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An enduring institution turns 101

Anne Hayden [left] and Viv Green, authors of Kahutara Hall Celebrates 101 Years. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Two Greytown friends – one a long-time local, the other a seasoned writer and historian – have teamed up to tell the story of an enduring South Wairarapa institution.

Viv Green and Anne Hayden are the authors of Kahutara Hall Celebrates 101 Years, a self-published history of the small farming town’s meeting hall – a fixture of its community since 1921.

Relocated to the area from the old Featherston Military Training Camp, the hall has played host to everything from dance competitions, to political discussions, to Sunday School classes, to much-anticipated neighbourhood Christmas parties.

As well as the history of the building itself, Kahutara Hall Celebrates 101 Years, to be launched at the hall’s 101st birthday celebrations next month, chronicles a diligent and enterprising rural community.

For co-writers Green and Hayden, the soul of the story was the resilient and “quirky” characters who have ensured the hall’s survival: From the first assembly who sought out a community meeting place after the previous one burnt down, to volunteers organising numerous working bees and pot-lucks to welcome new residents, to the present-day committee determined to keep the doors open.

PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Kahutara Hall Celebrates 101 Years, designed and printed by Greytown’s Lamb-Peters Print, has been a labour of love for Green, who settled in Kahutara with her young family in 1978.

As an active member of the former Kahutara Country Women’s Institute, founding member of the Kahutara playgroup, and past president of the hall committee, the turn-of-the-century wooden building was a second home to Green for much of her 34 years in the area.

To produce the book, she teamed up with close friend Hayden, combining her knowledge and wealth of contacts with Hayden’s writing experience — as author of Cobblestones Museum He Taonga: Wairarapa’s Heritage and various academic publications.

For both women, it was important not to let the hall’s centenary pass by without preserving its history, especially as many of its counterparts throughout Wairarapa have shut down.

“If we don’t record our history, it gets lost. And the Kahutara Hall is part of Wairarapa’s story,” Green said.

“Community halls were the heart of rural New Zealand, life in the community has always revolved around them.

“The hall has survived all these years because of the people who were willing to work together to achieve a wonderful community asset.”

“It’s the people’s stories that really make the book, so many delightful, quirky stories about country life,” Hayden added.

“Their stories are funny, poignant and insightful, and reveal extraordinary generosity of time and resources.

“You can sense that when you visit the hall itself, it’s got such a lovely and comforting feel to it. You feel all the aroha that has gone into it over the years.”

Kahutara Hall started its life as part of the Soldiers’ Club building at the Featherston Military Training Camp, also serving as a hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic.

In 1921, a delegation from the Kahutara community approached the camp in the hope of securing a new community building after the Kahutara School gymnasium was destroyed by fire several years earlier.

The committee bought part of the Soldiers’ Club for £325, and it was relocated on to land donated by landowner WE Bidwill.

The community banded together, pooling their resources to furnish the hall and organising a community dance as an opening celebration, charging “three shillings for gentlemen and two shillings for ladies”.

Locals also paid one shilling to enter a waltzing competition, with the winner taking home a prize of £2.

The committee continued to organise fundraiser functions to “pay the mortgage”: Proving challenging in the early years, as the hall had no electricity until 1926, and copper boilers were used to “make cups of tea and do the dishes”.

Several renovation projects followed, with working bees organised to build a new supper room and expanded kitchen.

The hall has had various uses over the century, for events, meetings between farmers and local body politicians, church and school gatherings, and as the headquarters for community groups, some of the earliest being the rifle shooting and bowls clubs.

It was particularly active throughout the 1980s, thanks to an influx of new arrivals: Housing the Kahutara District Gymnastics Club, Rimutaka Judo Club, and Kahutara Playgroup [the latter still going strong today].

“That was back in the days of the ballot farms, so there were a lot of young families moving to the area,” Green said.

“Kahutara was a thriving community back then – very busy.”

Green and Hayden were thankful to the locals, who were willing to contribute their stories to the book: the farmers who recalled wedding receptions the whole community would attend and the parties including Euchre matches for those not so keen on dancing, the Kahutara School past pupils who would have to march across the road in pairs to use the hall, and the volunteers who discovered the water tasted strange, thanks to a deceased possum in the water tank.

One community member shared a charming story about the community Christmas parties: Her sister insisted she knew the identity of “Father Christmas”, so she waited, concealed from view, in the changing rooms to find out for herself.

“Her suspicions were confirmed!” Hayden said.

“It was very cute.”

  • Kahutara Hall will be holding two events to celebrate its centenary on November 11 and 12. Copies of Kahutara Hall Celebrates 101 Years will be on sale at both events for $20. To order a copy, contact Viv Green at [email protected]

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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