Situated in the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour is a small peninsula bounded on one side by the Henderson or Taikata Creek, and on the other by the Whau Creek.
The Early Settlers of this peninsula called it Henderson Point, for it lies adjacent to Henderson, but it is now known as Te Atatu. This name was given by Mr. Bennett, for when he went there for the first time in 1900, on reaching the top of the hill at early dawn the effect of the rising sun over the shimmering harbour was very beautiful, and he gave it the name of Te Atatu or Early Dawn.
The remains of a big Māori settlement in Te Atatu was discovered in many places although when the first white settlers arrived there was only a comparatively small settlement near the beach. Te Atatu suited the Māori well for as it is almost completely surrounded by water there was always plenty of fish and pipis, which the Māori relish. Also most of the soil being very fertile it was very good ground for growing kumara and other crops.
Only several years ago the remains of flax baskets, fishing nets, and old clothes were found at the back of one of the Te Atatu resident’s home. On many of the small farms in that district, small heaps of pipi-shells have been found which indicated that Maoris had feasted there many years before. It is believed that the original Māori tribe, which inhabited Te Atatu, left long before any white man set foot on that part of Auckland. The graves of several Maoris are still to be seen near that old settlement near the beach.
The small tribe of Maoris left Te Atatu in 1900 and went to live in the Waikato, but in 1912 several of the tribe returned, one of whom was a princess whose name was Kiri, and another was her grandfather. They went back to the old settlement, and lived in an old whare and an old rusty shed, which had been erected. Kiri had a playmate called Rua and they both went to the Te Atatu School, which was built in 1907. They continued to live in this fashion until Kiri’s Grandfather died in 1910. He was not buried at the settlement, but somewhere in Auckland. The remaining party except an old man and woman returned to the Waikato. The early settlers of Te Atatu were forced to labour continuously by clearing away the Manuka, which grew, and still grows, very abundantly in that district.
The roads were more clay tracks, which were seas of mud after a deluge of rain. The main outlet for Te Atatu was by the sea. A launch by the name of ‘Elsie’ sailed every Tuesday afternoon to and from the city carrying both passengers and goods. The other outlet was a five-mile ride to Henderson, over rough and stony roads, where the train was caught to Auckland. The boat took an hour to get to Auckland where people bought all their groceries and household goods because there was no shop in Te Atatu opened. A few years after brickyards had been set
up near the wharf, part of the road to the wharf was put down in bricks, so that riding was smoother.
There was a shell bank a few chains out from the end of the Point. A bridge was made to this on which passed trucks which carted the shell to the mainland. In a few years all the shell was used up and carted away. A good deal of it was put on the roads, which were thus improved greatly. Tobacco growing was tried, but with little success, and the big shed that contained the results of men’s labour caught fire and burned to the ground. The mail for Te Atatu used to come twice a week and was dealt with by the School Masters who gave the mail to the pupils to deliver. The newspapers also came twice a week with the mail. With the improvement of the roads of Te Atatu, and the concreting of the road from Auckland as far as Henderson, a bus took the place of the boat.
This was much less expensive, and far more comfortable for passengers. Soon this vehicle travelled back and forth every day except Sunday. But when more and more private cars were introduced into Te Atatu, the bus trip did not pay, and so it only travelled on Tuesday and Fridays. In about 1927 a store was built to the great relief of the people who had been having to obtain all their goods from the city for many years. The schoolroom served as both a church and a dancehall, and every Sunday evening a service was held at the school. In 1924 a church was built with the bricks from one of the old brickyards whose industry had slowly faded out. Native bush grew abundantly but has gradually been taken
over by new roads and vast population growth.
Te Atatu is a peninsula surrounded almost entirely by water. The history can be back to when the Māori owned the land, before c1880. Around this time Thomas Henderson purchased the land off the Māori. Later John McFarlaneobtained a partnership in land ownership with Henderson. Then, around 1900, Henderson and McFarlane sold farm-lets to the earliest European settlers to arrive. The Māori who had a small settlement left around 1900 for the Waikato.
At this stage we can obtain quite concise information by exact dates are rare. Amongst the first families to arrive the Baily’s being the first, were the Moore’s, Roby’s, Semadeni’s, Thomas’s, Illingsworth’s and McCormack’s. They obtained the land at about $40.60 per acre, the land being all covered in scrub which when being cleared, manuka provided a problem. The settlers farmed cattle, pigs, goats, tobacco and vegetables, some as a source of income and some as a source of food. Around the years, 1900 – 1910, we come across the name of the land –
Te Atatu. But who named it, and why? The answers to these are thus: The Baily’s in 1909 decided it was time the land had a name. Previous to this, the area was known as ‘5-mile point’, ‘Henderson Point’ and Te Atatu Road was ‘5 mile road’.
So, a Māori missionary came up with the name Te Atatu (Dawn of the Day), because, he said, “This is where the sun hits first.” Now that we had a name, people were attracted to this part of the wilderness. The brickyards previously established around 1890 turned out materials for houses, roads, churches, schools, etc. The people had something to come for. Te Atatu was no longer an isolated area but an establishment, although transport routes were not that superb. From Henderson, Te Atatu Road presented a 5-mile ride over dirt road covered in shells by a horse and dray. From town the quickest way to Te Atatu was 1 hour by launch. Its name was ‘Elsie’, named after Elsie Thomas who was drowned off the boat. It arrived Saturdays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and food supplies such as bread and meat could be brought in this way. Later on cars and roads were improved.
The children went to school in a one-room building. Of the pupils, were two of the first Māori children to attend school: Rua and Kiri. The school acted as a church and a dance hall, dances were held about once a month. The ‘old squeezebox’ provided the music. Church was held here until in 1924 when a ‘real’ church was built, made from Te Atatu bricks. Several houses were made of these bricks also, of which some are still standing. The services of Te Atatu were few then, but there were enough to get by on.
Before a shop was established a truck would travel to Te Atatu with supplies. The first shop to be established was one owned by a Mr Illingsworth who dealt with the mail also. Mr McCormack was the local undertaker who collected the bodies from the ‘top of the road’ and took them to the burial site. Outsiders would not persist in this job in case they got ‘stuck in the mud’ somewhere. Dick Rambaud owned scows which took bricks for logs. These bricks provided his work and also paved the road leading to the brickyard so vehicles would not get stuck or bogged down. Because quite a few farms grew tobacco plants, a drying shed was set up. However one day this place was burnt down when a drying tobacco plant fell into the fire and caused the incident. A boiling down plant was built for a while where animals were boiled down, later it was pulled down.
When electricity was introduced, those wanting it had to pay for the poles as well. A Mr Payter was a kind of a mayor and also one of the richest men around. He erected two street lights. One at ‘the top of the road’ and another at where the roundabout in Te Atatu North is now. There are a few things that stand out in the minds of most people today. One being the brickyards which can still be seen defined and the other, the graves discovered around the beach by Beach Road. These graves have caused a lot of controversy and may mark a point where professional historians will attempt to make something of early Te Atatu.
EARLY HENDERSON POINT THEN TE ATATU
About one hundred years ago, much Kauri went from Te Atatu, which was accessible to the water, and was rafted to timber mills in Auckland. Later native Hakea, ti-tree and fern grew everywhere. There were only tracks, no roads, so houses were built near rivers or the harbour. There were three brickyards, one where Taikata Sailing Club is now situated and bricks from that works were used to build YWCA and other buildings in Auckland.
The bricks, coal and goods were carried by scows mostly, also by launches. The school was opened in 1907, and mail was delivered to the school by packhorse twice a week. It was opened and sorted by the teacher and the children delivered the mail to neighbours. There were about 14h children at the school. In 1909, Te Atatu was named by Bishop Bennett’s father who was a missionary and lived down the far end of Beach Avenue.
The sheen off the fern, Ti-tree and the Hakea, with the reflections off the Upper Harbour lit up Te Atatu early, so day dawned here first, which is what the name means – Dawn of Day. Scows, launches and boats were mainly used for goods and travel as roads and tracks made it difficult to get to Henderson Station in the winter. About 1911, the first car came to Te Atatu. The children were allowed to stand on their seats and desks to see it pass, and there were about ten cars in Auckland at that time. The children only went to town once or twice a year.
The wharf was built at the West end of Wharf Road about 1914. Previous to that, the brickyard wharf was used. The wharf was taken away about 1928, when buses and lorries took over.