Author: Craig Johnston

From Bustling Cities to Farm Life: The Flock House Story

By Russell Poole

Image courtesy of Alasdair Bettles-Hall, Chair of the Flock House commemoration committee.

The Flock House story, like much else in Aotearoa, starts with wool. In the early decades of the colony sheep farmers ran huge estates in the back country, producing vast amounts of wool. During the First World War this wool was required in massive quantities in Great Britain. The merchant shipping that transported the wool was vulnerable to enemy submarines and so too were the Navy ships that protected them. Tens of thousands of sailors perished or incurred permanent injuries in the cause of defending New Zealand exported commodities. 

After the war the sheep farmers of New Zealand, led by Edward Newman, a farmer and MP living near Bulls, resolved to express their gratitude by helping the widows and children of these sailors. One way the farmers could help them while also helping themselves was to bring some of the teenaged children to this country and put them through a farm cadet course. These young people, as well as gaining a livelihood, would then form a supply of labour for the farmers. The boys were accommodated at Flock House, a stately homestead near Bulls, and the girls at an equally grand house called Shalimar in Awapuni, now a suburb of Palmerston North. For these young people the transition from the bustling port cities of Great Britain to a country town like Palmerston North or Bulls must have seemed extraordinary. Altogether, almost 800 trainees were brought out, 128 of them girls. 

The course of training covered almost every imaginable aspect of farming, far too much to master in the prescribed six to eight months. As part of it the boys were set what can only be described as hard labour, planting thousands of trees in the sand dune country and grubbing out gorse on the main estate. Nevertheless, many of the trainees said they enjoyed the experience, no doubt buoyed up by the understanding that one day they might come into a farm of their own. 

Following the basic training individual boys and girls worked an apprenticeship for three years with a farmer selected by the trustees of the Flock House scheme. Some trainees got lucky insofar as their employers treated them fairly, gave them further training in farming and helped them to socialise with other young people in the district. You hear of networks of these people in, for example, Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti who became lifelong friends or spouses. 

Other trainees were not so lucky. Some led lonely lives on back-country farms, eating their meals on their own in the kitchen. Eric Leary ran away from an isolated farm near Harihari and somehow got himself to Ōtautahi (Christchurch), where he spent the rest of his life. Edna Preston (not her real name) was sexually harassed by her employer and sought help from her brother back in Scotland, who got her released from her apprenticeship by threatening to expose the Flock House placement system in the British press. The trustees only slowly came to the realisation that they needed to screen prospective employers more thoroughly. 

How many trainees fulfilled their dreams and acquired a farm of their own? Only a few, it seems. Dorothy Hobbs married the owner of a large farm near Raetihi. Harry Saunders was balloted a farm near Pākaraka in the Whanganui district and ran cattle there for some years, though ultimately the property was too small to be economic. Roy Penellum worked variously as a farm labourer or farm manager. Harry and Leslie Hall moved to a country town after some years as farm labourers. Elsie Ring married and moved to Timaru. Allen Falconer got into the trucking business when the farm he was sharing with his brother at Panetapu, Waikato proved too small; he was briefly in the UK during the Second World War but opted to return to New Zealand, feeling that his native Scotland had offered him no prospects in his youth. George Hannah and Arthur Metcalf nearly starved as farm labourers during the Depression and returned to the United Kingdom as stowaways on the SS Coptic.

With such a variety of different life courses, it’s difficult to sum the Flock House scheme up. It seems, however, to represent a mix of well-meaning but perhaps rather naive benefactors and some definitely exploitative employers. Correspondingly, the descendants of the Flock House trainees testify to experiences that ranged all the way from success and prosperity to trauma and tragedy. 

If you can add to this testimony, whether on the positive or the negative side, with stories of your ancestors’ experience of the Flock House scheme I would very much like to hear from you. If you would like to attend the Flock House commemoration in July this year you can find out more at https://flockhouse.nz/

Image courtesy of Alasdair Bettles-Hall, Chair of the Flock House commemoration committee.

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Hell Reading Challenge

The Hell Reading Challenge is back for 2024! Read 7 books to get a free kids healthy pizza. This challenge is for School Years 1-8, it’s free, and it runs at all Library locations, so you can pop into your nearest one to join the fun.

The HELL Reading Challenge is a well-established programme that has been hugely successful in getting
tamariki reading and enjoying the pleasures of stories. The Library provides the challenge for tamariki not already involved through their school.

There’s more information on the Hell Pizza website, or just ask at your nearest library.

‘Off The Page’ author series

Off the Page is back! The always popular Off The Page series is relaunching with a stellar line-up of local, national and internationally published writers. Off the Page will be bringing food writing, crime, historical fiction, romance and more to the Palmerston North City Library. The best of New Zealand writing is better than ever in 2024!

Off the Page will feature a popular writer in conversation with a local chair about their books, the writing life, and much more. As always, the events will also feature book sales and signings, snacks, and stimulating conversation. Everyone is invited and the events are free.

The writers in the Off the Page line-up are all acclaimed writers launching new books. They are the very best New Zealand has to offer! The writers you would pay to see at our national festivals, are free at your hometown library.

Launching the season, on April 19th, we have the award-winning crime writer Charity Norman in conversation with Gigi Fenster. Charity has published more than ten novels. Her book Remember Me won the Ngaio Marsh award in 2023 – an award which three of her previous books were finalists in. She is a wonderfully engaging speaker, and we are excited to be able to talk about her upcoming book as well as earlier ones.

On 24th May: Come and hear the wonderful Vanya Insull (VJ Cooks) in conversation with the library’s own Angela Rea. Vanya’s Everyday Favourites is a hit recipe book, and her blogs, courses and website are all hugely popular. If you’ve googled a meal for the family, you’ve probably cooked one of Vanya’s fabulous recipes.

On 21 June, Saige Vendome will be in conversation with Thom Conroy. Saige is an award-winning human rights journalist. Her new book The Seasonwife reveals aspects of our history previously hidden from mainstream education. Saige has a deep historical knowledge and understanding of the lives lived by her characters.

On 19 July, Catherine Robertson will talk about her TWO new books. Catherine is known for her wit, her vibrancy and her prolific writing career. She is a key figure in Aotearoa’s literary landscape. At least one reviewer has called her a ‘national treasure’. And she writes what she calls ‘Romcoms with heat and heart’!

On 20 or 27 September, Manawatū’s own Richard Shaw will be in discussion with Colin Bjork. Richard’s newest book, The Unsettled follows from his acclaimed memoir, The Forgotten Coast. In his latest, Richard offers readers the stories of Pakeha coming to grips with the truths of their family’s settler history – people who are unsettled but are doing something about it.

On 11 October, join us for Student Showcase. Massey University’s Gigi Fenster and Thom Conroy will host an evening featuring the emerging voices of Massey’s celebrated Creative Writing programme. The showcase is a rare opportunity to tomorrow’s biggest talent today.

Find all the Off The Page details here.

Quiet Hour – “Hoods Up, Volume Down”

This Wednesday 10th April, Te Pātikitiki Library will participate in #hoodsupvolumedown – the nationwide Quiet Hour to support the Autistic Community in Aotearoa.

From 10-11am, visitors to the library will be able to browse with reduced light, noise and other distractions where possible.

You can contact the local AutismNZ support person at manawatu@autismnz.org.nz.

And you can find all sorts of resources by searching the Library catalogue for ‘autism’.

School Holidays

There is a wide range of offerings across all our library locations to spark imagination and play these April School Holidays:

  • Come to the KaRs Children’s entertainment group who will premiere their latest music video ‘One Earth’ on Earth Day (Monday 22nd April),
  • Get out and play as the library joins the return of the Pop Up Play series out in the community at Savage Crescent Park (Monday 15 April) and Ahimate Reserve (Tuesday 16 April)
  • Join the Comic Craze 2 Beanstack Bingo Reading Challenge
  • Create and make your own comic book character and enter the competition
  • Indulge your Dog Man fan by heading to Awapuni’s Dog Man day (Friday 19 April)
  • AND join in the usual fun with VR, craft, story telling sessions (including one where you get to wear your pyjamas!), the return visit of our favourite canine friends…AND THERE IS STILL MORE!

Here’s the complete list of activities across all Library locations.

JP Service extended to Saturday

We’re very pleased to announce that from April 6, 2024, the Justice of the Peace service will be available on Fridays and Saturdays. Sessions run from 11am – 1pm, in the Wharite Room on the Mezzanine Floor of Central Library. The long-running Friday sessions are always well-attended, so having them available on Saturdays as well should be very helpful for anyone who needs something official signed.

If you need JP assistance outside those hours, you can find a list of people to contact on the Royal Federation of NZ Justices’ Associations website.

Mobile Library

The Mobile Library looks a bit different! Although the bus is off the road, the service is still running by car or van – just look for the Library banner.

We hope to get back to bringing you a full busload of books in the very near future!

The Library app is back!

We’re delighted to announce that the Library App is back in action! Renew items, place holds, and see the latest library news, all on your phone or tablet. You can even link accounts, so you can keep an eye on the whole family’s cards in one place. We know many of you have really missed having the app, so we’re overjoyed to be able to tell you it’s available again. Please contact the City Library if you have any questions about installing or using the Library app, and please spread the word!

Versions writing project – submissions open 1 March

Once again, in 2024, the City Library’s Versions writing project is go. The fifth in the series, Versions Tuarima will collect community creativity, giving anyone an opportunity to see their work in print. Use the prompt to get started with writing a story, poem or play, or write a piece of music or create some visual art. The idea is to explore creativity.

This year’s prompt is “whenua/earth”. Make of that what you will. You can use it extensively, or as a jumping off point, or go your own way completely.

How to format your submission:

  • As a .doc, .docx or .rtf file
  • Name and contact details at the top of the manuscript.
  • Double spacing, with paragraphs indented and no space between paragraphs.
  • Italics as Italics and bold as bold.

See here: for a good formal overview: https://www.shunn.net/format/classic/

When submitting, please include a brief biography of around 50 words.

Feel free to contact us with any questions about that, at content@pncc.govt.nz.

Submissions open on 1st of March and the deadline is 31st July. We’ll publish a physical book as well as an ebook in October. We’re planning on running a couple of workshops to help you along the way – keep an eye on our What’s On page. Submissions and questions can be sent to content@pncc.govt.nz.

Let your creative muse soar!