Athenree Homestead’s Benefits to the Community
The development of the Athenree Homestead brings together a number of significant benefits to both the local community and the wider Region, making this project potentially an important asset for the District as a whole.
(i) Historic and Cultural Significance:
The proposal provides an opportunity for the preservation, interpretation and display of significant history for this area. Cultural interlinking with not only other pioneer settlements throughout New Zealand but also throughout the world, draws national relevance.
The historic value of the Athenree Homestead is immense. George Vesey Stewart was unique in New Zealand’s early history by introducing over 4000 settlers to the Bay of Plenty area. This was the largest known organised emigration of its kind in the world. Not only did he bring settlers to the area, but it was such an organised event unlike any other in New Zealand’s history. George Vesey Stewart returned to Ireland and convinced prospective settlers to not only sell their farms and lands in Ulster, but to plan for the future by bringing their servants, and with them the colloquial flavour of Ireland. Everything was so well organised, to everyone’s satisfaction allocations of land was given.
His brother and sister-in-law, Captain Hugh and Adela Stewart, settled at Athenree and built the Homestead which became the focal point of the District. Through Adela Stewart’s hospitality, her home and garden became very well known not only in New Zealand, but also in Ireland.
There’s no other facility like this in the area. Rather the Katikati / Athenree / Waihi region is unique in having, but is presently lacking this facility. It is so important to the community that everyone (local, national, and international) has the opportunity again to experience the first hand taste of a pioneer settlement, rich in colloquial Ulsterism, passive in its tranquil environment.
Most of us in the comfort of our modern day luxuries have no idea of the hardships and endeavours these people had to endure. As if the ship’s voyage wasn’t severe enough! Three months at sea, mostly laden with sea-sickness, poor provisions, disease – not to mention the blistering sun of the ‘doldrums’, or the raging seas of the South Atlantic and Antartic regions. I reflect and wonder, if it had been me, would I have survived?
(ii) Recreational Park:
Amid the existing stand of valuable and historic trees, the meandering walk-ways, and the natural amphi-theatre, the Homestead’s grounds is the perfect setting for numerous cultural and recreational activities such as receptions, concerts, recitals, etc. Adela’s book gives specific and detailed documentation of the garden detailing the plantings, and what interesting, exotic, and original species were available. All of this provides the means to develop this asset as a recreational park, function and picnic facility.
(iii) Pioneer Nurseries:
Having such a stock of original mature trees, shrubs and self sustaining plants that Adela Stewart planted between 1879-1901, there’s great potential for marketing some of these old world varieties, organic by nature and original to their planting that any gardner would love. Furthermore Adela brought many plants with her, or sent for many seeds from places where she had been, or where she had friends of similar interest. Consequently there are some rare plants and trees from other parts of the world too.
(iv) Educational Asset:
The historic facility will become a valuable resource centre for schools of the area, as well as for the local public, and visitors. Schools will be able to bring pupils to practically experience an authentic pioneer homestead and:
– learn about the history and background to the settling of the region, the long sea voyages, what the people gave up to come here, their roles, class structure, etc.
– learn of the conditions, working for a year to clear their land in the bush and mud, the Stewart’s living in their temporary dwelling that was in actuality the stables, while building the homestead
– learn of the challenges of the clothing of the period, hair styles, sanitation and cleanliness
– despite the short-comings and the austerities, learn about their resourcefulness, and pride in their craftsmanship, turning rough un-managed bush into parklands, vegetable gardens, and a beautiful homestead that became the central focus of many in the area, with it’s own post-office, livery stables, etc.
– see genuine artefacts from the era, and what they were used for
– see the vision and pride that they had in their home and the quality of life, which even though simple, delighted in natural opulence’s grown on the land, cooked or preserved, woven, knitted, crochet, forged or carved
– understand their expectations and aspirations in choosing Athenree as their base, along with the frustrations, home-sickness, etc amidst achieving their goals.
A visit to the Homestead will provide a cultural experience that will allow you to experience the flavour of “settler life”. We have found that many of the people who have come through have been very positively affected by the entire experience, giving appreciation to their own lives and perspective to the struggle for something worthwhile.
We are already receiving feedback from visitors from Ulster, the USA, as well as New Zealanders who feel inspired by Adela Stewart’s amazing life as told in her book My Simple Life in New Zealand :
– the resourcefulness and adaptability that has become famous as being the intrinsic nature of what most people today understand “a pioneer” is or was
– and depicting how there’s so much to be learned from such “Salts of the Earth” that will enhance our appreciation for what we have, and the legacy of culture in the making that makes us who we all are………as New Zealanders today!
(v) Facility for Community Uses:
The building and grounds will be available to the public for receptions, meetings, seminars, exhibitions, as well as T.V. documentaries, filming and movie settings, etc., set with an appropriate and realistic scale of fees to assist the maintenance of the homestead.
(vi) Local Employment:
During the actual restoration period there have been and will continue to be numerous openings for skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers to dismantle the present building, clear the site and land and help with storage and the re-building of the actual homestead.
There will also be a need for labourers to clear vegetation, gorse, bamboo, remove rubbish, etc, etc., before and as restoration work continues.
(vii) Tourism Potential:
The site marks the “Gateway” to the Western Bay of Plenty.
The proposal includes projects which capitalise on the mass of the thousands of tourists that come to the Bay of Plenty each year. The tourism potential of the historic and recreational features of the Homestead is brilliant.
This project also builds on and complements, the activities and goodwill already established by the Katikati Open-Air Art and other groups working for the development of this area (One of the Katikati Open-Air Art’s famous Murals features the Athenree Homestead).
Recently we have made contact with many overseas groups and individuals who are very interested in organising to in some way utilise this amazing facility.