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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 8 — Natural Advantages Of Auckland

Chapter 8
Natural Advantages Of Auckland

In the earliest days of Pakeha settlement the South Island had two great advantages over Auckland — the Maori population was very much smaller and more peacefully disposed, and there was a good deal of native grass. In 1863 actual war broke out, and the progress of the North Island was thereby seriously hindered. However, the natural advantages of Auckland soon prevailed, so that now Auckland is preeminent in our Dominion. Let those who may challenge this statement read the leaflet I published in 1951 entitled The Extraordinary Advance of Auckland. page 13 These advantages consisted of first the climate — one thing that man has certainly failed to control. I say that Auckland has the best climate in the world, and I always recommend those who are not satisfied with it to go to another place where it is said that rain never falls. Secondly, the much greater proportion of easily worked land in Auckland Province. Thirdly, the exclusive possession of that unrivalled timber tree, the kauri. It may be well to consider the methods by which it was worked. Great experience and skill was necessary in the felling so that the immense weight would fall in the desired direction, and in particular not on the fellers. Then a ditch was cut of adequate depth and other dimensions, and the log rolled over it. Two men then worked an immense saw — one on top of the log and the other below. The top man had to keep the cut straight, and take the weight of the saw, while the bottom man enjoyed the full benefit of the sawdust. This method was used for cutting planks, and they were produced with surprising cheapness. The other great demand was for shingles. Up to about 1880 all buildings were roofed with shingles. Logs were sawn into lengths of about 21 inches, and split into shingles about eight inches wide and half an inch thick with incredible speed by special hatchets which also had a special hammer on the back for nailing the shingles onto the rafters. One great disadvantage in this kind of roofing was the ease with which it caught fire; another was the vile taste it gave to drinking water. About the date named corrugated sheet iron began to be used for roofing, and ere long this iron was galvanised.

One of the greatest advantages bestowed upon Auckland by a bountiful Nature is, of course, its splendid harbour, with its safe approaches and mild breezes, enabling it to offer shipping facilities equal to any in the world.

There was an extraordinary abundance of fruit — especially peaches. “Peach Pork”, i.e. pork from pigs fattened on peaches, was a regular market commodity. Cows also were fond of this fruit, and had the advantage of being able to reach over a fence and help themselves from neighbouring trees. Having filled their tummies they sat down to chew the cud and brought up the stones. It was easy to tell where such cows had sat by the small pyramids of peach stones. At our first home in Karangahape Road we had three acres of garden, about one acre of which was in arum lilies. At Easter time the godly members of various churches used to come with their wicker clothes baskets and fill them with flowers and leaves for church decorations on the general page 14 principle that God helps those who help themselves! Round the house were many big peach trees, and the abundance of fruit was such that it lay thick on the ground, attracting a pestilential multitude of bees to illustrate Tennyson' celebrated example of onomatopoeia “The humming of innumerable bees”. We used to permit boys from a nearby school to come in once a week with bags and take away peaches. Outdoor grapes were also plentiful. There were no pests in those days — no curly leaf, brown rot, or phylloxera vastatrix — and no weeds except biddy–biddy. All our pests have been introduced from overseas; and it seems that we are now threatened with others to arrive by supersonic planes.

But besides the pests many very beneficial things — animal, vegetable, and mineral — have been brought here. At Auckland's beginning such useful fruits as bananas and tomatoes were unknown. I well remember the introduction of each. Bananas attained great popularity, and retained it. Tomatoes looked so pretty that at first they were rushed, but owing to folk eating them before they were properly ripe, and improving them with sugar instead of salt, they became disliked. At one period some growers would allow buyers into their gardens and permitted them to pick any quantity. The buyers took their pickings into the office and paid for them at a halfpenny per pound.