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Legacy - Munro family draws a line under 144 year South Auckland legacy 

March 2019


 In 1875 the Munro family first came to Clevedon. Four brothers arrived in Auckland from Scotland. Landing on the banks of the Wairoa River with other settlers, they started their life in a new land. Charles became the village butcher, Jack the village blacksmith, while the remaining two took up parcels of land. George Munro took on a farm on the river flat. He had a heart condition, so the easier contours suited him better. Brother Hugh, the fitter of the two,  went higher up the valley.

Four generations later, in 1963, Hughs’ great granddaughter, Helen Keane and her husband Graham took over the farm that Hugh Munro had established and Helen’s father Alec had been farming. By this stage a sheep and beef property, they farmed it successfully until Graham died in 2017.

Now 81, Helen is ready to retire and has decided to sell the farm that has provided for the family for 144 years.

Mark Needham and Adrian van Mil of PGG Wrightson Real Estate, Pukekohe are looking after the sale of the 127 hectare farm, which is in two titles. Mark says it is rare for a property of this size, and just 46 kilometres south east
of central Auckland, to come to the market.

“Most recently operating as a sheep and beef finishing farm, the property is located six kilometres south of Clevedon, and well situated relative to all the amenities, towns and recreational pursuits the region has to offer. A new owner has the opportunity to either purchase the whole farm or one of the two titles, which are 72 hectares and 55 hectares respectively. Under the Unitary Plan there is potential to subdivide further in the future.

“In recent times a significant amount of subdivision has been undertaken in the district, creating lifestyle blocks of various sizes, including bush lots and some rural residential holdings. This is one future option for a new owner,” he says.

Helen says her family always farmed with respect for nature. “That goes back right to the start. My father Alec, his father Hugh, along with many of the uncles and great uncles, took the view that we don’t own the property, rather we are its custodians. That same philosophy has been passed down, with a pride in the improvements and the preservation of significant ecological areas and waterways,” she says.

When the Munros first arrived, they were faced with the challenge of breaking in the land, as Helen explains.

“It was in gorse and ti tree. They burnt then cut it. They used a team of horses to crush it.

“For building purposes, the early generations took some of the kauri for construction, including the materials for the original homestead. Timber was pit-sawn on the property. That original house was built to last and was still standing 25 years ago, having housed and witnessed the birth of several generations of the family, before it was replaced with the present house. Timber from the property was also used for several churches and halls in the district. However, my father and my grandfather were both interested in nature and keen to look after native species. They fenced blocks and re-planted them.

“During the time that Graham and I farmed, our proudest achievement was clearing the remaining gorse out of most of the gullies where it was still present,” she says.

A mature kauri, dating back hundreds of years and established well before the Munros arrived, still holds pride of place on the farm. Likely one of the largest trees in the Auckland region, its trunk has a girth of more than ten
metres and to the top branch it stands over 30 metres tall.

Helen’s mother, Christina Cathleen Lilburne, grew up on a farm in Moumoukai, on the other side of Hunua, which went under the Mangatawhiri Dam in the 1970s. Helen said Christina and Alec met at a dance.

“They used to ride horses to the dance, tether them up outside the dance hall, dance all night, then ride home in the morning.

“During World War Two, my father had two farms to manage, looking after the Lilburne farm in Moumoukai that belonged to his inlaws, as well as their own farm. When half the men in the district left to fight in the war, the
ones who were left behind had to do twice the work. That was just the expected thing at the time,” she says.

Through most of the 55 years that Helen and Graham farmed it, the property ran a flock of over 1,000 head of breeding ewes; initially Romney then Perendales. In the late 1990s they switched to cattle, running a herd of
around 100.

A pasture renewal programme, reseeding with lotus major and clovers, was part of Helen and Graham’s management of the farm, with the hay and silage harvested there remaining on the property, building up an excellent seed bank. Ongoing weed control has also ensured that invasive weed species are hit early, to remove competition for pasture and maintain a park-like landscape.

Although it is time to move on, Helen says she will miss the farm’s open spaces.

“I’m not an indoor person,” she says.