Story of a suburb: Tawa

This article by Katie Chapman appeared in "The Dominion Post" on 5 January 2010. It was accessible on their website for a number of months, but no more. Thus we've reproduced it here because it's an interesting article and features a prominent Tawa resident.

Tawa spreads through the valley, snug on the edge of Wellington's boundary. The shopping centre, the train station and Tawa College are at the heart of this tight-knit community.

Sitting in his home near one of the local bush walks he helped create, Allan Todd, 81, says that is what Tawa is all about. "Community is the heart of Tawa." Tawa is a village, and everyone gets along - but it is not suited to people who do not want to get involved, he says. "It's no good being in Tawa and being a city person."

And after about 35 years (he's lost count) of living in the suburb, the retired chartered accountant should know. He cannot remember all the community groups he's been involved with, and chooses instead to rattle off the "principal" ones he is part of today. Rotary, Friends of Tawa Reserves, U3A (a group for people aged 55 and over), and the Wellington Male Voice Choir are mentioned."

It's a place in which people are motivated to get involved, he says. "It seems that the whole of Tawa has motivation and drive." It is not surprising - Tawa was born on the back of people who were unafraid of hard work. So dense was the bush in the valley that Maori would not settle there. It was that bush that gave the area its name, as it was largely covered in tawa trees.

Tawa's development hung on the development of a road to Porirua, which began to be built in 1841. European settlers began clearing the previously uninhabitable area, but settlement itself did not move beyond Glenside because of tension with local Maori. After a brief military campaign, matters were settled when Maori were paid 2000 for the disputed land at Porirua, and farmers began establishing themselves in the area - known as Tawa Flat.

In the book Tawa: Enterprise and Endeavour, Winnie Walker describes growing up in the area as a hard, "no frills" life in which farming was basic. The first railway did not reach the area until 1885 and in 1897 the population of Tawa Flat was a mere 38, but the area also had a school and a church. By 1906 it still took 45 minutes to get from Tawa to Wellington by train, and the service did only one return trip a day. It was in this year that subdivision finally came to Tawa, and the area began to transform from a small farming community.

By 1911 the population had grown from 100 to 180. Houses started to escape from the flat and stretch up into the slopes in 1930, when Tawa Central Real Estate - owned by the Mexted family - began to subdivide the western hills.

After the depression and World War II, which had slowed growth, the population boomed. By 1953 it had grown to 3090, and the area became a borough. Flat was dropped from the area's name in 1958, the same year reticulated water and sewerage were installed. The area continued to expand, and by the 1970s the population topped 12,000.

The borough clung stubbornly to its independence for years, until finally amalgamating with Wellington in 1988, leading to the truly urbanised suburb of today. However, independence is still fierce, with Tawa having one of Wellington's few community boards. For Mr Todd, that's a place where the tiny farming community that Tawa started life as is still evident.

For people moving to the area, if you do not get involved you will find yourself on the outside, he says. But if you do, it's a great place to live, and that's why he and his wife, Marjorie, stay. "They're friendly and they're my type of people. That's what it amounts to."

SENSE OF BELONGING: The photo features Allan Todd at the lookout over Tawa that he and his fellow Rotary Club members helped build. Mr Todd has lived in the suburb for about 35 years.


* Tawa's Bucket Tree, which is registered as a notable tree, is thought to have been first pruned into shape by Frederick Westbury, who worked for landowner William Earp, in the 1880s. It is actually a group of about five macrocarpas.

* Tawa is home to New Zealand's first purpose-built women's prison. Built in 1944, it switched in 1981 to a youth prison, but eventually reverted to its original purpose. Between 1992 and 1994, 40 minimum security males were also kept there.

* If you want to know the path of the Old Porirua Road just follow the iron plaque road. The Tawa Historical Society has laid plaques showing the way.

* In the 1930s, Tawa School had a rugby team but too few boys so two girls completed the first 15.

* During World War II, Tawa Flat School had its own harmonica band, which was a popular source of entertainment.

TAWA NOW (Source: 2006 Census)

* Population: 13,191
* Males/females: 6324/6870


* European: 8838
* Maori: 1146
* Asian: 1446
* Pacific Island: 855
* Middle Eastern/Latin American/African: 78
* Other: 1650
* Unspecified: 369


Cyclopedia Company Ltd, The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District], 1897, The Cyclopedia Company, Wellington, online,
* Tim Pankhurst (editor), Your Patch: The Changing Face of Wellington, The Evening Post, Wellington Newspapers Ltd
* F L Irvine-Smith, The Streets of My City: Wellington New Zealand, 1967, A. H. Reed and A. W. Reed, Wellington
* David McGill (editor), My Brilliant Suburb, 1985, Platform Publishing, Wellington
* K R Cassells, Tawa: Enterprise and Endeavour, 1988, Tawa Borough Council, Wellington
* Arthur H Carman, Tawa Flat and the Old Porirua Road: 1840-1982, 1982, Wright and Carman Ltd, Wellington
* Wellington Local History: Tawa/Linden, online
* Brian Mexted, Memories of Tawa Flat (Speech to Tawa Historical Society Inc 2009 AGM)