Social Media

Please use the following tag on Social Media #maungawhau

Monday, January 2, 2017

Farewell Sue Bulmer

Dr Susan Bulmer
17.2.1933 – 6.10.2016

On Saturday 12 November 2016 several Friends of Maungawhau were among the large crowd gathered at the Blockhouse Bay Boat Club to celebrate the life of Dr Susan Bulmer, pioneering archaeologist in New Guinea and New Zealand, founder of the Friends of Maungawhau and namesake of the hefty New Guinea fruit bat, Aproteles bulmerae.
Sue on Maungawhau
September 2003
Sue Bulmer (née Hirsh) was born in Ithaca, New York and grew up in California. It wasn't until 1957, the year she arrived in New Zealand as a 24-year-old Fulbright scholar, that she got properly hooked on archaeology. Her earlier studies at Cornell University (BA) and the University of Hawaii (MA) were in anthropology. Sue had been introduced to field archaeology in Hawaii, and once in New Zealand she leapt into excavations in Auckland and field trips to the Coromandel. By all accounts, it was the music making and camaraderie as much as the excitement of digging that fuelled her enthusiasm. In 1958 she enrolled for MA studies in archaeology at Auckland University under Jack Golson, an early champion for Auckland's volcanic cones and the only archaeologist on the university staff at that time.

In 1959 Sue began her pioneering archaeological fieldwork in the New Guinea highlands, initially in the company of her newly-wed husband, anthropologist Ralph Bulmer. In the years following their return to New Zealand in 1960, Sue had three children (Alice, David and Kenneth) in quick succession, delaying completion of her MA until 1966. The family spent another five years in Papua New Guinea. Sue's research in Port Moresby became the basis of her PhD which she began in 1973 and completed in 1978, mainly to improve her chances of securing a position at a university or museum. Her marriage, however, was not a match made in heaven. She and Ralph divorced in 1980.
A collection of items relating to Sue's life and career.
She received a Living Legend award
from Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard in 2005

Outspoken and far-sighted, Sue was an independent scientist for most of her career, apart from 15 years at the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) and the Department of Conservation from 1979 until her retirement in 1994. As the HPT's first Northern Regional Archaeologist, Sue built up a team of more than 20 archaeologists and contract staff who carried out many site surveys in the Auckland region and brought a strong focus on archaeological research to the HPT's role.  

Sue indicating erosion on Maungawhau
November 2008
Sue first encountered Auckland's volcanic cones in 1957 on a bus tour for members of the newly-formed Auckland Archaeological Society. When Thor Heyerdahl visited the major Auckland maunga in 1965, he was surprised that none had ever been mapped. It was Sue who in 1978 produced the first archaeological map of Maungawhau, from survey work done by graduate students. Her map was published in the 1986 Management Plan for Maungawhau and is reproduced in our book, Maungawhau: a short history of volunteer action (2014). It is also available on our website, along with Sue's 2008 descriptions of the layout. Sue used to bring copies of her map to our meetings and urge us to mark anything of historical interest we might be lucky enough to discover.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Sue completed a great many archaeological studies and papers on the Māori settlement of Tāmaki Makaurau, including pā sites on the cones, gardens on the volcanic fields, and early historic sites in downtown Auckland. She campaigned for preservation of the Otuataua stonefields and for World Heritage status for the Auckland volcanic cones a decade before DOC took up the cause. In 1981, when the summit carpark on Maungawhau was repaved, Sue carried out the only archaeological excavations that have ever taken place on the mountain. Her passion for Māori history and her recognition of the immense value of the maunga as cultural landscapes was far in advance of the local authority management ethos through those frustrating decades. 
Sue talking to the developer in protest at the bulldozing
of an archaeological site. NZ Herald 15 March 1986
Sue and Ian Fish preparing for Love Your Mountain Day
29 November 2007
Love Your Mountain Day
2 December 2007
Sue's academic and advocacy work, and her connections with Māori historians, led naturally to her gathering together a group of conservationists, colleagues and local citizens to campaign for the maunga's preservation. The Friends of Maungawhau was incorporated in 2002 under a constitution written by Sue.  

Never one to shrink from robust debate or forthright action, Sue combatted the powers that be on every level. In 1986 when a developer was demolishing houses at the entrance to the domain, she stood in front of the bulldozer and brought the demolition work to a halt. Her petition for a land swap ultimately failed and Honeywell House now occupies the site. 

Sue regarded Maungawhau as a single historic heritage site and argued in her many submissions to Council and government that the volcanic cones should be administered as a special reserve category by a dedicated trust or board with its own trained staff. Her vision was to remove the cars and cattle and conserve the entire maunga. She supported our ecological conservation work and participated in Love Your Mountain Day every year it was held (2006-2014). 

In 2014, the year in which we published our book dedicated to Sue, much of what she had advocated since the 1980s came to pass. Following an historic 2012 Treaty settlement, the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority was established as an independent statutory body and Maungawhau is now administered by a small, dedicated team in Auckland Council. 

Sadly, Sue's health deteriorated in her latter years after the death of her second husband,  psychiatrist Terry O'Meara, in 2010.

The celebration of her life was a lively and musical affair, including a spirited rendition of
The Ballad of Bulmer’s Fruit Bat written by her son, David Bulmer. People commented on Sue's ready smile and her ability to inspire others.

Part of Sue's legacy for the Friends will be a willingness to actively lobby for the cones and to form relationships with all those who wish to preserve them. Sue's determination, feisty attitude and big-picture vision will continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Material was drawn from the following sources:
Bulmer, Alice. 2016. A matter of life and death (3): Farewell, Sue.
Friends of Maungawhau. 2014. Maungawhau: a short history of volunteer action. Friends of Maungawhau, Auckland.
Golson, Jack. 2016. Susan Bulmer, an archaeological pioneer. Archaeology in Oceania 51 Supplement 1: 11–18.