Topic: Yatton Park – a personal history by Trish McBride

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here. 

I first met this magical place when my family moved to Greerton in 1953. I soon made friends with the other kids in the neighbourhood, and they showed me what they knew of simply as The Bush. It was wild in those days, completely overgrown between the huge wonderful trees.

The sawmill next door was still operating, and on an adjacent side a paddock lay between it and the then end of Fraser Street. There was a steepish path down the bank to the Waimapu River, and local families, including mine, enjoyed a good swimming hole. It is where I first learned to swim.

Once over the cattle stop we were in another world. We played all sorts of games there – hide-and-seek, as well as pretend explorations.  In season there were things we knew we could eat – pears and walnuts from old trees, whin berries and blackberries from the tangled briars, and tiny wild strawberries. Gradually I learned that there had once been a beautiful house there that had burnt down about fifty years previously.  And realised we were playing in a forsaken garden that had been carefully planned and tended: the avenue of oaks, the double curve of hydrangeas which must have bordered a path, the sheer variety of old trees.

So I enjoyed the place with a variety of company. But my favourite times were being there alone. I marvel now that my mother allowed me to go off there on my own for hours at a time, the only stipulation being that I did not go down to the river.  I had a special little house under one of the aged hydrangeas that provided shelter and a hiding-place over a mossy floor. I communed there with the insects, the plants, whatever was happening beyond my leafy screen, and with the spirit of the place. And there was a grassy glade by a soaring tree where I lay to watch the river meandering below and the clouds above.  

I wondered about the unknown people who had lived there long before, and imagined them loving the place as much as I did.  Like me, they had come from England for a new life. They had brought lots of seeds and familiar plants with them, which had flourished in the new land.  Would I too be able to transplant successfully, and put down roots here? This was my sanctuary through some confusing times.

A few years later, my family moved south, and trips north were rare. The Bush still had a powerful hold on my imagination. Thirty odd years on, I wove a short story for a writing course around those   memories. It recorded my grief and dismay on my first visit back to Yatton Park in many years to find the place cleared, tamed and civilised. The reaction began at the ornamental gates and carefully designed open area, including the artificial waterfall. The cattle-stop gateway to magic had gone. Worse was to come: many of the special old trees had gone, all the undergrowth, all the hiding places, all the hydrangeas, and almost all the self-seeded natives that had mingled with the immigrants’ carefully planted garden.  The path in the top area went right round, clearly visible from one side to the other. At least, in reality - as in my story - I was thankful that this had not been concreted.

Some of my favourite trees were still there, including the soaring Norfolk pine and the huge Queensland kauri. And eventually I was able to reflect that the changes Yatton Park had seen had some parallels to my life. It had been planted and carefully nurtured, then had the freedom to develop in its own wild way, before being simplified, clarified and made available for more people to access. The past needed to be let go.

More recently, I have appreciated the Tauranga City Council’s information panels. The first private English owner of the land was John Chadwick, after whom Greerton’s main street is named, and who initiated the move for a school there. He built the original homestead, and called the property Yatton, probably after his native village in England. With his family he did much of the tree planting. The site of his house seems to have been where the sawmill stood later. By 1872 he and his son owned much of what is now prime Tauranga real-estate, between 18th Avenue, Cameron Road, Church Street and the Waimapu estuary.  The river was then deep enough to allow small steamers access to the little wharf down the high bank. Were the wharf remnants still there when I learned to swim? Maybe.

It was interesting to discover that our street was named after Lucy Mansel, the next owner. She was an enterprising single woman who emigrated to New Zealand from England with her six nephews. They helped run the farm she’d bought.  She further developed Yatton’s garden and enlarged the original four room house to a large complex, which became a busy social centre for the area. Lucy died in 1916. She would have been heartbroken had she seen it all destroyed by fire in 1918, the year a nephew sold it.

The following year, John Boyd, a timber miller from Taranaki bought 24 acres including the homestead site. He felled and milled the avenue of pines leading up to the house he built, and other pine trees round the property. It remained in his family until official interest began in 1953 in turning some of it into a public space. The Department of Lands bought 17.5 acres. Tauranga City Council took over in 1963, and cleared and developed the park in the 1970s.

So much for the European tenure of the land. To my shame now, neither as a child nor as an adult had I ever wondered about its earlier history. When and how did it pass from Maori to Pakeha ownership? And what of the previous centuries? Again the Council information panels and websites were enlightening and opened a whole new perspective on ‘my’ park. However recorded history is silent on one crucial episode of the transfer process from one race to the other.

Tangata Whenua knew the headland as Te Tutarawananga a Tamatea-arikinui, it was once the location of a pa, connected with Nga Te Ahi, Ngati Ruahine and Ngai Tamarawaho, sited with clear views of the harbour and the wider area.

“It was and is known to Tangata Whenua, in particular Ngai Tamarawaho, as the one of the most important sites within Tauranga, second only to Mauao (Mount Maunganui). There was a wananga (school) there that focused its teachings on celestial knowledge. Tutarawananga a Tamatea-arikinui is the correct name for the school of learning set up by Tamatea-arikinui after the arrival of the wakatapu Takitimu (one of the original migratory canoes) to Tauranga.”  In other words, as narrated by the panels, it was a training school for tohunga, a waahi tapu, a very sacred place.

My hair stood on end when I first read this information.  No wonder I had been able to feel the spirit of the place so powerfully as a child. Just as European Cathedrals have a tangible special atmosphere from being age-old sacred centres so, in my experience, does Yatton Park. It was, and I believe is still, a sacred place.

Then there is a loud gap in its history, until soon after the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga (1864), when the area was gifted as a reward to Hamiora Tu, one of the Maori who had assisted British troops. But who did the gifting? And how was it theirs to gift? A confiscation?  Hamiora Tu soon sold it on to Chadwick.

Fast forward to now. I’m pleased that the Yatton Park Management Plan (2005, 4.4/4) aims to “identify and recognise, within the Park, the cultural connections Tangata Whenua have to the site and the surrounding area” and to identify and manage key waahi tapu areas within the Park. Also enhancing the records of European activity there. They recommended the following actions:


a.       Undertake an archaeological assessment of Yatton Park, in agreement with Tangata Whenua and Historic Places Trust.

b.      Undertake consultation with Tangata Whenua, to develop detailed contemporary designs for key cultural structures and information panels within the Park.

c.       Undertake dual naming of the Park as Te Tutarawananga a Tamatea-arikinui and Yatton Park.


Also to formally name the Gordon Petersen Walkway for a volunteer kaitiaki  (guardian) who spent much energy on preserving and enhancing the area. He, too ,must have loved it. The information panels are there. I have not yet observed any evidence of items a) and c). Hopefully they are in the pipeline.

And so my relationship with the magic place of my childhood goes on, enlarged by those who have written its history, and those who, despite my mid-life grief at the drastic change, have made a beautiful green oasis with a well-recorded whakapapa, to be treasured by future generations.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Yatton Park – a personal history by Trish McBride


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Yatton Park – a personal history by Trish McBride by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License