The following article about the historic trees of Tawa was first published in the July 15, 1988, edition of the local newspaper “Te Awa Iti” (now Porirua City News).
Speaking of Tawa by Roma Henden
The Tawa Tree (Beilschmiedia) growing in profusion in the thick forests that once stretched from Wellington Harbour to the coast, still flourishes today in some of the last stands of native bush scattered throughput the area.
Standing tall amongst its fellows, the Tawa tree flaunts its light yellow-green foliage, bringing relief to the many darker species that inhabit the forest, and permeating the air with the fragrance that emanates from the slim, elongated leaves. The flowers are small, but the fruit is oval, quite large and dark prune coloured. The fruit is a great favourite of the native wood pigeon, has medicinal properties, and was once gathered, soaked, dried and pulped for food by the Maori people.
This tree of many talents is not very durable but, being soft and white, it was ideal for fashioning Maori bird spears. Today with modern treatments, the Tawa wood is used extensively in papermaking, and also for flooring, furnishings and wall panelling as evidenced in the Beehive Building, Wellington, where it has been attractively utilised on several floors.
I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree - Rupert Brooke 1887 - 1915.
Perhaps not the sentiments of those early settlers who came to the dense bush covered Tawa valley long ago, to clear the land, building their houses and make their mark in a strange alien environment, in a country so different from their own. Because of the vast numbers of Tawa trees in the vicinity, the area was, in due course, named The Tawa Flats, later, becoming Tawa Flat with the dropping of the The. The name Tawa Flat was first gazetted in 1851 and by 1854-55 this name had become firmly established. It remained thus until 1959 when the borough of Tawa Flat became the Borough of Tawa.
It is good to know that the district still has its fair quota of trees and that, with much lobbying and wise planning, has been able to retain a number of bush reserves, which add greatly to the appearance and attractiveness of the Borough.
We walk blithely by and don’t even realise that we have often been in close proximity to a little part of history. The old oak tree, standing to attention in front of the Oxford Street School, has its own special place in Tawa’s past, for it is a memorial to a twenty year old, one time pupil, who gave his life for his country in 1941. Eric Richardson was a fighter-pilot and son of Fred Richardson, who ran the first grocery store and Post Office store in Tawa. In memory of Eric, the then headmistress of Tawa School, Miss Margaret Magill, planted the oak in 1943. It is a protected tree.
Trees do have a part to play in keeping the past alive. Even if they cannot speak they can impact a sense of importance to a particular era. In the late 60s land owned by Curly Blight next to the school in Oxford Street, was cleared to make way for the building of several blocks of Flats. The widening of the road at that point necessitated the removal of three of four giant Camellia trees, which at that time were thought to be over one hundred years old. The decision to remove the trees and relocate them in the front of the new Flats was a good one. In spite of their age and the tremendous task of up-rooting and moving them, those trees still flourish and bloom prolifically today. The fourth Camellia stands in its original position besides Mrs C. Philip’s little house, which was one of the early schools in Tawa.
The Earp Macrocarpa “Bucket Tree” at Tawa’s southern end probably needs no introduction (except to new-comers to the district). It was planted about 1870 in front of the old Earp homestead, which once stood where the restaurant stands today. The tree was trimmed to its present shape by a Mr Frederick Westbury, who came out from England and went to work for Mr Earp. The magnificent tree, which towers above its fellows, is Tawa’s most famous landmark and has been declared an official Historic Place.
The oak tree in front of the Veterinary Clinic was planted in 1950 by George Gibson. George started up in the business of Laminated Kitchens about that time, and planted the tree before the section on which it now stands was sold and the Veterinary Clinic was established. George has retired now, and his son carries on the business, but the old tree still stands, undisturbed and ‘protected’.