Monday, April 02, 2007

The pines at Point Chev

I recently moved to Point Chevalier, a couple of square kilometres of flat fertile land extending into the Waitemata southwest of the harbour bridge. Coyle Park sits at the far end of the point, nudging a mangrove-infested estuary on its eastern side and a muddy beach on its west.

The park is disappointingly bare, except on its seaward fringes, where a line of tall pines block views of the North Shore. The trees are at once an imposing and rather pitiable sight: they have reached impressive heights and girths, but many of them stand crookedly, and a few have lost limbs to the wind. The local council has begun the job of removing the sickest pines, and replacing them with hardier and more attractive natives.

The pines at Coyle Park were planted in the first years of the twentieth century, when the government in Wellington decided to build a hospital for infectious diseases at Point Chevalier. (The other end of the point was already occupied by the grandly eerie Whau Asylum, which would be renamed first Oakley and then Carrington Psychiatric Hospital before being abandoned to the education sector in the '90s.) A windbreak was seen as an essential precondition for any serious building work, and so the fast-growing pines were planted in 1904.

The Auckland Hospital Board had got as far as building a galvanised iron kitchen and sinking a well when smallpox was discovered amongst Maori communities in the Kaipiara and Bay of Islands areas in 1913. A number of buildings were quickly raised and a few sufferers housed in them, but the outbreak never became an epidemic. In 1915 the half-built hospital was again pressed into service after an epidemic of measles swept through soldiers being housed temporarily at Narrowneck Naval Base on the North Shore.

Auckland's health bureaucrats were not too keen on the hospital, according to Alexander Walker's rickety but amiable centennial history of Point Chevalier:

The [Auckland Hospital] Board had never been favourably disposed towards the establishment of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, as it was in such close proximity to one of Auckland's favourite beaches.

It seems that the hospital was not used after 1915. It'd be interesting to know whether the fear of mass incursions of diseased Maori was a factor in the Board's hostility to the hospital. At the beginning of the twentieth century outbreaks of diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and polio were most common amongst Maori, who by and large lived and died in isolated parts of the countryside. Most city-dwelling Pakeha wanted them to stay there.

A hospital for infectious diseases would have been sorely missed in 1918, the year influenza killed five thousand New Zealanders. Most of the victims were Maori in distant rural communities, but hundreds of Aucklanders also died. Hospitals were unable to cope with the epidemic, and many sufferers had to be treated at home.

By 1918, though, the end of Point Chevalier had been designated a scenic reserve. The hospital was dismantled in 1921; its staff building became the clubhouse of the Point Chevalier Yacht Club, before apparently burning down. Now the last traces of Auckland's Hospital for Infectious diseases look set to disappear. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
One of Point Chev's better-known sons had a poem which seems relevant, even if it's set in another part of the country and describes another species:


Whatever happened, it happened.
In swamp, on lowlands, gum diggers find ancestors.
Sometimes a lot of them lying the one way
as though sometime was
a great wind which put down a bush if not a forest,
trunk by trunk, and they've been lying there unseen.
Their wood can still be good enough for working.
Hauled at, they are reluctant to be earth, turned over.
They are pigheaded.

On the climb to Ngapukehaua there's one
didn't go down, up there by himself standing
over teatree. He's not far from caves of the dead.
Maybe he feels responsible,
he's older. Nowadays

I have to stop for a breather.
He has been lightning smitten and gale struck.
He is failing from the top down.
I like to crouch into and lean my back against.
I say "Brother" and he sighs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'mangrove-infested'? Why the prejudice? Mangroves are our friends.

12:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Skyler - I have taken photos also of the pines at that park as I take my grandson there sometimes.

Interesting history - Mark (partner of Dionne my daughter who plays the Hawaiin guitar) of the Nudie Suits (music group) has based most of his songs of "Sweetacres" around growing up in Pt Chev. One is about the local dairy and another is about him waiting for his mother to come home from a working overtime at a lolly factory which I think was actually called "Sweetacres".

It's real dinkum working class stuff.

4:46 pm  

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