Tawa, the place and the tree


If you’ve ever wanted to know about Tawa - the tree or the sub­urb - Gil Roper is your man.

Nearly 50 years af­ter the botanist fin­ished a the­sis on the na­tive tree, he is about to pub­lish ‘‘a much more read­able’’ book about all things Tawa.

From uses of the wood, to how the sub­urb got its name, to the re­cent ar­rival of a long-ab­sent na­tive bird, the book cov­ers it all and took nearly two years to write.

‘‘It was a labour of love but it was also a labour of fun.’’

Roper has al­ways loved na­ture - as a 7-year-old he won an award for his botanic en­thu­si­asm - and stud­ied botany and zo­ol­ogy at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity, where he pro­duced a re­search the­sis on the tawa tree.

‘‘It re­ally was quite a weighty tome, far too tech­ni­cal for any­one to read.’’

It was prob­a­bly no sur­prise then, that decades later and liv­ing in the Welling­ton sub­urb, he turned his pen to­ward writ­ing about the his­tory of the sub­urb, named for the trees.

‘‘Peo­ple might be sur­prised to know Tawa has some of the big­gest trees in the coun­try. Some are 200-300 years old, they’re the rem­nants of the orig­i­nal bush in the area.’’

The state of the bush sur­round- ing the sub­urb fea­tures promi­nently in Roper’s book and, while it’s home to fam­ily friendly walk­ing trails these days, it wasn’t al­ways so safe.

The books re­counts how in 1850 a young set­tler was sent to find one of the cat­tle his fam­ily grazed in the bush, Roper said.

‘‘He was never seen again. He got lost and 18 years later they found his skele­ton in Lower Hutt. That’s how dense the bush was.’’

The ef­fects of hu­man set­tle­ment on the bush are de­tailed, from the de­struc­tion wrought by set­tlers to the mod­ern-day ef­forts to pre­serve and re­plant the bush.

It’s the re­turn of the birdlife to the area that ex­cites the botanist the most. Just three weeks ago a pair of kaka were spot­ted in a Tawa re­serve.

Roper’s book in­cluded re­search that showed at least six bird species had re­turned in the past five years. ‘‘That makes all the hard work worth­while.’’

Tawa the Tree, the Com­mu­nity and its Re­serves, will be pub­lished through the Tawa His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and can be bought through the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, email ken.woodgate@xtra.co.nz


Botanist Gil Roper has writ­ten a book about Tawa, the sub­urb, and tawa the tree.

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