Vintage Garden Party

Tucked away next to the bustle of Cameron Road, a vintage garden party will once again bring elegance from an earlier age to the heart of Tauranga.

Tucked away next to the bustle of Cameron Road, a vintage garden party will once again bring elegance from an earlier age to the heart of Tauranga.

The annual Sunday afternoon garden event, to be held on March 3, is now in its 40th year and will feature fashion, music, stalls and a superb  afternoon tea.

In 1979, Elva Brain - the youngest member of her family - died, leaving her home on Cameron Road to the Tauranga Historical Society Incorporated.

Her death ended nearly 100 years of occupancy by just one family.

Elva married William George Watkins when she was 72-years-old and outlived him. She was a keen member of the Tauranga Historical Society Incorporated, and left the house and land to the society in her will. It is now called Brain Watkins House.

Current president of the society, Julie Green, remembers meeting Elva briefly during her final year.

“She was in hospital during her last illness,” says Julie. “I was a student nurse. As this year is the 40th anniversary of Elva leaving us her property, we’ve decided to have a few special, different things at the garden party this year.”

Garments dating from as early as the 1930s, and once belonging to Elva and her sister Bessie, will be on show inside the house, and there will also be about 20 hats on display, spread through various rooms.

“The reason that we’ve been able to display all these old frocks from Elva and Bessie is because The Elms have very kindly lent us about a dozen mannequins,” says Julie. “Bessie was a milliner, so we’ve got a lot of her hats.

“She died in 1957 as a result of a motor accident.”

To add to the fashion theme, Amy Turner and friends will be modelling some of Amy’s clothing collection, showcasing each decade from the 1940s through to the 1970s.

Dancing demonstrations will also reflect each era.

As I wander into the house to view some of the dresses, I find Shirley Arabin lifting the dustcovers in the bedrooms. A guide at the house for the last 12 years, Shirley trains many of the other guides who volunteer there.

She shows me a photo of Elva Brain being presented with the Captain Millar’s trophy at the Rifle Club in March 1917. The silver tea service that was presented to her as a prize by Sergeant Ernie Pemberton sits on a table nearby.

“She was the rifle champion,” says Shirley.

“It was said that she practised shooting rats here because the town dump used to be at the bottom of Elizabeth Street.

“The section next door, which is now Kale Print, was an orchard that belonged to the Brains.

“The rats came up to eat fruit and she used to pop them off with her gun.”

Shirley takes me through to the front room where the Shaw Savill Cup is on display under glass.

“Elva’s father, Joseph Brain, won it in 1869 at the Auckland Regatta with his boat the Aurora. The race was for the class of trading vessels over 40 tons.”

Joseph was not only a ship builder, but also a major contractor in the Tauranga district, building bridges, the Strand sea wall, the Durham Street fire station and the first Mount wharf. He was also the major contractor for the Memorial Gates at Tauranga Domain, according to research by Jinty Rorke on the Tauranga Kete website.

“Before the survey in 1851, the land had been part of the Church Missionary Society farm,” writes Jinty. “Joseph bought the property in the early 1880s. The house was built from a shipment of kauri he received in 1881.”

The first garden party, held in December 1979, featured the Otumoetai College choir, conducted by Bob Addison, a bobbin lacemaking demonstration, a piano accordionist and dancers.

Guests entered into the spirit of the event, coming dressed in top hats, tails and gowns. Duff Maxwell, Julie’s grandfather and owner of the Elms Mission House, was also in attendance.

This year, Marion Arts will be performing with her guitar in the garden.

“People pay a gold coin to come in to the garden, listen to music and see the fashion show,” says Julie. “They can buy afternoon tea in the hall at the back of the garden.

“There’ll also be raffles, a cake stall, produce, plants, bric-a-brac, a big book stall and three other charities with stalls of their own. It will be $5 to come through the house and see all the displays in there, and children can visit for free.”

The garden party is the Historical Society’s major fundraiser for the year. People are encouraged to attend in period costume and bring cash, as Eftpos won’t be available.

“It’s dashing attire for the gentlemen and pretty dresses for the women,” says Julie.

The Vintage Garden Party and Fashion Show runs from 1.30-4pm on Sunday, March 3, at Brain Watkins House on the corner of Cameron Road and Elizabeth Street. Free parking will be available in a parking building on First Avenue West.