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Source: Auckland Council

Picture staunch disciplinarian Sergeant James ‘Dolly’ Rock tending to his legendary rose garden at Newmarket Police Station in 1919; and across town, as you hear the bells of St Matthew-in-the-City, cast your mind back to 1863 when eight fêted church bells arrived in New Zealand only to find their home in the bell tower of the wrong church.

Celebrating the people who helped shape the unique character of our city, Auckland Council has packed more than 100 free and low-cost events – walks, podcasts, music, art trails, exhibitions and workshops – into Auckland Heritage Festival from 26 September to 11 October 2020.

Here is a taste of events planned for the first week of the festival:

From roses to gas masks, the story of a police station

Professional and discreet, retired inspector of the Newmarket Police Station and celebrated author Dr John Mitchell is bringing secrets and stories to Auckland Heritage Festival, but for now he’s keeping them under wraps.

He tempts us with questions: ‘In 1890 why did the Observer report: ‘The suburban station is a disgrace’?; in 1907 what was Constable Finlayson famous for?; from 1939 to 1945 when the station went onto a war footing, what was stencilled on the front of the 12 gas masks and 12 helmets issued to the station?; and what year did the station welcome its first police car, a Ford Consul?’

Find out more about Dr Mitchell’s intriguing tour and talk here. 

As a former police officer, Councillor Alf Filipaina who is Chair of the Parks, Arts, Community and Events Committee says he is fascinated by the opportunity to hear the history of the Newmarket Police Station from retired police inspector Dr John Mitchell.

“This is just one of the many tours, walks and talks on offer during the wonderful Auckland Heritage Festival,” he says.

Celebrate Auckland’s trailblazers

Auckland Heritage Festival partner Ryman Healthcare is bringing six events to the festival, celebrating the work of six outstanding Aucklanders in the arts, motor-racing, mountain-climbing, athletics and cricket. It’s a glittering line-up of backstories: Bruce McLaren, Bert Sutcliffe, Sir Edmund Hillary, Murray Halberg and artists Evelyn Page and Grace Joel. Hear their stories and secrets, some untold, from family members, sports media experts and biographers.

Find out more here – Bruce McLaren: motorsport icon and Grace Joel: portrait of an artist.

Heavy metal – the story of the bells

Cast in 1862 by John Warner and Sons of Spitalfields, London, the bells of St Matthew-in-the-City are now rung by the aptly named St Matthew’s Society of Bellringers. But their journey to 2020 wasn’t smooth.

After Bishop Selwyn’s wife Sarah and her friends raised funds to buy the bells and ship them here, it became clear the wooden tower of St Mary’s Cathedral in Parnell wasn’t strong enough to hold the bells and allow them to ring properly. So in 1905 when St Matthew’s was being built a stone tower was added to house the bells.

Decades of bellringing silence after WWII prompted Bill Lack to refurbish the bells, sending them back to the UK for tuning in the ‘70s. The no. 4 bell is arguably the most travelled bell in the world after returning to the UK three times for repair. Meet St Matthew’s Public Programmes Coordinator Scott Pilkington with his story of the famous ‘Warner Eight’ and the art of bellringing in Auckland. Details here.

Mini time-travellers’ heritage trail

The ultimate adventure for mini time-travellers of all ages, take part in a heritage-themed trail around the Howick Historical Village. Time-travellers will search the village grounds, map in hand. They’ll discover stories, facts and objects. Each clue they solve, will help them decipher a riddle and ultimately lead them to a prize at the end. Bring the children and their problem-solving skills. They’ll solve clues and riddles and learn about Auckland’s heritage along the way.

New Lynn builds four centuries of history into art

Where would you find an ancient Māori hinaki (eel trap) in steel and a giant-sized camera made from brick? In the Whau Public Art Trail showcasing artwork from Auckland Council’s public art collection in and around New Lynn, curated for Auckland Heritage Festival.

Experience Hinaki a modern portrayal of an eel trap by artists Antonia Walmsley, Bill McKay, Murray Couling, and sense the history of the Whau River with artist Nigel Scanlon’s work Waka Tiwai. Scanlon’s eight-piece waka, made from basalt, pays tribute to the days kauri and tōtara were conveyed by river to an ancient shipping yard in the area centuries ago.

Evoking themes of our more recent history enjoy Peter Lange’s nod to New Lynn’s iconic Crown Lynn Potteries with playful brick sculptures of children’s board game pieces in giant proportions. You’ll see a bell, tent, camera and dodgem car.

Auckland Heritage Festival is brought to the region by Auckland Council and proudly presented by Ryman Healthcare.

For festival events and daily updates please visit

Event holders are prepared to follow COVID-19 protocols at the prevailing alert level and mass gathering limit. However, if a 10-person mass gathering limit remains in place on 26 September, every endeavour will be made to move some events online.