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A late suggestion by Bruce Wild to add value to our trip to the Matakohe Kauri Musuem by also stopping off at the Ruatuna homestead afterward was met with great interest by excursion attendees and despite the weather it was a fascinating visit. Bruce expands...

RUATUNA - North and west

We were met at the gate by Mary, Heritage

NZ/Pouhere Taonga host – in appalling weather of rain and wind - and quickly

shown inside.

Ruatuna is the family home of (Joseph) Gordon Coates, b1878, d 1943 the first New Zealand-born Prime Minister, 1926 -1929, and parliamentarian from 1911 to 1943.

Ruatuna was built for the parents of Gordon Coates, Edward and Eleanor in 1877 by the local builder Samuel Cooksey.

The north face of the house provides the entry through a choice of French windows, from a deep verandah. The current verandah roof is “bullnosed,” early images of the house show it as pitched, similar to the other sides of the hipped, skirt, roof. This suggests verandah or enclosed verandahs on all sides.

The plan is living to the north, bedrooms east, and west and kitchen and bathroom to the south. The internal plan has changed over the years with small rooms created and doors shifted, then removed. The west side has an add-on bedroom at a lower level and a room used as a classroom. The plan creates a circuit around the central space. The house was not substantially changed though in its long occupation by the female members of the Coates family, the last of whom left in 2000. The house is furnished with belongings original to the family and house including books, paintings (often on folded tin sheets) by the daughters of the family, music and records.

Edward, a fine singer, is believed to have modelled the central part of the house with lofty ceiling on the spaces he experienced in Scotland, for acoustic quality. This feature was in the gable ended central roof, with central fireplace. This contrasted to the sides of the house where the roof was low. The high “cathedral ceiling” gable ends each have a small window providing light and ventilation.

All timber in the construction is reputed to be from one single Kauri tree from the property.

The frame of the house is expressed on the inside. The exterior cladding of vertical board and batten and lining of vertical boards form the walls. There is no insulation cavity. The central room, with fire place and mantle piece, is remarkably unpainted and a beautiful leathery mellow tone. Other rooms are papered or painted. There are interesting features remnant from possible different architecture, of high level vents and boards that do not match the expressed purlins or pitch of the roof. The house has been at a different time retrofitted for electricity and fire sprinklers.

The bathroom has the remains of an early Thermette heater present. All floors are wide tongue and groove Kauri boards, all clear finished. Today there are no Kauri trees to be seen in the district.

Gordon Coates was known as the “Jazz Premier” in reference to his genial progressivism and breezy manner. Ruatuna, to which he returned often in his parliamentary career reflects a comfortable, casual informality in design and construction which may have shaped the man.

Ruatuna is a wonderful place to visit. It is a short distance from the Matakohe Kauri Museum, which references both the Coates family and Ruatuna extensively in its exhibitions and artifacts.

Across the road from the Museum is a large cemetery which features a neat Gordon Coates memorial church and other references to the family.


441 Tinopai Road MATAKOHE

20 MAY 2023

By Bruce Wild

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