28 March 2010

McLachlan’s gift


Above: McLachlan Memorial on Puponga Point

A few weeks ago during my visit to the North Island I took a weekend bush walk with my mother and her friend Patricia.  Our destination was a place I’d never visited before – the broad expanses of Cornwallis, a sparsely inhabited narrow peninsula flung southwards into the Manukau Harbour with a splendid swoop of dawn-facing sand.  The peninsula is capped by a forested hill with a long pier at its base, and atop the hill, known as Puponga Point, is a 90-year-old monument to a forgotten settlement and a magnanimous gift. 

As the trees planted across the hilltop have grown over the decades since the monument was erected, the regional park managers have trimmed back a slice of the woods so the monument is still visible from the beach.  It’s an easy half-hour walk to the monument, and from the heights visitors have a fine view over the Manukau Heads and the western reaches of the harbour.

The monument records the gift of the surrounding land to the city to form part of the huge parklands that dominate the Waitakere Ranges.  It also commemorates the attempts by Scottish settlers to build a township on the Cornwallis peninsula in the early days of the New Zealand colony – an attempt that soon foundered.  The monument records the details:    

This monument records the arrival of the ship Brilliant in the Manukau Harbour on 29 October 1841 with a band of settlers for the Cornwallis Estate which was controlled by the Manukau Land Company whose manager was LACHLAN MCLACHLAN, father of the donor of this park JOHN MITCHELL MCLACHLAN, who was born on the estate on 18 October 1842.

And on the reverse:

Erected by the AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL to commemorate the gift of the CORNWALLIS PARK of 1927 acres to the City of Auckland by JOHN MITCHELL MCLACHLAN in memory of his mother ISABELLA MITCHELL MCLACHLAN.  Unveiled on July 17 1918 by J.H. Gunson Esq, Mayor of Auckland – H.W. Wilson, Town Clerk – W.E. Bush, City Engineer.

John Mitchell McLachlan was the best-known scion of the settlement that failed to leave a permanent mark on the map of the young country.  The Cornwallis Estate was the site of extensive plans for development of a frontier settlement at the behest of the Manukau and Waitemata Company, a speculative venture akin to the New Zealand Company.  Town plans were drawn up, about 80 of 100 sections offered were sold and a rickety vessel, the Brilliant, was outfitted for what turned out to be a mammoth journey of ten months from the Clyde.  The ship was presumed lost by the time it finally sailed into the Manukau at the end of October 1841.

The 27 settlers who had remained on board during the long voyage, turning down the chance to jump ship in Cape Town, Melbourne and Hobart en route, were greeted with what must have been a bitterly disappointing sight.  Temporary raupo (flax) huts were being erected for the settlers by local Maori, but there was no other sign of civilisation.  The Company had even failed to properly secure ownership of the land on which Cornwallis was to be built.   

The early days of Cornwallis were marred by the all-too-common plight faced by colonists: drowning, which was known at the time as ‘the New Zealand death’.  Attempting to take medical supplies to a stricken missionary’s wife, Captain William Cornwallis Symonds and three others were thrown from their boat and drowned on 23 November 1841.  The news of Symonds’ death was reported throughout the colony, and Symonds Street in downtown Auckland was named in his honour.  The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 8 December reprinted the reportage of the Auckland (later New Zealand) Herald, which included the following eye-witness account:

Captain Symonds, who was an expert and powerful swimmer, was observed to make the most extraordinary exertions.  He swam for more than an hour and twenty minutes encumbered with a particularly heavy kind of nailed boots, and two thick pea coats, (which latter he was seen attempting to take off), and had nearly gained the shore, when he disappeared. 

Following this melancholy loss, the new settlers at Cornwallis laboured to build a home for themselves under the leadership of Lachlan McLachlan, whose son would donate the Cornwallis land to the city some 75 years later.  Two further company vessels, the Osprey and the Louisa Campbell, brought a prefabricated steam-powered sawmill and more settlers.

The Cornwallis settlement struggled from the outset.  Despite rumours of coal being found nearby in 1843, there was little money to be made locally.  The sawmill closed in 1843, which removed a major source of employment for the settlement at a stroke.  Later that year the Daily Southern Cross published a scathing editorial, lambasting the Manukau and Waitemata Company for its failure to deliver what it had promised in its prospectus:

Of all the schemes devised for gulling and deceiving people, the Manukau Company was decidedly the most barefaced and impudent that we have ever heard of…  Many of these purchasers of ideal town allotments and fine imaginary country sections have been for the last three years in this country patiently waiting, in the hope that the Manukau Company would fulfil their promise to them, but we fear they may wait long enough before they hear any thing further of the Manukau Company.  

The inhabitants of Cornwallis soon drifted away, with only a few scattered dwellings remaining.  One such cottage played an important role some two decades later when the catastrophic wreck of HMS Orpheus on the Manukau Bar in February 1863 sent shockwaves through New Zealand and the rest of the British Empire.  While nearly 200 drowned in the wreck, a few lucky sailors managed to escape death and were rescued from the stormy shore by John Kilgour of Cornwallis.  Kilgour, a Scot, and his wife nursed the sailors back to health and assisted them to slip into Auckland clandestinely to avoid being returned to naval duties against their will.  

For decades the ownership of Cornwallis was neglected, until in 1903 when John Mitchell McLachlan bought the area with the intention of adding it to the city’s parklands.  The land was gifted to the city in 1910 after McLachlan’s death, but the hilltop monument was not erected for a further eight years, presumably due to the distraction of the Great War.  Cornwallis was isolated and hard to reach, and the Council began to allow the construction of holiday baches along the beach as early as 1916.  Emma Louise Joyce records that a series of baches existed along the Cornwallis beach until as late as 1977, when the Council’s programme of bach demolition that had begun in the 1960s was completed.

With the baches gone Cornwallis remains as a largely unsullied corner of Auckland, free from development.  Visitors enjoy walking the length of the beach, and enthusiasts fish from the pier.  McLachlan’s generous gift has meant that this unspoiled environment will be preserved for future generations of Aucklanders to enjoy.


Above: Cornwallis viewed from the McLachlan Memorial at Puponga Point

Further reading:

The Dream that was Cornwallis

13 March 2010

Claude and the PM

Grandad's done pretty well to be still going at 93, I think. And he certainly still knows how to hob-nob with the rich and famous. Witness these photos from the visit of the Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, to Auckland Hospital on 28 January 2010.

According to the nurses, when he was told that Key might be stopping by for a chat his inner socialist fired into action and he threatened to give him a bit of stick. But naturally once the PM arrived Claude's innate politeness came to the fore and he was glad to have someone to chat to.

07 March 2010

Let’s do the time warp again

There’s nothing like watching a bit of cricket to evoke strong memories of New Zealand summers past.  I couldn’t get a ticket for the reduced-capacity Eden Park ODI versus Australia yesterday, but enjoyed watching the match on TV with friends in Grey Lynn.  The nostalgia value was fairly high from the outset, with the music played through the stadium wafting out through the TV’s speakers. 

This quickly reminded me that as far as the DJs who select the music for cricket matches in New Zealand are concerned, the 21st century is a foreign country.  Indeed, with a few exceptions it seems that their watches must’ve suffered major structural damage around the year 1990, because there’s next to no hints of contemporary music in the ultra-conservative playlist that’s dished up in grounds across the country.  This is a real pity, because in playing it safe by selecting only the most well-worn songs, the DJs are reinforcing foreigners’ views that New Zealand is culturally backward and out of step with the modern world.

It’s hard to argue when you start to keep a list of what’s being played.  (Yes, I did - I really am that boring).  Excluding signature songs played when batsmen emerge for their innings and thematic songs such as Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain used to illustrate a weather delay, here’s a sample of the fare played to the crowd (and, intermittently, to TV audiences in New Zealand, Australia and around the world) during the New Zealand innings:

AC/DC – Thunderstruck, Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer, Oasis – Wonderwall

Some ageing raspy-voiced late-80s Australian rock leads the way (Thunderstruck), and later on the mid-80s pomp rock of Bon Jovi ups the pop factor.  Harking back to the mid-90s, the sub-Beatle copyists Oasis offer the sound of the ‘60s re-filtered through the slightly whiffy fabric of a rather worn and beery Ben Sherman shirt.  A selection of music that averages 20 years old.

Bob Marley – Could You Be Loved, Buffalo Soldier

He died in 1981 so these can hardly be regarded as recent hits.  Mind you, given the choice between Marley and most contemporary reggae artists you’d probably opt for Marley every time, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

Supertramp – The Logical Song

From 1979.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea that a band as terminally unfashionable as Supertramp can still get airtime in the 21st century.  But we are talking about largely inconsequential music that was released a third of a century ago.

The Champs – Tequila

From the ‘50s!  This 1958 song is still remembered today no doubt in part due to its starring role in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, it also helps that New Zealand cricket crowds love any reference to hard drinking and potential inebriation (see also Th’ Dudes – Bliss).

Split Enz – I See Red, Six Months In A Leaky Boat

Sure it’s good to hear New Zealand music being played, and Split Enz are of course local legends.  But these tracks are the best part of 30 years old – has nothing happened in the New Zealand music scene since 1980?  And couldn’t they pick slightly less obvious Enz tracks to play?  Not that I’m suggesting Maybe/Titus – that might be a step too far.

Netherworld Dancing Toys – For Today

Oh Jesus.  Do we have to hear this every single bloody game?  Just because it went to No. 1 and unleashed the vocal histrionics of Annie Crummer on an unsuspecting nation in the mid-‘80s, it doesn’t mean we have to flog it to death decades later. 


I’m not criticising the quality of these individual songs (well, mostly) but rather the idea that this represents the listening habits of everyday New Zealanders when they gather together in large numbers in the presence of alcohol and sunshine.  I find it hard to believe that cricket crowds in New Zealand only enjoy ancient music, and it’s sad that in playing only the oldest possible material, cricket DJs are failing to reflect the fact that we now live in the second decade of the 21st century.  Surely a more up-to-date musical selection would help to entice a younger audience to the game, which is vital if the sport is to maintain its place as New Zealand’s predominant summer sport.

01 March 2010

A Nordic jazz sylph

Lisa Ekdahl 3 Lisa Ekdahl

Queen Elizabeth Hall


24 February 2010

(Image: Last.fm)


Swedish jazz singer Lisa Ekdahl’s performance on the South Bank last week was a rare opportunity for UK audiences to hear a talented and distinctive vocal talent.  It was something of a return from the wilderness, because Ekdahl’s charming and musically inventive 1998 album of jazz standards, Back To Earth, had brought her to the attention of music fans outside Scandinavia, and while this was followed up with an appealing foray into lounge music with the romantic and languid Lisa Ekdahl Sings Salvadore Poe in 2000, Ekdahl then shifted to a lower profile for a long period until the release of her most recent album, Give Me That Slow Knowing Smile.

Like most of her English-speaking fans, I first heard Ekdahl on Back To Earth with the peerlessly energetic and innovative Peter Nordahl Trio providing her top-class backing band.  Ekdahl’s singing voice is one that will likely polarise listeners: breathy, reedy and with undertones of girlishness, she sings in English with her Swedish accent intact.  Yet these qualities make her voice distinctive and appealing – which is particularly valuable when interpreting songs that have been performed many times before.  Her performances on Back To Earth also benefitted from her palpable enjoyment of the material – for example, her playful laugh on Now Or Never as the piano re-enters the melody is an indelible part of the track’s lasting charm.  It also doesn’t hurt that Ekdahl is quite the Scandinavian beauty: blonde, elfin and immaculate.   

Seeking out more of Ekdahl’s material in the years following Back To Earth, I enjoyed the songs on Sings Salvadore Poe, despite the style of music being way outside my usual musical comfort zones, and even traced one of her early Swedish-language releases, 1997’s Bortom Det BlĂ„, which showed that her vocal talent is equally proficient in her native language as it is in English.

In person at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Ekdahl’s appears as a Nordic jazz sylph, wafting about the stage between her three talented young male band-members (not the Nordahl Trio, but still excellent).  She has some of the mannerisms of the jazz diva, such as acknowledging audience applause with a theatrical palm clasped to her heart, but these are of passing interest when compared to the voice she deploys.  As on record, on stage Ekdahl is at her best interpreting old standards, to which she lends an intriguing mix of inventive musical adaptations and exotic and beguiling vocal renditions.  Down With Love is dispatched like a feverish electric shock, played even quicker than the bare two minutes on Back To Earth and achieving a bouncy zest that enlivens the set, while It’s Oh So Quiet, which was brought back into prominence by Bjork’s explosive cover in 1995, is a comparatively restrained affair backed with an underwater-sounding piano with doctored strings.  She is not afraid to let her band soak up some attention, allowing them to perform talented solos including one dual-handed Hammond organ and cornet solo played simultaneously.  

The London audience, a full house, was particularly appreciative of Ekdahl’s performance.  The mixed crowd was about half Scandinavian (the barrel-chested Swede beside me snapped his fingers in time with the swingin’ numbers, jazz-style) with a smattering of Asian aficionados alongside the usual English crowd, and it’s fair to say that the audience contained a large proportion of spectacle-wearers.  Two boisterous Swedish women a few aisles in front of me stood on their seats as Ekdahl returned for her encore and bellowed for some songs in Svenske, and Ekdahl happily obliged with a pretty ballad replete with plenty of Swedish rolled Rs.  No idea what it was called, but it definitely made the Swedes happy!