Monday, September 5, 2016

THAMES (NZ): Dickson Park aka The Tararu Gardens

DICKSON PARK - located at the east end of Victoria Street, Tararu, Thames.
View of the park September 2016
Remnants of the Tararu Gardens are signposted at the entrance to the Dickson Holiday Park.
c1868 Subdivision map of Tararu Garden area
From the time the Thames Goldfield opened, there was a special area at Tararu where Thamesites would travel to escape the noise and dirt of their mining town. The brainchild behind the Tararu Gardens was Mr Robert Graham, the Auckland property developer who subdivided Grahamstown and Tararu c1868. 

There was a major storm in 1874 that destroyed the Tararu Wharf, badly damaged Robert Graham’s hotel and his beloved Tararu Gardens. Following these series of events, Mr Graham left Thames, having his hotel shipped to his Waiwera Hotel site. Thankfully new of proprietors and owners kept the Tararu Gardens operational.

Sunday excursions to the Tararu Gardens were always popular. A place where families would picnic, swim in the river and play sports on the flat adjacent areas. Bands would play and dancing would continue on the green well into the night. Admission to the gardens cost sixpence and strawberries and cream another sixpence. School visits were also held to the gardens, such as end of year activities.  One such excursion took place on 14th December 1876. “A big day for all the schools of the Waiotahi District. Over 700 children from the five schools went to the Tararu Gardens for a day of music, fun and games. All up there were over 1000 people present. Everything went off satisfactorily, and the whole affair was evidence of the success of the educational system at present in force.”(1)
 Larger sports events were held on the main Tararu Flats where the Thames Hospital Board farm and Tararu Home was relocated (now Bupa Tararu Rest Home and Hospital).

Thames Star 31 December 1885

The gardens were not always smooth sailing financially over the years, resulting in many attempted sales and owners.  In 1876 Mr Fred Bennett was listed as the Proprietor of the gardens. While a note in the 1918 newspaper mentioned that the gardens were actually laid out by Mr F Bennett.(2) The gardens appear to have operated seasonally in these early years, for instance they opened Saturday 21 October 1876. Admission for six months was listed as giving the holder admission at all times during the day, including Sundays! The cost was: Family ticket (Two adults and children under 12 years of age) 10s 6d; and single ticket 5s. (3)

The strawberries that were so popular were grown at the gardens. In 1879, the paper reported that Mr Bennett and his assistants had been busy at the gardens which were in the full bloom of spring flowers. “The Strawberries are rapidly ripening, indeed a good number have already found their way into Grahamstown, and with seasonal weather Mr Bennett expects to be able to meet all the demands of his many visitors.” (4)

In the Thames Star 15 March 1888, Mr R R McGregor, auctioneer of Thames had been authorised to sell the Tararu Gardens by order of the mortgagees. The land described as being part of Block Kauaeranga E, No 14. In another section Mr Robert Graham Esq, was reported as the late owner, it is not clear whether this meant he was the current owner. At the auction the bidding reached 500 Pounds, the property was withdrawn as this was 90 Pounds under the reserve price set before the auction.
The next we hear is that the gardens are in the procession of the Thames Building Society, who offered them for sale in January 1890. A correspondent wrote to the Thames Star newspaper on 10 February 1890 and suggested wisely that the Borough Council should purchase the gardens as a recreation ground for the town. The matter dragged on. In 1891 the council was offered the gardens and surrounding grounds for 625 Pounds. The Thames Star 6 February 1891, had the news that the Thames Borough Council had decided not to buy the Tararu or Parawai Gardens as recreation areas for the town, deeming them not suitable. By 1892 the Building Society still had the mortgage on the property and wanted urgently to sell the Tararu gardens.

The news came at the end of 1892 that Mr R Comer had purchased the property for 300 Pounds, then immediately offered it to the council at that price, so they could be used as a recreation ground for the town.  In the end, a vote was held so that the people of Thames could decide whether the gardens should be purchased. The poll required 373 votes in favour, but sadly only 121 votes were for it and 48 against. So it was left to Robert Comer to continue to run the gardens, at the end of 1893 the entrance fee was reduced to entice customers. Then once again at the beginning of 1894 the property was yet again on the market. During all these years of continual for sale notices, the paper is still full of people going to the gardens to enjoy picnic and other events.
1954 view of the park
In 1896 the gardens were the property of Mr J W Walker, who proceeded to build a large villa residence shortly after the purchase was complete. (5) In the Thames Star 16 August 1907, the property was again for sale.  It was advertised as the residence of the late Mrs J W Walker, the land was 10 acres – formerly the Tararu Gardens. The following years are yet to be explored but by 1953 the garden area was the Thames Camping Ground.

In 1953 the Thames Improvement Society planted a tree and placed a plaque at the Thames Camping Ground to honour the work of the late Mr J Dickson.  (photo below) “It was felt that such a memorial would be most appropriate in view of all Mr Dickson had done as Chairman of the Works Committee to bring the Camping Ground into being and the great interest he had always shown in anything to do with the beautification of the town.” (6)  Mr A J Dickson had died 1 September 1953. (7)
The park/gardens have changed hands many times over the years. Today the camping ground is called Dickson Holiday Park and remains to this day a popular holiday destination. The plaque for Mr Dickson, is now located on a rock at the entrance to the park, as well as a sign showing the remnants of the famed Tararu Gardens.
Above: The Memorial plaque for Mr Dickson on the rock (left photo), closer view on the right.
Below: View of the park from the entrance, looking south-east 
(1) Waiotahi Creek School, by Althea Barker.
(2) Thames Star, 11 March 1918.
(3) Thames Star, 4 December 1876.
(4) Thames Star, 20 October 1879.
(5) Thames Star, 28 July 1986.
(6) Thames Star, 9 September 1953.
(7) Thames Star, 2 September 1953.

Background Reading:
Old Tararu Gardens an Important part of early Thames, Thames Star, 20 June 1952.

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