2019 Auckland Heritage Festival – Wilson’s Beach and Jetty by Bruce Renshaw

Wilson's Beach and Jetty 2019

Bruce Renshaw’s interest in Wilson’s Beach and jetty goes back to the 1950’s as a child living at the bottom of Victoria Avenue with right of way access to the beach.  As a youngster he swam, fished, sailed, and it was his playground – along with brother and sisters, neighbours, and friends from Remuera and Parnell.

Thank you to Remuera Heritage for this invitation to present at the Auckland Heritage Festival. The images for this talk are in the accompanying POWERPOINT, although the slides are unnumbered the numbering in the text below is provided as a reference.

Wilson’s Beach is accessible at the northern end of Victoria Avenue, Remuera – beyond the Shore Road roundabout.

My interest in Wilson’s Beach and jetty goes back to the 1950’s as a child living at the bottom of Victoria Avenue with right of way access to the beach.  As a youngster I swam, fished, sailed, and it was my playground – along with brother and sisters, neighbours, and friends from Remuera and Parnell.

Cast our minds back 100 years – (2) this is what it looked like, looking east in 1918 to the barren hills of Orakei near Coates Avenue, from immediately below Burwood Crescent. Not Waikiki, but a mostly shelly inner city beach, tidal with mud, and with a jetty mid picture.

When was the jetty built? (3) An application was made by the Remuera Land and Building Company to the Harbour Board in 1881 to build a jetty so that residents could catch a ferry to downtown and beyond.  Of course there was no railway line or Waterfront Drive back then. The application was referred to the Works Committee and ‘died’.

My family LORE led me to believe that the jetty was built by my maternal great grandfather (4) Captain Thomas Capel Tilly of the Royal Navy.  He lived from 1830 till 1900 – an important date for the heritage fraternity, and also for the history of the jetty.

In 1870 Captain Tilly purchased the rectangular block of land between what is now St Kentigern Boys School and Victoria Avenue, from Shore Road to Wilson’s Beach.

I don’t profess to be a historian, but there is a connection between Tilly and the Journeys theme for this year’s Heritage Festival.  He made numerous return journeys from England to New Zealand, mostly in sailing ships bringing immigrants here – many to Dunedin.  Also construction materials such as water pipes for NZ infrastructure. He also captained the four ‘Southern Cross’ Melanesian Mission ships throughout the Pacific, and became their Auckland agent when ill health prevented him from sailing.  All his world-wide and Pacific journeys are recorded in a book by Robert Hunt.

Tilly had neighbours such as Wilson’s (Wilson and Horton publishers of The Herald – now St K) and Mitchelson – gifted to Baradene 1910. Organised Regattas in Hobson Bay and received good publicity (5, 6).

(7) An interesting photo from 1911 just before the building of the sewer pipe from Parnell to Orakei above Hobson Bay shows a variety of boat sheds near the bottom of Victoria Avenue.  Where is Tilly’s jetty?

Digression – Auckland Council ‘Head Office” recommendation to Orakei Local Board (OLB) not to repair/restore the deteriorating jetty.  A year ago I made a formal submission to OLB for Council to continue to repair the jetty, as they, and I have done for most of my life.  I made much of the ecological importance of the apparently short sighted protected shags needing  a jetty to perch on ready to dive for fish.  And it acted as a safety barrier from jet skis etc for small children paddling in the water.  It is also a public asset of the community well used and enjoyed for 100+ years.  I stated that there was a strong family association with the original jetty.   As mentioned above, Renshaw/Tilly family lore had it that Captain Tilly built the jetty.  That seemed plausible considering his nautical background.  BUT, he died in 1900.

I have had to eat humble pie with OLB.  Fortunately I have built up a strong credit balance of goodwill with them over the past 10 years regarding the re-sanding of Wilson’s Beach, so I don’t think they hold it against me.  In times of need your friends and neighbours come to help.  One such family has suggested that a huge storm between 1900 and 1910 must have demolished the Tilly-built jetty.  Well, maybe, but there is no evidence.

I want to thank Carolyn O’Neil of the Heritage Studio for her research mid this year for her research (attached).

To me it is not important whether the jetty was built some time prior to 1900 – giving it Heritage status, or some time pre 1918 as it appears in authenticated photos at that date. One of my small businesses is associated with the antique furniture industry, and as many here will know, antique status is acquired at 100 years.  So Heritage or Antique – to me, what’s the difference.  But we’ll come back to the fate of the jetty later

1911 (8) saw the commencement of the construction of the sewer pipe.  Here are the foundations along Wilson’s Beach just 50 m out from high tide looking west to about the top of where Ayr St is now.

(9) A year later the sewer pipe is taking shape, again along Wilson’s Beach.  Still no jetty.

We now jump to a series of photos in the 1920’s

Another iconic photo (10) this time looking east showing sewer (left), at last a jetty with children playing, boat sheds on the foreshore, and the tall pine trees on St Kentigern Point, immediately in front of ‘Roselle’ house, built for Joseph Wilson in 1879

Very well dressed ladies and gentlemen on the sewer (11).  Note on the other side of the sewer, alongside its feet, is the other side of the 45 degree ramp for getting small boats up and over the sewer to be launched into Hobson Bay and the open sea

Fun and games on the ramp (12). A favourite pass time.  No health and safety rules back then.

(13) Hobson Bay from Awarua Crescent, Orakei, showing the full extent of the sewer, with Burwood Crescent centre left.

(14) Photo taken from approximately where Farro’s is on Orakei Rd (near rail station), showing Roselle, Baradene, Mt Hobson and One Tree Hill (far left). Note how few mangroves – compare with now, out into the bay from Palmers Garden Centre.

(15) Wilson’s Beach low tide in front of Burwood Crescent looking east.  Trees on St Kentigerns Point.

10 Years later (16). 1930’s. Same view.  Looks better at high tide.  Same now.

(17) Looking west again with several homes on Burwood Crescent.

And back to the east (18) – still just farmland nearby to Coates Avenue and Kepa Road.

(19) Wilson’s Beach in 1931.  Wilson’s Roselle behind tall trees at top of photo.

(20) The last of the 1931 photos of Wilson’s Beach.

I was born 16 years later, and have spent all but about 7 of my 72 years on the remaining family land that Captain Tilly purchased, now nearly 150 years ago. That land is now occupied by 25 homes or apartments, and is always undergoing change as large single sections are subdivided for multiple homes or apartments

About 10 years ago, I led a group of all residents of both sides of Lower Victoria Avenue from the Shore Road to Wilsons Beach to re-sand the beach and return it to its former glory.  What we achieved was a transformation of the beach and neighbourhood.  This is how it looks now . Colour photography does help (22, 23)

This project has brought the neighbourhood together, especially socially.  There was a time where I would drive up the road to Shore Road, wave to someone at their letterbox and have no idea who it was. Now we have an annual Summer beach party for 50+ neighbours, and enough occasional functions to keep neighbours informed of developments of all sorts.

At this point I would like to recognise the support of the then 7 members of the OLB, then chaired by Desley Simpson in successfully re-sanding the beach, and also my neighbours, especially Peter Jackson.  Peter stepped into my shoes on this project on several occasions when I became frustrated with Council’s costly delays with regard to multiple meetings with so called interested parties, most of whom had shown no interest in Wilson’s Beach until we started to improve it.  Also consultancy reports, resource consent applications to themselves, and belated water quality tests.  My intended placement of sand over so called historic sea grass annoyed a Council official who reminded me of its cultural significance.   I challenged her and showed her that this grass was in fact quite recently self sown. I showed her that it was on top of the concrete floor of a former changing shed, that I knew was laid only about 60 years previously.  I heard no more about historic sea grass.

Another was the extravagant use of a helicopter to help remove the few remaining mangrove bushes which a neighbour and I didn’t have time to illegally hand saw cut down the night before.  We offered to complete our unlawful night time work, at virtually no cost to the Council – that is us ratepayers.  But of course that had to be declined. Instead, the whole street received a 24 page booklet from the Auckland Regional Authority extolling the virtues of the mangrove.  I also received a warning, if I wanted the re-sanding to be completed

I had a plaque (24) installed along with a park bench to recognise the Captain and my mother Joan Tilly, who, like me spent almost her whole life living on property immediately adjacent to Wilson’s Beach.  Peter also had another park bench and plaque installed.

But one part of this story is still missing – a useable jetty (25). The end of the jetty has suffered some structural damage from a storm 18 months ago. The foundations the wooden legs have deteriorated from too much time under water/mud.

Over the years, I have re-secured many foot planks of the jetty which have been dislodged by high tide and wave action.  I am afraid that the Council (not OLB) action in closing off the jetty to the public is allowing the jetty to fall further into disrepair (26).  Council HQ want the jetty removed, and they will probably win by default as the jetty continues to deteriorate. This would be a great shame considering the time, and money (from all our rates) invested in the re-sanding project, including this information and photo board (27).

There is some light at the end of the tunnel (28), in that the OLB has been working on a combination boardwalk/walkway from Wilsons Beach around the foreshore below Burwood Crescent, and finishing nearby to Shore Road at Portland Road.  There has been recent public consultation, and I wish the OLB all the best with this project, as I am aware of delays with this ‘missing link’ stretching back over some 25 years

So we will go into this Summer with our jetty looking like this (29) – a sad way to end its 100+ year life. But to end this presentation on a possibly more positive note, I have requested that when/if the boardwalk below Burwood is constructed, that at the very least the OLB incorporate a replacement jetty structure in a similar location to where it is now, and of a design that is in keeping with that of the new boardwalk.  This may be an acceptable compromise.  Sad but realistic

Finally, I invite you to visit Wilson’s Beach, ideally at high tide on a sunny day. You will really enjoy it. Sit on the park bench with the plaque of Captain Tilly at your feet, think about his Journeys 150 years ago, but I am sorry that you won’t be able to walk on the jetty.

Remuera Heritage is doing its best to retain it, and I thank them for that.