Scotsman Allan “Tuki” McLean was likely embarrassed about having to use native timber to build Duart House.
The dearth of local stone forced him to incorporate pronounced joints and mock corner “stones” of heart totara in his Havelock North home. The resulting rusticated façade is a wooden home masquerading as a stone castle on the Isle of Mull.
And fair enough. The colonists were homesick and bursting with the pride of Empire.
But worryingly, 135 years on, native trees remain intensely embarrassing to Havelock North’s modern-day governors – Hastings District Council.
About 30 introduced trees on Napier Rd will soon be removed for a water main, only to be replaced with, wait for it – the golden elm.
Apparently an advocate of shoring up British botany, councillor Kevin Watkins this week said the elm “fits in with other plantings in the village”.
A weaker criterion for selection you’ll struggle to find. Surely this decision deserves more robust consideration than simply opting for horticultural homogenisation.
Why does the council think the introduced North Yorkshire specimen “fits” better than the native trees that stood in the area for thousands of years?
Culturally, ecologically or aesthetically, elms impart nothing like the dividend offered by a stand of rata.
Hastings ratepayers are continuing to bankroll the council’s cultural cringe.
I’m reminded of a line by New Zealand poet Allen Curnow: “Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year, will learn the trick of standing upright here”.
Here’s to the council learning the art of standing upright, and becoming as proud of home as Mr McLean.