Ng King descendents Yep Ng and Robert King joined scores of other volunteers in a working bee last week at the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement.
Yep’s father, and Robert’s grandfather, were two of the five original brothers who ran an abundant market garden at the historic site on Allens Road, in Allenton, from the early 1920s until 1964.
It quickly grew to be the largest Chinese market garden in the South Island.
By the late 1940s there were about 12 houses in the settlement and at least 80 people living on site.
Along with the gardens, there were buildings for the horse and cart (initially used to hawk (or sell) produce around the district and latter years became a Bedford truck) as well as sleeping, living quarters for socialising, one for cooking and a school house, Robert said.
“It was a community where folk lived and worked.”
The original shop was also on site before they got their first retail shop in town.
The Ng King families officially handed over stewardship of the 2.3 hectare site to Ashburton District Council in 2013 so it could become a community reserve.
It’s been a work in progress for many years.
Members of Ng King families, volunteers from Ashburton District Council and staff from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s Christchurch office, as well as Melanie Tracy of Resene, gathered on site to paint the newly repaired and partially rebuilt buildings. There were around 25 volunteers in total.
Arlene Baird of Era Consulting co-ordinated the event.
“People really enjoyed the process of painting these historic buildings. It was a great chance to get up close and see the innovation and creativity the family displayed in their day to day lives. These buildings were just built over the years from whatever materials were available as they were needed,” she said.
It’s all part of progressing the site to a stage where it can be opened to the public.
The Ashburton District Council’s Open Spaces Team had given the site a good tidy up and the work repairing and stabilising the historic buildings by Joseph Builders Ltd was almost complete.
“We are now at a point where we are almost there,” Ms Baird said.
There was just a tiny bit of building work to finish before the fencing could come down, and landscaping could begin, she said.
“We are trying to make it look as authentic as we possibly can, we don’t want to take away from the history and the heritage of the buildings.”
“It’s just been amazing really. The whole project right from the start has been a process of collaboration and goodwill, and so all of these different groups of people coming together, is just a part of that.”
A walkway through the reserve is planned with different access points, places to sit and interpretation panels with pictures and information on what each building was used for and the Ng King story behind it.
The Ng King family members have all been meeting regularly to work on the panels telling the story of the site.
There had been funding from council, Heritage New Zealand, Chinese Poll Tax Trust and sponsorship from Resene in the form of black stain, whitewash, and oil which gave the means for supporters of the site to start work painting and preserving the timber buildings.
HNZPT conservation advisor Francesca Bradley worked with Resene’s Melanie Tracy to source the correct paint products.
“This is a complex site as we want to preserve the patina of this heritage site, but also conserve the timbers so the local community can enjoy this reserve for many years to come.
“Resene has been incredible with their sponsorship and we have really appreciated Melanie’s advice on sourcing the perfect products for the job.”