Aerial Top Dresseing
Aerial Top Dresseing
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Marlborough Photographs from 1920

This exhibit depicts Marlborough from the viewpoint of photographs taken in the period 1920-1965

Click on 'Start Exhibit' above to begin a guided tour, or click on an image to the left to go directly to that record, or click on 'Table of Contents' above for a list of all records in the exhibit.


Christchurch innovator-industrialist George Skellerup launched this wartime project in 1943. It took at least five years to prepare the pond, and get things running.

The locality was ideal, with a flat site by the sea, a shallow lake, only 585 mm of rain, plenty of sun, and dry evaporating winds.

Manufacturing salt at Lake Grassmere is a process of concentrating the salt content of seawater by evaporation, then harvesting the crystallised salt. The salt forms crystals on the bottom of these ponds over the summer. In March, when the salt is ready for harvest, the remaining brine is pumped from the crystallisation ponds back into the sea. Before
draining, the ponds are a bright pink-red, from the brine shrimps present.


The three great sheep runs of Molesworth Station, Tarndale Station and Rainbow Station were first occupied in the 1850s. William Acton-Adams amalgamated these in 1890.

In 1938, the property was first taken up by the Government, with its headquarters at Molesworth homestead. In 1949 St Helens, near Hanmer was added. The total area is now 183,000 ha (about 457,000 acres) - New Zealand's largest run property with up to 10,000 cattle pastured, mainly Hereford and Angus breeds.

From the earliest years, the station flocks suffered crippling winter snow losses. It was remote, high and with limited road access.

In 1938, the Government decided to sell off all the sheep. Developing cattle herds proved the right way to go. Under the management of Mr Bill Chisholm Molesworth progressed and made significant profits for the first time in its history.


Work on the Picton end of the main trunk railway line to Christchurch began in 1872. Rivers, and ranges, in the way soon slowed progress. Work also began northwards from Christchurch and found problems at that end too.

In 1930, the Depression halted all work leaving a gap of 128 km, along the rugged Kaikoura Coast. By 1936, the Labour Government re-opened construction, from both ends, to close the gap.

An ever-extending line of public works camps sprang up from both ends. Whole families arrived to live in prefabricated cottages. Each camp had a school, and a hall. Visiting butchers, bakers and grocers arrived weekly from Kaikoura, or Cheviot.

One, or two, townships supported a small general Store. Single men's camps were more spartan, often being sited on the damp foreshore. Each man had his own hut, and fireplace, and ate at the camp cookhouse.

Some of the camps which 'came and went', were at Blue Slip, Shades, Clarence Bridge, Aniseed, the Valley of the Moon, Puketa and Oaro. Construction continued from 1936, until the line opened, in 1945.


Jacky Guard began whaling at Te Awaiti Bay just inside Tory Channel in 1827. By 1840, there were several shore stations in Port Underwood, and in later times on the Kaikoura coast.

In the early 1840s, the industry peaked. The Right Whale was the most sought after. The blubber, rendered down to oil, proved invaluable as a high grade engine lubricant, and odourless lighting. It was also used in the manufacture of products such as soaps, paint, and rope.

Baleen, the fine filtering tissue from the mouth of a Right Whale, was used in many nineteenth-century products, such as buggy whips, corset stays and umbrella ribs. Whale meat was also used for human, and animal, consumption.

Stations in Te Awaiti and Jacksons Bays (in Tory Channel) regularly caught whales after 1900. The introduction of faster whale chasers increased the catch. Later, whaling mother-ships meant a further boost.

Marlborough Sounds whaling peaked in 1960, with 78 whales being killed in 16 days during June, and a total of 226 Humpback Whales being caught in the whole season. Whale numbers reduced dramatically.

New Zealand ceased whaling in 1964. Commercial whaling was no longer viable. The competition of large Russian, Japanese, and other whaling fleets, complete with factory ships, ended the industry.


During World War II, the Wairau Valley was home to many uniformed servicemen, and women. Of the 12,000 involved at one stage, about 9,000 were army troops based in, and around, Blenheim and also on part of the Delta. The 3,000 attached to the air force were housed at Woodbourne and the nearby Delta camps.

With plenty of sunshine, the Delta's open spaces for exercises proved ideal for the Army's
11th Brigade Group. This installation was known as the Delta Military Camp.

The other installation was RNZAF Station Delta which, from 1943, made up the bulk of the Delta camps.

Most of the air training work was pre-flying training. This was handled by seven camps spread
across the Delta, from Renwick west to the Waihopai River. The camps were initially built
for the army in 1942. In 1943, air force personnel moved into the camps as the soldiers moved elsewhere.

The camps included Ashford, Bedford, Cheshire, Dorset, Evesham, Fareham, and Guernsey. After peace in 1945, personnel dispersed, but the RNZAF Base Woodbourne continued and
expanded. The camps were demolished, and many buildings found new uses in Blenheim.


10-11 September
The Southern Cross left Richmond Aerodrome, Sydney at 5.25 p.m. on 10 September, landing at Christchurch shortly after 8.00 a.m. on the next day (a flying time of 11 hours and 35 minutes).

11-28 September
Based in Christchurch

28 September - 13 October
Based at Fairhall's Woodbourne Farm

13-14 October
At 5.00 a.m. on 13 October, the Southern Cross left Blenheim, and after a flight of 22 hours 51 minutes, landed at Richmond Aerodrome, Sydney. (The return flight was into a head wind and took almost twice the outward time. The aircraft only just made it back.)

With a full load of fuel, the aircraft could not lift clear of the Southern Alps, hence the selection of Woodbourne as the fuelling point, with an easier departure via Cook Strait. The visit gave great impetus to Marlborough Aero Club, and prepared the way for selecting Woodbourne as Marlborough's premier Airport, and the Air Force Base.

Click on 'Start Exhibit' above to begin a guided tour, or click on an image to the left to go directly to that record, or click on 'Table of Contents' above for a list of all records in the exhibit.

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