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Solving the mystery: Opening the red barn’s doors

The red barn has never been nominated for a heritage listing. PHOTO/FILE

The land beneath Ahikouka’s derelict red barn was in the hands of the Ingley family in the mid-late 1800s. In the second of a two-part series, we take a market garden tour and examine what heritage means. MARY ARGUE reports.

Between the Ingleys and the Allans the ownership of the land is uncertain. What we do know is that the Allan family, John and Laura, first appeared in Wairarapa electoral rolls around 1895 when they had a shop at Cross Creek.

Records link them to the Ahikouka property at this time, overlapping with the likely construction of the cottage. Although there is no definitive proof, it is presumed that the Allan family, which included four children, resided there. Records uncovered by archivist Gareth Winter describe a house built in 1890 and a store built in 1895.

After this, the trail becomes a little murky. The land was in the hands of Michael Riley from 1903 to 1912 and then is linked to an Ina Merson. In 1940, Thomas Bestwick Heapy farmed the land.

In the mid-20th century, the stories re-emerge, with many Greytown people recalling the Chinese market gardeners who worked the land from the 1940s to 1970s.

At the time, legislation forbade Chinese immigrants from owning land.

“I worked for Robert Lai Ming about 1957 on the property on Ahikouka corner.”

Doug Regnault, a teenager in the late 1950s, remembers his time with Bobby Ming fondly.

Ming leased the land with an elderly gentleman, Lowe Ghee Go, both living in the cottage, which Regnault recalls as “not much better by sight than it is today”.

He says they were hard workers, picking stock for Wellington’s late Sunday markets.

“Bob and Lowe Go used to have a laugh on a Sunday when other Chinese people went past to go to what they called their ‘long sleep,’ [I’ll leave that to your imagination].”

Don Farmer remembered he and a group of boys occasionally got up to mischief at the cottage.

“It’s always been derelict. We used to muck around in the paddocks, chasing pukekos, and sometimes we’d end up there and have a smoke.”

He recalled Ming as a “lovely guy” who was very popular in the community.

“All the Chinese families were. They took part in the community and provided a lot of food.”

One of those families was the Wongs, who, alongside half a dozen other Chinese market gardeners, leased land on Ahikouka Rd.

Donald Wong was a child when Ming lived and worked on Ahikouka corner and recalled Ming’s relations selling fruit from a store next to Greytown’s library.

Today a sign outside the property reads: Wild Grey Fox Barn, formerly known as Wong’s Barn. Donald Wong looks bemused when asked about it.

“We were market gardeners. … we didn’t have anything to do with it. It definitely wasn’t us.”

Regnault says Ming married, gave up his lease, and moved to Auckland. “He died at the age of 68, a very wealthy man.”

It appears Sid Pak picked up the lease soon after Ming departed, continuing the market gardens and living in the cottage throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Sir Kim Workman.
PHOTO/RNZ.CO.NZ

Sir Kim Workman described Pak as a colourful, generous person.

“Sid farmed the surrounding land and was a friend of my parents – George and Peggy Workman. They had a market garden and fruit and vege shop where Pinehaven Orchards is now and leased land in Ahikouka Rd.

“Sid was a genial man, always laughing, and his smile [complete with gold fillings] was something special.”

Workman can still see Pak picking up workers and giving a friendly wave from his little truck on his morning drive.

In 1972, Workman was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study at the University of California. He says New Zealand was subject to a “restrictive monetary regime” at the time that limited the amount of money that could be taken overseas.

“My father mentioned it to Sid, and he replied, ‘I can help – you come round’.

“Dad and I visited him that evening, and Sid prised open a floorboard, pulled out a metal box, and unlocked it.”

It was a treasure-trove of American currency.

“Dad asked if he knew the exchange rate, and Sid replied, ‘you good friend – face value.’”

It’s stories like these that weave a rundown, haunting structure into the hearts and minds of locals and, sometimes, on to heritage lists.

“I was personally aware of it,” says Heritage New Zealand area manager Kerryn Pollock.

“I’ve driven past it many times, [but] it’s not on our heritage list. For whatever reason, it’s never been nominated.”

Pollock said a heritage listing is not enough to afford protection, but local authorities are made aware of any new entry.

“When they’re doing a plan change, they may want to add it to their schedule, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.”

She said given the land’s pre-1900 occupation, the area was subject to the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.

“The archaeology is relevant, and that’s where protection can come from.”

Any modification or demolition would therefore need to be authorised first.

“If a place like this is planned for demolition … there is no guarantee, but there is nothing to stop someone from nominating it.”

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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