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Flying Scoria & Shifting House

In October 1914, my uncle Harvey Turner married Ethel Penman. Harvey had bought a large area of land high up on Mt Albert, at the end of Summit Drive (then called ‘Domain Road’), adjoining the Railway Department’s scoria quarry and the Domain. The couple went to live in a wooden house built there, close to the quarry boundary, by Ethel’s father James Penman and her brother Ross (‘J.A Penman and Son’). Their first child, son John Penman Turner (Jack), was born in their home on 1st September 1915.

On 5th April 1916 Harvey wrote to the Minister of Railways, complaining that:
“On more than one occasion large lumps of scoria have reached my house and on one occasion recently the force at which the scoria was going when it reached my property caused it to go clean through some clothes hanging on a line close to the back door. As you will plainly see, this is extremely dangerous and I hereby intimate to you that should any loss or damage occur either to life or property through this cause, I shall hold the Railway Dept. responsible.”

The District Engineer wrote to my uncle in reply that from inquiries he had made he could not find that the scoria complained of came from the railway pit, and requested him to report the matter at once if he had any further trouble. (My uncle had not given the dates of the occurrences.)

Harvey referred to his complaint several years later. About 1924 he led a deputation of leading Mt Albert citizens (which included Hon. G.N. Fowlds and Mr. J.C. Caughey) to the Hon. Gordon Coates, Minister of Railways, appealing for an end to the quarrying on Mt Albert. Harvey himself made a record of that event in his own words, including references to himself in the third person. Among other things, he told the Minister about the effect of the quarrying on his own property. “The place where they were blasting near Harvey’s home adjoined the reserve property ...... and they ran into some bluestone. They were blasting to clear the bluestone when a lump of stone weighing possibly 50 pounds [23kg] fell inside the Turner property within a few feet of the Turner’s infant son, Jack. Of course it could have easily killed him. It was there to be seen when Harvey arrived home from business.”

In his letter dated 5th April 1916, my uncle did not state that a rock had fallen near his infant son, nor did he refer to the weight of it. There must have been a second, subsequent occasion, when a large rock fell near Jack. If, following that event, my uncle wrote another letter to the Minister, then it has not yet been discovered in the archives. Members of the family recall that he often referred to this incident involving Jack as a baby, and his statement that it was the final straw which galvanised him into organising the deputation to meet Mr. Coates.

As recorded by Harvey, the outcome was that the Minister visited the quarry and found that what the deputation had complained about was correct, namely that if quarrying was continued, it would undermine the football ground. At the time of the visit, Mt. Albert Grammar School boys were being drilled on the football ground. The school had been built but its playing grounds were not yet ready for use. Harvey recorded that: “A decision was made to stop quarrying at Mt. Albert.” However, it was not until 1928 that the quarry closed.

In 1929, Harvey had his house shifted (by J. A. Penman and Son) from its original site down the hill onto its present sloping site at No. 26 Summit Drive. Many who knew Mr Penman and his numerous building projects claimed that this moving of the Turner home was arguably his greatest feat throughout his long and distinguished building career. He shifted the house on jacks some 60 metres down a 45 degree slope with the help of just one man. Thereafter Harvey, Ethel and their 5 children lived in the house on its new site.

Harvey had intended to build a new house on the original site. However, due first to the Great Depression and then to World War 2, he was not able to fulfil that intention for a long time. He finally had the brick house that is currently located at No. 40 Summit Drive built (by J. A. Penman and Son) in 1948, just prior to Jack’s marriage to Elaine Lawry in October of that year. He lived there with Ethel until Ethel’s death in 1978 and his own death in 1883.

Jack was one of those very rare persons who never shifted house. After his marriage, he and Elaine lived and brought up their family in the house at No. 26 Summit Drive. He died in 2005, in that same home he had been born in, just 5 days short of his 90th birthday. Today his wife Elaine (89) is still living in that home. Their older son Jeffery lives in No. 40 Summit Drive with his wife and family. And she has other family living nearby.

Arnold R. Turner                                                                                                                                               May 2010

References:

  1. Copies of the 1916 correspondence were obtained from Government Archives by Rendell McIntosh
  2. Harvey's record of what he told the Minister in 1924, and of the Minister's visit to the quarry, is reproduced on pages 43-44 of: 'One Hundred I'm Bid', A Centennial History of Turners & Growers, by Ken Stead (Kestrel Publishing, 1997)

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