It was not long after Puhoi’s centenary in 1963 that a real enthusiasm to preserve Puhoi’s unique history started to grow among Puhoi villagers. In 1976 a public meeting nominated a committee to form a properly constituted historical society. Judith Williams became the first president with a committee comprised of descendants of the original Bohemian settlers and newer residents.
Negotiations with Rodney District Council ensured that the Council understood that the historic nature of Puhoi needed to be preserved, resulting in a Historic Village zoning. The Puhoi Historical Society set about collecting and preserving items of historic interest, identifying historic buildings and sites and promoting research into all things Puhoi. Judith collected the songs that had been sung in the Bohemian dialect.
Funds for a museum were raised from the beginning. Doug and Jessie Titford ran a monthly market and contributed several thousand dollars to the development fund. By 1986 plans had been drawn up and a site chosen. Following the election of an almost entirely new committee to the historical society, plans for the first site were abandoned in preference for the Puhoi Convent School. Puhoi’s 125th anniversary was the catalyst for opening a display in one of its rooms. The committee was also responsible for erecting the Landing Stone on the site of the first settler’s landfall. The Bohemian Dance Group was established, preserving the dances brought by the first settlers. Historic sites were marked with plaques.
By the 1990s, a considerable number of photos and documents had been collected.
Genealogical records of the 50 settler families of Puhoi had been compiled and recordings made of people’s memories. Meanwhile, interesting artefacts continued to be collected. It became obvious that records needed to be catalogued and carefully preserved. After obtaining a formal lease agreement for the school, a Records Room was sited nearby. The museum was restyled to concentrate on the unique Bohemian history.
Fundraising and investigating sites for a museum continues. We have come to realise that the Bohemian story is just one of the taproots that feed the ‘Puhoi history tree’. Our early history intertwines with Maoritanga, Dutch, British, Irish and French histories. Today the village is influenced by the cultures of people from around the world who call Puhoi home.
In 2017, to encourage inclusivity of the many leaves that form part of our tree, the Puhoi Historical Society decided to change its name to Puhoi Heritage Museum Incorporated with the tag line, “Where Bohemia meets Aotearoa”. Through its name change, the society better reflects its commitment to all aspects of our past.
Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society