Book review: New Zealand’s Lost Heritage, by Richard Wolfe

Available at book stores now.

Richard Wolfe’s New Zealand’s Lost Heritage, cv_new_zealands_lost_heritagepublished by New Holland Publishers in November 2013, is a fascinating collection of landmarks and buildings we have let slip through our fingers via natural forces, commercial greed or communal apathy.

Wolfe devotes a chapter to each of his selected twenty examples of heritage buildings, writing about their construction, redevelopment and community significance; these chapters are illustrated with watercolour paintings for earlier days and later, photographs. The book also includes interesting – some, even amusing – extracts from reported news stories written in period.

Some landmarks I had never before heard of, some I have never seen, but each story brings the landmark to life in interesting ways.

The opening chapter devoted to Ruapekapeka fortified pā was an eye opener. The description of the wiliness which went into its construction by the Maori, under chief Kawiti, and aided by sketches drawn at the time by British soldiers, revealed a natural talent for shelter and protection from the bomb-blasts and cannon fire. (I found it spoiled somewhat by the lack of publisher’s or printer’s application of macrons where appropriate for Te Reo Māori.)

Another favourite chapter is that devoted to Edmonds Sure To Rise factory in Christchurch. Wolfe tells of T L Edmonds’ earlier industry and how it led to his specialisation in baking powder, that pantry staple of the New Zealand housewife and baker. Interestingly, I learned of two Edmonds’ products of which I’d not before known. I was disappointed Wolfe gave no mention of the Edmonds Cake Baking Powder – essential for the home baker without access to eggs, and available up to the very early 1980s, but no mind. It is pleasing to learn that the Edmonds parkland and gardens are still being cherished by Christchurch city.

Other landmarks include Auckland’s His Majesty’s Theatre and Arcade, the Victoria Arcade, Partington’s Mill, Hiona (at Maungapōhatu), Rangiātea (at Ōtaki), and the Lyttelton Timeball Station (my restorative instinct cries out for this to be reconstructed!).

Wolfe’s style is that of a friendly conversationalist, helpfully filling in our blanks of what should be common or general knowledge of our heritage. It is a pity it is marred by a (very) few typographical or editorial errors. Its index is comprehensive and helpful, while references for each chapter provide those interested with a trail to follow to further information or to confirm Wolfe’s sources, and picture credits complement the references section.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

New Zealand’s Lost Heritage
by Richard Wolfe
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
ISBN 9781869963872