Here is a recount of the brief history of Keirunga. The establishment of Keirunga Gardens Arts & Crafts Society Inc is only a small part of the whole of the Keirunga history which dates back to when John Chambers purchased the large holding from Maori owners in 1854. It was named Te Mata.
Over the years a strong interest in cultural pursuits was aligned with the establishment of Havelock North with particular focus on drama, music, writing, arts, tree planting and all of these are seen today over 150 years later.
By 1911 The Havelock Work was formalised under the presidency of Mason Chambers with very lofty ideals of the holding of constructive thought, optimistic frame of mind, the spirit of co-operation and chivalry amongst others.
Mr George Nelson, a founder of the Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune, and a director of J.J. Nimon & Co purchased Keirunga in 1929 at the age of 57 years. He planned to develop the property into parkland. His wife Elizabeth provided afternoons for her friends including garden walks and it was a meeting place for ‘serious talk.’ She was a watercolourist and painted in the gardens and a work of hers is today in the Homestead.
In 1956 the property except for the Homestead, Chalet and homestead grounds were offered to the Havelock North Borough Council with special conditions. After much discussion and correspondence and with misgivings on the part of some of the councillors the gift was accepted and taken over in 1957. Mr Nelson died aged 93 in 1964 when through his Will Keirunga Homestead and the surrounding 2½ acres came into the hands of the Havelock North Borough Council (at a nominal sum.) George Nelson’s wish in his Will was that Keirunga would become a park and recreation area.
By 1964 all of Keirunga was in the hands of the Havelock North Borough Council who queried – is it an asset – is it a liability – what to do with it? Could we not find a way to sell some of the sections – it is valuable land. Nothing was done and the Homestead deteriorated and grounds became overgrown.
In 1965 the idea of developing Keirunga as a Cultural Centre grew out of the need for the Havelock North Pottery Club to move out of their cowshed quarters. Led by Frank Bacon, and Beryl Blackmore, a small group of very interested people held a public meeting with an attendance of over 70 residents. An interim committee was formed to pursue the idea and if successful to form a Society to administer Keirunga as a cultural centre.
It was a well-fought battle – overcoming Councilors’ doubts, negative attitudes, legal rulings, disappointments, finally “the idealistic dreamers” as they were dubbed won through with the help of some Councilors, a sympathetic Town Clerk and ultimately the Minister of Internal Affairs, Duncan McIntyre who went to Wellington on their behalf. The green light was given. The first groups being The Potters, Drama Club and Painters moved in. The Potters took over the garage and fowl house with the others in the Homestead Lounge.
Women interested in gardening took over clearing the grounds and this was the beginning of the Keirunga Garden Circle headed by Cr Margaret Hursthouse. The assistance from other groups such as Havelock North Rugby Club, Hastings Boys’ High School and Havelock North Rotary Club was incredible. Working bees were arranged with scones and tea to keep the workers going.
A constitution was drawn up named Keirunga Gardens Society Incorporated with the main aim “To develop Keirunga as a Community Asset.”
The Havelock North Borough Council took over the grounds and gave support, but with the growing number of groups and members, the Homestead space soon became inadequate for such a range of activities.
In 1976 the Nelson Room – a multi-purpose area was built for $27,000 with Architect John Kingsford. The Havelock North Rotary Club commemorative garden was laid out and today this is in continual use for family groups, children’s parties, and weddings or simply just sitting.
In 1985 the ‘new’ wing annexed to the Nelson Room was added and provided a pottery, artists’ studio, a caretaker’s flat, drama meeting room and toilet facilities at a cost of approximately $200,000. John Kingsford was again the Architect.
In 1987, the central courtyard enclosed by the three buildings and a sheltering garden was laid down, completing the complex as envisaged many years before.
In 1992 the Keirunga Park Miniature Railway opened its tracks to the public. The Railway is an individual organisation and a wonderful community asset enjoyed by hundreds of young and not so young people alike.