Grange visit a flashback for ‘Birley girls’

‘The Birley girls’’ ... Sisters Patricia Snell (left), of Auckland, and Joan King, of Motueka,...
‘The Birley girls’’ ... Sisters Patricia Snell (left), of Auckland, and Joan King, of Motueka, visit the farm they were raised on — The Grange — in East Taieri recently. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A former Taieri farm girl got her dying wish to say goodbye to the homestead she was raised in.

Joan King (83) and her sister Patricia Snell (75) were young girls when their family moved on to The Grange farm in East Taieri.

Their parents, Percy and Rita Birley, managed the nearly 300ha sheep, beef and dairy farm.

The women, from Motueka and Auckland respectively, visited the homestead recently to celebrate Mrs King’s birthday.

"I’ve always wanted to come back and say goodbye because I’ve got terminal cancer," Mrs King said.

The sisters said life on the farm was "hard and enjoyable".

The farm work for the girls ranged from digging thistles to pushing sheep into a dip bath.

A fond memory was serving tables of food outside the homestead for up to 40 horse riders on an annual hunt, Mrs King said.

"It was a beautiful sight — all the red coats and black hats."

Mrs Snell said a hunt ball was held in Mosgiel but she was always too young to attend.

"So I would hide and watch," Mrs Snell said.

The sisters said their father was known for his generosity.

Patricia Snell and Joan King hold  photos of their parents Percy and Rita Birley, who managed  ...
Patricia Snell and Joan King hold photos of their parents Percy and Rita Birley, who managed The Grange in the 1940s and ’50s, and of the homestead when they lived there.
He would never refuse a swagger — a man who spent his life wandering, avoiding work and cadging free meals from farmers.

The swaggers would be fed and given a bed for a night on the condition they handed over their matches to avoid the risk of a fire starting, Mrs Snell said.

The swaggers were frequent visitors, as they would signal a farmer’s generosity to their peers by placing a a rock at the farm gate, Mrs Snell said.

Mr Birley was the nephew of James Dunnery, who bought the farm in 1913 and built the homestead.

The Birley family later bought the homestead.

The farm had changed considerably since they lived there, Mrs King said.

The original homestead had five bedrooms — each with its own open fireplace.

Now the homestead had a second storey, a garage attached and an extension including a dining area and kitchen.

Both women — known as "the Birley girls" — left the farm in their late teens, and it was sold after their parents died, Mrs King said.

The Grange Lifecare Village director Geoff McPhail visits a villa at the $150million facility in...
The Grange Lifecare Village director Geoff McPhail visits a villa at the $150million facility in East Taieri.
The homestead, which now sits on a 20ha farm block, will become a community centre in a retirement village.

The Grange Lifecare Village director Geoff McPhail, of Christchurch, said the first eight villas in the $150million facility would go on sale next month.

The building of the community centre, administration block, kitchen, laundry, and hospital care suites was expected to start in the middle of this year.

The facility would also include a crafts area, hair salon, gym, indoor bowling green, library and theatre.

When complete, the facility would be able to accommodate up to 450 residents, and various levels of care would be available, including independent living options, Mr McPhail said.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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