History in a slab hut

Story and pictures: Malcolm Pullman

In Boundaries2 Minutes
Lewis farm, Imms Road, Okaihau. Photo by Malcolm Pullman www.photosnz.co.nz

Neville Lewis can remember crawling with his father through dense gorse to get to the back of the derelict farm they were looking to buy in the Utakura Valley west of Okaihau in 1972.

Years later with the farm largely reclaimed from gorse Neville and his wife Linda, by then the owners, turned their attention to a derelict building.

The Cottage had a totara growing out of the chimney, unstable foundations, lean-to additions beyond repair. It was truly derelict, full of rubbish and hay from previous owners with leftovers where cattle had camped inside.

“It was either pull it down or fix it up,” Linda says.

Demolition would have been easy, instead the family and close friends embarked on a lengthy restoration project.

“We got bits and pieces like doors and windows of a similar era from around the district and then the hunt began to find who had lived there. A lot of searching the phone book and talking to aged locals from Okaihau put me on the right track.”

The slab hut had been built by English migrants James and Lizzie Moors who arrived in the remote valley in 1910.

It is defined as a slab hut because the heart totara cladding has been split with an axe, with the outside and inside walls overlapped for weather proofing. Remarkably, these boards remain solid although intricately patterned with moss and lichens.

The slab hut has now been restocked as a miniature living museum with period furniture and appliances and occasionally people get to stay there.

Included among the visitors have been descendants of James and Lizzie whose family left the valley after a devastating flood in 1935.