By Jodi Bryant
"To Basil, From Cousin Ada", read the well-preserved but slightly stained Best Wishes card.
This is just one of the many keepsakes project manager Gael Ramsay is discovering while packing away all the historic items inside Glorat, the Clarke Homestead.
The 1886 homestead is undergoing a major refit after Kiwi North, governed by the Whangārei Museum and Heritage Trust, was recently granted $400,000 from the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme.
They are using $100,000 of that to make up the remainder of the $500,000-plus needed for the Clarke Homestead conservation project.
The first step is removing all the items accrued from generations of the Clarke family and many of which have not been moved since the last family member left in the 1980s when it was opened to the public as a museum.
Basil Clarke handed over the keys to his family home after the Northland Regional Museum purchased the property in 1972 as the site for a museum.
Basil was allowed 6 hectares for his own use during his lifetime and lived in the back of the homestead with his house-keeper until his death, aged 72, in 1983. Then, the entire home was open to the public for viewing with its original antique furnishings and artefacts collected by the family.
Ramsay, along with a small team of volunteers, is two weeks into the six-week packing process and describes it so far as "interesting".
"It's obviously a house full of treasures. I think different generations of the same family living here have added to the collection, not removing anything over the years. I opened a little drawer and there were some decorations that had been on a cake for a celebration of some sort," she said, opening the exquisite Norrie cabinet revealing miniature drawers each containing an assortment of items such as the floral cake decorations, shells, a piece of rosin for a violin bow and ...
"Oh, this is a creepy one - It's a skin purse that's got three claws on it!"
Ramsay was photographing and cataloguing each item, polishing and packing it away to be stored offsite before the next stage can begin.
The homestead is being re-piled, scaffolded and wrapped, re-roofed and fitted with new guttering and spouting fitting the heritage style of its era.
The work will be carried out by local contractors, including Kerr Construction, who are the recommended builders by Heritage Northland for work on heritage properties.
Although the dwelling had been re-roofed once before, Kiwi North director of operations Allie Fry was hoping for no "surprises".
"It's scary with old buildings, you never know what you're going to find. We hope there are not too many surprises, such as rot.
"She's always been an important part of Whangārei history," she said of Glorat. "And she's unique in that there's only ever been one family living there."
Another change, this time to the interior, was the removal of the glass viewing dividers, formerly used to keep distance between spectators and displays. However, because visitors were allowed to wander through the hall unsupervised, the wallpaper had been damaged by children in places. Once the refit is complete, visitors will be able to go into the rooms with supervision.
"The removal of the dividers will also help with airflow, keeping humidity under control and help towards longevity," explained Fry.
The project is expected to be complete by April and besides the recent $100,000 grant, funding over the last three years has come from Whangārei District Council, Lotteries Environment and Heritage, Foundation North, Sir John Logan Campbell Estate and Stout Trust.
The Maunu-based Clarke Homestead is a Grade 2 Heritage New Zealand-listed building originally built on 94ha in 1886 for Dr Alexander and Mary (nee Reid) Clarke as both a family home and doctor's surgery.
Alexander and Mary had three sons - William, James and Alexander.
Basil was one of four children to James and his wife Mabel with ownership transferred to Basil in 1948. He continued to farm the land until 1972.