The Waitākere Ranges' Arataki Visitor Centre celebrates some of the area's most famous rascals this month with its display 'Rogues and Runaways of the Waitakere Ranges'.
“The Waitākere Ranges have attracted some very colourful characters over the last 150 years, people who have hidden from the authorities for a range of reasons,” says Arataki Visitor Centre Manager Glenn Browne.
“We have unearthed rare 1914 photos that are said to be of reclusive bohemian artists Cameron and Essie Johnson. We also have artifacts, on loan from Huia Settlers Museum, chronicling the shipwreck of the Orpheus in 1863 and the desertion of some of its crew into the bush.
"More recently, we have on loan a pair of genuine 1960s police handcuffs, the likes of which were used to capture petty criminal and bush escapee George Wilder.
"We have brought all of them to life in this display, and have included notes on the Waitākere experiences of these intriguing local rogues,” he says.
Entry to the visitor centre and the display is free. The display will be in place until the end of October.
The display features a painting of the Royal Navy vessel Orpheus, which foundered on the Manukau Bar in February 1863.
The shipwrecked crew were thought to be lost, but many had taken the chance to escape the harsh shipboard conditions and run for the hills to make a new life, despite the risk of being tried for desertion.
Burgeoning local industries surrounding the Waitākere Ranges and a ‘Wild West’ mentality at the time meant that many such newcomers with sketchy pasts were accepted without much question.
Early twentieth century runaways Cameron and Essie Johnson, a couple of artists with shady pasts, made their home in the Waitākere bush from 1904 to 1914.
There they raised three children in a nikau whare and made a precarious living selling their art. One of their paintings is on display, graciously loaned from the collection of Sandra Coney.
The Waitākere Ranges were also home more recently to petty criminal George Wilder.
The wily thief first escaped from New Plymouth prison in 1962. After being reported in Wellington and Rotorua, he made his way to the Waitākere Ranges where he stole bikes and burgled baches around Muriwai, Piha and Swanson – but tidied up afterwards.
George became something of a folk hero in the media for his clever evasion of police, cheeky-yet-courteous bach break-ins, adept bushcraft and rough living skills.
Included in the display is an original 45-rpm vinyl record of 'George the Wilder (NZ) Boy' by the Howard Morrison Quartet, a popular song banned when George was on the run.