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Historic Homesteads of Hawke’s Bay by Angus Gordon

In Hawkes’ Bay, in the late 19th Century, wealthy wool barons built magnificent homesteads on vast properties. They were often designed by notable architects and made good use of plentiful supplies of quality native timbers. Over the years, as wool prices shrank and fortunes declined, many owners sold off some of the surrounding farmland. It left the homestands still standing in parklike surroundings as monuments to a gracious and privileged lifestyle.

Angus Gordon, the author grew up in Clifton, one of these historic homesteads and has lived and worked there most of his life. It has stayed in his family through the generations, and they are still making a living from their land by diversifying. His two grandchildren Frankie and Jasper are the 7th generation now growing up there. He writes that ‘his bones are soaked in the history of his family and the greater history of the Bay.’

It is his passion for the history of Hawke’s Bay which inspired him to set off on a photographic pilgrimage to record its historic homesteads.

Most were taken during the spectacular autumn of 2019. The still clear days and depth of colours that year spurred him on to record as many as possible, and 5,500 km later he had photographed about 90.

In Historic Homesteads of Hawke’s Bay alongside a photograph of each homestead, he has told the story of its often-changing ownership from its beginning until the present day.

Included also are interesting anecdotes, old black and white family photographs and pictures of some of the interiors giving us a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of those who lived within.

In one photograph Gladys Ormond from Wallingford is posed with her 12 children, 6 girls and 6 boys. Families were much larger then but there would have been servants to look after them. After the original homestead was burnt down in 1895, they began a new homestead increasing it as each child was born until it had 15 bedrooms and a hallway long enough to bowl a cricket ball down.

The grounds of these historic homesteads were spacious enough for sporting activities. At Akita, Frank Armstrong created a cricket field with its own scoreboard.

Through his photographs Angus Gordon has preserved for posterity these monuments to our settler heritage. It was important do so while so many are still standing, lovingly cared for, or renovated, as many others have burnt down over the years and some are now derelict shells beyond repair.

I found this handsome coffee table book very relaxing to browse through. Living in an Auckland suburb as we do where intensification is happening and high-rise apartments are being squeezed into sections where there were once family homes with carefully tended gardens, it allowed me to time travel through history to enjoy the beauty and grace of these old homesteads and their surroundings.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Mary Egan Publishing, RRP $50.


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