Swanson was well known during the 1890s and early 1900s as a popular place in the district for picnics. Mr Spencer’s property (the area below the current school and now part of the golf course) was noted for its reputation “as the favourite picnic park of Swanson”.
In 1899, in addition to the school picnic which was held there annually, the Avondale Presbyterian Sunday-school, under the Rev McLean, also held their picnic at the same time. Visitors, parents and friends of both parties shared “the happy combination of open land and forest (with) ample room for various enjoyments”, and all for free.
The seed had been sown. In 1921 Arney Robertson bought 44 acres which he began to clear and develop into a picnic site. He named it the Swanson Park and Recreation Ground and thousands of people flocked to the area.
The tennis courts were built in 1930, and the original swimming pool was created by damming the creek in 1932. This was 50 yards long and in parts six feet deep. It was used by Swanson School for several years to teach pupils to swim. Many an exciting mud fight was held there, mud being slung from bank to bank across the creek.
In 1934, 3000 redwood trees were planted in the park grounds and the area became known as Redwood. In 1937 a cyclone struck and most of the trees died, burned by salt winds. Some fine redwood specimens still stand today — two trees flank the number one tee at Redwood Park Golf Club.
In 1936, it was the site for the largest picnic ever held in New Zealand. Six special trains transported 7500 people to the park for a combined RSA picnic.
On Christmas Day 1939 an army car pulled up at the camp and four uniformed men got out. They marched around the camp, and told Mr Robertson Snr, the camp owner, that they (the army) were taking over, and to have everything ready by the end of the year, as there were 1000 troops arriving from the National Military Reserve on New Year’s Day. It was a very busy week, Mr Robertson recalled.
The Army held occupancy of the park until 1943 when it was taken over by the RNZAF for bush warfare training.
Exercises took place at the rifle range and in the surrounding bush-clad hills and farmland as far as Bethells Beach.
Thousands of air force servicemen attended the drill and weapon training course at the Swanson camp; it was the last stop for them before being sent overseas. The post office was open from November 1943 to August 1945 when the camp was vacated.
The social life of the district revolved around the camp’s Saturday night dances and occasional grand ball events. The air force band used to play and people came from far and wide to attend the socials.
The camp began functioning normally [Add: again] in 1946. It had become one of the largest inland motor camps at that time. By the end of the 1950s, 14,000 leisure seekers visited the park each summer, joining 2000 tourists at the flats and cabins. On many occasions people had to be turned away, as it was filled to capacity with campers there for the holiday periods.
Special railway trains were numerous. At times, three trains reached Swanson on a Saturday, and the same on Sunday, hired by groups and always full. NZ Railways issued special tickets, which included train fare and admission. Redwood Park was unique in being the only private grounds of its size in the Southern Hemisphere.
Arney Robertson died in 1957, leaving a lifetime’s work to his family. Keith, the youngest, took over the reins and with his wife Gloria and their family, worked very hard to keep the huge park in excellent condition.
In 1970 New Zealand’s first two-day pop concert “Redwood 70” was held on Auckland’s anniversary weekend.The star attraction was Robin Gibb, former solo singer of the Bee Gees. A special sound system was installed. The event, however, was marred by riotous crowd behaviour on the Saturday night.
Sunday was hotter, and quieter. Security was stepped up and the afternoon show went without a hitch. Twenty thousand people attended the two-day event with about 1000 staying overnight on Saturday. A local resident (who gained entry as a photographer) remembers the armoured security truck transporting Gibb and his entourage, the security and the frequent topless displays in the swimming pool.
See this link for a 30 minute video of this pop concert.
Redwood Park Golf Club
After World War Il the Robertson family held all the shares in Redwood Park Ltd. But times were changing, leading to the camping ground’s decline. The days of railway picnics were over. The beach bach replaced the urban camping ground as the preferred holiday destination.
Because of difficulties in attracting wider patronage, increasing maintenance costs on the cabins and other facilities and the stress of management, it was decided to explore the possibility of developing a nine-hole golf course. A golf consultant was approached to prepare preliminary plans.
To develop a full eighteen hole golf course, the purchase of the adjoining properties to provide sufficient land was necessary.
A meeting was held in the hall at Redwood Park on 23 June 1970. Members Of the exploratory committee, Logan Colmore-Williams (Chairman), Bill Dunlop, Neville Rykers, Ian McHardy, Maurice Ling, Rick Ewen and Ian Valentine answered questions about the commitment which would be necessary to carry through the project.
About 70 people attended the meeting and they were left in no doubt as to the size of the task if it was decided to buy the properties.
It was left to a show of hands [skip: of those attending the meeting] to make the decision. By a considerable majority the answer was “yes”.
Through the difficult formative years, people worked with a united vision. The results proved what can be achieved by excellent decision-making, a huge voluntary contribution of time, effort, dedication and confidence in the future.
Rugged Determination, p101