John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bush whare tipped to be big drawcard for Tauranga attraction

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Restoration of the Menzies slab at The Elms. L-R Willie Turner and Kevin Hamm 30 August 2016 Bay of Plenty Times- Photograph by George Novak
Restoration of the Menzies slab at The Elms. L-R Willie Turner and Kevin Hamm 30 August 2016 Bay of Plenty Times- Photograph by George Novak

An iconic building of early New Zealand is set to become another big visitor drawcard at the historic Elms Mission House.

The Menzies slab whare sits in a corner of the grounds and was one of only four whare or bush houses left standing in the country.

"It's a real gem," Elms volunteer Willie Turner said. He launched the project to clean up the building, restore the household and agricultural items inside the one-room hut.

Restoration of the Menzies slab at The Elms. Kevin Hamm and Willie Turner. Photo/George Novak
Restoration of the Menzies slab at The Elms. Kevin Hamm and Willie Turner. Photo/George Novak

Mr Turner said the whare or slab hut was fine example of an early colonial house built using readily available timber in the backblocks of New Zealand.

Although it had no connection to the Elms story, he said it was an icon of New Zealand history and deserved to be preserved and displayed for its own intrinsic value.

Building a hut was the first thing frontier farmers did on getting a bush block. They cut down a totara tree, split it, and in just a few days had erected a cottage using little more than a cross-cut saw, axe, adze and maul.

Once the bush was cleared and the farm established, the farmers could start thinking about building a proper house using weatherboards.

Stark in its simplicity with a roughly adzed matai floor, the bush carpentry that went into the Menzies whare oozes appeal to the modern generations. "It has lasted well."

Mr Turner said the whare was a window into the past for children who did not appreciate how people lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the household items in the whare like the butter maker had handles that could be turned by children to give them an added tactile experience.

He and fellow volunteer Kevin Hamm have spent over a year of part-time work cleaning and scrubbing to get the building into a tidy condition, helped by other volunteers from the Elms and the Men's Shed.

The slab whare at its original site in the King Country.
The slab whare at its original site in the King Country.

Mr Turner called it a rehabilitation rather than a restoration that included a bit of painting and some modern features such as LED lighting. His work included researching the whare's history.

He also gave a big thanks to Pro Blast's Richard Sisson, who sandblasted and painted the household and farming items without charge.

Pillans Point School students, on a visit to the Elms, grabbed the opportunity to have a sneak preview of the whare when the Bay of Plenty Times news team was being shown through.

"The kids thought it was brilliant, it's great when it's hands-on," one of the parent helpers said.

The whare's official opening is on September 5.

Elms Foundation manager Andrew Gregg said he was excited about making it accessible to people for the first time.

"It is a piece of our history that really deserves to be protected."

Menzies Slab Whare
- Built 1919 by Bert Menzies at Kopaki in the King Country
- Donated by John and Mavis Menzies in 1968
- Dismantled and carted to Tauranga by Julie and John Green
- Duff Maxwell of the Elms added three windows and replaced roof shingles

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