Thursday, 26 July 2018

Williamson Park reserve ,Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula

Williamson Park  31 January 2009 - before the changes - photo courtesy Chris Ball

"Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations……"Whatever shape they take, these things form part of a heritage, and this heritage requires active effort on our part in order to safeguard it."
            From Forum 2014 Minmar Sinan Fine Arts University, Turkey " Preserving Culture and Heritage Through Generations"
Often in New Zealand we tend to think about Heritage buildings or heritage structures, often overlooking that intangible heritage - our cultural heritage - which is often reflected in place with stories  Williamson Park Reserve, Whangamata on the Eastern Seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula is  one of those places.
 I am of the  view, that due to the recent changes to Williamson Park in the last two years  since 2016, that we are in grave danger of losing a part of Whangamata's intangible cultural heritage, along with the very reason we had this Park in the first place.  Especially if we ignore the stories and  special things about this park, passed down in our family stories to future generations.

  The very fact that we, as people on the Coromandel Peninsula, inherited from past generations, who lived at Whangamata in the early 1900s, this park. That because of the generosity of the Williamson family we were bestowed this park as a gift in 1929 for the benefit of future generations. 

The Gates of Williamson Park Reserve - constructed and opened in 1970  to acknowledge the gifting of this park - photo HMS Stewart ( my mother)
I  am of the view that active effort is required ,on the part of many, who have enjoyed the benefits of this park, to safeguard it for future generations - along with the stories and the intangibles, before they are lost, forgotten or trundled over by those with little regard to preserving cultural heritage.  Who would, in fact, bring to this park, an imported culture, not necessarily chosen by the majority of the ratepayers and residents of Whangamata.

Williamson Park Reserve in 23  September 2016  -  the start of major changes to Williamson Park - photo CHris Ball
With part of the past of our New Zealand history I  research and write many stories for this blog.  The following is how this  park  came to be - the stories and words passed down by dear friends - the Williamsons. A park that over many decades for me has seen many of those intangibles - enjoying the surf club ( started by family member - Matt Whyte) and  the adjacent beach; marriage at the park for family and friends; lots of walks, picnics; enjoying the free events on offer over the years with others - surf carnivals, whanga week, the Summer Festival and in recent years Brits at the Beach and Beach Hop - all very much what I regard as some good cultural heritage of Whangamata and the Coromandel Peninsula.  This was a gift given to all of us,  by the Williamsons in 1929 and has been passed down, by many for decades until now.

Williamson Park 2014 before the changes - looking out toward Hauturu ( Clark Island)
and  Tuhua (Mayor Island )in distance - photo Chris Ball

 Williamson - past history in Whangamata

 In early 1919, there arrived in the small community of Whangamata, one, Philip Williamson and his wife Madeline. Whangamata back then was a community of farmers, fishermen , a storekeeper and hotel owner. Unlike today in 2018, there was no electricity and no roads in. Travel to and from Whangamata was via a six weekly steamer bringing supplies or horse along  bush tracks. 

With no electricity. cooking on a coal range or wood stove and light from a kerosene lamp or candles, was the order of the day back then. Philip and Madeline soon settled in to this small community and with the arrival of daughter Beverley in 1920 were involved in daily living.  By 1921 Philip was reported as being Chairman of the Whangamata Settlers Meeting and attending a meeting of the Thames County Council. With a delegation and a petition asking for completion of the Waihi - Whangamata road and a wharf at Whangamata. The following year, 1922, Philip Williamson was appointed a Justice of the Peace, a welcome role in this rural area. By 1923  Philip was soon to realise that rather than farming, more chances lay in forestry  and beach front sections ,so turned attentions towards those visions. In 1935, immersed in the subject of pinus radiata and timber treatment, Philip wrote a letter to the British Wood Preserving Association who published this in their journal which ended: -
"Vast areas of trees, particularly Pinus radiata, have been planted in New Zealand during the last four years, and this timber is one which should respond readily to preservative treatment. The principles and economic value of such treatment should be thoroughly understood by those interested before the trees reach maturity. Many of the plantations are now ready for a first thinning, and these thinnings would, if properly treated with creosote, be very valuable for fencing posts, building blocks, light telephone poles, etc., provided some simple and economical means could be devised for removing the bark. This seems to present rather a difficulty at the present time." (Editors A. H. LLOYD, M.C., AND R. C. B. GARDNER. 1935)

Whangamata area in the 1930's was  a trial area for forestry and gave employment to those out of work in planting projects in the newly established Tairua State Forest. In 1946 Philip began construction of a sawmill. By the beginning of 1947, felling of the pines and processing of the wood at the sawmill , provided timber for baches being built in what was the beginning of Whangamata as a seaside resort. My cousins each bought a section from Madeline Williamson in 1946 opposite Achilles Store  and both built baches.

Aerial view of Whangamata, looking southwest towards hills in the background. Photograph taken January 1953 by Whites Aviation. Photo courtesy Whangamata. Ref: WA-31979-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22891112
(See pine forest and the mill in Whangamata photo  1953 above  mid right.)

It was also in the 1930's that Philip was elected member Tairua Riding, Thames County, throwing in his energies for an upgrade of " Pipi" Bridge at Tairua in 1938  and improvement of all roads and bridges in the Tairua Riding. Tairua Riding then included the townships of Tairua, Whangamata and the  settlements of Hikuai and Wharekawa (including Opoutere). There was no settlement at Pauanui or Onemana in that era - just farms. Philip as member of Tairua Riding, followed in the footsteps of Harold Cory Wright, James Prescott and Ernest Niccol who had also represented the area, as councillors on the Thames County Council. Ernest AKA Ernie was nephew of George Turnbull Niccol, shipbuilding and who sold his subdivided farms at Hikuai  to the New Zealand  Government in 1921 for Rehabilitation Scheme farms by ballot. 

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19280209-49-2
With the outbreak of World War II, Philip found himself involved again in the war effort. This time enlisted as Captain with the home guard based in Paeroa Army Office. Also from the Whangamata/ Opoutere area in the Home Guard  were Statham, Willetts and Widdison.

Following World War II, Philip and Madeline Williamson saw new changes at Whangamata, as sections were bought and people looked towards this new "beach resort" as offering summer holidays. A surf club, a fire station and engine - " old heartache", Whangamata community church - both volunteer work and money were donated by them to see these community necessities established and of course Williamson Park reserve - a very special gift in 1929.

Williamson Park Reserve - Gifted forever:

Auckland Star   23 May 1929   Page 5
Following the meeting, Philip Williamson received a letter from the Thames County Council clerk, accepting the " generous offer" 

On 11 April 1933, Madeline Williamson signed a Memorandum of Transfer, witnessed by the Postmaster of Waihi. The particulars are said to have been entered in the Register Book , Vol 616, Folio 284 on 2 May 1933. The Transfer "  in good consideration to the Chairman, Councillors and Inhabitants of the County of Thames. "  The land was described  " to be held by the Transferee as a Public Park and  Recreation Reserve for the use of the Public forever."

Yes - a forever document and now in 2018  a number of ratepayers and residents are looking to Save Williamson Park.

 To  value the intangible cultural heritage that is Williamson Park - the people's park.  ( a part of the past New Zealand history )

Whangamata Main Surf Beach 1970's - looking toward Williamson Park and Surf Club centre middle top photo - photo
JM Stewart friend of Philip Williamson and County Town Chairperson Whangamata early 1970's
Reference Source:

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