Church creates vital link to culture
Not only was it Otago Anniversary Day on Monday but Thursday was the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the John Wickliffe, the immigrant ship whose arrival is taken as day one of the colonial settlement of Ō tepoti Dunedin.
While many New Zealanders have just celebrated Irish culture on St Patrick’s Day, those of us with Scottish ancestry likely have a connection to the Otago anniversary, even if we don’t live there.
Historian Michael King wrote about what it is to be a Pakeha New Zealander and the culture that underpins that identity. Reflecting on the popularity of St Patrick’s Day commemorations, prompted me to wonder why other immigrant groups that derive from the United Kingdom don’t seem to have achieved the same level of cultural visibility as the Irish in New Zealand.
Some Scottish New Zealanders celebrate Burns Night on or around January 25 but I don’t recall hearing about Kiwis whose whanau emigrated from Wales celebrating St David’s Day on March 1, or of English New Zealanders whooping it up on St George’s Day on April 23.
Is that because many Pakeha New Zealanders no longer feel connected to those distant traditions or because few today are interested in expressing what it means to be a Pakeha New Zealanders of Scots, or Welsh or English ancestry?
If only Michael King was still alive to extend that conversation as we, rightfully, broaden the scope of our national identity to celebrate Matariki and enjoy the rich traditions of Chinese New Year and Diwali.
Of course the built environment embodies cultural histories and traditions that serve as a reminder of the contribution of the Scots and other colonial settler groups to the development of modern New Zealand.
Wherever there is a Presbyterian church there is tangible evidence of the way in which Scottish immigrants created both a link with home and a place for new ways of thinking about the church and its place in society. Tenders were called for a Presbyterian church at Gordonton in March 1918.
Then part of the Hamilton East parish of St Andrew’s, the Gordonton church hosted its first services on October 6, 1918 with the Rev Robert Mackie leading the congregation.
The Waikato Times reported that the singing at the morning and evening opening services ‘‘was of a special character, and was most hearty throughout’’.
Fred Daniell of Daniell & Cray was the architect of the new church, which was described as being ‘‘of modern design and in accord with popular taste’’; phrases that would likely have been more informative and evocative in 1918 than they are over 100 years later.
Welsh-born Daniell also designed St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (1913-14) and you can see similarities between the two buildings.
The Gordonton church was constructed from ‘‘Clark’s earthenware blocks’’, which were manufactured in Hobsonville in West Auckland, and finished in a combination of smooth cement plaster and roughcast.
A roof of Winstone’s ‘‘Taumarunui tiles’’ topped the gabled roof forms, which feature exposed rafters and lancet arched louvred vents in the main gable ends.
The tripartite windows have cusped uppers and are set in slightly curved frames; the interior rimu woodwork was supplied by the Kauri Timber Company.
Thomas Clements of Otahuhu, who was still in business in the 1930s, was the contractor and the rimu pulpit was gifted by Walter Sayers of Hamilton.
A Claudelands carpenter, Sayers was an elder of St Andrew’s Church and had acted as the clerk of works when that church was being erected to Daniell’s design.
Now known as the Oaks Christian Centre, the Gordonton church is part of the Fairfield Presbyterian parish. The standalone hall at the rear of the property was extant by 1963 and the north end of the church was greatly extended in 1994.
To what extent the congregation feels a connection to Scottish culture is unknown but perhaps a clan tartan is occasionally seen in the church or shortbread is served at morning tea after a Sunday service. Latha math (good day).