Albertland’s Archie

By: Lyn Johnston

Recent news of the latest royal baby brought to mind an interesting second-generation Albertlander.

Archibald Edwin Brookes was born in 1878 in Taranaki, where his father, Edwin Stanley Brookes Jnr, was working as government surveyor. When Archie’s mother died, his father remarried and, in 1886, the family returned to Minniesdale Farm, Wharehine.  

Brookes senior was no farmer, but a researcher, antiquities collector and writer. Archie’s older brother had gone to the Tasmanian goldfields and his sisters were out ‘in service’, so to support the land and family Archie, 15, went to work on the nearby Okahukura block.

For many years he did fencing, bushfelling, scrubcutting and other hard, manual labour. In fact, he spent most of his single life working to provide for senior members of the family, as they had no capital to invest in farm improvements.

Archie Brookes and inquisitive morepork, Solomon’s Bay, 1904 (W H Marsh Collection

Archie was 30 when he married local girl Isabel Witheford in 1909. They moved to Matamata where he earned money to buy Minniesdale. His sister Winnie wrote to a friend: “We do not hear much about Archie, I have had one letter from him since he got married. He says he would not be single again for anything.”  

Archie Brookes was remembered as an excellent shot, but one of his letters from Matamata states: “Isabel is a far better shot than I am, she can pick the sparrows off a stump a chain away with a pea rifle one after the other without a miss.”

After about three years, Archie and family moved back to Minniesdale, finally gaining ownership of the property. There they ran several hundred sheep, which were hand-shorn. Bales of wool were taken by horse and sledge to Takapau Creek for transporting to Helensville by steamer. Archie and Isabel also hand-milked a few cows and Archie would carry the heavy cream can up their very, very steep hill to Shegadeen Road for  collection.

He was a great gardener, growing a wide variety of vegetables. One garden on the edge of Takapau Creek produced magnificent corn, maize and watermelons. Bird egg collecting was also a passion. He and friends would row a dinghy down the Oruawharo River to Shag Creek, where in spring the mangroves were festooned with nests.  His collection is now in the Albertland Museum. Archie and Isobel were popular and sociable.  They hosted many picnics at the homestead with croquet on the front lawn for the adults while children played in the bush or swam in the creek.

During WWII, their boys joined the services so Archie and Isabel carried on the farm alone. After the war, son Bernard came back to Minniesdale and took over, as both parents had failing health. He found it too difficult to cope alone and the house needed work so, after nearly 100 years in the Brookes family, Minniesdale was sold.

Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum


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