Murray C. Freer: a photographer’s life - Part 2


Many of the photographs in the South Auckland Courier during the 1960s and 1970s carry the name of Murray Freer. For almost thirty years Murray Freer chronicled events in Manukau, first from 1958 as a freelance photographer, then as a reporter, and finally as an editor. Murray was also a Manukau City councillor from 1965 to 1968. This is Murray’s own account of his years behind the camera.



Manukau City - Day One

In September 1965 Manukau County and Manurewa Borough amalgamated to form Manukau City. Day One of Manukau City saw a green county renamed a city. Drive over the bridge from Mt Wellington and what did you see? On the right, set well back in a paddock, was a cabbage tree and a wind driven water pump. Today the site is covered by the Pakuranga Town Centre.

Drive along the Great South Road (then two concrete strips) past Redoubt Road corner and the only shop in sight was the shed near the corner of Wiri Station Road from which Ted and Jean Lowe sold their fresh vegetables.

Drive down East Tamaki Road from Hunters Corner (no motorway to cross) and what did you see? Green paddocks and, on the left gum trees, behind which had been the training track of the Yendarra stud farm. Manukau was green: established residential areas were very few, very small and very far between, although new subdivisions were starting in Otara, Mangere and Pakuranga. The former Manurewa Borough contributed the largest established residential and commercial area - and that was not exactly huge.

 Whitford Road reconstruction, 1967.

Whitford Road reconstruction, 1967. (Photograph by Murray Freer, reproduced courtesy of Fairfax Media)

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A Manukau City councillor

‘Yendarra’ homestead in Otara Road became the Manukau City Council chambers, while the homestead tennis court became the car park. The homestead was described by one female councillor as more suited to housing a brothel - I never did have the guts to ask if she was speaking from experience…

This same councillor, on one occasion as I rose to speak during a council debate, upset my train of thought by saying in a loud voice: “Tuck your shirt in, Murray. You’re a big boy now!”

My election to the first Manukau City Council saw another New Zealand first. I was the youngest person to be elected to a city council up to that time. I stood on a Labour ticket (and topped the poll) and I believe it was also the first time a council election had been contested on party lines.
Serving on that council can best be described as an eye-opener. The agenda for meetings could be up to four inches (10 cm) thick and the meetings could go on until 2 a.m. I was also on the Town Planning committee and hearings could go on for days. No, we were not paid - just a travel and meal allowance – for twelve meetings I received a total of $21, one dollar seventy-five cents per meeting.

The Nathan Homestead, Manurewa, being renovated to serve as Manukau County Council’s offices, March 1964.

The Nathan Homestead, Manurewa, being renovated to serve as Manukau County Council’s offices, March 1964. (Photograph by Murray Freer, reproduced courtesy of Fairfax Media)

A whole new city had to be planned and organised and its financial and social structure established. Green paddocks and raw or sleepy settlements had to be turned into a thriving, prosperous city. This was achieved under the guidance of Mayor Hugh Lambie and City Manager Ron Wood.
Hugh Lambie, formerly chairman of Manukau County, was the perfect mayor for that time. The finest chairman of a meeting that I have ever seen, he was scrupulously fair, firm, with concern for people and considerable foresight in planning the future.
Ron Wood was extremely efficient, was able to take considerable abuse from some councillors without being upset, and he ran the young city very smoothly. These two men played a huge part in the success of Manukau City.

The council’s first computer is also worth a mention. It completely filled a room, approximately 20 feet by 30 feet in size, which had to be humidity and temperature controlled. The computer was huge, with row after row of wire frames.
One of the main things about the set-up of Manukau City was the fact the city owned much of the land where development was to take place, meaning it would generate an ongoing income for the new city.
When Hugh Lambie stood down as mayor in 1968, Lloyd Elsmore was elected and the council took on a great change of direction. Lloyd Elsmore appeared to want to balance the books at any cost, even if it meant selling off assets to do so.
Under such a policy, I could see Manukau was going to lose the huge financial advantage it held and, after Elsmore’s first term, when no one else stood against him, I decided to speak up and contest the mayoralty. This I did, spending about $100 on my campaign and receiving 25% of the vote.

The most satisfying moment from this whole exercise came when I was interviewing Ron Wood for the regular Manukau coverage in the Courier. He said: “You’ll be interested to know council has adopted all the measures you advocated in your campaign, including halting the sale of council’s land holdings.”

I felt very humble. 

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Manukau and me

As mentioned, my first experience of what was to be Manukau City came at Knapping’s farm in East Tamaki. From here my brother and I walked the loose metal road to catch the school bus. On Saturdays we would cycle to Hunter’s Corner and leave our bikes behind Landon’s Electrical, which was built with a hall on top, while we caught the bus into Auckland to play soccer.  At times I did this by myself - it was a quite normal thing for an unaccompanied five year-old to do at that time.
We boys loved the farm life, including helping turn the hay with hayforks (I once put one through my foot); and watched in awe as a huge grave was hand dug for the draught horse which had died. Manukau City may not have skeletons in the closet, but it does have a draught horse skeleton under Barry Curtis Park.

When I was about seven we moved to Mangere Crossing, opposite the end of Middlemore Hospital Road. Our home was later demolished to make way for the [Massey Road] overbridge. We had to keep the garden gate closed as stock being driven up Mangere Road from the farms to the Otahuhu sale yards had no respect for Mum’s flower gardens. After a few days the regular toot and rumble of the steam trains passed unnoticed, but there were always lumps of coal alongside the tracks. This was a good quality coal and burnt well.

I became acquainted with a number of Manukau sports grounds through St John’s, turning up with my first aid bag to various fixtures in the area.

Examinations, Otahuhu College, 1964.

Examinations, Otahuhu College, 1964. (Photograph by Murray Freer, reproduced by courtesy of Fairfax Media)

Bradbury’s farm at Pakuranga provided holiday income as I helped milk the herd of around 60 cows.

I had a rigid frame Velocette motorbike which I raced at meetings on various Mangere properties. I also knew the area through Scouting. As a cub and a scout I camped at Flat Bush (Murphy’s Bush). As a boy scout and a Venturer scout I tramped the Hunua Ranges, leaping nimbly across the flooded stream at the top of the Hunua Falls. Later, when my mother and younger brother lived at Weymouth, I became the first scoutmaster for the Weymouth Sea Scouts. I went on to become a District Commissioner.
My other community interest was the Otahuhu Volunteer Fire Brigade. Otahuhu had two appliances and two crews, one permanent, one volunteer. At this time it was the busiest station in the country apart from Auckland Central. As the only volunteer officer able to regularly attend daytime calls there were times I was the only person to attend a call with the volunteer appliance.

On one call to an Otara home I discovered the cultural problems faced by new Pacific Island immigrants. The call was to an oven fire - the lady of the house had laid and lit a fire in her electric stove to heat a pot of water on top.
I lived at Mangere Crossing until my marriage in 1961, when my wife, Hilary, and I moved to East Tamaki Road, just along from the cheese factory. (The cheese making process and conditions there would fill modern health inspectors with horror.)

Then we bought a property in the new suburb of Otara. Here our daughter started school and I joined the new school committee. When the committee debated a name to replace the school’s number (the Otara schools were Otara Nos One, Two, Three, Six, etc.) I suggested Yendarra to preserve the name of the farm on which Otara was built. Thus Yendarra School came into being. I also became a member of the East Tamaki-Otara Lions Club.

Five years later our family, now including a son, moved to Maraetai, spending a few very happy years in that still quiet coastal community before relocating to Mangere East. We moved out of Manukau City in 1976, but still I was involved through the Courier.

Otara festival parade, 1971.

Otara festival parade, 1971. (Photograph by Murray Freer, reproduced courtesy of Fairfax Media)

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A land agent

After leaving the Courier some ten years later, References I became a real estate salesperson with FM Real Estate at Manurewa, later becoming qualified as an Associate of the Real Estate Institute. I sold many homes in the new subdivisions of Manukau - Conifer Grove, The Gardens, Highland Park and Northpark [Botany] in particular. So many that one year I was told that, had I been entered, I would have won the title of Salesperson of the Year for Auckland.
I became acquainted with the delightful, elderly widow who owned the land on which Manorlands now exists. She had been resisting selling her land for some time, much to the annoyance of a few people. Her farm’s fences were notable for their lack of containment ability. She bred cattle, and her bull would escape and be taken to the pound at Ardmore. On being called to fetch him she would bus as far as practicable and walk the rest, then put a rope through the ring in the bull’s nose and walk him home - a very long walk. She also objected to removing the gorse from her property - as she said “It takes three good gorse fires to get rid of a dead cow”. (I’m not sure what the new owners of upmarket Northpark homes would have thought of that.) Many cups of tea and chats later she did decide to make the move.

While in real estate I acquired one of the first mobile phones available, before the service was fully established. To test the phone one had to drive into Auckland’s Wellesley Street, as a testing service was only available within 100 metres of the Wellesley Street Post Office. The phone was referred to as ‘the brick’ and was about the size and weight of two bricks, one on top of the other. When service was finally started it worked very efficiently, but service was guaranteed only as far from Auckland as Papakura. The cost of the ‘brick’? $4,500.

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Later years

My years in photography and picture framing stood me in good stead in later years, when Lyn Hall, tester for the Fine Art Trade Guild visited New Zealand to start a branch here. I was one of the first ten New Zealanders to gain the guild’s commended framer qualification. This was accomplished without any formal training - just the expertise of many years work.

To round out the picture of my life, I have at various times: been an amateur apiarist, with up to 50 hives; owned a pottery, producing hundreds of pots with rich, experimental gas-fired glazes (both these interests were brought to a close by my developing allergies - to bee stings and to the glaze materials); run a part-time nursery selling orchids, also vegetable and flower seedlings; grown both indoor and outdoor tomatoes and cucumbers to supply the Auckland city markets; enjoyed woodturning, including making some spinning and weaving tools; and taken up the spinning and weaving of New Zealand’s excellent wools (to further my knowledge in the field I gained qualification as a wool classer).

These interests followed the move from Manukau to Franklin where, in 1989, I established a real estate business, combined with art gallery and picture framing. Following retirement my wife and I moved to our present home in the King Country, to be nearer family at Aria, and continue our involvement with spinning, weaving and woodturning.

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‘Murray C. Freer, a photographer’s life’, text as supplied to Manukau Libraries by Murray Freer in March 2010 with some minor editing undertaken by Bruce Ringer. See also: J.M. Deas, ‘Fumes Problem’, photographs by Murray C. Freer, South Auckland Courier, 15 April 1959, p. 5; Tony Wilton, ‘Airport Safety: Crash Shows Need for More Attention’, photographs by Murray Freer, South Auckland Courier Central Edition, 13 July 1966, p. 6; [Photograph], New Zealand Herald, 1 September 1970, p. 1; ‘Centennial’, Courier Central Edition, 28 April 1971, p. 3; ‘Editor Resigns’, Manukau Courier, 16 January 1986, p. 4.

Copyright © Murray C. Freer, 2010. This text may be used freely for purposes of private study and research provided due acknowledgement is made to the author and to Auckland Libraries. For other purposes the permission of the author is required. The photographs are copyright as indicated.

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Read more about Murray C. Freer: Part 1, Part 2

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