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Marking 150 years

More than a century and a half ago, Greytown residents made a decision that was both a departure from the norm and forward-thinking.

Emerging from the Small Farms Settlement Association in 1871, Greytown Trust Lands Trust [GTLT] enshrined acres of land in perpetuity for the benefit of the community.

The Trust, which recently celebrated a significant milestone, 150 years, has been the guardian of the town’s community land and assets since the passing of the Masterton and Greytown Lands Management Act 1871.

The first meeting for the GTLT took place on April 19, 1872, when six trustees were appointed to the board for the ensuing year.

Historian Jack Bull said the first action of the newly-formed Trust was to provide 200 pounds for the Wairarapa Institute and Library.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the Trust, with a newly elected board, was reflecting on its origins.

At a celebration at Greytown’s Cobblestones Museum, Papawai Marae kaumatua Paora Ammunson said Maori and pakeha descendants alike had benefited from the Trust, citing the town’s rugby club, museum, and school, which all exist on Trust-owned land.

He said prior to the Trust’s formation, the Crown’s land acquisition was duplicitous at best.

“It’s important to distinguish the egalitarianism that was seen from the ancestors forming the Trust from the skulduggery of the Crown.”

Historian Gareth Winter said the town was left with unsold acres after the Small Farms Association divided it into lots for purchase.

“Those settlers had a very particular desire for that unsold land. They could have split it up among themselves, but they said let’s use it for the benefit of the community.”

The Trust said as one of only two trusts of its kind in New Zealand, the other being Masterton Trust Lands Trust, its predecessors were instrumental in building the town’s important public facilities, developing its open spaces, and providing education to the community.

Current community organisations and tenants include the Greytown Rugby Club, Greytown Bowling Club, Royal NZ Plunket Trust, and Cobblestones Museum, which benefit from $1 annual rents in perpetuity.

It said commercial tenants paying market rates included Downer, Farmlands, and Stihl.

As of March 2022, the Trust’s combined property portfolio was valued at more than $17 million.

In addition to marking 150 years, the Trust recognised the close to 40 years of service by long-time trustee Derek Wilson.

Despite only being elected twice, Wilson served 39 years on the GTLT board from 1979-1982 and from 1986-2022.

He said an amendment in 1976 to the Greytown District Trusts Lands Act was a game-changer for the Trust.

“First of all, we could sell land, and we could borrow quickly, and we had elections at the same time as the district council.”

Wilson said the Trust was struggling, but that changed when land values began to rise rapidly.

He said the Trust built its first commercial premises in 1986, which he described as a “performance”, and later went on to open up an industrial area opposite Kuranui College.

“It took us nearly seven years to work through the council and NZTA. It was colossal and cost the Trust a lot of money.

“In the end, we built three buildings.”

Wilson said standout contributions during his tenure were grants to the Greytown Town Hall, Kuranui College, and Cobblestones.

“The mere fact that we bought this land.

“Buying it and setting this [the museum] up. It’s not easy going, it’s a voluntary outfit, and they need help and support from the Trust.”

He said the last four decades had been worthwhile.

“You don’t do these jobs for yourself. From the very first moment I got in, I loved what was going on.

“I’m sure the next 150 years will be just as productive.

Trust chair Phil Holden said the 150-year milestone was an incredible achievement.

“There are not many trusts like Greytown Trust Lands Trust. Greytown is lucky, we are lucky, and it’s important to note that we are merely the guardians.

“We will be here for another 150 years for sure.”

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Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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