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Dedicated to democratic climate-action mobilisation and the Mahurangi

J Barry Ferguson – ebullient friend of the Mahurangi

author Ciminopublished 20231119notified 20231201

J Barry Ferguson awaiting to board, on his 92nd birthday

Two-Decade Lifelong Friend of the MahurangiOriginal name of Mahurangi Action Incorporated: Friends of the Mahurangi: Without waiting to be asked, Barry Ferguson stumped up the $16 000 shortfall in funds to hand, plus some, to purchase a surplus-to-operations aluminium landing barge from Auckland Council. Pictured here, about to board the J Barry Ferguson , on the occasion of his 92nd birthday. photographer Maree Owston-Doyle

J Barry Ferguson (1931–2023) became a friend of the MahurangiFriends of the Mahurangi was name of Mahurangi Action Incorporated when established, in 1974 even before he left Long Island. For his two, too-brief decades here, Barry lived in  the Mahurangi, not in his illustrious New York past, as grateful and as proud as he was to have been unambiguously embraced by that exalted metropolis.

Barry brought his natural Wellington-born, New York-honed impatience with him, literally transforming his new 9 Ngārewa Drive property, top—by adding another floor—to freshly clivia-carpeted, forest-floor bottom. Despite that, Barry still made time to help design the Mahurangi Regatta Ball grand finale of Warkworth’s 150th anniversary celebrations—the 20th anniversary of that regatta after-match-function revival is on 27 January. Each Mahurangi Regatta after-match function since has striven to incorporate more of Barry’s initial, Oyster Bay-style detail—flowers in a proper bathroom for the ladies, to name but one yet-to-be-realised detail. Barry would indubitably have approved of the new, Bedouin-style Mahurangi Regatta marquee that will so perfectly grace its Scotts Landing setting, this Auckland Anniversary weekend.

Flowers Are My Passport, J Barry Ferguson, Regatta Special stickered

Regatta Bailer-Outer in Cash and in Kind: Although no sailor, J Barry Ferguson threw his expertise behind the 2004 Mahurangi Regatta Ball, and more recently, when the Mahurangi Regatta Prize-Giving Dance was wallowing, his cash—the proceeds of the online auctioning of the balance of his botanical prints and copies this book. image Mahurangi Gallery

Although Barry would invariably volunteer that yachts were not his thing, he cheerfully bailed the regatta out, on a recent occasion—and, had he been asked, he would have readily contributed to this summer’s regatta upgrades. Within this last month, he insisted that those at his bedside “shush”, while he extracted a solemn assurance that he be informed as to how he could contribute. The fact that the particular heroic—megalomaniacal, even—project was far from shovel-ready, honourably permitted that promise to be allowed to lapse. Meanwhile, the name J Barry Ferguson will  be at the regatta, flying from the masthead of the landing barge fittingly named for him. Barry, after demanding to be updated on the planned purchase, and learning of the shortfall asked:

Sixty thousand?

When told:

Sixteen,  thousand!

…Barry responded with a beautifully Brooklynesque shrug of the shoulders:

Sixteen thousand—I can cover that! 

Barry’s name will also be there at the regatta on the back of a thousand keepsake prints of the hmss Buffalo off Spar Station Cove. Barry was the first local to join Rowan Atkinson’s cobber, London King’s Counsel Bob Moxon Browne, in commissioning the Paul Deacon masterpiece, which is the only known depiction of the Auckland region’s first Pākehā settlement.

Not every progressive project pursued by Barry was pulled off. In support of soulmate Beverly Simmons, Barry had invested generously in the agonised but ultimately munificent restoration of the Warkworth Town Hall, and then in its outfitting, contributing to a robust audiovisual system featuring a near theatre-sized retracting screen. After selling up at Mahurangi West and moving to Rivendell Place, Barry passed by the hall practically every day—he was offended by the lack of a building name, on the town hall’s bland Art Deco, Alnwickpronounced: An-nick Street façade. Despite Barry paying the hall’s heritage architect for the design costs, and being willing to pay for the fashioning and affixing of the bronze letters, the building still sits there mute—denied its legitimate introduction. Generous to a fault to his adopted Mahurangi Barry might have been, but he was no muggins—he was affronted by, and resolute in rejecting, the council’s insistence he shell out thousands purely for consent, under the Resource Management Act,  to address its  glaring omission.

HMSS Buffalo off Spar Station Cove, Paul Deacon

Buffalo in the Harbour: Although a London King’s Counsel was the inaugural member, J Barry Ferguson was the first Mahurangi resident to join Bob Moxon Browne in the syndicate that commissioned this first-ever depiction of the Auckland region’s first European settlement. Moxon Browne’s The Moxon Brownes, includes a chapter about his indirect ancestor Gordon Davis Browne, who established the spar station—short-lived, in the event alluded to here. ‘Phiz’Hablot Knight Browne, Charles Dickens’ illustrator, was Gordon Browne’s putative brother. Portrayed on her Mahurangi arrival, hmss Buffalo, about to brutally cut out the free-enterprise middleman. marine artist Paul Deacon

The other hall dear to Barry’s heart was, of course, what was  the Mahurangi Heads West School. Cute as a button, the diminutive building was lovingly and professionally restored by the community—with Barry having donated the audiovisual finishing touches to that project too. Appropriately, Barry presented his NZ to NY  travelogue there. Barry, having walked the route with his wonderfully walkaholic sister, Nanalthough Barry could never address his sister Nancy Burrows as Nan, Nan is what she desired he, along with everybody else, call her: “It was always Ted and Nan!”, Nan increasingly insists, and a band of supporters in 2015, became one of the Mahurangi Coastal Path’s most constant proponents. Barry—the inveterate traveller and tour leader—having enjoyed all manner of coastal and wilderness walks worldwide, couldn’t countenance the nimbyism of residents who scraped the bottom of the barrel for excuses to deny visitors the pleasure of walking the Mahurangi coastline.

Warkworth Town Hall naming sign mock up

Town Hall with No Name: J Barry Ferguson couldn’t abide seeing the Warkworth Town Hall deprived the dignity of displaying its building name. But what Ferguson more deeply didn’t abide—on top of having paid the heritage-architecture fees, and being prepared to pay for the casting and affixing of the bronze letters—was being charged $2000 for consent to complete the restoration the council left unfinished. Meantime, an Art Deco coming-attractions display was rejected outright by the restoration architect. Had it not been, the film society that Ferguson was so keen to foster, might well have taken off. What might have been its premier—a screening of Sunset Boulevard  —the come-back star of which, Gloria Swanson, was a friend of Barry’swas  a success. mockup Mahurangi Magazine

Mahurangi  is used to define a much larger region than the immediate Mahurangi watershed—the Kaipara ki Mahurangi electorate, and the reach of the Mahurangi Matters, are just two examples. Barry’s twin Mahurangi passion was for the good work of the Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary Society, including by famously adding some Oyster Bay flair to the society’s Art in the Woolshed fundraisers.

Prior to the event, Barry was genuinely ambivalentafter that milestone, prone to saying, “When I reached the door marked 90, I shouldn’t have gone through it!” about the celebration of his “umpteenth”—his 90th—birthday. When the salubrious Tu Ngutu Villa, along Ngārewa Drive from where he had lived for most of his Mahurangi life, was being booked—the owner waived the venue charges saying:

Barry deserves it!

In the event, Barry awoke on 10 February 2021 relieved to have made it to that milestone birthday, and afterwards said the celebration could not  have been better. Earlier, watching Barry unerringly devise the seating arrangements was to see the accomplished events designer for New York’s rich and famous, at near the height of his powers.

Mahurangi West Hall, 20190907

Cute-as-a-Button Community–Council Self-Funding Exemplar: Thanks to community nous, muscle, and philanthrope, and council coffers, the restored Mahurangi West Hall pays for its own upkeep, then some. The council-funded marquee site—out of shot, left—coupled with the ambiance conferred by the the 1886 Mahurangi Heads West Schoolformer schoolhouse, makes for an attractive, income-earning wedding venue. J Barry Ferguson’s NZ to NY  travelogue debuted here, courtesy of the audiovisual equipment he’d earlier funded. image Mahurangi Magazine

9 Ngārewa Drive is, of course, where Barry wrote his memoire Flowers Are My Passport. It is a short, charming Kiwi-boy-does-good-on-a-global-stage account, deftly edited, and beautifully illustrated and bound—a tasteful testimony to a charming and cultured man. But Barry packed a punch, and he was left feeling cheated that so much of his manuscript had been excised, in pursuit of the major New Zealand publisher he’d been sure would oblige him to make his memoir a best-seller. Having found himself with no option but to self-publish, the excisions were regretted. Until quite recently, Barry held onto the dream of a no-punches-pulled sequel, a spirit perhaps most colourfully expressed during a discussion as to how he should be introduced, ahead of his speaking role at an international plant propagators society conference:

I am not  a fucking florist!


To Barry twice times three At the culmination of the one-month-memorial eulogies on 28 November, groups of attendees were invited to progressively stand:

Friends from the north, including Tāwharanui
From the south: Aucklanders – we are all Aucklanders!
From the east: Mahurangi East
From the west: Mahurangi West
From the centre of Barry’s world – Barry’s family and Barry’s Warkworth Oaks family, and everybody else here…

…to first-pumpin a perfect world, glasses and teacups would be in those mitts toast J Barry Ferguson:

To Barry! To Barry! To Barry!
To Barry! To Barry! To Barry!


More recent mission morphed of Barry’s, as opposed to of the writer, who regrets both a.) failing to think of the idea first, and b.) failing to think of attempting to interest a film producer in the project, as the starting point of the enterprise!into fantasyof Barry’s, as opposed to of the writer, who regrets both a.) failing to think of the idea first, and b.) failing to think of attempting to interest a film producer in the project, as the starting point of the enterprise!: A movie of Barry masterminding the merciful overnight replacement of the moribund pepper tree at the entrance to the Warkworth Oaks, with the miraculous appearance of a small grove of youthful, clean-trunked pūriri, with their lollipop canopies beginning just above line-of-sight between Queen Street pedestrian and Warkworth Hotel diner.


Disclosure The author of this obituary is the secretary of both Mahurangi Action Incorporated and the Mahurangi Coastal Path Trust. The obituary published here, however, is that of the editorially independent, independently funded Mahurangi Magazine.

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