Lucy Mackintosh explores complex local histories of Tāmaki Makaurau
13 May 2022
Lucy Mackintosh's PhD evolved into a book in which she explores the history behind key geographical features in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
What might Auckland’s history look like if it is followed from the ground up rather than from a bird’s eye view? This question goes to the heart of Lucy Mackintosh’s book Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
Drawing on geography, archaeology, mātauranga Māori, botany and material culture as well as written sources, Lucy has dug deep, like an archivist, into moments in the histories of three iconic Auckland places – the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve at Ihumātao, Pukekawa/Auckland Domain and Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill.
“These places tell multi-faceted and nuanced stories that are important to know alongside the more familiar histories of the city,” says Lucy.
For example, at the Auckland Domain, the story of the volcanic crater rim’s Māori name Pukekawa, “the hill of bitter memories”, reveals it is a place to commemorate those who died during the intertribal musket wars of the 1820s and 30s.
The story of the Pōtatau Te Wherowhero (later, the first Māori King) living in a specially built cottage in the Domain in the 1840s, with Ngāti Toa leader Te Rauparaha as a guest, adds another unexpected narrative to this iconic Auckland landmark. So, too, does the story of the Ah Chee family’s flourishing market gardens at its boundary from the late 19th century.
At Ihumātao, the site of 2019 protests, Lucy explores how the Mission Station and Ōtuataua Stonefields once operated as a “hybrid place”. Missionaries, Māori led by rangatira Epiha Pūtini, and local settlers lived cooperatively from 1846 until forced evictions at the start of the 1863 New Zealand Wars.
The histories I came across were very different from the ones I had learnt at university ... They had shaped local communities and wider Auckland, yet were invisible in published histories of the city.
The remnants of an old olive grove on the slopes of Maungakiekie tell another nuanced story, that not all Pākeha settlers were attempting “to duplicate a British landscape in the new colony”.
The author explains: “The landscapes in this book resist a singular story about Auckland. Instead, they open up its histories, making room for presences and absences, as well as voices and silences...”
Lucy graduated from the University in 1994 with a masters (honours) in history. Her interest then was in the emerging field of environmental history and her dissertation was on the pollution of the Tarawera River after the opening of the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill. It was after university that she began to learn about Auckland history while working as a historical and museum consultant for local and central government agencies.
“The histories I came across were very different from the ones I had learnt at university or read about in books. They were layered, deep, complex and often unresolved. They had shaped local communities and wider Auckland, yet they were invisible in published histories of the city.”
After two years in Connecticut working as a public historian and researching Māori collections in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, Lucy returned to Auckland.
In 2013, she enrolled in a PhD, focusing on the city’s history, with supervisors Professor Caroline Daley and Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond. Shifting Grounds grew from that.
As curator of history at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira since 2017, Lucy is responsible for “collecting things, and the stories that come with them”, and that goes some way to explaining her focus.
The work of British social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey, who describes places as “open, undetermined and porous”, has been an influence, as have the voices of New Zealand historians such as Nēpia Mahuika, who writes that our cities “were, and still are, colonial sites built on the bones and warmth of earlier Māori histories and settlements”.
Walking across and through the places she describes in this book has been an important process. Lucy has guided people to sites so they can have the same experience, particularly in the Domain, and says she is happy to continue doing this, “telling history from the ground up”.
Story by Tess Redgrave
Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, Bridget Williams Books (Hardback, $60), was short-listed for the Ockham Book Awards Illustrated Non-Fiction Award in 2022.
This feature will appear in the Autumn 2022 edition of Ingenio magazine.