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Auckland Heritage Festival whispers city's secrets

Tāmaki Makaurau celebrates people who shaped its unique character

Published: 31 August 2020

See Aotea Square in its former glory using a new augmented reality app bringing the 1800s to 2020; hear why women weren’t expected to respond to the call of nature in public places until 1910; and prepare to be intrigued by unexpected artefacts found in the rubble of recent city works.

These are just some of the stories Auckland Heritage Festival is weaving into words, walks, pictures, parks, talks, poetry and songs as Auckland Council prepares to bring multiple events - in person and online - to the region from 26 September to 11 October 2020.

Event holders are set up to follow the COVID-19 protocols required at the prevailing alert level and mass gathering limit. However, if a 10-person mass gathering limit remains in place on 26 September, every endeavour will be made to move events online.

Councillor Alf Filipaina, Chair of the Parks, Arts, Community and Events Committee says there is something in the festival’s storytelling for everyone including special events for children during the school holidays.

The programme of events has been designed to entertain, inform and enlighten with 2020’s intriguing theme: Uncover secrets and stories of Tāmaki Makaurau.

The 2020 festival programme is now live at heritagefestival.co.nz

If physical events are able to go ahead, this is a taste of what’s to come:

Tales of colourful characters in music

Join Chris Priestley and the musical storytellers Unsung Heroes with Cameron Bennett, Nigel Gavin and Sonia Wilson bringing colourful characters to life in music, with images of Auckland from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Kiwi actor Peter Elliott will read from old newspaper articles in multiple accents, building intrigue and stepping the audience back in time. In the music you’ll meet illusionist, tight rope walker and creator of ‘Boneless Boy’, Darling Jennie, who captured the hearts of concert hall audiences around New Zealand in the mid-1800s.

Hear the story of Bobby Leach who threw himself over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. Badly injured, fearless Bobby survived the daredevil stunt only to slip on an orange peel in Onehunga and come to an untimely end. Hear about ‘Captain Lorraine’ (aka Charles Mahoney) who parachuted from hot air balloons and the touching tale of Don Buck, officially Francisco Rodriquez Figuero, a legendary figure who ran a gum diggers’ camp in Auckland’s old west. This event carries a ticket price.

Urban street history in poetry

Walk with the Pua Brothers and ‘feel’ the history of Karangahape Road through their eyes as children of the neighbourhood. Join Samoan street historian Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua and his younger brother Sofi Ulugia-Pua for a stroll through Ponsonby discovering the Pacific urban history, secrets and stories of the area. 

Auckland became known as the largest Polynesian city in the world. It’s an entertaining and emotionally touching walking tour enriched with music, poetry and performance.  

Lifting the lid on public toilets

Learn why it took until 1910 for Auckland women to get their first public toilet. Join Auckland Council’s Vicky Spalding in an exhibition called ‘Flushed Out’ lifting the lid on the history of the city’s public toilets – from the 1800s to the present day. An Edwardian Baroque style men’s and women’s toilet facility, pictured, was built in 1910 to much fanfare on the corner of Symonds Street and Grafton Bridge at a cost of 600 pounds. They were the first conveniences to also offer a tram stop and the first public toilet for women. Prior to this, women who wished to use a public toilet were expected to visit the public library (now the Auckland Art Gallery), the train station or a department store.

Fast-forward a century to the Creek Lane Helensville public toilets with an artistic form of corrugated iron tank with feature portholes of ships and sea-life, by artist Jeff Thomson.  

Unveiling coastal defences

Uncover secrets of Auckland’s historic coastal defences emplaced during the Russian War Scares of the 1880s. Join author Russell Glackin on a tour of Maungauika / North Head and learn about the arrival of the Russian cruiser Kaskowiski in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour in 1873 and the controversy over two Boeing flying boats rumoured to have been stored in secret tunnels and hidden rooms around 1925.

60 years of television

Join the team from Gus Fisher Gallery in a tour and exhibition. Lisa Beauchamp, Curator of Contemporary Art and Hannah Burgoyne, Gallery Coordinator, have researched the pioneering history of New Zealand television that took place at Shortland Street Studios. The exhibition The Medium is the Message: Television Now and Then brings together rarely seen archival film footage, images and objects that look back to the early days alongside ground-breaking artworks by contemporary artists.

If walls could speak

Learn the notorious history of Lake House Arts including a ‘lady in white’. Join Grae Burton who has a background in theatre and film including his role as associate producer of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. An artist himself using cutting edge virtual and augmented reality technology and projection mapping and now artistic director of Lake House Arts, Grae will walk you through the 130-year history of the classic building, one of the earliest galleries exhibiting local art on the North Shore. He will reveal the building’s role in a Dave Dobbyn music video and a ‘lady in white’ who is rumoured to appear in ghost form from time to time.


Auckland Heritage Festival is brought to the region by Auckland Council and proudly presented by Ryman Healthcare.

For dates, details and daily updates of events please visit heritagefestival.co.nz

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Auckland Heritage Festival – coming up in week one

Uncover the secrets and stories of Tāmaki Makaurau with multiple events - in person and online - coming to the region from 26 September to 11 October.