Airport – a poignant history

There is much discussion these days about the Paraparaumu Airport, its noise, its ownership and its use – present and future. There’s a lot going on there, especially week-ends, helicopters clapping overhead, planes pulling gliders, and take-offs and landings. You can’t help but be aware of the airport in this district.

But what of its past? It was not always an airport. Decades ago, that same stretch of land was home to dozens of men, living in two-man huts, set in rows equidistant from one another. Such huts, common enough at the time in the days of the Deep Depression, were called ‘Unemployment Camps’. Here men who were otherwise without a job, lived and worked on roads round about.

Issued with a shovel and instructions, they were forever busy; and no doubt it was some of those men who worked on the ‘Coast Road’, the road that was such a joy for folk from north travelling to Wellington. No more need to take the treacherous winding road over the Paekākāariki Hill, to get to boarding school.

Where we lived in Palmerston North we had a kindly near neighbour, Dr Gillies, and for a few years about that time we rented his house in MacLean Street. The house was large, plain, with a wide wooden veranda around it. It was ideal for a holiday. Winter at the beach was a great way to toughen kids up a bit, with good clean air, bracing breezes, and miles of playroom down on the beach, where we did what all kids do at the beach, built castles, ran races, played ball – and even paddled on the fine days. Happy times!

But the memory of one day I can never erase. It was as we were driving past the Unemployment Camp. Dad drove slowly, very slowly and explained it.

I noticed that many of the huts had narrow little gardens dug round them perhaps about a foot wide, and in those gardens marigolds grew. Marigolds! Here we had grown men without their wives and children trying to brighten their lives – those lives in sharp contrast to my own. Poignant, that’s how it struck me though I couldn’t have used that word at the time.

Whatever our grouches now, most of us are fortunate compared with those earlier occupants of what is now the Paraparaumu Airport.