Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 34. Colonial House, Pipiriki

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

Why is it that when I visit Pipiriki I feel like a trespasser? Is it because it sits on a restless river, long fought over - still fought over - in a valley whose hills and beaches have witnessed tragedies suffered by proud, sad people? Or is it because Pipiriki is a village where so many hopes have walked hand in hand with despairs like bad companions? For example there is, today, in Pipiriki, the shattered ruin of a modern tourist lodge, abandoned uncompleted. It was successor to Pipiriki House, burnt down in 1959, which itself replaced another built in 1903, itself successor to ‘primitive accommodation’ established before 1891 when tourism on Whanganui paddle steamers was becoming increasingly popular and fashionable.

For well over a century The Colonial House has mutely witnessed the ebb and flow of Pipiriki. It was built sometime after 1860 and its first known occupant was Pipiriki’s first chairman of the school committee, Reone te Maungaroa, in 1896. It stayed in his family until 1937 when it was taken over by Captain Andy Anderson a legendary river steamboat skipper who followed in his father Andrew’s footsteps (or rather, wake) as pilot of the Ongarue, a light draught steamer that carried sixty-five passengers and connected with the main railway line at Taumarunui. Captain Andy’s death, as well as his life, was patterned upon his father’s, as they both drowned, at different times, in the river on which they had made their lives’ work. Andy died in August 1958 but the house remained in his family for some years after.

Looking the worse for old age it was extensively restored from 1976; but although it was repiled, the floor levelled, it gained a new roof and lost an ugly concrete chimney, it is a faithful representation. Inside, walls were re-painted, scrim replaced, and plastic lighting fittings were superseded by old brass ones. And the garden was planted with ‘old fashioned’ herbs and flowers rosemary, lavender, violets and roses. Now administered by the Department of Conservation, it’s a local museum.

From the elegant dormers with their serpentine barge boards, Captain Anderson must often have stared south towards Wanganui along the historic river; reflecting, perhaps, upon its turbulent past: private, cryptic, secret …

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By Don Donovan