History - Remembering Riverina

By: Judy Waters

From small beginnings, the archives kept at the Warkworth Museum have grown into a useful resource. Donations of photographs, documents, family trees, diaries and publications of local interest continue to arrive for appraisal.

Last year, access was given to memorabilia collected by the late Beverley Simmons during her 50-year association with the landmark property known as Riverina in Wilson Road. The house itself is interesting and much has been written about it, but the people who have lived in it over its chequered history are equally engaging. Correspondence kept by Beverley chronicled the visits of former residents to share their memories.
Grandchildren of Nathaniel and Florence Wilson recalled childhood days when Warkworth’s economic growth was closely linked to the fortunes of Wilson’s Cement Works. Riverina stood proudly as testimony to the success of a blacksmith’s son who, with his brothers, founded the cement industry in New Zealand and became known as “the father of Warkworth”.

Restored military vehicles at Riverina.

Beverley Simmons, left, with American ex-servicemen and their wives at Riverina in 1992.  The house served as the headquarters for American troops stationed around Warkworth during World War II.

Riverina was completed in 1902 and stayed in the Wilson family until it was purchased by William Fife in 1938. Leased to the NZ Army for the war years, it became the headquarters for the 5000 American troops stationed here from 1942 to 1944. When some of these men returned for a visit 50 years later, there was little left of the 40 camps around the district, but at least former officers could show their wives where they had lived in Riverina.

Another return visitor was Pat Baker, who brought her family to see where she had come in 1955 as a 19-year-old bride to cook for her husband and 24 road makers employed by Bitumix. Trucks and machinery soon turned the once elegant Riverina gardens into a quagmire.

Beverley collected information about the men who had worked shifts at the cement works and one, Bertram Spinks Trethowen, who had been the lime works manager, bought Riverina in 1963, planning to restore the house to its former grandeur. Sadly, he died before this happened. Ownership passed to Beverley and Ronald Simmons in 1969.

After years of neglect, the house required a lengthy period of restoration and refurbishment, which would have daunted most people.

In the community, Beverley became a strong advocate for the preservation of heritage sites. Her work as a member of the Historic Places Trust saw a number of local buildings recognised as worthy of protection.

It has been a fascinating exercise adding the Beverley Simmons collection to our archive shelves. It will be a valuable resource for researchers in the future.

Judy Waters, Warkworth & District Museum


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