By Gary de Forest
This is the first chapter of the second edition of my Katy & Kula and the Kervil Kids: A Story of Sixties Westies.
The Peninsula, four kilometres long and one wide, is a standardised West Auckland suburb (lacking only a standardised mall) of 12,000 people — a multiple of what it was. It was plain Tat North, an outlying point on the map of Auckland but newly connected to the City by motorway. It was harder to get to Henderson town four miles south, focus of Waitakere electorate and Waitemata County. The two-level (Seagar’s) Gin Factory, now an engineering works, was the towering landmark in our lives, surrounded by clothing factories of a bygone age where local women worked supporting their families. Planning is approved on a former BP site for a ten-storey apartment building next to the new six-storey one, proving progress of a kind. There were two petrol stations, at Gloria Ave; and across from the Gin Factory serving the long-gone NZ-owned Europa brand, proving regress of another kind. Several years ago we were awarded our first set of traffic lights, a dubious honour.
Our Sixties playground featured State Housing as oblong boxes, nothing like the show homes built by the Labour Government in the late Thirties and Forties. Our section of Kervil is now happily gentrified with flash infill housing in what were once our front yards, covering up the former blight. Open drains ran both sides of the main road as in the Waitakeres today. We were a lower form of life to Te Atatu South spreading from Henderson to the motorway, with its sailboats and pleasure craft lined up at the marina.
‘The Peninsula’ was a Nineties public relations ploy of real estate mongers — It sounds so exclusive, and may be worth a hundred thou on the valuation. More so other recent inventions Harbour View Estate, with or without a view of the harbour, and Waimanu Bay, where there is no actual bay. Though not distinct locales it was necessary to name these expensive retreats distinctly, separating them psychologically and materially for their élitism shouted out by pocket mansions lined up along mews and esplanades, the café culture they brought, secluded parks and walkways, a preschool, and surveillance street cameras to ward off lower castes.
We are box office. On any day in any street you might see a camera crew shooting; hear media darling Paul Holmes slurping a latté at Servo on Gloria; witness entertainer Oscar Kightley chillin’ with young fans. Around Woolworth’s,
Mike Williams, outgoing Labour Party president, presses fruit; Barbara Dreaver, Pasifika TV reporter, checks out the deli; Kuia June Mariu hovers at the checkout; Dennis Williams, 17-year-old hero of the triumphant 1970 Kiwis, wanders down aisles gazing ahead but peripheral vision still alert, ready to pivot and sidestep off either foot; and Raewyn Wylie and Sonia Donaghue look lovely in their fifties.
Older Maori generations tell of an inter-tribal slaughter on the very foreshore that is so prized today for unobstructed views of Harbour Bridge and Skytower. The Peninsula Business Assn, wary of what’s bad for business, pussyfoots on its website about 1820s Ngapuhi “excursions” — a bush walk with a picnic lunch on the hoof? — that had “a severe effect” on the Kawerau and Ngati Whatua. It took twenty years and the Tiriti for wahine to return and begin to grub the earth along the western shore of the river (Henderson Creek) for kauri gum to export.
Among Twentieth Century founding families were the Schulers and Hazzards. The first Schulers arrived the century before from Kiel and Hamburg, North Sea German ports, using the harbour to ship products from their Hobsonville pottery. Ray Schuler’s mother’s parents settled from England in 1923, and by the Fifties the united family owned land from the site of the later Catholic church to the river. Ray’s father, friends Les Hahn and Charlie Wood (who married Wanda Hazzard), were all builders, DIYers with the Haighs and others. Schulers also settled in compact stylish houses 684-688 Te Atatu Rd across from the Gin Factory site, on Hazzard paddocks that ran up to the peninsula’s own, unobtrusive yacht club on Chapman Strand where Bob & Ray Schuler and others started sailing in 1958.
Social events and political meetings in and around World War II were thrown at the old Hall adjacent the tennis club. Courting couples including combinations of Schulers, Hahns and Hazzards, jived to the swinging tunes of the Schulers’ dance band, The Joymakers. Of the Sixties were Bob & Ray Schuler, six Hahn kids, Kevin, Brian, Graham, the twins & Heather, and Peter & Lynn Wood.
The peninsula’s Fiji connection started with George Gustafsson and family in the Twenties, like Kula’s Petersens imbued with Scandinavian blood. He grubbed out a 23-acre chicken and mixed-stock farm wedged between Wharf and Tawa, but investment reverses in the Thirties left him embittered and he sold up, leaving room at Wharf Rd corner for new shops and homestead of a spreading family that included grandniece Terrey, to be an attraction at Intermediate. One son, Lloyd, returned to Fiji barely out of his teens, to return five years later in 1961, and start the Gloria petrol station (now the Servo café), in partnership with a brother. Another Gustafsson brother ran the Europa station at Wharf.
The humble origins of the central township were told me in November 2008 by my old friend Angus MacKay, 87, a year before he died. Former RAF in Burma, originally from Dornoch, far northeast coastal Scotland, and long-time resident of Dublin, Mac had settled in Canada before crossing the US and flying direct to West Auckland, disembarking at Whenuapai Aerodrome, on Labour Weekend 1949. He scouted cheap properties and bought his large Tawa section for £400. It is heading towards a thousand times that value. Under liberal building bylaws encouraging settling, he moved his parents and siblings here and gradually erected his first tiny house plus a liveable “shack” around them.
Peter Robinson, JP, built in Totara opposite, 1957. There were three other houses, cows and other stock grazing in paddocks behind. Ray Schuler tells of a lonely, amorous ram, Bunty. The dare to run across his large domain 200 metres wide was too enticing for many kids, often overtaken by the lovelorn Bunty with humorous results, exercising his rights under Ram King o’ Sene. A small portion of these Hazzards' paddocks was taken up by a Hughes & Cossars' vineyard before they erected the Gin Factory.
The Northwestern Motorway was approved in late 1947 by Mac’s reckoning — and he should know, often pointing out to me that the prime minister who gave the go-ahead, Scottish-born Peter Fraser, was Mac’s father’s cousin. It took years to lay the five-kilometre first leg from Pt Chev, and more for the causeway across the broad Whau estuary to settle and link it with bridges over channels. It opened in 1956 with ribbon cutting by Peter Fraser’s successor, Sid Holland.
As Mac completed his house in 1952 the township had one shop at the Crossroads up from the Hall, a general store “run by an Aussie” where hardware was for fifty years until recent weeks. This was an IGA (Independent Grocers Assn), as told by Mrs Barr. He had a single petrol pump out front. Soon after, says Mac, a Mr Soutar erected and opened, opposite the current Woolworth’s, the first milkbar (the 1960 electoral roll has him still proprietor), long a drop-in bakery-café done in by the recession. The only other business was Len French & Sons haulage. The motorway saw this northeast street frontage, the French’s Building, fast taken over by a line of shops with the Frenches living next door.
The Green Buses of the Auckland Bus Co ran under Bob MacRae, doubling as local traffic warden. Decades later I was told by Fred Lawson, groundsman at the main road entry of Kervil Park, that it was the year the motorway opened, '56, that Waipani Rd was excavated, completing the public transport route. Workers’ buses still followed the long route to the City via Glendene and New Lynn for Crown Lynn ceramics factories and light industry. According to Mac, Mr MacRae made a marginal enterprise economic by rebuilding on truck bodies and using petrol instead of diesel fuel. Having advanced the town, he ended in suicide.
Efforts were made to personalise the growing town. When the Moores and Paszczuks moved into a street laid in 1958 just past the shops there was brief discussion on which family it should be named after — very brief. To make the spelling even easier the Council wallahs dropped one letter: Moor Ave.
On telling a younger friend, Jade Thorne of Henderson, about this book she shocked me by naming Kervil and environs as notoriously rough in the Eighties. Then I remembered on leaving Chan’s fish shop one dark evening in the late Seventies I was dogged by a tough who had stood there in the shop for some time with his hands deep in his pockets, just looking, and saw me flash my wallet ... I decided an ad-libbed jog might be healthy, after a few hundred metres cutting through Kervil Park so he couldn’t cut me off on the way home. While a New Age Christian might have exhorted me to turn around and greet a new friend, my streetwise upbringing taught there’s no point being a liberal too stupid to save his own life. My old Kervil friends had come to see me by then as a brainy, over-educated fool — and I could never have lived down such a soft death.
Today’s self-proclaimed ‘Westies’ go all out personifying the myth celebrated and feared in pop culture. I’ve heard it whispered by amateur sociologists, South Aucklanders might prey in packs but never turn your back on a Westie loner. In my experience the few typical in the popular imagination are likely substance-addled figures due a mixture of caution and pity that you might find anywhere.
To be a performing, professional Westie is a sure route to celebrity. This figment even has its own tv soap celebrating cartoon violence/sex/drugs/crime by Westies revelling in the sheer glee of destruction. The image is of shrewd cunning but low intelligence, low impulse control, no finesse, no finer feelings. Glib Dunedin political pundit Chris Trotter calls him ‘Waitakere Man’, supposedly representing what is still primitive in human evolution in the 21st Century.
I like to think the real spirit is of those who landed here by circumstance a century and a half ago — isolated from authority by a two-day bullock trek around the harbour — and those who repeated the adventure a century later.