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Building walls, breaking barriers

Published: 16 October 2018
Volunteers building a traditional drystone wall at a site near the Ōtuataua Stonefields Reserve near Māngere. 

The Ōtuataua Stonefields Reserve is one of the last remnants of stonefields in Auckland. Situated about 7km southwest of Māngere on the shore of the Manukau Harbour, it’s an internationally significant heritage landscape and an important archaeological site.

For Science of the Soul, a charitable society that owns a property next to the stonefields, learning about the area’s heritage and history has gone hand in hand with developing the site to house a community church.

Trustee Baruch ter Wal says the society knew the site was special, but the layers of heritage impressed them nonetheless. Ōtuataua Stonefields is one of the oldest occupied sites in New Zealand, dating back to first Māori settlement in around 1300, and is one of the first places settled by Pākehā farming families in the 1800s.

Heritage protections 

“Auckland Council saw that in good faith we were very interested in protecting the heritage rather than doing away with it; we built a good relationship that we continue to enjoy,” Baruch says.

To help protect the site’s heritage, Auckland Council imposed strict guidelines as part of consent process for the development. These ensured the requirements of local iwi and the council heritage unit were met in relation to the placement of the church and the preservation of heritage buildings.

They also called for the restoration of the area’s characteristic drystone walls, many of which had to be entirely rebuilt – posing a difficult challenge to the church volunteers.

Knowledge from Scotland

Enter Scotsman Colin Christie, a drystone wall expert who learnt how to build the walls, which are constructed without mortar or concrete, back in his homeland. He taught the Science of the Soul volunteers how to restore and build the walls from the ground up, and they got straight to work.

The project involved rebuilding more than a kilometre of dilapidated walls and required tonnes of stone. The volunteers finished the project in a year, working only on weekends – well within the two-year target set by Auckland Council.

Amazing results

Mica Plowman, an Auckland Council Heritage Advisor, says the result is amazing.

“They’ve done far more than what was asked of them – restoring the entire western wall, which was considered beyond repair, and attaining the skill to manage the walls as a community in perpetuity,” she says.

Project Manager Ramesh Ranjani says, “The church will be there for the next 100 years or more. This is a legacy for future generations and we’re really proud of what the team has achieved.”