Thirty-nine years ago Gerry Clark was astonished by a roaring bulldozer toppling gum trees on the ridge above the Kerikeri Stone Store basin.
The lower terraced area of Kororipo Pa, the tip of the peninsula downstream from the Stone Store, had been made a reserve on donation to the nation by ES Little.
Mr Clark had understood the land from there to St James Church above the Stone Store was zoned a private reserve.
Alarmed at the destruction he met other shocked locals at the site and discovered the land had been sold and developer Gilbert Veale had permission from the Bay of Islands County Council for a large subdivision.
Horrified at the prospect and lack of public notification, Mr Clark called a meeting to discuss the situation with other concerned locals.
On May 15, 1969, the Society for the Preservation of the Kerikeri Stone Store Area – SPOKSSA – was born. The aim of the group was to foster the purchase of land in the area by the government and ensure the area was preserved.
There was much national support for the cause, although it was by no means unanimous.
The next few years were busy with fundraising and negotiations. Householders were approached in a door knocking campaign and Len and Betty Coates led volunteers in building a replica pre-European Maori fishing kainga, Rewa’s Village, on land rented for $1 a year from Nancy Pickmere.
The village opened in January 1970 and remains open today.
A Square Yards appeal involved inviting the public, locally and through a postal appeal, to buy a square yard of land and donate it to the nation in return for an ownership certificate.
Among other fundraising efforts a donated runabout was reconditioned and raffled and Gerry Clark was sponsored on a circumnavigation of New Zealand in his yacht Ketiga.
Work continued both negotiating for purchase of the land and petitioning for government assistance. By late 1971 the society had negotiated an agreement and raised sufficient money, through donations and borrowing, to purchase six and a half acres of land.
Settlement was in March 1972 and the final vendor payment was made in 1973, but other loans remained outstanding.
The Minister of Lands, Arthur Faulkner, was asked for a low interest loan. Mr Faulkner said he would ‘take them off the hook’ and the new government repaid the loans.
The battle was won, and the land was transferred into Crown ownership in April 1974. The crown later bought more land in the area, including Rewa’s Village, land on both sides of the river and more of the Veale property.
After five years the initial aim of the society had been achieved and interest waned. However Rewa’s Village remained popular with tourists and school groups and with a second objective of maintaining a Maori presence in the basin, the society continued running it as an outdoor museum.
The craft shop on the premises took fees and handed out guide sheets.
After the destruction of the 1981 big flood the society asked the Auckland Memorial Museum for an independent assessment on the value of the village. The report was positive and resulted in information boards placed around the village and an honesty box for payments.
The village has been managed by volunteers and more than $200,000 has been raised and used for projects in the area.
This includes contributions towards the construction of a bridge over Waitotorongo Stream and a wheelchair accessible path to Kororipo Pa, maintenance of Rainbow Falls track, the repair of the Kemp House chimney and fence, purchase of new picnic tables and benches and planting of native trees.
Rewa’s Village improvements include the 1992 new visitor’s centre and the Discoverers Garden, planned and built by Brian Proudley as a millennium celebration.
After a tumultuous birth and initial frantic few years the society settled to a sedate life of service in running Rewa’s Village, facilitating meetings between organisations with interests in the area and contributing financially to local projects.
Now there is more change in the Basin with the bypass opening and demolition of the old bridge.
The Kororipo-Kerikeri Basin sustainable development plan was released last year and a governance group set up. A new management group will be created to run the area.
It is a new era and the society questioned their place in the new generation of management at their annual general meeting last Friday.
It was agreed they would continue as is, running Rewa’s Village, until the management group has formed and resolved the high priority issue of the village’s future.
Discussions over the 40th birthday resulted in a new subcommittee to organise the celebrations. A plethora of celebration and profile-raising promotion ideas followed. A scholarship suggestion and new signage was discussed. The reprint of Nancy Pickmere’s Kerikeri Heritage of Dreams was launched.
The society has achieved a great deal. Despite changes in the area they will continue their work and prepare for forthcoming birthday celebrations.
To join SPOKSSA contact Yvonne Robinson on 09 4050688 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Bay Chronicle
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