I took these two photos above yesterday. Of which I have three questions for you:
- Where is it?
- What is traced on the ground in the foreground of each?
- Why are there so few people around?
Clues later, if no-one gets them all, or any.
First question has been answered, by both Don and PM of NZ: This is Otuataua Stonefields on the Manukau Harbour at Ihumatao, Mangere – all alone and deserted on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the place has been in the news all month. The top photo looks westward towards Titirangi, Laingholm & Cornwallis.
The Otuataua stone fields are something of a hidden gem from New Zealand’s history; “a lost world”, as archaeologist Dave Veart describes it. It’s there, he says, that the first New Zealanders planted Aotearoa’s first gardens, spreading out across thousands of hectares of what is now the city of Auckland… This piece of publicly owned land is where Auckland began, before Europeans even knew New Zealand existed. “It’s one of those places where the past and present are very close.”
What you’re seeing close up in those photos at the head of the post are the foundations of a house (shown above in yellow highlight), possibly dating back to the 1400s – “outlines of what would have once been known as a ‘Chief’s house’” -- which would make the stones perhaps the oldest house remains in the country, on land first occupied by man perhaps 8-900 years ago when the Tainui canoe stopped on its trip of migration that ended, finally, in Kawhia.
So for all it looks like nothing very much, that does make this place pretty special.
This is one of the oldest settlements in New Zealand, becoming home to Maori [in] 1100 AD, when Moa still roamed and was yet to Rangitoto erupt.
As someone said about the place just last week, "This is the place where Polynesians became Maori."
And so it is. And it does feel very eerie to stand there alone in such a place just minutes from Auckland’s bustle.
The place is also controversial. The person who points out that this place marks this important historical and anthropological transition is a protestor – opposing a proposed Fletcher’s housing development right next door that has been given the green light as one of Nick Smith’s Special Housing Areas. Being an SHA, the proposal for 480 desperately-needed houses avoids most of the time-consuming consultation and reportage that the RMA normally demands of an applicant (and being Fletcher’s, well, you can almost feel the favours being called in and the stamp of approval being readied). And it’s all-but certain that the 480 houses will be as beige as can be, a series of cook-cutter boxes on a suburban grid paying no mind at all to its important archeological neighbour.
But it does have to be stressed for those new to the story that the houses are very much-needed, and the proposed development is a neighbour, not an occupant. It is proposed for private farmland next door to the Stonefields site; and so far the only archaeological evidence on the farmland itself that can be found are two lava caves that deserve and will get special protection, and a kitchen midden hastily revealed just last fortnight.
Which is why, when it’s this special, this controversial, and this timely (here’s the report on TVNZ last night), I had to wonder why it was so empty on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Austrian economists talk about something called Demonstrated Preference, which is to say that whatever we say we value, our actions reveal our values much more plainly. What is demonstrated by so many people’s choice to stay away from this special spot on a sunny Sunday is that whatever people say about how much they value the site, their actions in staying away say something different.
Reconstruction of the whare on the remains: this is what one of the first houses in the country could have looked like.
(Photo from Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, image created by TVNZ producer)