Heritage book gives former headmaster a challenge
Being seconded as editor for a soon-to-be-released book covering the history of a vast area to the west of Fernhill, has given former Hereworth School headmaster Tony Robinson a quick introduction to his new home territory.
Mr Robinson, with his wife Jill, moved to a farm in the lower Taihape Rd area last December at the end of 10 years as Hereworth headmaster. Even before moving, he had agreed to a seemingly casual request to “help out” as editor for a new book being put together by a group of local residents in the RD9 area.
“I had no idea what I was letting myself in for,” he says. Nine months’ intensive work later, he has not only edited the 400-page history and compiled the index, but has also written the final chapter.
“I really could have had no better introduction to the area,” he says. And just a few steps from the study created in the renovated schoolhouse on his property, a gap newly-cut in surrounding trees commands an expansive view to the Kawekas – the very territory covered by the book.
‘West to the Annie’ is the initiative of the RD9 Historical Committee, a group of residents headed by John Russell and David Hildreth. It arose from concern among younger generations in the area that they knew nothing of their heritage. Thirteen contributors, ranging from well-known historians Patrick Parsons and Matthew Wright [incorrect – not a contributor – HBKB] to local property owners, have pooled their efforts to produce a comprehensive history beginning with the area’s geological background and including the development of stations, roads and community organizations.
More than 18 months after work began, the book is now with publishers Central Hawke’s Bay Print. A late November launch is planned with 1500 copies to be on the market in time for Christmas.
Already having an affinity with rural people as a result of his dealings with farming parents at Hereworth, Mr Robinson said working on the book has provided the chance to get to know them better and to learn to speak the rural language of stock prices and lambing percentages. The initial attitude to the newcomers was one of bemusement, he said, but always friendly and warm.
His involvement with the book is an obvious source of pride and satisfaction. So too are the improvements he and Mrs Robinson have already made to their new home. These, he says, have given him an introduction to rural life in a different way.
After 25 years running schools, the practical skills demanded of a rural dweller have been a challenge. Learning to use tools like a chainsaw and a scrubcutter have required patience and his first efforts to establish a new lawn provided a quick lesson on the injustice of the elements; standing back, gin in hand, to survey his work, he watched as a deluge washed the newly-sown seed down the bank.
But now, with their goal of restoring the neglected 1930s home and garden to their original elegance nearly complete, the Robinsons are looking forward to new careers working from their rural environment. They are realistic about what they can achieve: early plans to continue with a worm farm already operating on the property, have been abandoned due to poor returns for the heavy labour involved, and most of their 78-acre property is leased to a local farmer.
‘We would never pretend to be farmers, but we are homemakers,” Mr Robinson said. “We had a vision for the house and we’ve retained eight to 10 acres around it as a lifestyle block where we might plant olives or raise a few animals.”
While Mrs Robinson is still considering her options, Mr Robinson has already begun establishing an educational consultancy, which is likely to see him travelling widely working with institutions ranging from corporates to country schools.
Photo caption – Tony Robinson, Hastings, with part of the manuscript of a book on the history of the area from Fernhill to the Kawekas, Hawke’s Bay.