Times Gone By – West Hills History

West Hills is situated in an historically rich area. A hub of produce and dairy farming in years gone by, this area of North West Auckland continues to be a fertile home to wineries, strawberry fields and gardens. 

Early days: the nineteenth century 

In the nineteenth century, the area was sparsely populated, and likely covered in regenerating manuka and ferns. Early land transaction records between Māori and European settlers in the nineteenth century suggest two tribes had connections to this district: Ngati Whatua, and Te Kawerau a Maki, with evidence of seasonal fishing trips by both tribes to the area. The wider area became known unofficially as Lawsonville to some, after early settler John Lawson established an orchard in the region. Lawson arrived in the area in the 1850s and settled near the mouth of the Manutewhau Stream, which became known as Lawson’s Creek (in today’s Moire Park). Lawson’s Creek was home to gum diggers, who built simple whare on its banks. 

Access to the region was difficult in the 1800s, with the only way into the area via waterways. The Great North Road was the main access road to travel to the North West, but it only went as far as Swanson. From 1869 a new bridge was erected over Swanson’s Creek (Huruhuru Stream), and a new road north was formed, heading up the steep incline now known as Don Buck Road and Don Buck’s hill. This route became known as the Great North Road – the old route then taking the name of the Old North Road – and provided the very first road access into the area. 

In the 1890s a Portuguese man named Francisco Rodrigues Figueira moved to the area, and became known as Don Buck. He set up a Kauri gum store and ran a camp offering gum diggers a chance to work. Don Buck Road, Don Buck’s Hill and Don Buck Primary School are all named after this colourful local character. 

Farming and fruit growing: the twentieth century 

Heralding the advent of a farming area rich in produce, successful businessman John Henry Colwill purchased about 1,500 acres of land in the wider area in the early 1900s. He established fruit orchards, and offered a produce home delivery service and the opportunity to sample fresh fruit at his Auckland central city office. Colwill was instrumental in transforming the area from gum fields into orchards and pasture. He even obtained fish offal from Auckland’s fish merchants and used his launch to cart it into the area, where he ploughed it into the earth to fertilise the pasture. By the 1950s, the wider region was home to close to one hundred individually owned vineyards. 

The area where West Hills is now situated was home to a range of farming and fruit growing in the 1950s and the following decades, including strawberries, sweetcorn, and kiwifruit. A. L. Williams (known as Mac Williams) bought a 60-acre farm in 1959 where West Hills is now located. He recalls, “I fattened and raised calves for the Christmas veal trade; I knew something about it as I had been brought up on a farmlet in Cambridge. I was hand milking cows when I was ten years old.” He named it Langdale Farm, after the area in Northern England where his family came from. Mac Williams was involved with Massey Rugby Club and the local Presbyterian Church, giving a small portion of land to the latter which is now the site of Massey Presbyterian Church located next to West Hills. 

Solicitor Leonard Poulter Leary established a successful tamarillo and dairy farm from 1948 until the 1970s on the land immediately adjoining the West Hills location. Records suggest that Leary was probably one of the biggest tamarillo growers in New Zealand at the time. In order to protect the tamarillos (or “tree tomatoes” as they were sometimes called) from frost, fires would be lit and smoke generated to stop the frost from affecting the crop. 

What’s in a name? 

When mapping of the country was undertaken in the nineteenth century, the name Waipareira was given to this region, or “parish”, as it was described by the Crown. Until the early twentieth century, the area had no consistent name, and was sometimes even considered part of Hobsonville or Henderson. The opening of a new bridge and new road into the area coincides with the official naming of the wider area to Massey, probably in 1916, after the then Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey (1856-1925). The Prime Minister visited the area in November 1915 to assess its suitability to gift land parcels to returned First World War soldiers to grow fruit trees, so the district may have been named in honour of this visit. 

When the North West Motorway was extended in the late 1950s and access improved the area developed further as a suburb, and opportunities arose for more families to move into the area as land was subdivided. The suburb’s name was changed from Massey North to Westgate in 2013, and the region continues to develop rapidly. This North West area is a current growth node of the city, with considerable development including significant infrastructure and amenities in progress. West Hills is Universal Homes’ single largest development to date. 

West Hills welcomes you 

The rich heritage of market gardens and strawberry fields in the area informs the planning and streetscapes around our architecturally-designed, low-maintenance new homes in this well-connected and popular community. Enjoy the easy West Hills lifestyle, with a stylish and energy-efficient quality new home, leaving you free to explore this richly historical region. 

Selected sources: 
The Inside Story – tales behind the names in Massey; “Massey, West Auckland: a palimpsest: insights into Massey as it was in 1850, 1900, 1950 and 2000” by Gillian Ruffles, self-published, New Zealand, 2004; assorted papers from the Vivien Burgess Research Files accessed May 2022. 

Photos (from top): 
Rodewyk brothers making silage, Leary farm, 1950s, reproduced with permission Vivien Burgess research files/Rodewyk family;

Gerry Rodewyk with part of the tamarillo crop, Leary farm, 1950s, reproduced with permission Vivien Burgess research files/Rodewyk family;

A local Leyland Comet truck with cream cans on the articulated trailer, date unknown, photograph by Isabel Midgley, reproduced with permission Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections MID-P-002; 

Local Children from the Rodewyk families on tricycles, Leary farm, 1950s, reproduced with permission Vivien Burgess research files/Rodewyk family;  

A general view of Massey, Auckland, 10 December 1957, aerial photograph by Whites Aviation, reproduced with permission Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library WA-29992-F.

 

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