Jolisa had the wood on them

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

What’s in a name?

Plenty when a cam­paign with a cast of thou­sands saves Auck­land his­toric po­hutukawa trees from death – with the case for their sur­vival com­ing from Jolisa GRACE­WOOD and other massed tree-lovers. Grace­wood in­deed. She had the wood on the ‘‘chopthem-down’’ van­dals of trans­port plan­ners who wanted just that to help them with their train sys­tem.

More than that, the lat­est battle – with plan­ners want­ing to butcher priceless trees at 820 Great North Rd – had prece­dents aplenty.

One tree in the then city bus ter­mi­nal was sen­tenced to chain­saw death. I was in the Auck­land Star edi­tor’s chair that day and or­dered an ‘‘Oh no, you don’t!’’ ed­i­to­rial on page one.

I also con­trived to have the typed story shaped like a tree. To be hon­est, in those hot metal and non-dig­i­tal days, that tree looked like a ten­nis rac­quet. But the im­age and the words had real im­pact.

Tree lovers ral­lied to the cause and the mur­der of the ma­ture tree was scrapped.

If it still stands there all those decades later, it should be a per­ma­nent warn­ing to bu­reau­cratic plan­ners that tak­ing axes and chain saws to our his­tory is not on.

His­tory, that’s what’s in­volved, Jolisa Grace­wood, the voice of Po­hutukawa Savers, told Auck­land Trans­port mem­bers with chap­ter and verse.

Her or­a­tory prompted a unani- mous change of plan – and saved the trees.

Coin­ci­dently, when Arbor Day was of­fi­cially re­vived in New Zealand in 1933 af­ter ex­ten­sive lob­by­ing by Mr N R W Thomas, the Gov­ern­ment sug­gested that lo­cal bod­ies mark the day with treeplant­ing cer­e­monies.

Mr Thomas was not just an ar­dent con­ser­va­tion­ist and pre­server of green space. He was also a po­hutukawa en­thu­si­ast.

He is be­lieved re­spon­si­ble for the mem­o­rable av­enue of po­hutukawa in the Domain run­ning from the duck pond to Stan­ley St.

The trees mark the route of a planned road. Af­ter con­certed public ob­jec­tions (sounds familiar), the road was never built.

But Mr Thomas’ pre­emp­tive, just-in-case beau­ti­fi­ca­tion re­mains.

Po­hutukawa av­enues were a popular civic project in both is­lands dur­ing this pe­riod.

In 1930, the Auck­land Star had pro­posed just such a plant­ing for the Great South Rd: ‘‘An av­enue of po­hutukawa in bloom would be a dis­tinc­tive in­tro­duc­tion to the city.’’

In June 1934, the su­per­in­ten­dent of parks, T S Aldridge, wrote to the town clerk.

‘‘It is pro­posed to plant po­hutukawa trees along the frontage of the area known as the golf links, Great North Rd . . . it would give jobs to the un­em­ployed’’.

Dy­na­mite blasted holes into the rock and al­lowed tree-plant­ing. About 700 re­lief work­ers – un­em­ployed men on the dole – spent 18 months clean­ing up and im­prov­ing a large area of rough vol­canic land known as the Stone Jug re­serve.

They planted five large po­hutukawa at 820 Great North Rd in 1934 as a fin­ish­ing touch to the con­struc­tion of Cham­ber­lain Park, trans­form­ing it from waste­land to a source of civic pride.

Trees were in. The then mayor, Mr G V Hutchinson, over­saw the plant­ing and the trees grew.

The coun­cil in the 30s was par­tic­u­larly ea­ger to plant na­tive trees on its prop­er­ties. In the pre­vi­ous three years, 7500 were planted in city parks and re­serves.

The au­thor­i­ties wanted chil­dren to be­come in­ter­ested in trees. There was a need to beau­tify the land. The mayor said it was ‘‘the duty of the com­mu­nity to care for trees’’. Both hopes flour­ished. Lo­cal res­i­dent Roimata Mac­gre­gor (Knight Ave, Mt Al­bert) traces the Great North Rd plant­ing to the Great De­pres­sion, with a spe­cific fam­ily con­nec­tion: ‘‘ My mother told me when we drove by the trees that my grand­fa­ther, Fred John­ston, was among the peo­ple who planted them.’’

I won­der what present Auck­land project will prompt young­sters’ in­ter­est 20 years from now?

Maybe the ru­ins of what was once a casino! Want a bet on it?

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