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W Laird Thomson

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Inscription on the Cairn at Te Waha Point

The Laird Thomson Track that runs from the end of North Piha up to Te Waha Point commemorates a remarkable man, who, with his Whites Beach neighbour, Jim Rose, gifted the block of land containing the headland so that visitors could walk from North Piha to Whites Beach, and enjoy some marvellous views on the way.

William Laird Thomson, who went by the name of Laird, his mother’s maiden name, owned a bach nestled on a clifftop overlooking North Piha. He was a manager and a registrar, who lived in Epsom, and a keen collector of art. His North Piha bach was hung with examples of his collecting along with deep red silk curtains framing the view that stretched as far as the Manukau Heads. He was for 15 years Executive Director of the Auckland Festival Society and received an MBE for his devotion to the administrative side of the arts.

His mother was South African and it is probable he was born in Johannesberg in 1904. His family came to New Zealand in the early years of the twentieth century. His brother was John Thomson, a well-known Auckland elocution teacher during the 1950s and 1960s.   Laird gave service in the Second World War rising to the rank of S/Sgt.

In 1943 Laird married Elizabeth Vanstone MacFarlan, “Betty”, but the couple had no children.

Laird Thomson (centre) mountaineering with two colleagues from the Alpine Sports Club

From a young age he was a keen tramper and mountaineer and a leading member of the Alpine Sports Club. In 1929, he became a foundation member of the club, along with Jim Rose, the future father-in-law of Sir Edmund Hillary. Laird was secretary of the ASC from 1929-1936. This connection was probably the reason that Laird Thomson bought a property at Whites Beach in 1938 as Jim Rose and his family had settled there a decade before. Interestingly, another foundation member of the ASC was Fred De Guerrier who was the second president of the ASC and second president and chairman of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club, also owner of a bach at Piha. Another active member was lawyer Maurice Lennard who built a bach at North Piha. Throughout its early settlement, these kind of sporting connections brought like-minded people with a passion for the outdoors into Piha.

In the early days of the ASC, the late 1920s and early 1930s, members trained in the Waitakeres for eventual mountain climbs, and they also reopened many old bushmen’s routes, such as the Home Track at Piha. This was some years before the establishment of the Auckland Centennial Memorial Park. Laird was later the founder of a small group of West Coast walkers calling themselves the Sundown Strollers.

Laird gave decades of service to the ASC and was obviously a public spirited man to donate the land at Piha in 1966. Laird also served as secretary to the North Piha Ratepayers’ Association which later amalgamated with the Piha R&R. His city base was the Auckland Club, and when he gave up driving he would catch the bus to Piha and be driven by his friend Bart Fortune to the end of North Piha from whence he would walk.  He could often be seen striding along the tracks – “the tall, spare figure shouldering a pack up the track to White’s Beach” – as the Piha Community News put it.

Shirley Atkinson remembers often meeting the aging Laird on North Piha beach. “He invited us up to his place. My daughter Beverley helped him with the cups. They were all dusty, he hadn’t used them since his wife died. He showed us where he got water from the stream.”

As he became frail, he  moved back into town in 1986 to live at Selwyn Village where his brother John was already based. He died there on 16 June 1995, aged 90.

For more about the track, go here

http://www.wonderwalkers.co.nz/default,357,laird-thomson-track-piha.sm

Laird Thomson 3rd from right and Jim Rose 2nd from right at 50th anniversary of ASC.

 

 

 

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