By Lisa J Truttman
Craigavon is the western-most reserve at Blockhouse Bay. Originally purchased from mana whenua by Charles Robinson in 1845, by the late 1840s it became Crown Land, part of the 1859 subdivision known as the South Whau township, the Auckland Provincial Council’s settlement where it was hoped a port town would emerge beside the harbour. This was not successful, so in 1884 the Central Government gave it another go, resurveyed the failed 1859 subdivision, but left the land west of Connell Street as a Crown Reserve.
The Government resurveyed the reserve in 1896, and laid out the line of Connaught Street. They started selling lots from August of that year. William Henry Smith bought four of them, around 20 acres (the Motu Moana site) that year, and the following year three more lots (15 acres) being more or less the Craigavon Park site. In 1900, two more lots were bought by Smith, followed by a further purchase of 4¾ acres in 1905, these last two purchases completing what is Craigavon Park today.
In 1899 the Auckland Star described Smith’s “block of fairly good land on the line of the proposed canal that may some day connect the waters of the Manukau and the Waitemata . This gentleman has a neat little furnished cottage close to the beach, on the site of an old Maori pah, and surrounded by a little bit of native bush, in what is known as Green Bay.”
Smith was born in Ireland around 1850. As a young man, he took up work at a Belfast drapery store, and in 1874 at Portaferry, he married Mary Anne Caughey, youngest daughter of a grocer named James Caughey. The Smiths sailed to New York immediately after, and lived in the United States until 1879, then returned to Belfast.
But, with William’s health deteriorating, they decided to emigrate yet again, this time to Auckland in 1880. Marianne (as she now spelled her name) is said to have set up her Smith’s Cheap Drapery House, at the corner of Queen and Airedale Streets, opposite the present-day Town Hall site, from 1880, joined in business by her husband William from 1881. William’s obituary states, though, that he set up the business with his brother-in-law Andrew Clark Caughey. Whatever really happened, Smith’s Cheap Drapery House was in business from the later date at least.
The partnership of William Smith and Andrew Caughey, with shops on Queen Street and at Newmarket, began in September 1882. William Smith was for a time a City Councillor, and like his wife Marianne was known for his generous philanthropy towards various ‘slum missions’ and Christian charities. Smith was also, though, first and foremost a businessman. The land he owned at Blockhouse Bay was more than just a getaway spot, or at least that was the intent.
Back in 1903, he joined in with the short-lived Waitemata and Manukau Canal Promotion Company. At the time of his death in 1912, the Whau Canal proposal had been revived, and would be kept going clear through most of the 1920s, by promoter David Bruce Russell. So, while the Green Bay land the Smiths owned was a pleasant holiday spot for them, and while William Smith is said to have planted some trees there in a bout of bush restoration which was a trend at the time, it was most likely that the underlying reason for the purchases were as a long-term capital investment. We do have the canal schemes, in part, to thank for both Craigavon Park’s and the Motu Moana camp site’s existence today.
By 1922, Marianne Smith advertised camping sites and cottage on “Mrs Smith’s property” to let, for 25/- weekly plus rates. Then, in 1929, she decided to gift part of her Blockhouse Bay property to Auckland City Council. When Sir James Craig, Viscount Craigavon, Premier of Northern Ireland and a friend of hers visited New Zealand in November 1929, Marianne handed the deeds to him in a ceremony, and he in turn handed them to the Mayor of Auckland. The park was to be named in honour of her friend, as she wanted “to keep an honoured Ulster name for ever part of Auckland.” Mrs Smith also asked for the construction of entrance gates bearing the words “Craigavon Park.” The gates would cost the Council £382.
Lord Craigavon started out as James Craig (1871-1940), the son of a wealthy whiskey distiller, who followed a life-path that took him to the Second Anglo-Boer War until 1900, organiser of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers in Northern Ireland, a weapons smuggler supplying Imperial Germany prior to the First World War, and a politician. He was made a baronet in 1918, and appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1921. In 1927, he was created Viscount Craigavon of Stormont.
From the 1930s he became increasingly controversial for his anti-Catholic and anti-Republic of Ireland views, and even suggested to Winston Churchill during World War II that the UK should invade the republic by force and install a Governor-General. He was still Prime Minister of Northern Ireland when he died peacefully at his home in November 1940.
Visiting American landscape architect Fred Tschopp provided Auckland City Council with a plan for the development of Craigavon Park. He proposed sweeping curving paths, incorporating the existing plantations in the middle with tree planting all along the pathways. In 1935 the Council had decided to lease the park for grazing to a Mr Barker for 2/6 per month. T S Aldridge, the Council’s superintendent of parks, suggested in 1939 that the park should be gradually developed, and planted with rhododendrons and azaleas.
During World War II, the military authorities had the use of Craigavon Park from 1942 until 1944. In October 1944, the Green Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association asked for use of the park for picnics, and as a motor camp. Strict regulations regarding cooking facilities, water supply, lighted pathways, and proper sanitation stood in the way of Craigavon Park ever being a camping ground, or even (another idea at the time) as a transit camp site for those waiting for better housing. In May 1947, Barker was let back in with his cows.
By 1961, Craigavon Park was around 75% to 80% bush-covered, but this would not last for long. Early in 1965, a swathe of the regenerated bush and trees were cut right across the width of the park, for the installation of a power pylon. There have been some improvements since then, though. From 1982 Craigavon Park has been part of the Te Ara o Tiriwa walk linking Avondale South Domain (now Gittos Domain) with Craigavon Park and Green Bay via Te Whau Point. Play equipment has been upgraded three times since 1988. Old pines were removed in 2005, allowing for native trees to replace them.
As a regenerated semi-wilderness, scene of controversies over usage, reports of suspicious activity amid peripheral greenspace, it seems that Craigavon Park’s future will always be, at least in the foreseeable future, as the Park on the Edge of the West.