Today in Auckland and Northland it's Anniversary Day.
One-hundred and seventy-seven years ago today, Governor Hobson and a crew of hangers-on arrived in the Bay of Islands. It is this that is celebrated on Anniversary Day. It was a few months later that Hobson and co. arrived in Auckland itself, climbed what we now call Mount Hobson, looked out at an isthmus hung between the sparkling waters of two natural harbours and declared, "This looks pretty good," and decided to make it the site of the new country's new capital.
Thankfully, the politicians left this fine city in 1865 for a windswept city further south, where we wait in vain for a big quake to knock them off. It's a better place without them.
But here's an Anniversary Day question for you to ponder. Mount Eden (or as it was known then, Maungawhau) was as desirable then as it is now. These days, properties on Mount Eden are some of the most expensive in the country - expensive because Mount Eden's slopes are so desirable. Yet when Hobson's small group climbed Mount Hobson and looked around, they were looking at an isthmus that had only just been resettled. Indeed, when Europeans first arrived in NZ, when Mount Eden's slopes were as desirable as they are now, they were empty. Why was that, do you think?
Notes David Simmons, in, Maori Auckland: "When Europeans came to Tamaki-makau-rau, they saw only a wilderness of scrub, for all the isthmus had been gardens and was in various stages of regeneration." Kiwi Tamaki's Waiohua tribe had spent the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries living and slash-and-burn gardening around Mount Eden (Maungawhau). These slopes had everything a seventeenth-century estate agent could dream of -- great defensive positions, fantastic northern slopes for kumara pits, and a wonderful location with an outlook over two sparkling harbours. Yet, because they were so desirable, they were empty.
Why were those slopes empty then, despite being as desirable as they are now, yet so expensively occupied today? Do you have the answer? I'll give you my own answer later today, and as a clue I'll suggest to you that it's a reason that makes colonisation, and Anniversary Day, something worth celebrating.
[UPDATE: The difference in essence is between ownership by right and ownership by conquest. I explain the difference more fully, and in the context of the Mount Eden example, in this article : Property Rights: A Blessing for Maori New Zealand.
In essence, I argue that whatever else it brought with it, colonisation brought with it what author Tom Bethell describes as the four blessing of secure property rights: peace, justice, liberty and prosperity. (You can find a link here to the opening chapter of Bethell's superb book 'The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages.')
That property rights in New Zealand have been only partially secure since 1840 is the reason we've all -- including Maori -- been only partially blessed.]
RELATED: Auckland, History, New Zealand