George Handley's morning tea to remember the former Rapanui Hall became a happy, chatty Rapanui reunion for some of the guests.

Handley held the morning tea at the Rapanui/Mōwhanau Community Centre on June 7 - saying it was something he had been wanting to do for four years.

It brought together descendants of the Rapanui families who built the first hall, on Rapanui Rd, in the early 1900s. When the hall was sold in 1994 the money was put into the new version, the Rapanui/Mōwhanau Community Centre, which opened in 1996.

A room at the centre features historic photos of the beach and area - cliffs that are now eroded to nothing, an 1865 army camp, fish drying racks on the shore and campers across the domain. Handley unveiled a photograph that will join them.

Advertisement

It shows members of the main five families who raised money and built the first Rapanui Hall - Coopers, Hodges, Cripps, Handleys and McNies. They were helped by Russells, Fords, Rogers and Gibbards and they formed a body called Rapanui Settlers Incorporated.

An assemblage of historic photos in the Rapanui/Mōwhanau Community Centre shows people involved at the very beginning of the local hall. Photo / Bevan Conley
An assemblage of historic photos in the Rapanui/Mōwhanau Community Centre shows people involved at the very beginning of the local hall. Photo / Bevan Conley

The McNies gave the land for Rapanui School and the nearby hall. The Cripps sold a shed to help finance it. Others joined in raising funds and building, and it opened in January 1915.

It opened with a concert of song, dance, recitation and piano playing, followed by a dance. A few days later a first church service was held in the hall, attended by about 100.

Rapanui was a wonderful little community then, Elizabeth Lennox (nee McNie) said. The coastal area had many small dairy farms and a butter factory.

Handley remembers four-digit phone numbers, and his grandfather setting up a model dairy, bottling Certified Karitane Milk. Lennox remembered going to church and Sunday school in the hall, and having lessons there when the school got too crowded.

"The teacher used to close the school at 2pm in summer every day that was fine, and we used to hop on our bikes and go for a swim [at the beach]."

During World War II the hall was used by the Home Guard. Lennox's grandmother said the Japanese would be best to invade after 3pm, because by then the Home Guard were all at home doing the milking.

In the 1970s and '80s motorcycle races on a nearby farm raised money to keep the hall going but by 1984 the school had only seven pupils, and it closed.

Advertisement

"Losing this school, Rapanui lost its identity, and has never recovered," Handley said.

By the 1990s the Mōwhanau settlement at the beach was bigger than Rapanui. When Rapanui Hall was sold - to a Cripps descendant who uses it as a house - the money started a fund for a new hall within the settlement.

It was added to by a lottery board grant and by fundraisers such as cake stalls and selling scones to tourists. The new community centre was opened by then-mayor Chas Poynter in March 1996. It's one of four in a rural halls trust, which Handley said maintains it well.

He is the centre chairman,and made a short speech at the gathering. His sister Diana sang a song to follow, and had made a celebration cake that was cut by Jen and Euan Hodge.

Centre secretary Robyn Allen-Dick said the centre hosts monthly morning teas, annual dinners and a Steady As You Go exercise class - as well as birthdays, 21st birthday celebrations and weddings. She would like local people to make more use of it.