Frank Sargeson’s Bach, Takapuna (1931)
New Zealand fiction finds its voice
No Heritage New Zealand registration form could improve on writer Kevin Ireland’s assessment of this place. ‘That tiny fibrolite dwelling, set in the subsistence garden that Frank cultivated like a small farm,’ he wrote in his memoir Under the bridge and over the moon, ‘became a literary kingdom entirely without guards or frontiers and where the only cards of identity were books’. As the novelist David Ballantyne put it: ‘Here he wrote all his best-known short stories and novels, grew vegetables and entertained friends and fellow writers. Here a truly New Zealand literature was born.’
In 1931 Norris Davey (Frank Sargeson) moved into the family bach (a Kiwi word for a small no-frills beach or holiday house) in Esmonde Road, Takapuna, then a quiet seaside resort on Auckland’s isolated North Shore. Seclusion suited the 28-year-old Sargeson, who was still trying to live down an earlier arrest for having sex with another man, then illegal in New Zealand. Dilapidated and cockroach-infested 14 Esmonde Road, ‘a small one-roomed hut in a quiet street ending in a land of mangrove mud-flats that belonged to the inner harbour’, offered sanctuary and somewhere to write. Here Sargeson wrote most of his work and also held court to the small literary community. Here he grew his vegetables, entertained, cooked fine meals, argued and loved and took in strays, most memorably the novelist Janet Frame, whose sojourn in the garden shed (now demolished) has been featured in books and film.
Sargeson died on 1 March 1982 and his ashes were sprinkled under a loquat tree in the garden. Traffic from the harbour bridge now thunders along Esmonde Road, past the property, which a trust administers as a literary museum. Contact the Takapuna Public Library to make an appointment to see the place. Sargeson’s reputation may have faded a little in literary circles, but behind its stark, no-frills grey fibrolite exterior there awaits an enticing, water-stained brown little world full of books, old armchairs, hats, coats and all the relics of a life of yarns and letters.
View Perfectly Frank - the life of a New Zealand writer (NZ On Screen)
This site is item number 88 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.
- Heritage New Zealand List
- Frank Sargeson biography – Te Ara
- ‘Perfectly Frank - The life of a New Zealand writer’ - NZ On Screen
- NZ literature in the 1930s - NZ History
- Book council biography
- Michael King, Frank Sargeson: a life, Penguin, Auckland, 1995
- Graeme Lay and Stephen Stratford (eds), An affair of the heart: a celebration of Frank Sargeson’s centenary, Cape Catley, Auckland, 2003