Weraroa State Farm

Hokio Beach Road And 29, 65 Cd Farm Road, Levin

  • Weraroa State Farm. Experimental Woolshed, Levin. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy. Taken By: Paul Le Roy – Minicooperd. Date: 6/01/2019.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9494 Date Entered 23rd June 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 1 SO 26420 (NZGZ 1930 p.740), Wellington Land District and the buildings known as Weraroa Experimental Farm buildings and the Kohitere Complex thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Horowhenua District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 36420, (NZ Gazette, 1930, p.740), Wellington Land District


The Weraroa State Farm, Levin, is located within a significant historic and cultural landscape that encompasses hundreds of years of occupation and settlement in the fertile coastal lands of the Horowhenua Region. The Farm is situated between the important dune lakes of Papaitonga (originally called Waiwiri) and Horowhenua which hold significant cultural value for a number of iwi and hapu of Muaupoko, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa and Ngati Apa.

Northern tribes led by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata migrated south and resulted in conflicts that led to the loss of life and land of Muaupoko groups. The land wars of the 1860s and the Maori Land Court processes gave Muaupoko the ability to influence court proceedings and have some of their traditional lands restored. Title to the Horowhenua Block was put into the name of the Muaupoko leader Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui who held the land in trust for the Muaupoko people.

Internal and external pressures led to the subdivision of the Horowhenua Block into 14 blocks and title allocated to individuals, the most important, Block 11 was held by Te Keepa and the son of a rival, Warena Hunia. Internal disputes and long, expensive court action resulted in the Minister of Lands, John McKenzie, controversially purchasing a 1,500 acre block for a State Farm. A long legal battle by Te Keepa and his lawyer, Walter Buller, led to a Commission of Inquiry and the Horowhenua Block Act 1896 which entrenched the Crown purchase.

Approximately 800 acres was carved out for the establishment of the State Farm on heavily forested land whose northern boundary included part of the Weraroa clearing. So began a long history of government experimentation and training schemes on the land by various government departments from the 1894 to 1989.

The Department of Labour under the leadership of William Pember Reeves as Minister and its Secretary, Edward Tregear, started the first State Farm at Levin. It was to be a model and an experiment in the ability of the government to find solutions and relief for the problems of unemployment that plagued the country during the 1880s ‘long depression’. The unemployed and their families worked on the farm and the area grew into a small village settlement. However, by 1900 the experiment had run its course and government policy and public opinion had shifted regarding such an expensive enterprise.

The Department of Agriculture stepped in and acquired the site as one of its experimental farms. During World War One the Defence Department placed religious conscientious objectors on the Weraroa Experimental Farm to work out their military service. Changes in the Department saw the Director, John Brown, move head office to Levin and rename the site the Central Development Farm - a name that lives on in the form of the road that bisects the original farm. The fortunes of the farm waxed and waned until the advisory services of the Department were developed and enhanced under the directorship of Alfred Hyde Cockayne.

By 1929 economic and political pressure saw the Farm subdivided into farming blocks with an area reserved for educational purposes. With the decision that the Massey Agricultural College would be built at Palmerston North the reserve land reverted to grazing.

The outbreak of World War Two saw the forced move of the Weraroa Boys’ Training Farm on Kimberly Road, Levin, to the reserve land. The Boy’s Training Centre was to become New Zealand’s largest boys’ welfare institution, and it utilised the philosophies of training and education for the correction of wayward youth. Under the direction of Charles Peek the facilities at the Boys’ Training Centre were established with the boys and teachers constructing many of the buildings on site. In the late 1960s the Centre was renamed Kohitere.

Absconding, abuse claims and the complexity of social problems that were being displayed at Kohitere led to changes in the nature of the institution including the construction of a security block. Societal shifts saw child welfare move from the auspices of the Department of Education to that of Social Welfare. In 1972 Kohitere became a National Training Centre for social workers and many staff and trainees were living at the centre over this period. Government policy would once again intervene and Kohitere closed in 1989. For a period the facilities were used by the community but in more contemporary times various concessioners have utilised the buildings for farming and other businesses.

The Weraroa State Farm has outstanding historic significance for its association with many important historic figures in New Zealand history and significant government departments and their policies that were played out there. The extant buildings form an important historic link to state experimentation, training, and institutional care in its various forms for nearly one hundred years. Hundreds of New Zealanders laboured, worked, trained and lived on the Weraroa State Farm and their shared experiences form part of the important social history of this unique place.

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Historical Significance or Value

The purchase of the State Farm Block was in itself an important historic event. It involved political figures such as John McKenzie, Minister of Lands and Agriculture, and the Premier Richard Seddon who defended the controversial purchase that resulted in the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry and the passing of the Horowhenua Block Act 1896. The purchase was validated by this Act and the Weraroa State Farm was characterised as a benefit to the community.

The Weraroa State Farm has immense historic value as the site of the first State Farm where the socialist ideals of co-operative work schemes for the unemployed conceived by William Pember Reeves, Minister of Labour and Edward Tregear, Secretary of Labour, were tested. These historically significant men had set up the farm in response to the ‘long depression’. The ‘humanitarian experiment’ was hailed as a success, if not for its political capital, then for its economic viability.

The Weraroa Experimental Farm period was an important time with the development of the Fields and Experimental Farms Division of the Department of Agriculture and the movement of its headquarters to the renamed Central Development Farm. A number of historically important public servants involved in the Department were associated with the farm and its development, including John Brown and Alfred Hyde Cockayne. It was during this time that the religious conscientious objectors were sent to the farm for working out their military service. This history provides another interesting moment in the military mobilisation of New Zealanders during World War One and the treatment of those that refused to fight.

Political and economic pressures forced the closure of the experimental farm and saw part reserved for education, beginning another phase of state experimentation in the education and rehabilitation of wayward youth. The historic values relate to what would become Kohitere, a Boys’ Training Farm. Under the supervision of Charles Peek - an important educationalist and Superintendent of the Child Welfare Branch of the Education Department, the institutional buildings were developed and constructed. Kohitere has historic values as the largest boys’ welfare home in New Zealand and with changes in social policy it also became the National Training Centre for Social Workers.

Cultural Significance or Value:

The Weraroa State Farm is within an important ancestral landscape that has significance for iwi and hapu of Muaupoko, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa and Ngati Apa. The Weraroa State Farm was part of a Government purchase that created contention within the iwi who were contesting subdivision and purchase of their lands in the late nineteenth century. The Muaupoko leader at the time, Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, was an important political figure responsible for the reinstatement of Muaupoko lands under the contentious Maori Land Court system and negotiated the sale of land to the Government for the establishment of the Levin Township. The name of the State Farm has a special cultural connection to the large clearing named Weraroa that touched the northern boundary of the State Farm and the site of initial construction.

Social Significance or Value:

Child Welfare institutions like Kohitere have a chequered past that does not always sit comfortably in the landscape of New Zealand history. However, this site serves as an important reminder of state social experimentation and training that was unique in a New Zealand context. The site has important social significance relating to the variety of experiences that were shared by those living and working in Kohitere as well as the wider Levin community who had interaction with the boys and staff.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The Weraroa State Farm provides an important example and backdrop to the processes and pressures that led to Maori land being subdivided, the effects of individual title and Government acquisition of land. In the case of the State Farm it was legislation that validated the purchase and title to the land and a number of important historic figures including John McKenzie, Richard Seddon, Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui and Walter Buller, were players in the affair.

The implementation of the State Farm ‘experiment’ is an important part of New Zealand’s reaction and adaptation to social and economic forces that had led to unemployment and destitution of those on the margins of the workforce. Policies developed by the Labour Department, under the leadership of Edward Tregear and William Pember Reeves, were supported by the Liberal Government and these programmes would be a precursor to future shifts in policy that included the provision of worker’s housing.

Under the control of the Agriculture Department the farm was integrated into its experimental farm programme and became an important policy development and research site under the direction of John Brown in the early part of the twentieth century. The farm also provided a site for the religious conscientious objectors’ camp during World War I.

The Weraroa State Farm was retained as a reserve set aside for the health, education and training of children and was utilised as the site of the Boys’ Training Centre (renamed Kohitere). Under the leadership of Charles Peek and the control of the Child Welfare Branch of the Education Department, Kohitere became the largest boys’ welfare home in New Zealand and was an important place for the implementation of the Education Department and later the Social Welfare Department’s policies and provision for the care and correction of recidivist youth. The focus on having skilled professionals working at Kohitere saw the creation of the National Training Centre for social workers, which was located at Kohitere.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

The Boys’ Training Farm had been operating in the Levin district for a number of years prior to its move to the Weraroa State Farm site. While absconding and negative perceptions were the experience of some, the boys participated in local events and shows and were part of the community. The facility provided employment and recreational opportunities for the local community. The filming at Kohitere for Mike Walker’s films provided insight into the experiences of the staff and boys that lived there for a wider New Zealand audience. The history of this site forms a chapter in Anthony Dreaver’s book, Levin: The Making of a Town (2006) and various articles by the Horowhenua Historical Society and local newspapers over the years shows the public interest and knowledge in a place that forms an integral part of Levin’s history and development.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The Weraroa State Farm is an important historic place that is representative of a number of political, economic and social forces that were operating from the 1880s into the 1980s. The site has the ability to tell stories relating to early settlement and occupation by Maori, tribal warfare, conquest and contest. It serves as a site that embodies Labour Department policy in the late nineteenth century and Agriculture Department development in the twentieth century. The buildings that remain from this period provide an opportunity for education relating to farm building construction by the Public Works Department and state funded agricultural development.

The Weraroa State Farm provided provision for religious conscientious objectors during World War I and is an important place to tell the story of those that refused to participate in military combat. The State Farm also provided the site for the construction of New Zealand’s largest boys’ welfare home; a place that tells the story of the New Zealand experience of training, education and rehabilitation for wayward youth. The policies of the Education Department and later the Welfare Department were played out at the site, which were ultimately unsuccessful for a number of its residents.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement:

The Horowhenua was settled relatively late by Europeans. It was not until the 1880s that the Government purchased the block that would become the Levin Township and the construction of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway provided transport to the area. The State Farm purchase and title was secured under the Horowhenua Block Act 1896 and settlement of that land proceeded in earnest.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

The Weraroa State Farm is a unique place that remained under government control through its various phases for nearly a century. It represents a fascinating microcosm of nineteenth and twentieth century public policy as it was implemented for the benefit of the unemployed and destitute through to the instruction and rehabilitation of young men.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The Weraroa State Farm is located within an ancestral landscape that is of significance to the iwi of Muaupoko, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Toa. The State Farm is positioned between the important dune lakes of the Horowhenua which have been sites of occupation, settlement, fortification and contest. The State Farm is linked in its inception and history to sites like the Kimberly Centre which have shared histories around their use and the effects of shifting government policy on their viability.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: b, e, f, I, j, and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

The Weraroa State Farm has outstanding historic importance as the first State Farm in New Zealand and is unique for its association with a number of government departments for training and experimentation purposes for nearly one hundred years. These themes run through the history of the place and are linked by the few buildings that remain extant and intact on the site.

The Weraroa State Farm is a special place that tells some important stories about the development of New Zealand as a settler society; land acquisition by the Government and subsequent use of that land for state training and experimentation. The farm’s association with a large number of important New Zealanders - in various spheres including politics, education; law, the public service and Maoridom, add to its significant heritage value.


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Historical Narrative

The Weraroa State Farm occupies a site that sits within a historic and cultural landscape that consisted of forested plains positioned between sand dunes reaching to the Tasman Sea and the peaks of the Tararua Ranges. Within this landscape is the region known as the Horowhenua, named after a major block of land that included the dune lakes of Papaitonga (originally called Waiwiri) and Horowhenua and is the site of the Levin Township. The lakes, streams, forests and the coast were important sources of food, plentiful fresh water and shelter.

Maori Occupation of the Horowhenua:

The Horowhenua region has been an area of occupation, settlement, fortification and contest for a number of hapu and iwi over the centuries with the people of Muaupoko having traditionally occupied the Horowhenua. The Muaupoko people are descended from the great voyager Kupe; Whatonga, the captain of the Kurahaupo Waka and his son Tara. The Ngai Tara iwi occupied the lands west of the Tararua Ranges from the Rangitikei River in the north to Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) and the top of the South Island. Over time a group took the name Muaupoko to indicate that they are the people living at the head (upoko) of the fish of Maui, as the Wellington region is known. In the context of Te Ika a Maui Lake Horowhenua was considered the eye of the fish. Muaupoko had settled throughout the region and by 1800 were sharing their traditional lands with Ngati Apa, Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Hamua and Ngati Ira.

In the early part of the nineteenth century northern tribes began to migrate south from the Waikato and Taranaki regions with the first large-scale migration occurring in about 1822 when a party of Ngati Toa, Te Ati Awa, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama arrived on the Kapiti coast. Ngati Toa were led by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata and cautious welcomes were made. However, tensions grew after the death of a Muaupoko woman by Ngati Toa. Conflict ensued after Muaupoko sought revenge by luring in and killing several members of Te Rauparaha’s family at Lake Papaitonga. Te Rauparaha had escaped the ambush and in 1823 he extracted his revenge with a massacre of Muaupoko on the shores of Lake Papaitonga and other killings at Horowhenua Lake and the Kapiti Coast. The Muaupoko survivors were sheltered by groups within Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Apa and Muaupoko re-established themselves along a strip of land centred around the dune lakes of the Horowhenua.

During the 1860s Muaupoko were drawn into the wars over land and authority under the leadership of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, also known as Taitoko and by Pakeha as Major Kemp. Te Keepa lived in Whanganui and held prominent appointments, most notably as a Native Land Court assessor. Conflict between the Crown and Maori during the wars provided an opportunity for tribes such as Muaupoko, Rangitane, and Ngati Apa to assert their claims to lands lost during the conflicts of the 1820s.

The situation developed into a contest of mana between Te Keepa as leader of Muaupoko, and Kawana Hunia Te Hakeke, the Ngati Apa leader, at Parewanui, near Bulls. An attempt by Ngati Raukawa at Horowhenua to fix tribal boundaries by law in 1871 led Hunia to call a conference of Whanganui, Manawatu and Wairarapa tribes at Lake Horowhenua that year.

Te Keepa responded by leading his Muaupoko troops to Horowhenua Lake and erecting a fighting pa, which he named Pipiriki. Although war was averted, there were violent clashes with Ngati Raukawa with houses set on fire and cultivations destroyed. Donald McLean, Minister of Native Affairs, intervened and the issue was submitted to the Native Land Court at Foxton in 1873. Te Keepa sought to influence the judge with a threat to bring a contingent of warriors from Whanganui if Muaupoko territory was not extended; their lands were more than doubled.

Title to the lands in the Horowhenua:

As the result of the court action an order was made on 10 April 1873 for a certificate of title under the Native Lands Act 1867 (issued 27 June 1881) for the Horowhenua Block. The title contained 143 names on the back, but only the name of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui appeared on the front.

Te Keepa had control over the land regarding decisions about lease arrangements or subdivision but he considered himself to hold the land in trust for members of Muaupoko and he resisted all attempts by the Hunia family and others to survey, subdivide and alienate the land. Te Keepa regarded land holding as a form of power and influence, and warned his people that if they sold the land they would become slaves.

Warena Hunia, the son of Te Keepa’s rival Kawana Hunia, continued to dispute the title and the absolute power of Te Keepa to decide how the land was administered. Hunia wrote many times to the government requesting survey and subdivision for his Muaupoko hapu, Ngati Pariri, but this was refused. Subsequent attempts by Hunia to divide off land for himself were resisted by Muaupoko members.

Through various court actions Te Keepa faced mounting debts and under pressure from different quarters for subdivision he decided to meet with the government to discuss a proposal for the purchase of 4000 acres at Horowhenua for the establishment of a town settlement around the line of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway.

Horowhenua Block Royal Commission and Horowhenua Block Act 1896:

An application for the partition of Horowhenua was made to the Native Land Court in 1886 and the land subdivided into 14 blocks. Block 1 containing 76 acres was was gifted to the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company and Te Keepa received a number of Company shares. Block 2 of 4000 acres to the east of Lake Horowhenua was earmarked for the township. Ngati Raukawa were allocated Subdivision 9 (1,200 acres) and Raumatangi which acknowledged their claims of occupation and settlement in the area.

Block 11 contained15, 000 acres, including where the majority of Muaupoko settlements and cultivations were located, stretching from the coast around the dune lakes to the foot of the Tararuas. Objection and discussions resulted in the names of Meiha Keepa Te Rangihuiwinui (Te Keepa) and Warena Te Hakeke (Hunia) being recorded on the certificate of title.

Hunia sought partition of Block 11 into two blocks and in 1890 the Native Land Court granted the petition. Te Keepa and his lawyer Walter Buller tried to have the situation reversed with title to the land vested in the Muaupoko tribe, who under the present regime had no rights to the land on which they resided. Court hearings, petitions and counter-petitions were made for over two years with no resolution and mounting court costs.

It was at this time that Hunia made an offer to the government for the purchase of a 1,500 acre block. The Minister of Lands and Agriculture, John McKenzie purchased the land in October 1893 for the implementation of a state farm settlement under the direction of William Pember Reeves, the Minister of Labour, and Edward Tregear, the Director of the Labour.

Muaupoko only learnt of the sale when surveyors went onto the land, they objected and formed a deputation that met with the Premier Richard Seddon. Seddon defended the sale and refused to impound the purchase money. Muaupoko did not object to the sale in principle, they objected to the failure to consult, they did not receive the purchase money and the sale recognised Hunia as the land owner. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Te Keepa’s claim that Block 11 was a trust block and the State Farm Block sale was put into jeopardy.

The Government then announced that a Royal Commission would be appointed to investigate dealings in the Horowhenua land. Te Keepa and Buller had become powerful sources of irritation to McKenzie. In June 1896 the Commission tabled its report in Parliament in which it discredited and criticised Te Keepa and the dealings of Buller in Maori land.

The Commission did not void the State Farm Block purchase but commended it, claiming that everyone admitted that it ‘was an excellent thing for the district.’ The commission recommended the State Farm Block be considered Hunia’s share of Block 11 and the Maori Appellant Court would determine who Hunia’s heirs were and the balance of the purchase money paid to them. The Horowhenua Block Act 1896 enacted these findings, ridding the land of any form of a trust and directing the courts to investigate and allocate individual title.

In the process Muaupoko lost more land. Some was taken to pay for the commission costs and Walter Buller acquired Subdivision 14, which included Lake Papaitonga, as his legal fees.

The construction of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Line in the 1880s saw an opening up of the Horowhenua countryside and an increase in the European population along the coast and consequent demand for land. It is noted by Adkin that the practice of assigning Maori names to new localities along the coast virtually ceased in the late 1880s. For Te Keepa there was added disappointment with the Government not taking the name ‘Taitoko’ for the township, instead it was named after William Hort Levin, a director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company.

Establishment of the Levin State Farm:

In anticipation of a favourable outcome from the Commission the government had already had the land surveyed and subdivided into 61 sections. 60 sections were set apart for the Horowhenua Village Settlement and Section 61, comprising of approximately 780 acres, was retained for the Levin State Farm.

The State Farm occupied a site that included part of the Weraroa clearing; the rest of the land was forested, with Lake Papaitonga to the south and the Hokio Beach Road as the northern boundary. Leslie Adkin identifies the meaning of Weraroa as ‘great or extensive burn’, meaning it may have been a site cleared for past cultivation or grazing.

The ‘long depression’ of the 1880s saw many people dependent on government work schemes. Tregear believed that the factors that influenced unemployment were the inequality of labour and capital. He saw the role of the Department of Labour was to relieve this condition through ‘settling the land with many landholders.’ The Liberal Government had established land resettlement schemes and the Department contributed through the relocation of labour. Tregear and Reeves envisioned ‘village settlements’ based on cooperative work schemes and they planned to establish a series of ‘state farms’ on the outskirts of larger towns.

The Levin State Farm was the first to be established and would become a labour depot for unemployed elderly men and the training of unskilled men in bush work and farming. Trainees would live on the farm with their families, with accommodation and food provided until they found rural employment.

Dense forest covered much of the State Farm block, with the Weraroa clearing as the only place for occupation and buildings. Initial bush clearance by the bush gangs of local timber miller Peter Bartholomew had left the land in stumps. Looking towards the State Farm from Lake Papaitonga Walter Buller described the scene as ‘active colonisation’ that saw ‘the removal of the bush, and a landscape of burnt stumps and muddy roads’.

James MacKay, Chief Clerk of the Department reported to Tregear in January 1894 that he had started thirty men to work on the State Farm at Levin. Some had families and they were ‘being housed in whares’. A farm manager had been appointed to instruct and oversee the labourers sent by the Department and they were encouraged to erect housing on their allotted half acre. It was reported in 1894 that 58 men, eight women and 25 children were on the farm, the ‘men doing the preparatory work, cutting roads through the bush, felling bush for burning, planting orchards, and getting ready for the permanent homestead to be laid off’.

The State Farm required large capital expenditure; however, the people involved were sure that a good return would be met by the investment. By 1895 61 children lived on the farm and a schoolhouse and a teacher were provided for their education. It was reported that 400 acres of bush had been felled, burnt, stumped and grassed. 209 chains of roads had been cleared; 10 acres of land prepared for an orchard; 2,500 fruit trees planted; and stables, cottages, and a manager’s house had been constructed. MacKay was complimentary about the experiment and supported its continuation, including starting up other state farms around the Colony, stating: ‘In my opinion the experiment is a good one, and one likely to be for the benefit of the people as well as for the Government.’ By 1896 McKay stated that ‘the Levin State Farm had passed its experimental stage’ and that ‘more farms should be established along similar lines as the benefits had been proven’.

A reporter who visited in the farm in 1899 noted that the farm was ‘neither an experimental or model farm’ but he described it as a ‘humanitarian experiment’ and a much better alternative to charitable institutions like the poorhouse.

By 1897 the farm was a thriving dairy farm and an agricultural success, but one that did not meet the needs of the Department as a labour depot. Tregear continued to defend his experiment as a place where surplus labour was sent when there was no opening in the general labour market and gave men skills and experience in bush labouring and rural occupations. However, the State Farm took up a substantial part of the Departmental budget and was criticised by the opposition in Parliament; Tregear himself was a target and the farm had become a ‘political mill stone’ for him. By 1900 he acknowledged that the experiment was complete and looked to new frontiers for bush farm developments. William Ferguson Massey (future Prime Minister and Minister for Labour) forced its closure with his success in reducing the Departmental Vote to a symbolic £1. Control of the State Farm was vested in the Department of Agriculture who took possession on 1 April 1900 with all labourers given a month’s notice.

The Weraroa Experimental Farm:

The Department of Agriculture renamed the farm the Weraroa Experimental Farm. The Department’s first experimental farm Moumahaki, near Waverley, was established in 1893 and by 1912 the Department was managing several other experimental farms. The experimental farms were not so much an ‘experiment’ in terms of systematic observation or organised field trials; they were mostly sited on land that was under development and used techniques to bring it into production, in particular the use of chemical fertilisers.

The Fields and Experimental Farms Division formed out of the experimental farms and the Division was given status through the appointment of Edmund Clifton as its first director in 1907. The farms were open to criticism from farmers, lobby groups and political antagonists as they consumed about one third of the Agriculture Department’s budget, and the Reform Party, led by Massey, used this as a political weapon to criticise the Liberal Government. Plans to expand the experimental farms were shelved when the Reform Party gained power in 1912. The Fields Division and the experimental farms came under closer scrutiny and pressure added to produce an income.

The Central Development Farm, Weraroa:

Changes in management and the structure of the Department saw Clifton replaced by John Brown as Divisional Director, who moved the Fields Division Headquarters and the Biology Section of the Department to the Weraroa Experimental Farm site and renamed it the Central Development Farm in April 1917. His vision was that the benefits of research and experimentation at the farm would be brought to farms all over the Dominion. Students would benefit from field and laboratory experiments and the focus at the Central Development Farm would be on pasture, field crops, and dairy and sheep husbandry.

Brown wanted the farm to become a centre for departmental training of advisory staff and at a later stage a tertiary institution. A report by the then Minister of Agriculture expanded on the future plans for the experimental farms that put Weraroa as the centre of training, with the other farms providing specialist training as required. Ruakura, near Hamilton, in particular would focus on the training of returning soldiers. The Minister of Agriculture explained that the Central Development Farm required ‘strong support’ as the aim was to ‘increase primary production - the wealth that is needed to pay for the war.’ The rural labour force had been depleted and the Department was turning its attention to the inclusion of more women and boys leaving school to join the agricultural work force. Further accommodation and facilities were required for this purpose and it was at this stage in the development of the farm that the woolshed, piggery and other farm buildings that are present today were constructed by the Public Works Department in 1918.

Special duties arising out of the war effort created added pressure on the Central Farm to perform; conscription meant that the capacity of the Division was reduced and student-assistants not taken on. Special duties included soldier settlements, the work and training of discharged soldiers and the employment of conscientious religious objectors.

World War One and Religious Conscientious Objectors:

In 1916 conscription for military service, via the Military Service Act, was introduced to maintain New Zealand's supply of reinforcements to Europe. Those who were opposed to violence and militarisation were imprisoned and some, most famously Archibald Baxter (the father of James K. Baxter) were sent to the front and suffered field punishment in France.

Those that could claim the status of ‘religious conscientious objector’ under the Act had to be members of a religious group that had, before the outbreak of war, declared military service 'contrary to divine revelation'. Those who had their claims of exemption approved had to sign an undertaking to perform non-combatant work. The Defence Department had an arrangement with the Agriculture Department for the military service of religious conscientious objectors to be undertaken at the Central Development Farm. The men were brought to Levin from all parts of New Zealand and accommodated in an Objectors Camp that consisted of bell tents and basic infrastructure. Up to 22 men were working at the farm and in May 1918 approval was gained for the erection of barracks, dining hall and kitchen, ablutions and latrines to be built by the Public Works Department. These buildings were completed by September 1918.

The religious conscientious objectors worked on the farm until the start of February 1919 when they were formally demobilised by the Defence Department. The buildings were acquired by the Agriculture Department but were subsequently sold for removal or demolished.

Experiment and Demonstration:

John Brown resigned as Director of the Fields and Experimental Farms Division within a year of his appointment and the Division floundered until its reinstatement in 1919. Experimental farms served dual roles with land set aside for experimental work and the rest of the land used as a demonstration farm using up-to-date methods and turning a profit.

Alfred Hyde Cockayne was appointed Divisional Director in 1923 and he reinvigorated the Division with the decision to introduce an advisory service with the use of field instructors that would bring together their knowledge of agricultural science and good farming practices.

Experimentation to Education:

In 1928 financial pressure and the reprioritisation of budgets for the continuation of experimental farms forced the decision that the Central Development Farm had fulfilled its purpose and was to be subdivided into leasehold farms. However, a portion was to be reserved for educational purposes as the land had been identified as a possible site for the Massey College agricultural research programme.

Concerned at the sale, the local Chamber of Commerce met to discuss the government’s proposals. The Chamber wanted the whole lot subdivided into small dairy farms. Their reasoning was that hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars had been invested in the farm and the sale of some of the best coastal land would produce an enormous amount of revenue for the district.

The Agriculture Department proceeded with their plan and the subdivision of the Weraroa Experimental Farm was opened for Selection on Special Renewable Lease in 1929. Sections 10, 11 and 12 were exempt and retained for a reserve by Gazette Notice for the following purposes:

(a) A farm to provide occupation and training for mentally deficient and delinquent children.

(b) A site and farm for an agricultural high school.

(c) A site for a health camp for physically-defective children.

The Child Welfare Branch of the Education Department acquired a portion of the land for pasture needs associated with the operations of the Weraroa Boys’ Training Farm on Kimberly Road, Levin. Lot 10 (now Section 1 SO 36420) and its buildings including the woolshed, dip and yards; residence and garage; and cottages 1 and 3, were retained to meet the requirements of the Education Department. All other machinery and buildings were disposed of and sold at auction with the proceeds credited to the Department of Agriculture.

Child Welfare Institutions: the Weraroa Boys’ Training Farm:

In 1899, £1,000 of government funding was allocated to the establishment of a boys’ industrial school in the Wellington District. In 1901, 400 acres of the land block which bordered along Kimberley Road was granted as a reformatory site for the proposed school. The school was set up to cater for the needs of older boys who were provided with a curriculum of domestic training, recreation, opportunities for religious instruction, diet, health, trade instruction and agricultural instruction.

The enactment of the Child Welfare Act 1925 allowed for a break with the past, getting rid of the term ‘industrial school’ and providing for a variety of residential facilities including ‘training farms’. The use of new terminology signalled that these places were for instruction, re-education and adjustment rather than punishment. Few children were placed in these facilities and most only stayed for a few years before they were released back into the community or to the care of their families. The new Child Welfare Branch (later Division) of the Education Department was responsible for the administration of state institutions like the Weraroa Boys’ Training Farm.

In 1938 it was reported that the child welfare policy was not to place any child in an institution unless it was absolutely necessary. Only a small proportion of children required institutional treatment before they could be returned to the community. For older children who required a longer period of detention or institutional training there were the Departmental institutions at Weraroa for older boys and Burwood, Christchurch, for girls.

However, it was noted that the facilities at Weraroa were now not appropriate for the provision of reformative treatment and rehabilitation. The facilities of the Weraroa Training Farm were becoming overcrowded and issues such as absconding had put a spotlight on the management difficulties that had arisen.

The reorganising and provision of new buildings for the purpose of providing additional educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for the boys was considered. Plans to rebuild with a scheme for the erection of new buildings in the cottage system were approved. The Child Welfare Branch had gained control of the Central Development Farm near Weraroa in 1930 and had been using this facility for the agricultural focus of the training school. New Zealand’s participation in World War Two would provide an opportunity to establish a new Training Farm that would better provide for the education and rehabilitation needs of the boys.

Boys’ Training Centre, Levin:

In 1939 the Weraroa Boys’ Training Farm was commandeered by the Royal New Zealand Air Force for wartime purposes and over a weekend the residents and staff were shifted to the Central Development Farm and the facility at Hokio Beach. At this time Charles Peek was the manager.

Charles Peek (Superintendent of Child Welfare 1946-1964) was a successful teacher and after vetting by the Education Department Directorate and its Minister, Peter Fraser, he was urged to take up the first Child Welfare Branch appointment as the manager of the Boys’ Training Farm in 1939.

Peek used this forced move as an opportunity to build a new residential facility. Many of the new structures were built by the boys and staff. The cultural hall which is extant on the property was most likely a part of this first phase of development. A memo from Peek to the Education Department in October 1939 mentions the hall and asks that it be re-scrimmed and papered. It was reported by Peek in 1941 that the Training Centre had been completed with boys being admitted, staff organised and a well-defined programme for training and education completed.

It was reported in 1942 that on average 36 boys were in residence with an emphasis on proper placement rather than institutionalisation. The comment was made that when the old Training Farm at Weraroa was handed over to the military authorities, provision had to be made for the 26 boys that had been resident there. They were placed in the community under the control of an officer and it was not found necessary to return any of these people to institutions.

During the 1950s public concerns about youth delinquency and promiscuity culminated in the ‘Mazengarb Report’ written by the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents in 1954. Perceived social problems associated with post-war affluence, working mothers, and urban drift; coupled with the emergence of youth culture and the associated problems of youth delinquency saw the introduction of legislation including an amendment to the Child Welfare Amendment Act (No. 2) 1954, which enabled the Children’s Courts to treat children engaging in sexual behaviour as delinquent.

In 1955 Peek noted that there had been no expansion of institutional facilities for ten years and there was an urgent need for accommodation as the Training Centre had become the Division’s major boys’ institution.

The Training Centre had a full programme of training and recreational facilities with a focus on vocational skills. This included work in technical classes in woodwork and the repair and maintenance of buildings on the site by students and teachers. Peek held a belief in the potential for rehabilitation through residential treatment, and the Boys’ Training Centre supported this. In 1959 Peek put forward a proposal for more education facilities at the centre. He had observed education as an emphasis in overseas institutions. Plans for additions at the Boys’ Training Centre of a classroom and hobby rooms, were designed by the Wanganui Education Board Corporate Architect, L.S. Barsanti, and constructed in 1960 by the tutors and boys at the Centre.

The Boys’ Training Centre was renamed Kohitere in 1965. The name was derived from the stream that ran through the blocks of land that were the sites of the two boys’ training farms. Kohitere took in older boys on a long term basis and Hokio Beach School accommodated those between eleven and fourteen. Hokio Beach School was one of several that catered for the growing Maori population in the Division’s homes and in the late 1960s introduced Maori language, history and culture to the curriculum.

Between 1948 and 1972 the number of young people in residential institutions trebled. It was reported that some residents displayed more complex social and psychological problems that caused difficulties in the institutions when mixed with less disturbed individuals. Issues of violence and safety for residents as well as staff saw the erection of secure units.

A decision was made to construct a medium-security block at the Boys’ Training Centre and there was concern that this signalled the end of the centre’s previous open nature. In 1964 the Director of Education, A.E. Campbell, wrote to the Commissioner of Works discussing the need for a ten bed security block and the adaption of drawings for a security block built at Arohata Womens’ Borstal Institution. Plans for the security block and site layout were produced that year and tenders for its construction received in May 1966.

Kohitere held open days to educate the pubic about the work at the facility and the boys played various roles in the community life of Levin. They provided labour on community projects, played in local sporting competitions and in a more conspicuous role, entered a float in the 1956 Jubilee Procession. Kohitere and its predecessor were also active in the wider rural community participating in A & P shows throughout the Manawatu Region.

Child Welfare from Education to Social Welfare:

Major welfare reform saw the passing of the Welfare Act 1972 which created the Department of Social Welfare. The Department was an amalgamation of the Social Security Department and the Child Welfare Division of the Department of Education. In that year the new Department of Social Welfare added a training school for social workers to the Kohitere complex. Kohitere had 111 residents and 22 staff houses on or close to the site. More funds were needed and approval was obtained for the expenditure of £44, 070 for the construction of three houses for married staff. Due to the rural location adequate housing was an inducement to attracting suitable applicants to the Training Centre.

Further facilities were added including a large gym and heated indoor swimming pool. These facilities also benefited the wider Levin community who used the site. These buildings are still extant but have been badly damaged and vandalised.

Kohitere was also the inspiration for a trilogy of films directed by Mike Walker in the 1980s. The first film Kingi’s Story (1981) used Kohitere residents as actors; they also contributed to the script and improvised parts. The sequel, Kingpin (1985) uses the Kohitere facility as the set with the buildings clearly visible.

The Closure of Kohitere:

Growing levels of juvenile delinquency and reports of abuse in the Division’s institutions led it to reconsider the role that its institutions played in the wider child welfare policy. Its research suggested that the institutions did little to change the habits of those who were committed to them. High failure rates were experienced, especially in the boys’ centres. A survey in the early 1960s found that 60 percent of boys reoffended within a year of leaving Kohitere.

During the late 1980s a social policy shift saw the Government reducing the emphasis on the use of residential training for recidivist youth and in December 1989 Kohitere closed. The site was used for a time by the community and for school camps but the land is now occupied by Department of Conservation concessionaires which includes farmers and wood merchants. The buildings have suffered from deferred maintenance and vandalism but provide an important physical reminder of state experimentation and training on the land for nearly 100 years.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Government Architect Office, Public Works Department

L.S. Barsanti, Wanganui Education Board Corporate Architect

Staff and residents of Kohitere

Physical Description and Analysis:

The State Farm lies between the important dune lakes of Papaitonga and Horowhenua, and is part of a significant landscape that holds important historic and cultural values to iwi and hapu. Through clearings, deforestation, farming, cultivation, construction of infrastructure and subdivision the landscape has undergone significant physical changes.

The original State Farm was approximately 800 acres and its boundaries stretched from Hokio Beach Road to the north and Buller Road in the South. The CD Farm Road bisects the land and creates a link between the north and south road boundaries. The part of the reserve area that forms the extent of the historic place is made up of 38.81 hectares (Section 1 SO 36420). The block is located on the corner of Hokio Beach Road and CD Farm Road.

Turning down Hokio Beach Road and travelling south along CD Farm Road for 100 metres a group of agricultural buildings which includes the woolshed, piggery, implement shed and hayshed are located near the road side and are easily identifiable. The woolshed is the closest to the road, access is through a gate. The building is a triple-gabled ‘T’ shaped timber building. It is raised around one metre from the ground on concrete piles. It has rusticated weatherboards and louvred windows on all facades. Entry to the building is through wooden doors located on the north elevation.

The interior is fitted with pens over slatted flooring. The building is largely intact and minimal material repairs can be seen. The design of the building appears to have been purposeful: the louvres allow cross ventilation; the slatted floor allows animal material to pass through. To the south of the building is the exit door that leads down a ramp to the pens and dip area.

An implement shed to the east of the woolshed is a long simple single-gabled shed built without a floor, close to the ground. The age of the shed fabric, which includes rusticated weatherboards, appears similar to the woolshed. The shed has a perimeter concrete foundation, two large barn doors and a few windows.

In close proximity is another single-gabled farm building of similar rusticated weatherboards, louvred windows and a perimeter foundation. The building may have been used as a piggery and is open to the east. The north end has an enclosed room with a chimney. Next to the piggery is a large barn that is double height, steel-framed and open. This barn is of more recent origin and is used for the storage of hay bales.

A further 100 metres south down CD Farm Road is the remaining complex of buildings associated with the Kohitere facility. Facing the road is a domestic dwelling, single storey with a gabled roof and timber weatherboards. Beside it is an administration block, ‘U’ shaped, with wooden weatherboards and an iron roof. The building has been converted into a residence.

A driveway is alongside and gives access into the complex. To the immediate north is the classroom block which is also of weatherboard construction with a corrugated iron roof. The building comprises of two classrooms.

Further along to the north is a large gymnasium and enclosed swimming pool. The gym is a steel framed structure made of concrete blocks and an asbestos roof. The swimming pool is also constructed of concrete block and has been cut away to allow the storage of firewood in the pool.

The security block is located some distance away to the east. It is a square concrete block building with barred windows and a corrugated iron roof. The building is single storey with 14 cells that are located around the perimeter of the building and face into a central space. An administration building is annexed.

At the heart of the training centre is the cultural hall that has been used for ‘school hall’ or ‘school-chapel’ activities. It is a high timber-framed timber-sheathed building with a truncated hipped roof, regularly spaced double-hung windows and a corrugated asbestos roof. A latter addition in the form of an entrance porch on the north elevation is shaped into an arch and echoes the entrance way to a wharenui. The interior features a timber floor and an exposed timber truss roof. The northern end has mounted waiata boards on the wall.

To the south of the cultural hall are a number of large phoenix palms which line a more formal entrance way into the facility and look to be of considerable age. Large Norfolk pines also line the roadside boundary.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1918 -
Construction of the woolshed, piggery and implement shed

1939 -
Possible construction of the cultural hall

Original Construction
1960 -
Construction of classrooms

Original Construction
1966 -
Construction of the security block

Construction Details

Timber, concrete, corrugated iron

Completion Date

17th May 2011

Report Written By

Natasha Naus

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

Department of Labour H-6, 1894 - 1900, Department of Agriculture, Report on Experimental Farms, H-21A, 1912. Agriculture, Industries and Commerce, H-29, 1917 – 1919. Public Works Department, Annual Report on Buildings by Government Architect John Campbell, D-1, 1918. Child Welfare Branch, Education Department, E-4, 1938 – 1942.

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Employment, Religious Objectors in Experimental Farms, Defence Department AD, Series 78, Box 23, Record 70/1/2, Territorial Force – Employment of religious objectors on State farms, Defence Department AD Series 1 Box 734 Record 10/407/2, Buildings – Levin Agricultural Farm – Erection of for accommodation for religious objectors, Defence Department AD Series 1 Box 701 Record 3/638, Weraroa farm of conscientious objectors, Defence Department AD Series 81 Box 5 Record 7/14.

Dalley, 1998

Bronwyn Dalley, Family matters : child welfare in twentieth-century New Zealand, Auckland, 1998

Nightingale, 1992

Tony Nightingale, White Collars and Gumboots: A History of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries 1892-1992, Palmerston North, 1992

Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz

Anderson, Dr Robyn and Keith Pickens, Rangahaua Whanui District 12, Wellington District: Port Nicholson, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Rangitikei, and Manawatu, Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington, 1996. URL: http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz/resources/researchreports/rangahaua_whanui_reports/district_reports/whanui_disctrict12.asp

Wanganui Chronicle

Wanganui Chronicle

7 June 1899

Adkin, G Leslie, 1948

Horowhenua: its Maori place-names and their topographical and historical background Department of Internal Affairs p332

Dreaver, 1984

A.J. Dreaver, Horowhenua County and its People: A Centennial History, Dunmore Press, Wellington, 1984.

Dreaver, 2006

Anthony Dreaver, Levin: The Making of a Town, Horowhenua District Council, Levin, 2006.

Martin, 1996

John E. Martin, Holding the Balance: A History of New Zealand’s Department of Labour 1891-1995, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 1996.

Park, 1995

Geoff Park, Nga Uruora – The Groves of Life: Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1995.

Other Information

A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.