DON BUCK'S GUM DIGGER CAMP
Don Buck's Gum Digger Camp near Swanson Stream, thought to be located at the corner of Glen and Don Buck’s Roads, adds an infamous element to the early stories of Henderson.
Don Buck arrived in New Zealand from Portugal in 1892, ending up in the gum fields of West Auckland. His small gum digger's camp in the bush likely began in the 1890s, with a formal land purchase in 1913 (Simpkins, 2012; Flude, 2008).
Don Buck, or Francisco Rodrigues Figueira, was a distinctive character whose Southern European dress, accent, and appearance gave him a striking reputation in the gum fields out west.
" He wore a broad-brimmed hat, calf-length velvet-trimmed jacket, waistcoat, and high leather boots. His Mediterranean complexion, dark glittering eyes and bristling wax-tipped moustache made him an unforgettable sight." (Simpkins, 2012)
Known to ride a large black stallion, it seems he cultivated an aura of fear and respect that allowed him to work with petty criminals deemed unfit for central Auckland. Striking a deal with the authorities in Auckland, Don Buck would take on the care of criminals, setting them to work in the gum fields. Consequently his camp in Birdwood "became a haven for ne'er-do-wells, incorrigibles, down-and-outs, remittance men and waifs and strays who were often given twelve hours to quit the boundaries of Auckland town" (Simpkins, 2012).
When local vineyards started to sell wine, the camp gained a reputation for unruly drunkenness, with several alcohol related deaths occurring. Don Buck himself retained his reputation as a sober, honest man, dying from natural causes in 1917. His camp was disbanded soon after his death. (Flude, 2008).
Don Buck's flamboyant appearance, attitudes, and notorious camp set him apart from other early settlers in Auckland. His 'otherness' continues to inspire imaginations in the west, especially in the Don Buck area in Massey that carries his name. Marianne Simpkins poem, The Ballad of Don Buck’s Hill is well known in the region, and has helped to keep the legacy of Don Buck’s Camp alive.
Flude, A. (2008) Henderson's Mill: How a Humble timber mill became today's Henderson in West Auckland. Waimauku, Resource Books.
Simpkins, Marianne. 'Figueira, Francisco Rodrigues', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012. Retrieved 9 October 2016 URL: