1910 to 1970 - Alison family farming at Matiatia

Creating a viable-sized farm

By 1912, what was once known as the Māori Te Huruhi Reserve Block of 850ha had been partitioned into 40 separate land titles.

Between 1910 and 1921, Alexander Alison of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company bought up the land, to create a viable-size farm for his son Fred.

Later, this flat area on the foreshore accommodated the large homestead of the Alison family. Their large sheep farm was managed by two generations of the Croll family. The manager’s house and the ‘home paddocks’ of the farm were also down here on the flats.

The Alisons lived in the woolshed between 1911 and 1914. Otherwise they lived at Matiatia.

Re-located homestead

The 'Harbourmasters Building' was built around 1850, to become the home of Captain IJ Burgess (Auckland’s second harbour master) on North Head in Devonport.

The building was re-located in sections to this site in about 1915, on the scow Mabel, to become the homestead for the farm of the Alison family.

Farm life

The Alison farm was developed in a typical New Zealand way. A large homestead, surrounded by paddocks and stockyards, with a manager’s house nearby, all protected by shelter belts of tall exotic trees – macrocarpas, poplars and gums, and a few ornamental Norfolk pines. There was a driveway from the beach area to the house.

The now-de-forested hills of Waiheke had low fertility, and were suited to low density sheep and cattle grazing.

Sheep numbers on the Alison farm grew steadily, to 1809 in 1930. This was comparable with that achieved under Māori ownership earlier.

During the Great depression in the 1930s, Waiheke farmers were hit hard because of their high transport costs. The Alison farm approached this problem, in part, by shifting focus to supply meat to the growing holiday population on the island. They built a slaughterhouse up the valley, just above where the upper car park is now.

The Alison farm was most successful in 1954, when there were 4000 to 5000 sheep and 300 cattle on 663 ha. This was during the Korean War, when New Zealand wool fetched a very high price ('a pound a pound'). For a while, the value of the wool on the farm was greater than the value of the land.

High society

The Alisons were well-connected, and their homestead often welcomed visiting celebrities. In 1962, the famous actress Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind) was escorted on a visit to Matiatia and the Alison house by 90-year-old Sir Ernest Davies, Chairman of the Devonport Steam Company, on his yacht Alert.

A gift for generations

The Alison farm was sold in 1963 and later subdivided. Nick Johnstone, an owner of one of the blocks, gifted a 17ha section to Forest & Bird. This became the Te Atawhai Whenua Reseve.

Facts and fancy

Legend has it that the flagpole erected in front of the house in 1923, came from the Wairarapa, a ship wrecked on Great Barrier Island in 1894.

The Alisons owned the farm here until 1963. They left the homestead in 1972.

Alison Park at Oneroa Village, was on the edge of the Alison property. The pōhutukawa trees there were planted by Fred Alison in 1960.

Life at the Alison homestead in the 1960s

  • The Homestead

  • <p>The scow Rahiri loading sheep, Matiatia, early 1960s. <em>Fred Alison, Bruce Croll Collection.</em></p>
  • <p>Bruce Croll mustering near the woolshed on the Matiatia foreshore, c1981. <em>Olaf Petersen, Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>Alison Homestead, c1920s. <em>Fred Alison photograph, Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>Remains of Fred Alison's slaughtering shed in what is now the upper car park at Matiatia.</p>
  • <p>Fred Alison's slaughtering shed in mid distance, Matiatia, date unknown. <em>Fred Alison, Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>From left: George Kawhia (?), Fred Alison, Don Croll, Carl and Ethel Prime on the beach in front of the "shack", Matiatia, c1921. <em>Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>The 'shack' , the Alison's family bach. This was half way between the wharf and the woolshed at Matiatia, c1915. <em>Waiheke Historical Society collection.</em></p>
  • <p>The Alison homestead, Matiatia, as it was in 1960s. <em>Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>Matiatia when it was still run as a prodcutuve farm in the 1960s. <em>Bruce Croll collection.</em></p>
  • <p>The Alison homestead was originally the home of Capt. Burgess at Devonport in 1850. Fred Alison had it moved to Matiatia in the early 1900s. <em>Waiheke Historical Society collection.</em></p>

Audio - Don Croll remembers

  • When the Harbour Masters building arrived by sea...

  • Oneroa was once the sheep track.