A Community Development in the Environmental Arts
The Te Puna Quarry Park is now a beauty mark, not a scar on the pastoral face of the Minden hills near Tauranga, New Zealand. What was once a huge quarry is now a haven for trees, flowers, birds and butterflies – and people.
A Little History
In the early 1900s, the Crown confiscated 32 hectares of Maori land and turned it into a quarry. During the ensuing 70+ years, 575,000 tons of rhyolite rock was mined and used in developing roads, reclaiming the strand and rebuilding bridge approaches as the population around Tauranga, grew. The huge, gaping, ugly hole in the cliffs was visible from miles away and even used for navigation by ships entering Tauranga Harbor.
But by the mid-seventies, the junk rock was not deemed appropriate for construction and the quarry was closed.
With the threat of the quarry reopening or being sold by the District Council, the intrepid Shirley Sparks stepped in.
Shirley and her husband Dave, both South African transplants, farmed adjacent to the quarry and she recalls the daily blasting and the effect it had on her animals. It usually happened at milking time, she said and the poor cows inadvertently flinched and shuddered, sending manure cascading over her as she milked from the pit.
By the time the quarry closed, the Sparks had sub-divided and sold off portions of their 200 acres. Shirley and the new residents were dead set against the quarry opening again. She recalls standing down the road a way and watching helicopters “hauling out huge bundles of …” and with a twinkle in her eyes, “we knew there were a lot of shady characters up there.”
Her daughter, Beth Bowden, an attorney working in parliament in Wellington said to her mother, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if it was turned into something worthwhile, like a park or a garden? Give it a go, Mum.” With a wry smile, Shirley said, “And then she went back to Wellington!”
Over the next three years, Beth guided Shirley through the bureaucracy that included six plans, including permission from the local tribes. At her first appearance before the Council, although she had her small steering committee with her, she remembers “my mouth went dry, my knees knocked together and my voice shook.” She thought, “I’m just a silly old woman who wants to turn 82 acres of waste land into a park.”
But…the Lady Mayor at the time supported her and the first hurdle to creating the park was overcome and in 1993, the Te Puna Quarry Park Society was born.
The Quarry at that time was a complete mess; overrun with goats; overgrown with gorse, wattle trees and rogue pines and in need of major clearing. A handful of volunteers started in what was to become the parking area, working slowly with whatever hand tools they had, moving up the slopes, clearing pathways. “It [volunteer involvement] went from strength to strength,” Shirley tells, with a record 40 on a Tuesday morning.
Under Shirley’s guiding hands, volunteers have created a wonderland of plantings that include specific areas including the spectacular fuchsia garden and the butterfly garden where Monarch and Admiral Butterflies live a charmed life among the specially selected flowers and plants they love.
Because this is Crown land and vested in the local Council, it cannot be owned by anyone, hence no entry fees are collected. The donation boxes are a major source of funding, along with a few grants from local organizations. Rotary International and The Lions Club are two of those organizations that maintain specific areas of the park and various local garden and specialty clubs have dedicated areas that they maintain, as well.
Some areas are dedicated to a specific country’s flora such as the South African area with its proteas and strelitzia. The native New Zealand area is filled with indigenous plants; over 50 Nikau palms have been planted in a grove; an area nearby is planted with native Cabbage Trees. Up the top and just off the main track, a kauri plantation is flourishing.
On the Wild Side
This is not a manicured park, where a ride-on mower can come in once a week to mow. This is rugged, with steep walking trails designed for the “moderately fit.” The pathways are all cleared and there are stairs crafted by hand, by volunteers, in areas where it is just a bit too steep to clamber up and down. But nowhere is there any indication of lack of care. Although the plantings may look unplanned, there is continuity as one area blends into the next. The fuchsias blend into the bromeliad area and tall stands of tree ferns stand guard all around, providing shade where needed, including the surrounding, wild areas which are blanketed with the ferns in a patchwork of shades of green.
cgather twice a week to maintain the park. The Wonder Weeders, usually the women, weed and mulch and plant; the men repair bridges and steps, remove the piles of weeds the women have pulled and, when mid-morning rolls around, they all gather for tea in the Gallery building. Currently, there are about 30 regular volunteers, with an average age of 75, who keep the park in shape. Most of these men and women, like volunteer Alf Rendell, a spritely 95, who has been coming here for 11 years, are retired. They come from a vast variety of backgrounds, from forestry and farming to building and homemaking. They all come here “because they want to.” It’s about the camaraderie.
Ray Oakley, a retired master builder and a relative newcomer of 18 months said, “I needed something to do when I retired. And I enjoy the socializing.” His skills have been put to good use as he builds benches and on this day, he was laying a concrete base for a new water pump that will help power the new water catchment tanks being installed around the park. The tanks are a welcome addition as there are no springs in The Quarry.
Charles Kerr was “conscripted by a friend” and was on his way to clean some of the rock sculptures that dot the grounds. He has been involved for too many years to remember, he joked, and said that initially there was a plan “of sorts,” which has evolved over the years to become what it is now.
Tucked in under the brush, alongside the concrete sculpture titled “Tribute to the Maker,” volunteer-of-3-years, Jenny Carmichael diligently pulled weeds, getting what she calls her “gardening fix.” Living in a condominium now, she doesn’t have her own garden any longer, so spends Tuesday mornings enjoying the park and helping out. She specially enjoys that the park is “almost wild,” with “no hard edges” or flower beds.
The volunteers do whatever it takes, or is required. John Hamilton, a 5-year veteran spent the previous session pruning roses, which he called “a prick of a job!”
While Shirley has been the guiding light in the Quarry’s development, she takes very little credit for it, even though she has been awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for her work. She contributes all the credit to the volunteers and especially her “precious” Dulcie Artus and Jo Dawkins. She insists, “It’s people like this, their dedication and involvement who keep the Quarry going.”
An Art Venue
Scattered around the park in strategic, and sometimes oddball locations, is art of all kinds! From traditional sculptures and mosaics to the very New Zealand-style corrugated iron cutouts, the pieces are sometimes half-hidden in the foliage and other times are the focal point of the area. Mediums used include Hinuera Stone, metal and pottery, recycled wood and other found articles.
Many are whimsical, with odd mythical-looking creatures hiding in the shrubbery. One might come across a large, mosaic snail creeping through the grass or a semi-circle of brightly painted posts on the edge of the bluff. Or come across a stone lizard lazing on a rock. The variety is astounding!
Shirley tells stories of how some of the sculptures appeared miraculously, produced by unknown artists who obviously had carefully chosen where they wanted their art to sit. “But,” she said, “Art is in the eye of the beholder,” when it comes to some of the installations.
Several years ago, the corrugated art suddenly appeared. After months had passed, Shirley discovered that they had been on a local farmer land which he sold but didn’t want the new owner to acquire, so he did a midnight installation in the Park. Some sculptures are ongoing community projects like the China Family, a mosaic installation, probably the most photographed sculpture in the park. “It started with the man,” Shirley said. Jo Dawkins, long-time volunteer and her husband Keith started the project. Keith built a concrete and wire form and the community was invited to bring broken china and crockery to create the mosaic man. The family has grown to include a woman and a dog.
Shirley, a potter herself, placed the initial sculptures after seeing The Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland. But because she used unfired clay, her sculptures have since returned to the earth. This hasn’t curbed her enthusiasm or stopped her and the group from organizing two 10-day sculpture symposiums. Big blocks of Hinuera Stone were brought in, artists invited to come and create. Visitors joined in, children did their own thing and the symposiums resulted in sales for some artists and art donations to the park.
During one of the symposiums, sculptor Roger Bullot set up a school for the children, using small pieces of rock. “Sometimes, when we are weeding, we come across some of these carved rocks where they were left behind,” commented Shirley.
Currently there are close to 30 sculptures from prominent local and regional artists on permanent display. Plus the oddball mystery works!
The Quarry draws visitors from around the world and with so much to see, Te Puna Quarry Park is worth visiting not just once, but several times.
All photos courtesy Susan Colby
Te Puna Quarry Park Society Inc.
P.O. Box 13326,