Preserving Te Kuiti's heritage, one building at a time

by Kate Milliken / 07 April, 2018

Chairman of the Te Kuiti and District Historical Society, Russell Aldridge, inside the restored Te Kuiti railway cottage. Photo/Ken Downie.

Russell Aldridge is on a mission to preserve Te Kuiti's heritage.

Born and bred in Te Kuiti, 85-year-old Russell Aldridge has a special affiliation to the rural King Country town. And as chairman of the Te Kuiti and District Historical Society, he’s dedicated to preserving the heritage buildings he and his own children have grown up around.

One of the society’s most celebrated projects is this immaculately restored railway cottage, which was donated by members of the public in 2006 and had been “badly let go”. The society spent 12 months “putting it together properly”, says Aldridge, and the cottage is now brimming with 1920s memorabilia.

Meticulous attention has been paid to detail: when wallpaper from that era couldn’t be found locally, it was imported from Canada. The matai flooring, although original, has been spruced up. “It’s a bright-red colour and has come up really nicely.”

Te Kuiti, like many towns across the North Island, was home to many workers while the railway was being built. “It’s marvellous the number of people who have gone through here, especially during the railway era; it was a much bigger town then than it is now,” says Aldridge, who used to own a transportation company, shifting goods and livestock for local farmers.

While the historical society plays a big part in restoring heritage buildings, Aldridge also acknowledges “immense support” from local firms and, in particular, John Thom, who has supplied all the paint. Next up is the restoration of the town’s old two-storey post office, which will be turned into a museum.

Last May, the society hosted “a bit of a party” to mark the 10th anniversary of the railway cottage being unveiled to the public (it’s now open daily from 11am until 3pm). And if you’re thinking of popping into Te Kuiti for a visit, Aldridge suggests planning a trip when the “Great New Zealand Muster” is on (this year’s is on April 7). “That’s when the town really comes alive.” 

This was published in the February 2018 issue of North & South.


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