling towards Piha. Lone Kauri Farm was named after the tree, this hut was used by workers for Lang Freeth who were milling there.

The timber mills mentioned in Jack Diamond’s essay 'Piha – the first visits' include the New Zealand Railway’s Mill, the Government Mill at Piha, Goldie's and Murdock's Mills and the huts used by the firewood cutters of the 1930s.

Image: Unknown photographer. Auckland Tramping Club members at 'Earls Court' hut, 1930.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-04A-03426.

The image above shows a slab bush shack at Piha with the four trampers: John, Jack, Ann, and Marge outside. The words 'Earls Court' are written above the window.

Diamond notes: 'At Mokoroa falls an old timber mill of Goldies had been built, there was an old shack, the cookhouse I’m told and we slept in this place when we, the ATC [Auckland Tramping Club], were on a trip up to Muriwai. It was pulled down about 1935 or 6 when a shack was built of the material about 150 yds further upstream. There were a couple of shacks at Anawhata that he recalls - Mobb’s place was there, as was Rose’s place above White’s Beach. In the Anawhata area there was also the main group of camphouses for the workers around the Anawhata bush, and “Chateau Mosquito”.'

Image: Unknown photographer. Smyth's Hut, Anawhata Regional Park, 1930s.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-03A-03448.

Image: John Thomas Diamond. Shack, Cascade Kauri Park, Waitākere Ranges, 1955.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-02A-00232.

In her book 'Piha: a history in images', Sandra Coney notes that “The remnants of the Piha Mill became the domain of groups of young men who discovered a love of the wild West Coast... Campers could book the empty mill buildings with ‘Frenchy’ the caretaker. Some, like this group of friends, booked year after year. The kauri plank walls of this hut sported many carved names.” 

In an article co-written by Dick Jones and Jack Diamond in the magazine ‘Memories’ in 1998, they describe how in 1928 a seven-and-a-half-acre property was purchased by the Auckland Tramping Club Incorporated along Anawhata Road in the Waitākere Ranges. Members rallied around and before too long construction began on the club hut. It was named Ngaro Te Kotare – The Hidden Lookout, and was officially opened on 17 March 1929. The club pennant, made by the women, was hoisted on the flagpole.

Mill Houses

There were also the larger buildings known as the ‘mill houses’ dotted around the area, they were put to other uses in later years.

Diamond notes in 'Piha – the first visits', “There were two well preserved mill houses on the hillside just up above the schoolhouse. These stood there until about 1932 and were used extensively by the tramping clubs and other organisations at weekends and other holidays. These houses had four rooms and a large kitchen with a stove, safe, tables, etc. Although they were never locked in later years they were always left in a clean condition by the ones who used them. One was called the “Bella Vista” Hotel and was complete with a dog kennel used for storing firewood. The other was called the “Ritz” I believe. These weatherboard houses were later pulled down and used for building baches down on the beach. They were kauri boards 18” to 22” wide and half to ¾ “ thick.” 

Image: Unknown photographer. Trampers on the verandah of 'Bella Vista' Hotel, 1933.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-04A-00118-G.

The photo above shows members of Auckland Tramping Club on the verandah of a small cottage set amongst regenerating bush. The weatherboard cottage with a gable corrugated iron roof has double-hung four-light sash windows, a lean-to and a roofed front verandah with one side enclosed. The cottage was originally one of the workers' houses for the Piha Mill.

Jack Diamond mentions that as youngsters, exploring the area and staying overnight “We never at any time slept in these, their main use being to supply us with surfboards and reading matter in the shape of Weekly News pictures used as wallpaper.”

“The surf boards were obtained from the match lining off the walls. These boards up to 18” or 20” wide and ½” thick, they made excellent light boards and I should imagine that even today some are still hidden away under some flax bushes along the West Coast beaches. We hid these boards at Bethells, Anawhata, Whites beach, north and south ends of Piha, Karekare and Pararaha. As we had no saws or hammers these boards frequently had nails sticking up in them, they were undressed timber which could be rough on the skin at times, especially when the stomach was sunburnt. The length varied from a few feet up to 7 or 8 foot long."

Below is an image of a shorter version of this type of surfboard.

Image: Russell Middlebrook. Russell Middlebrook standing outside school, 1929.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, JTD-04K-01178.

The surfboard in the image below looks like it may have been fashioned the same way too.

Summer’s here, surf’s up, the best waves are still on the West Coast, let’s go…

Author: Sharon Smith, Heritage Engagement.


Jack Diamond, Piha – the first visits, 1958. JTD -038-0028 Vol 28, ‘West Auckland Manuscripts’

Dick Jones and Jack Diamond, Memories, Vol.3, Iss. 15, 1998, pp58-61. JTD-030-0169

Sandra Coney, Piha: a history in images, Keyhole Press, 1997

Minute Book 18 October 1928 – 3 July 1940, NZMS 1230 Auckland Tramping Club Inc., Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Further reading

JT Diamond Collection, Research West, Auckland Libraries

Heritage et AL blog posts