Gavin Brown Recollections Talk

Long time Raetihi identity Gavin Brown, gives a talk on his family's ties with the Waipapa and Mangapurua Valleys since his grandfather started farming their after the First World War. This is the first of a series of talks that The Friends of the Mangapurua Society will be hosting over the coming months.

Here is a story from the Wanganui Chronicle on 14th July titled "Telling the story of the Mangapurua settlers" and written by Zaryd Wilson.

After fighting in World War I many soldiers returned to New Zealand, often injured, and were offered isolated blocks of land to break in.

The idea was they would clear the scrub and create viable farmland for themselves.

But after two decades of back-breaking work many were forced to walk off their land with nothing.

This was the hard luck story of the settlers of Mangapurua, a valley settlement northwest of Raetihi.

And it's a story the Friends of Mangapurua society has been working to preserve and tell.

The group formed about two years ago and is hosting its first public talk on Saturday at the Raetihi Cosmopolitan Club.

"We're a group of like minded people who either have a family connection or simply like the area for its history and recreation," chairman Graham West said.

At its peak there would have been up to 40 families living there, including Mr West's grandfather John Aislabie.

"He was in the Battle of the Somme, and had a chunk of shrapnel through his back, basically. He was lucky to survive."

Mr West said there were many schemes like the Mangapurua valley settlement.

"This was sort of famous in that it failed," he said. "They started to build rudimentary houses and have children. But when it rained heavily the steep hill country eroded and slipped, there were huge problems with roading. "It wasn't really suitable for pastoral farming." All that remains today are a few chimneys, bricks and concrete, exotic trees amongst the scrub and clearings of English grasses.

This Saturday's public talk in Raetihi will be by Gavin Brown. "He has a great knowledge and passion for the valley," Mr West said. "His grandfather was a settler as well and he and others spent a lot of time digging up the history." Mr West said most of the children born in the settlement have died and it was important the story was not forgotten.

"It's part of New Zealand's heritage. It's an example of how New Zealand was developed. If we let it pass, it'll pass into Nowhere Land, basically." There are still tracks to access the area by bicycle or quad bike and the society is working on signage that will give people information about the area, the settlers and what went on there. "It's not obvious unless someone tells you."


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