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Jack Diamond 1912-2001

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J T Diamond 21 June 1912 – 20 February 2001

 Jack Diamond, the pioneer historian of the West Coast, died earlier this year, aged 88. Although he had no academic degrees or formal training, Jack was the inspiration and mentor for following generations of local historians, his encyclopedic knowledge freely shared with younger writers. When I was working on Piha: A history in images, Jack willingly helped with information and photographs. His own archives were meticulously organised and indexed. Bound volumes of his manuscripts lined the shelves of his Pakuranga home.

 Jack’s love of the West Coast began at Piha as a teenager. In 1926 he began cycling out to Piha with his next door neighbours from Ethel Street, Morningside, my father Tom Pearce and his brother Bryan Pearce. The road was clay from Lone Kauri onwards and Jack said the boys used to meet at staging posts along the route to make sure one of them hadn’t come to grief. Punctures and broken chains were the bain of the cyclists’ journey.

  The boys camped in the recently abandoned Piha Mill houses and school or Charlie Cowan’s old hauler house at the top of the Piha Hill. Jack was fascinated by the old newspapers that lined inside walls of the mill houses and he eagerly questioned old residents who could tell him about the mill.

 The Pearce boys loved the surf and gravitated towards the Piha Surf Club when it opened, but Jack’s great passion was exploring the Waitakere Ranges where the structures of the kauri industry, the cookhouses, bush huts and great dams, were still intact.

 In 1931 he joined the Auckland Tramping Club with Melville, his wife-to-be. He began researching the Ranges but found little in archives and libraries. So he started interviewing old residents, writing down his conversations on a pad tied to the handlebars of his bike as he pedalled back to town. He made detailed notes about the mill buildings he came across while tramping, as well as the old house built by Edward Lovett and Sarah Ussher by the Karekare turn-off. Neville Ussher was a key Piha informant and he interviewed David Ness, whose family came to Piha in the 1860s.

 Jack also used his camera to record what he saw and he photographed the albums of old-timers he met. Many of these photos he later deposited in the Henderson Public Library. He also lectured widely on West Auckland topics.

 His first book was the ground-breaking Once the Wilderness which recorded the history and stories of West Auckland. First published in 1953, it has gone onto to many editions. Other books, co-authored with Bruce Hayward and David Lowe, documented the prehistoric and historic sites of West Auckland, and the history of milling. In 1975 he was asked by the Auckland Regional Authority and Lands & Survey Department to suggest names for unnamed streams and features of West Auckland. The 250 new names  he suggested were all accepted and included on maps. Names at Piha such as Moana Stream (Piha beach) and Lovett’s Stream (The Gap) were the work of Jack Diamond.

 Jack was awarded an MBE for his work in 1986, and was an Honorary Life Member of the Auckland Regional Committee of the Historic Places Trust and West Auckland Historical Society. He is survived by Melville and his children, Judith and John.

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