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Wellingtonian is doing Mahurangi proud

by 15 Dec 2007Regatta 20080 comments

Waiwera Hotel, wharf and Mahurangi Island, Henry Winkelmann

Waiwera Mahurangi Regatta Connection: With its iron-piled wharf long outlasting Scotts Landing’s wooden one and readily allowing yacht crews, most of who were Waitematā homeward bound anyway, ashore, Waiwera, with its Gaiety Hall, and hotel, became the natural venue for Mahurangi Regatta Prize Giving and Dance, until the regatta lapsed during World War II. The sea stack is Mahurangi Island. image Henry Winkelmann

For far more than 150 years, the Mahurangi Regatta has been the Mahurangi community’s singular annual event.

The after-match functions must have taken many forms, but by the 1940s they had migrated from Scotts Landing to Waiwera’s Gaiety Hall. The reason, of course, was that the wharf at Scotts Landing, long deteriorating, had finally sailed out to sea, on the tide following a storm.

Waiwera Wharf was still serviceable—barely though. What was left of the iron structure was demolished by Ōrewa builder and slide guitarist, Dave Winslow, in the late 1950s. Dave’s band, the Ōrewa Surf Riders, was classic World War II Hawaiian. The band was the obligatory fare for Ōrewa District High School dances, until some ingrate without a cause brought in the Acker-aping Busmen. The Busmen for the most part were Tate’s Motors drivers, whose lot otherwise was to pilot rigs seemingly with more gears than nominal horsepower, daily grinding their way to the metropolis and back, and ferrying school children—one Ōrewa boy actually rode on to attend a North Shore school, daily.

The band that played at those last prize-giving dances was based in the Mahurangi West – Pūhoi area. BeauGiven name: Frederick Jackson of Huawai Bay was a band member. Beau’s accounts of he and his brothers and other local musicians playing were the inspiration behind seeking out a band that might become a regular fixture of the event. It was envisaged that many of the band members would get to sail in the regatta during the afternoon—this ideal is still to be realised.

Jenny Eirena

Resident Vocalist: Prohibition Big Band vocalist Jenny Eirena is a Warkworth resident. With the swing band’s leader, Trevor Thwaites, they are performing here as Zingaro—the name, apparently, not directly inspired by the largest scow of them all, Zingaro. Mahurangi Magazine January 2007

After some disappointing leads, the Prohibition Big Bandthe spirit of which is now embodied in the West City Jazz Orchestra was recommended, and it had strong local connections. Vocalist Jenny Eirena’s were specifically with Matakana, but she and her family were soon to buy a house in the Mahurangi tidehead town of Warkworth. Trombonist Bill Tweed’s classic 1950s bachNew Zealand vernacular for crib or shanty, from bachelor faces the venue from across the harbour, immediately above the Jamieson Bay boat ramp.

When Mahurangi Actionestablished 1974 as Friends of the Mahurangi revived the Mahurangi Regatta, in 1977, there was no commensurate initiative to revive the prize-giving and dance.

David Parker, when planning the celebrations for Warkworth’s 150th celebrations, suggested that the 2004 Mahurangi Regatta be the grand finale of several months of events—Dave, now deservedly a Rodney District councillor, was aware of the historical importance of the regatta to the town, including the days when the scow Jane Gifford provided both the transport down river but also the best seats in the house.

To really push the boat out, Mahurangi Action saw the opportunity to revive the prize-giving and dance. Given the historic importance of the occasion, the dance was styled the Mahurangi Regatta Ball. This was done with the support of the Mahurangi Cruising Club, which from 1988 had built the regatta into biggest wooden boat meet in Aotearoa. Along with the classic boat events, the club had established a prize-giving and barbecue for the proponents, on the beach in front of Scott Homestead.

Such was the success of the ball, which had a World War II theme, that the pervading opinion on the night was that it must be an annual event. Wiser and more weary souls, counselled:

Maybe, but not on this scale; not every year.

The decision as to what to do for the following year was made easy. The Auckland Regional Council had announced the Mahurangi Action Plan, in response to the science that was indicating the harbour was under stress from an elevated sediment accumulation rate. The regional council’s project leader, Stefan Seitzer, asked if a regatta after-match function could be held to provide an opportunity to launch the action plan.

Beau Jackson

Inspiration for Resident Regatta Band: Having played it, effectively since 2004, the West City Jazz Orchestra could be said to the resident Mahurangi Regatta prize giving and dance band. The inspiration for the notion the regatta after-match function musicians would become family, came from Beau Jackson’s accounts of he, his brothers and other local musicians playing the prize giving and dance gig, held at Waiwera. photographer Michael Cole Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi publisher Mahurangi Action

The function was to have been held at Sullivan Bay, but with the forecast for strong easterly weather, the beach regatta and after-match function were moved to Scotts Landing. This had been the practice, prior to the regatta lapsing during the war years—to hold the regatta on the sheltered side of the harbour. The adverse forecast gifted the organisers the opportunity to re-establish the practice, and an easterly forecast resulted in the 2006 regatta also being held at Scotts Landing.

With the prize-giving and dance now firmly established, the challenge became how to make it financially sustainable. The 2005 event was substantially supported by Auckland Regional Council and, in 2006, by Rodney District Council.

This year’s prize-giving and dance was held without either council contributing. It also suffered a dramatic downturn in takings by the cash bar—New Zealanders, characteristically early adopters, now invariably carry ‘plastic’ and seldom cash. Fortunately, there was still sufficient cash in circulation for the gourmet burgers to sell out, again.

At that regatta, a regular attendee, hailing from Wellington, had taken trouble the praise the format and offer his support. So, after agonising over how the costs of this season’s regatta—Saturday 26 January—could be covered, a call was placed to the capital. By agreeing to underwrite the event, the yachtsman put Mahurangi Action and the Mahurangi Cruising Club in the joyous position of being able to confirm the booking of the marquee and 18-piece swing band.

Some will wonder why Mahurangi Action Incorporated—with its primary concern the harbour’s elevated sediment accumulation rate—is preoccupied with the prize-giving and dance, or the Mahurangi Regatta itself, for that matter. Two words: Long-term strategy.

Restoring the water quality in the harbour—to anything approaching its clarity 174 years ago, when steel saws first ripped into the indigenous forest that clothed the steep erodible soils of the catchment—is a long-term project. Building support for the half century of sustained work that will be needed, if the Rotorua Lakes experience is anything to go by, won’t be achieved overnight.

The Mahurangi Regatta is the singular opportunity for locals to celebrate this jewel—the first natural harbour north of Auckland—with the Aucklanders and friends from further afield for whom Mahurangi is a favourite place.

The singular opportunity to commit or re-commit to doing all that can reasonably be done, to do the Mahurangi proud.