This weekend I had the opportunity to go up to the top of One Tree Hill, Auckland. Armed with my trusty camera, I decided to document the site, as well as tell the story that makes this photo somewhat more significant than a patch of parched grass looking out to a modern day metropolis. Hopefully, you too may come to appreciate this site as I did when I was up there.
This was once the place of a tall and solitary tree. In fact, the last time I was here it towered and overlooked the city as it grows. It’s glorious branches stretching into the sky and it seemed to take on an aura more than just a tree. This was a tree that meant something. This was a tree on which the place took it’s name.
The site now stands lifeless – barren, missing.
Once a vibrant Māori pā, the largest and most important in New Zealand prior to European settlement, the site now is void of any of that. The plaque that embellishes the obelisk that is the only thing that marks this hill as anything important in the history of this city. The obelisk itself can be seen for miles around, and serves as much of a metaphorical tree as we are ever going to get in the near future.
The obelisk; in accordance of John Logan Campbell’s will was erected in recognition of his admiration of the Māori people is all that now stands on the top of this national landmark. Logan Campbell was one of the first European’s to settle in the area in 1840. He built the first house in Auckland, which still survives today, and became the Auckland mayor in 1901, where coinciding with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York at the time, donated Cornwall Park to the people of New Zealand. There is no doubt that the monument is an enduring symbol of the mutual respect of Logan Campbell and the Māori people and serves as a substantial reminder for us today.
More than One Tree
The tree was once a grand Tōtara tree. The pā was deserted when European’s settled in the area, and the tree is said to have been cut down by an English settler and used for firewood. Logan Campbell himself tried to regrow a variety of native trees on the hill, in order to try and rectify the mistake his fellow settler had made, but none survived in the harsh conditions of life at the top. Two pines that were planted to provide some shelter for the natives from the prevailing wind survived. One was cut down, once again, supposedly for firewood. Once again, one tree remained on the hill.
In an ironic twist of fate, the tree that Logan Campbell had established in order to apologise to the local Māori, now stood as a symbol of the oppression Māori activists say the New Zealand Government have inflicted on them in past years. The fact that it was a non-native pine deemed it inappropriate by some for such an important place for Māori. It was attacked with a chainsaw in October 1994, coinciding with the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of 1835. A second attack 6 years later in October, 2000, damaged the tree beyond recovery, and the Auckland City Council were forced to remove the tree safely before it caused any damage.
My photo marks the location of the tree, on the edge of this hill overlooking the city. It used to lean, into the frame as it were, pointing towards the new landmark of the city, the Auckland Sky Tower (which can be seen in the city on the horizon). The barrenness of the foreground stands as a simple reminder of the empty feeling you get when you think of the history of this place. It was with complete sadness that I viewed the scene. Something was missing, it was quite obvious.
Twelve years have passed since it was cut down. And there is still debate as to what tree should be planted, and other Treaty of Waitangi claims by local iwi that is causing the delay in reviving this iconic spot. I hope that one day, one day not too far away, I might be able to return and photograph this location again with a slightly different view – maybe one with Pōhutakawa or Tōtara bark blocking out the city on the horizon, and the site can return to it’s peaceful resting state.