There are several interesting Maori exhibits in the ‘Masterton Museum – A Cabinet of Curiosities’ display at Aratoi, including a pair of patu aruhe, presented to the Museum in 1935.
For Maori, fern root was an important staple of their diet. The most commonly utilised was that of rauaruhe [bracken fern], a tough plant that grows to about two metres with reddish-brown stems. It commonly grows in disturbed soils on the edge of forests, especially after fires. The district north of Greytown, Ahiaruhe, commemorates such a fire.
Although it could be harvested year-round, it was most popularly gathered during late spring and early summer, preferably from plants that had been growing for about three or four years. By this time their roots would have grown to about three centimetres in circumference. They were dried, stepped in water, then cooked. The roots were then beaten by wooden pounders called patu aruhe to separate the flesh from the stringy fibres. Once separated, the paste was made into large cakes that would be sweetened with tut juice or New Zealand flax nectar.
In 1935, Joseph Iorns – grandson of Joseph and Sarah Masters – presented a pair of patu aruhe to the Masterton Museum, explaining that they had been discovered by one of his sons while building a dam on the ‘Te Whanga’ property of HO Toogood. He explained they were made of the native hardwood maire, and said they were in a remarkable state of conservation considering Maori had not used such implements for nearly a century.
Joseph Iorns was born in Wellington in 1851 and came to Masterton shortly after the 1855 earthquake. He was engaged in several business activities in Masterton, and later farmed at Opaki. He was a fluent speaker of te reo Maori and, when young, assisted Government agents in purchasing large block in the 40-Mile-Bush. His son, Bennet Iorns, was later a well-known local historian.
HO Toogood was born in Tasmania and came to New Zealand when a young man, working on Meredith family’s ‘Riversdale’ property. He purchased part of it, ‘Kohiwai’, which he farmed until the late 1920s, when he purchased part of Sir Walter Buchanan’s ‘Tupurupuru’ estate, naming it ‘Te Whanga’. He was on the Masterton County Council for 30 years.
He sold ‘Te Whanga’ to Pat Borthwick, who established a well-regarded Angus cattle stud on it. He also planted a nationally recognised garden that he opened to the public each spring.