Elected Life Member in 1997
Passed Away 29 November 2006
The Omaha Development – As told by Malcolm Watson (Life Member OBC)Malcolm Watson

In the late 1960s Omaha Spit was considered an ideal place for a holiday resort. Plans were drawn up and put before the council. This raised a storm of protest from the surrounding locals. The project was passed after the council decided to put Omaha into a special rating area, and work started.

The developers wanted this area to look like a Pacific Island so they decided to build a sea wall to retain the sand. The sea wall was about 1000 yards long. The sand would be back-filled to the top of the wall. Cabbage trees were to be used to simulate coconut trees. The developers sacked the engineer for saying the wall would be taken by the sea. The second engineer said yes to the project. From then on the earthworks began.

A causeway and bridge were built for access to the spit. Power and telephone wires, water and sewerage lines were laid underground and two lights were used on Omaha Drive.

Easter, 1971, the first sections went on sale. A sales house was built to show prospective buyers the minimum size that could be built under the code laid down in the sales documents.

Sewerage: Flush toilets were used, this effluent going into two holding tanks. The contents were taken by tanker to Snells Beach. Omaha has its own treatment plant now.

Water: Not laid-on water for a start. Council required interim tanks while they investigated the various sources of water. Later on they provided piped water from an on-site bore. A float valve had to be installed into the tank, set to maintain 1000 litres in the tank regardless of rain. This arrangement lasted a few years, then Council told us they were doing away with the system. A heavy demand for larger tanks followed, so now every house has to install rain water tanks.

Up to 1987 a series of storms tested the sea wall. The wall was undermined so much that the only house on the foreshore had to have rock carted in and placed around it to protect it. When the big storm of 1978 took place the sea wall disappeared, and only a few posts remained standing. The rocks around the foreshore house remained. This was shifted to higher ground (on the seaward corner of Kitty Fraser and Darroch Slope).

After the storm the council wanted to place the ratepayers of Omaha, Point Wells and the bordering property owners on a special rating bill. These people would be rated for all the work to be done to restore and make improvements. The people rose up against the proposal. Council took the people to court and the people won.

After the storm, no bank would lend on Omaha properties so the value of the sections slumped so much that a $12,000 section was being resold for $4000. It remained so, for a few years. Later the rise began and has not slowed down.

The next move was to bring in a sand dredge and dump sand out of the inner channel onto the seaward side of the spit. They also built a lot of rock groynes for protection. All this took place at the end of the spit.

The next move was to protect the area where the sea wall was. A meeting between the council and ratepayers took place on site. Council wanted to rate us for the work without any idea of cost. Council again failed. Council and the developers got together and came up with a scheme whereby the development would lend the money to the council, so a sunken rock groyne is now beneath the sand.

The road from Omaha Flats Road to the causeway was not sealed. The last third was prone to flooding and needed attention. A ratepayer, who was a council elected member, asked another ratepayer – what are we going to do to improve this road. The reply was, “It’s easy”. “Tell me,” the councillor said. “You present a full statement of all facts, costs, other items like where the money is coming from.” The councillor went ahead and presented it to the council. It was duly passed by the council and the only changes they made were instead on one lump sum of $156 they would pay it in two instalments of $75.

About this time the council banned any more buildings past Success Court. The council wanted a site for sewerage and the developers wanted to sell the remaining sites.

At this stage the two parties had talks. The outcome was the council buying the golf course and the developers were given permission to develop the outer end of the spit. The treated water is now fed back to the new golf course to water the fairways.

In 1979 a tree planting programme was started. This took six years and was stopped. There was a stand against street lighting and it took several petitions to get it started again. Even today Omaha Drive lacks decent lighting, and also a footpath alongside of Omaha Drive.

During the years Omaha had a surplus fund of over 1 million dollars. Council had their eye on this fund and wanted to do away with the special rating. They soon found out that the money had to be spent in Omaha.

This is why Omaha has services other areas have not. These services are:
Golf course, improved tennis courts, club rooms, sewerage disposal, help for surf lifesaving club and improvements to W. Fraser Reserve.

By this time the spit was being developed. Then in the late 1990s the southern end was in the planning stage, as was also the making of the golf course to 18 holes. This new golf course is watered by two systems. The green is from a bore and the fairways by treated sewerage. The southern area is near the finishing stage with much having been built on.

Being close to Auckland, having a safe beach, good fishing, a golf course, a bowling green, and tennis courts, Omaha presents a good investment for buyers.

A retirement choice

Ninety-two-year-old Malcolm Watson was born in Renwick, Blenheim, a farming community where his father was a builder and storekeeper. Malcolm left in 1941 to go to war, and has never been back to live. He worked in general engineering in the Blenheim and Picton areas before moving to Auckland in 1968. He worked in tool making and factory maintenance.

Malcolm bought Omaha in 1971. He saw the sections when the area was opened for sales at Easter. He and his wife Thelma went back to Omaha that year and bought their section at the corner of Omaha Drive and Broadlands Drive for $3000. The property was near Auckland, and the beach appealed to Malcolm. The couple had four children, Brian, Frances, Pauline and Ian, but they were now grown up.

Omaha was where they wanted to retire to, although Thelma continued to work for 12 years at the Snells Beach Baptist Church School as a remedial teacher, and at a sewing factory.

Malcolm enjoyed gardening, although his only previous association with horticulture was during the depression years when he worked on an orchard for a few years, mainly grafting trees. He became quite knowledgeable over the years on gardening, and at Omaha he did a lot of research on what would grow there. It was flat, and nothing was growing there, other than two pine trees (one being at the end of Caroline Heights).

Five local residents got together to get trees planted. They were Dick Neville, Bill Freeth, Mrs Neville, Malcolm Watson and John Foster. They organised an open day which many people attended. Unemployed people dug the holes and the trees were supplied by the council. There were hundreds of trees, mainly Pohutukawas, Banksias, and Japanese Black Pines, which were used as shelter trees. When the people had their own trees, these could be taken out. A lot of people condemned the trees. Then the project flopped.

“We had no real help in selecting the trees, and I bought book after book to confirm what we were trying to do. We got to 30 different trees that would suit. The council had a different attitude to trees and shrubs and they wanted to exclude all exotics. They wanted all natives, but not all natives were suitable to grow down to the sea,” he says.

Some of these plants were ‘shore-loving’, but not suitable for ocean-side. The main wind is easterly, offshore, and invariably a drying wind, which means the salt is taken out and deposited on the trees. It may not harm hardy trees but it shrivels up new growth. It only happens every few years, when it is very dry and after severe storms.

Malcolm used to carry on his back up to 200 feet of three-quarter-inch hose and the stand-pipe and spanner to hook into the reticulated water system to water the trees over summer. This water system has since been removed.

His favourite is the Excelsior Pohutukawa. You can prune them judiciously to get some semblance of order, he says, but the council wouldn’t allow him to prune the trees – he didn’t have enough training.

Malcolm remembers the people employed to prune the trees and he thought they were hacking at them. There was a bit of a storm over that, he says.

There was an attempt to plant the centre island at the entrance to Omaha, with 300 trees planted in summer and a quick spray of water over the plants to water them. Only two of the 300 survived.

Grass always grew well on the then barren sections, and Malcolm remembers the early days of the 1980s of many grass fires, started mainly by barbecues. The council would send notification to property owners to cut their grass (and gorse, which also grew so well) or it would cut it for them and send the bill.

In those days there were about 60 permanent residents and about 40 homes, so Malcolm sourced a number of fire hoses and equipment to help in the event of a grass fire, but the water pressure was not sufficient to fight a house fire. An appeal for a pump was launched after Richie Poole’s caravan caught fire, and that fire pump was used in the late 1980s with the area’s first house fire in Meiklejohn Way.

The ‘real’ fire brigade based in Warkworth was most alarmed at how ill-equipped the volunteers were who manned the pump. They were being beaten back by the heat, and some were noted to be wearing jandals on their feet. The area’s first ‘real’ fire brigade was commissioned in July, 2005, and the first fire it responded to was within a few days when the local school principal’s house had a chimney fire.

In later years Malcolm would sit for hours at the entrance to Omaha, outside his Broadlands Drive property, watching the traffic come and go. He couldn’t walk far – his wounded knee was a legacy of two motorbike accidents and an axe he was using to chop into a water tank on a neighbour’s property, so it could be removed.

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