Heart of the community no more
A century ago this was a treasured hub for social functions, meetings, church services and acquiring library books. Today the old hall sits quietly at the top of the rise, a structure you’re vaguely aware of as you fly through the blink-and-you-miss-it settlement of Woodhill on State Highway 16.
Woodhill – about 10km south of Helensville – was somewhat bigger back then. By the late 1800s a farming community was well established and with it, a school. As the railway pushed north, a post office, creamery and store appeared. A while later, the hall was built, and in time tennis courts complemented the facilities on offer.
By the 1920s, Woodhill’s location near the coast brought the problem of encroching sand dunes. While the land had originally been covered in bush, the introduction of European settlement and farm animals saw it gradually get stripped back.
The potentially dire consequences of sand for the railway and road led to the creation of what is today a 12,500 hectare forest. Forestry workers came to live in Woodhill, boosting the local population until the forestry became privatised in 1987.
Today the post office, creamery and shop are long gone. The tennis club thrived until sometime in the ’60s – the site remains but is a shadow of its former self. And the hall: I don’t know when it closed but would be very interested to find out.
Despite all this, the community lives on thanks to a few remaining houses and most importantly, the school. Rebuilt four times and now with a roll of 100 or so pupils, I remember coming here for the annual combined primary schools cross-country event and running up the hill behind the old hall.
Then it was just an object I barely gave heed to. Now it’s the kind of thing that intrigues me hugely. Who knows long it will be left to sit – unfortunately it’s not realistic to expect all such buildings can be saved and surely it will be pulled down long before it gets to the state of my old play house.
But for now I love that it’s still there.