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Opening up the red barn

Likely constructed from milled heart totara, the red barn has so far resisted the temptations of nature to blow it over. PHOTOS/FILE

Ahikouka’s derelict red barn is shrouded in myth and mystery, and after learning its days may be numbered, the stories have poured forth. In part one of a two-part series, MARY ARGUE dives into its history and attempts to sift fact from fiction.

Paint peeling, weatherboards buckled, the derelict red barn stands alone and forlorn on the edge of State Highway 2.

Driving between Greytown and Carterton, it’s impossible to miss, its profile stark against the open Wairarapa sky.

But the clock is ticking on the 19th Century structure, with its new owners having said that demolition, while not imminent, is on the cards.

So, what is the story behind the famous market gardens and the sign that reads “Wong’s barn”, and is it even a barn at all?

Early records uncovered by historian and archivist Gareth Winter suggest buildings on the property began to spring up in the 1890s, and the remaining derelict red barn is in fact a farm cottage.

Heritage Wairarapa chair Joseph Gillard says it’s “a cottage of its time,” the architecture placing it squarely in the late 1800s.

Likely constructed from locally milled heart totara, it has so far resisted the temptations of nature to blow it over, he says

But the cottage was far from the first dwelling on the Ahikouka block.

“You know that movie Once Were Warriors? Well, it’s actually like Once Were Gardeners.”

Historian and Ngati Kahungunu environment manager Ra Smith says the Waiohine floodplain, which encompasses Ahikouka and Hupenui, provided Māori in the area with fertile land for crops.

“It’s a space that Māori see a little differently in terms of flooding because we live with flooding rather than putting up stop banks.”

Instead of breaking through in one area, resulting in erosion and gouging, he says the river would spread out from multiple points, softly depositing rich layers of topsoil across the land.

“I would be quick to say fern root was growing there. We grew kumara more on the coast than inland, but that’s not to say kumara wasn’t growing in gardens in the area,” Smith says.

Papawai Marae kaumatua Paora Ammunson says the Ahikouka block is contiguous with the marae and was home to people whose descendants live in the area still.

“Between 100 and 200 years ago, there were whare at Black Bridge and settlements at the Ahikouka block. Essentially, it was an adjunct to Papawai Marae.”

He said old maps of Greytown depict a clearing at Ahikouka, exactly where prominent rangatira Mātiaha had dwellings.

Further north across the Waiohine River, the chief Ngātuere had his lands, encompassing the urupa [cemetery] on the left of SH2 heading into Carterton.

Ammunson says the name Ahikouka has layers of meaning.

“You have ahi, fire, and kouka, cabbage tree. The name is a metaphor for home, a place where we cook our ti kouka [cabbage tree].”

Through the 1850s land sales started, and thousands of acres were transferred away from Māori into the hands of the Small Farms Association.

Greytown Heritage Trust says about 40,000 acres were purchased from chief Ngatuere in Waiohine in 1853.

Around the same time, the township of Greytown was surveyed, and in 1859 the first European records associated with the “red barn” block surface.

Thomas Ingley appears on a very early deed for ‘section 74’, the land on which the dilapidated structure stands today.

Ingley arrived in Carterton in 1856.

A family history in Wairarapa Archives indicates he worked for 18 months on the Remutaka Hill Rd construction before sending for his wife and seven children in England.

“By the early 1860s, Thomas Ingley had moved to a larger property he had bought in the Greytown area [Section 74].

“With more land and more time to work it, Mr Ingley was able to make his new farm economically viable.”

However, after his wife died at 52, Ingley moved to Timaru and re-married. His daughter, MaryAnn, remained in the area and is buried in Greytown Cemetry.

Her great-granddaughter Dawn Callaghan, now a Masterton resident, farmed the land near Hupenui Rd in the 1940s and 50s.

She is sure her Ingley ancestors must have lived in what became the derelict red barn her children mucked around in, but the records suggest another history.


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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