|OVERSEEING HISTORY: Warren Shaw, president of Clevedon & Districts Historical Society, in front of the McNicol Homestead. Photography by Marianne Kelly. |
Duncan and Maureen McNicol came to New Zealand in 1853 from the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland after an unsuccessful foray to the Australian gold fields. Their grand home, on the corner of the Clevedon-Kawakawa Road and the road named after them, McNicol Road, stands as a sentinel overlooking Clevedon village, which in their day was called Wairoa South.
The house shifted out of family hands in the 1960s and about 1980 the next owner gifted it to the then Manukau City Council (MCC).
Today the Auckland Council is financing an interior facelift which will restore the house to its original glory. It is leased from the council by the Clevedon and Districts Historical Society which has a volunteer roster of 14 people who open the house to the public every weekend.
The renovation is expected to be finished soon and the society’s president Warren Shaw is optimistic that the house can be re-opened to the public in May.
The work is a continuation of renovation started by the former MCC in 2008. At that time $111,377 was spent to bring the house up to an acceptable standard, says Jeffrey Yeh, of Auckland Council property and building projects. The work included replacing severely rotted timber weatherboards and veranda posts, interior and exterior painting, wall-papering the hallway, office, upstairs exhibition rooms, updating the electrical system, timber borer treatment, upgrading the toilet and bathroom and floors and ceilings were waxed.
MCC also appointed a heritage architect to oversee the refurbishment work. This year Auckland Council set aside a $48,000 budget to finish off the remaining wallpapering, flooring, carpeting and painting to the ground floor main exhibition room, kitchen, upstairs writers’ room and a display kitchen.
Under the scrupulous eye of the heritage architect, the work has involved the painstaking job of restoring the kauri flooring and stairway by a chemical clean and then a Briwax wood care finish.
Slapping a panel of gibraltar board over the top of the old scrim wall coverings is a no-no in 1800s parlance. But, because it’s virtually impossible to buy scrim these days, hessian cloth is being used as a substitute.
Wallpaper replaced in the hallway and other rooms during the previous renovation replicates the scrim look, meeting the heritage specifications.
However, for the rooms presently under renovation, the 1800s style will be achieved with special handcrafted wallpaper. It has been imported from the long-standing English company Colefax & Fowler, recognised for epitomising the best of English style.
Meanwhile an upstairs bedroom is being converted to a heritage kitchen. The display fire place has had its surround repainted and a new tiled hearth will be installed.
The society’s extensive collection of old photographs and trophies from the district is being mounted in one of the bedrooms, while a military room includes original guns dating back to the Maori land wars.
The skills of long-standing resident and joinery craftsman Fraser Murray add special touches to the homestead, such as timber-trimmed, giant-sized photo album leaves attached to the wall for turning and a stunning set of shallow drawers to house documents.
Along with a kauri and rimu reception desk, the society uses a roller door cabinet which houses a variety of cubby holes, originally used at the Clevedon Post Office.
Another sense of history can be experienced from the homestead’s upstairs balcony looking over the Wairoa River.
It’s easy to visualise the Clevedon Steam Navigation Company’s steamer, Hirere, which was commissioned in 1896 to service the community. It took four hours to reach Auckland, people were given four hours in the city and then had to reboard the boat for the home trip to catch the tide turning up the river.
In 1927 the boat was retired after the roads improved.
Fraser Murray writes in his book Yester Years that the river over 75 years played a vital, and in earlier times almost exclusive, part in developing a huge area “and must have touched a countless number of lives.
“It is part of us. Such things should not be forgotten.”
Warren says the area just before the Clevedon-Kawakawa Road Bridge was known as a port.These days, the pioneers’ steps are being retraced as Pine Harbour Ferries brings weekend trippers up the river for special functions.