Wheel alignment

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Preserving local history

This post isn't about motorcycles or cars, but a bit of local history in New Zealand which I've only had minor involvement with, but has consumed massive amounts of my wife's time.  I'm enormously proud of her and her team of volunteers in achieving a wonderful conservation outcome.

Firstly, a bit of background.  European settlement of the Coromandel Peninsula really started in the early to mid-1800's although sporadic visits by sailor/explorers like Capt James Cook were even earlier.  Native Kauri trees were a sought-after resource for ship spars and general high quality timber.  Gold was subsequently discovered which brought about a significant increase in settlers.  Typically, settlers had to be resourceful and many had cattle to provide meat and dairy products.  One such family owned Fir Lawn House and in the late 1870's/early 1880's, had a creamery to convert milk into dairy products.  The house itself is no longer habitable but the creamery was in generally good order and had been repurposed at some stage as a spa room for a local motel.  Best not delve too deeply that it had a long-standing heritage preservation order placed on it!

The motel owners no longer needed it and approached the Coromandel School of Mines and Historical Museum to see if they would like to take ownership.  It so happens that Jennie was, and is the current President of the museum.  The committee thought that it was an excellent way of preserving a piece of local history and accepted the offer.  Like many of these excellent institutions throughout the world, they are run entirely by volunteers, mainly of a "certain age".  Income comes from modest museum entry fees and occasional grants from various sources.  Funds are invariably tight.

Coromandel School of Mines and Historical Museum

The transaction was quite complex for Jennie and her team.  As well as transporting it from one site to another, substantial civil works would be required at the museum and there was the minefield of official paperwork required by the district council and national historic places administration.  Fundraising/resourcing was another hurdle and direct approaches to local businesses and various authorities were made.  The responses were really enthusiastic overall, which allowed the project to proceed.  It's worth mentioning at this stage that despite years of professional project management, I want to live to a ripe old age so only gave advice when it was asked for (which wasn't very often)!  Harmony reigns in the James household.

The first job was to remove it from the motel and deliver it to a temporary location on the museum site.

A tricky lift from the motel

Ready for delivery to the museum

Although the structure was in good order considering that it is over 150 years old, some minor restoration was required.  Several of the motifs on the windows were broken and that was something I could address with my woodworking tools and bits of timber carefully stored for such eventualities.

One of several broken window motifs requiring replacement

Getting the creamery into its final location required substantial amounts of civil work.  Not only new paths but the old town jail which is part of the museum display had to be rotated at right angles and re-piled. 

Preparatory civil work

Boxing for concrete paths

Coromandel township (pop ~1600) is relatively isolated and to some extent, tradespeople have a captive market and are always busy.  Their standard of workmanship is generally high but the one thing they fall woefully short on is their communication skills.  Typical examples would be not turning up as promised or not completing work on time as agreed.  Most likely not restricted to just Coromandel!  However, the builder (Regan) who did all the civil work was outstanding in this respect and updates were both regular and detailed.  Likewise local electrician Zephan who installed lighting in the creamery as his contribution to the museum.  Both Regan and Zephan have been absolute stars and great communication skills are their competitive advantage.

With all the work complete, last weekend saw the grand opening by the Coromandel District Mayor, Len Salt and Jennie representing the museum volunteers.  A big turn-out and some great feedback from dignitaries and the public alike.

Ready for the grand opening

The museum already held various artifacts from that era so it was straightforward to stock the creamery with butter churns, a cream separator, ice chest and other items to bring it back to life .  A sensationally good job of restoration. 

Inside the creamery

Jennie and Mayor Len Salt at the key-turning ceremony

Some of the guests sampling refreshments after the ceremony

Apart from pride in a project superbly executed, it's a great opportunity to celebrate the enormous amount of work which volunteers the world over put into their communities.  It simply wouldn't be possible to get the same results through official channels alone and in this particular case, a piece of local history would have been lost forever. A big thumbs-up to members of the the local community for their enthusiastic support too.

Finally, to add to the previous post about knee replacement surgery 7 weeks ago; things are coming along well.  I'm continuing to gain flexibility in the joint and can drive all our cars with no issues.  A breakthrough in the past few days has seen me able to pedal my old mountain bike properly which is mounted in a resistance frame.  Pushing the rehab hard is still painful but a few weeks more and I should be up in the hills again on my e-mountain bike - yippee!

A pretty tidy job!


  1. It is so important to preserve the past. The relocation seemed to have been quite a delicate job, given the history of the building. Now the restoration looks fabulous.

    Glad to hear you are well on the mend. Mind you, be careful out there... don't push your luck, and no more stunts on bikes, promise? ;-)

  2. Oh, that was me... SonjaM

    1. Thanks Sonja, it was a delicate job. Lots of temporary internal bracing whilst the building was being shifted. Totally agree with the need to preserve the past so that we can learn from it.

      I promise that I'll be careful. I can't however promise that there won't be a rush of blood to the head on one of those perfect summer days 😄

  3. What a lovely building, and well worth preserving. Very ornate, and obviously something that pride was take in all those years ago. It's good to see the sense of pride remain in any community. Your knee too looks like its preservation is coming rightly. Well done Jenny and team.


    1. Thanks Ian! I guess that it was built by local carpenters who had no idea that it would last for a century and a half at least. Wonderful to see the community rally behind it. Knee is also coming along nicely thanks - rehab is pretty tiring though.


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