In the late 1890s a well-known South Taranaki farmer, James Livingston, announced he was selling his large farm property, Waipapa, near Hawera, to the Government for increased settlement. The announcement created great interest.
This was prime agricultural land that had been developed over more than 30 years from rough bracken and native shrubs, to a highly productive farm growing the best English grasses.
Like many other farmers who had been offering their big properties for sub-division throughout New Zealand, James Livingston was now almost 60 and ready to retire to a small farm and enjoy his interests. The ruling Liberal Government and its Minister for Lands, Gaelic-speaking John McKenzie was keen to buy land for sub-division to sell to farmers who had small means, but a strong desire to succeed. Dairying was seen as the excellent opportunity to develop new communities and fulfil the ambitions of rural families.
James Livingston was a towering figure in the development of South Taranaki. He had been driven off his land by the followers of Titokowaru, lost his mob of sheep that he had brought from Hawke's Bay, distinguished himself by recovering the wounded at the battle of Te Ngutu o te Manu and had become the person to whom his neighbours turned in times of need.
Over the years, his holding had increased to almost 650 hectares, was well fenced and much of it ploughed. His homestead, set back from South Rd, was well planted with trees and had one of the best orchards in the district.
James and Louisa had four children Janet, Fred, Guy and Heathcote who grew up at the 12-room homestead of Waipapa with their grandmother and two aunts.
In preparation for the sale of his property on November 20, 1901 Livingston engaged auctioneers Nolan and Tonks to sell his draught horses on August 10, cattle (including his notable polled shorthorns) on September 5, and his sheep on September 18.
The Government Printer put together a small prospectus describing the property now known as the Tokaora Settlement, because there were already eight others in New Zealand called Waipapa. The brochure had several maps of the property describing the 14 new farms which varied in size from 202 hectares to 612 hectares.
The prospectus outlined the procedure that applicants were to follow, which included a statement of their means, age and marital status. The Government had no intention of selling to wealthy farmers who might be merely adding to their own holdings.
The largest farm was Section 92, described as having been ploughed 16 years before and having had a grain crop of 4.8 hectares on a terrace between the Karimoe Stream and the Waingongoro River. The farm was divided into two areas and well sheltered by 0.8 hectares of plantation on the northern side, but exposed to the south. Except in a few places, the Waingongoro River proved a natural fence. A further note says the farm's height above sea level was between 12 to 70 metres.
Many of the farms were further described in nine photographs showing them in their bare and destocked state.
The homestead section was 42 hectares in total, containing a large garden, shrubbery and orchard. As well, there were all the usual outbuildings including a cottage, stables, woolshed and blacksmith's shop.
On August 12, 1901, a widely attended meeting of townspeople and farmers in Hawera decided to make representations to the Minister of Agriculture to have the homestead block developed as a demonstration farm and dairy school. The minister replied that a site near Levin in the Manawatu was planned and would accommodate the work currently undertaken at Moumahaki near Waverley.
Two years later, a young Irishman writing for the Hawera and Normanby Star visited the new Tokaora farms and noted the improvements that had been made.
The district had been slow to settle and at first, only seven of the farms had been taken up by suitably qualified men. He walked from South Rd along the Ohawe Rd and found the great swamps in the roadway difficult to navigate.
Andrew Freyne was one of the first to win the ballot and on his 36 hectares he was milking 45 cows along with keeping horses, pigs and poultry.
A great heap of posts in one paddock showed that more fencing of posts and barbed wire was planned.
The young reporter complained of the "Opunake Gates" made of battens and barbed wire that seemed to be universal.
He walked past Thomas Bear's home and that of Mr Mills and on to the corner of the road where John Finlay had drawn his section. Finlay had not yet moved his family there from town but the farm was growing good carrots, oats, mangolds and potatoes. He was milking only 26 cows, but had another 50 that would come into milk later in the season.
Walking on, the man from the Star found a solitary macrocarpa tree standing on top of the cliffs, the last of the many hundreds planted by Livingston and destroyed by the erosion of the 100-metre cliff. Others nearby stood white and stripped of their bark, killed by the salt storms.
Walking in a great circle he arrived at Hauroto Rd visiting Fred Wren and J A Cockerton, both of whom had put in considerable improvements and both were suppliers of the Riverdale dairy factory. Their neighbour who had drawn the homestead section, Thomas Higginson, had won the factory's coveted blue ribbon for his milk quality.
The Tokaora dairy factory and the primary school would soon be built.
More than 110 years has elapsed since Waipapa became Tokaora. James Livingston, the very epitome of a responsible public-spirited 19th century farmer, would be pleased to realise that portions of the Waipapa and Livingston estate are now farmed and owned by the mayor of South Taranaki District Council, Ross Dunlop.
The family of James and Mary Batten moved to Tokaora and took up Section 92 of the Tokaora Settlement as the first residents. Their children, Emma, May, Ida, Hilda and Hamilton developed and worked the farm. Hamilton is credited with not only adopting revolutionary farming practices, but also damming the Karimoe Stream that ran through their property, putting in a generator and installing electric lights in their house and sheds.
Each member of this family contributed to the farming, musical and community of their time. In 1948, the farm was bought by Ian Dunlop, a returned soldier, and for the rest of his life he spoke admiringly of the achievements of his predecessors, the Batten family.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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