Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Latest News

Nature Boy

 – recognising one of the West’s great photographers

Just opened at Auckland Museum is an exhibition of the work of a long forgotten West Auckland photographer. Olaf Peterson ran a photography business for a living, but he also recorded the people, events and natural beauty of West Auckland, which explains why the handsome book accompanying the exhibition is titled Nature Boy -The Photography of Olaf Petersen.

Of Danish and Swedish heritage, Olaf Petersen was born in Swanson in 1915 and was educated at Swanson School. He never strayed far from Swanson for his entire life. The Peterson poultry farm was in Tram Valley Road and one of the neighbours was Henry Winkelmann, a well-known photographer of early Auckland. Winkelmann taught Olaf’s mother Ester how to use a camera and the sight of the red glow emanating from the Petersens’ bathroom as Ester developed film must have left a lasting impression for young Olaf.

While in his paid work Olaf often photographed events, clubs and weddings, leaving us with a great historical record of the west in the post-war years, Olaf also joined up with university tramping club enthusiasts and naturalists and became quite an expert on birds and as a photographer of nature. His happy place was the Te Henga coast where he photographed monumental sand dunes, the shapes of foam on the shoreline, windswept trees, dramatic shadows and cloud effects. He found patterns in natural phenomenon but also in the entry of man into the natural world, such as tyre marks on sand, or the pattern made by a top-dressing plane on the Jonkers farm. He often included local children in his photographs, such as members of the Wheeler family of Te Henga.

Amongst the thousands of his photographs held at Auckland Museum are those seen here, of the Dutch Kiwi Inn and the Back O’ the Moon. These were the go-to destinations for revellers in the post-war years. The west was a dry area and there were no cafes and bars; instead it was the heyday of the “dine and dance” and there were a number of these at Oratia and Waiatarua. Twenty-firsts, engagements and wedding breakfasts were held at these glamorous places, where there was live music, fabulous views and alcohol. The Dutch Kiwi was located just east of today’s Elevation in what had been the Waiatarua Boarding House; it burned down in the 1970s. The Back O’ the Moon was on the sharp corner past the Waiatarua Hall (south side of road) heading west. It was originally named Nihotupu House and built by early settler Edwin Gash. In the 50s Mary and Bill Lane, seen here admiring their spectacular view, converted it into a popular dine and dance. Photographs like these were probably commissioned, but those like the early surfers at Piha were taken because the subject took Olaf’s eye.

Olaf Petersen stayed in Swanson all his life. He took over the family farm in 1960 when his parents were in their seventies. He married late in life but remained on the farm until he went into a rest home where he died in 1994.

The Museum’s Olaf Petersen Collection was recognised by the UNESCO Memory of the World Aotearoa New Zealand Trust and added to the New Zealand Memory of the World Register in 2021.

Nature Boy: The Photography of Olaf Petersen

Exhibition opens 7 April 2022 and runs until March 2023

Sainsbury Horrocks Gallery, Level 2, Auckland War Memorial Museum

Free with Museum entry

Nature Boy: The Photography of Olaf Petersen

Edited Catherine Hammond and Shaun Higgins

Auckland University Press, $59.99

Sandra Coney

Text with photos: Bill and Mary Lane at Back ‘O the Moon in Waiatarua around 1960. Photograph Olaf Petersen.

 

The interior of the Dutch Kiwi Inn, the go-to party place of the 60s, Waiatarua. Photograph Olaf Petersen

 

Early surfers at Piha, 1950s. Photograph Olaf Petersen

The interior of the Dutch Kiwi Inn, the go-to party place of the 60s, Waiatarua. Photograph Olaf Petersen
Early surfers at Piha, 1950s. Photograph Olaf Petersen
Bill and Mary Lane at Back ‘O the Moon in Waiatarua around 1960. Photograph Olaf Petersen.