Land donated for Chinese garden at Kumara

By Brendon McMahon

What seemed like an obstacle has resulted in the donation of land for the new Chinese memorial garden, in Kumara.
When the project architect visited Kumara to assess the site of the planned garden, fronting Taylor’s Hill reserve at the junction of Mitchells-Inchbonnie Road and Seddon Street (State highway 73), the project instigator, hobby historian Kerrie Fitzgibbon, realised there was a glitch.
The allocated site from the Westland District Council’s property arm, Westland District Property Ltd, was bigger than the title suggested and left her scrambling for more information on the adjoining land.
“The people who owned it were still paying rates. I had to write these people a letter asking them to give us the land,” Mrs Fitzgibbon said.
It was not the easiest thing to do, given she knew nothing of the owner or her connection to the area.
“Honestly, it was really difficult to do, but we really needed it.”
Her determination paid off, with the landowner, Anne Bills, of Canterbury, readily “buying in” to the project.
Mrs Bills (nee Nicholas), has links to Kumara and Greenstone going back to the height of the 19th century goldrush. Her great-grandmother Catherine Nicolas arrived from Ireland via Australia in the 1870s, settling in Greenstone. Following the death of her husband, James, in 1883, Mrs Nicholas moved to Kumara and operated a store on the site of the proposed Chinese garden, up until her death in 1911.
Mrs Fitzgibbon said the link “was like serendipity” as it turned out that Mrs Bills was also “passionate about history” and her connection to Kumara.
She returned to Kumara two weeks ago and agreed to give the land.
Mrs Bills said she was well aware of the Chinese heritage in the area, recalling the ruins of those early diggers’ enterprise from her childhood at Greenstone, in the early 1940s.
The land in question, owned by Catherine Nicholas, had passed to her great-granddaughter many years ago.
“I’ve kept the section going at Kumara. I thought I was supporting Kumara by paying the rates,” Mrs Bills said.
She did not need much convincing of the merit of the Chinese memorial.
“I thought it was a great idea for the people of Kumara,” she said.
Mrs Fitzgibbon said what began as a better way to mark the Chinese gold heritage in the area than the existing interpretative panels had turned into an exciting and bigger project.
The memorial garden would be “extremely visible”, sitting near the eastern entrance to Kumara, and would complement the adjoining reserve.
Kumara residents were backing the project with time, labour and resources to do the ground work on the site, she said.