In 2008, with funding from the Christchurch City Council Art Advisory Group and the Stewart family, the 13 metre-high Flour Power 2008 was unveiled on the corners of Colombo and High streets, as an acknowledgement and a salute to Christchurch’s first pioneering farmers and to our local industrial achievements – especially the work of Sir Robertson Stewart. It was also part of the biennial celebrations of SCAPE Public Art.
It wasn’t long after the arrival of the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains’ first European farmers in April 1840 that they realised how good and fertile the soil was. The originally ploughed land – undertaken by Malcolm McKinnon with two bullocks (in today’s suburb of Riccarton) – totalled 12 hectares and was planted with wheat and potatoes. Unfortunately, this farming venture failed due to a number of issues, including native rats, fire, land ownership issues and the mental torment of almost complete isolation. The next attempt on this site, in 1843, by the Deans, Manson and Gebbie families, was much more successful. John writes in a letter on 10th January 1844:
“This is certainly by far the best place I have seen in New Zealand, and for squatters like ourselves no place could be better, as there is plenty of level land with good pasture for cattle of all descriptions, and many places where there is plenty of wood and water…it is certainly the finest block of level land that I ever saw. I daresay some of it will be rather light for cropping, but there are many miles of first rate soil in different places on the flat.”
It was the Deans’ fine example in farming that convinced the Canterbury Association that the Port Cooper Plains were the best place for the establishment of Canterbury and its capital, Christchurch. Amongst the earliest letters and journals of our Canterbury Association settlers are reports of Riccarton and the Garden of Eden that it was – amongst the sea of Tussock, Toi Toi and Cabbage trees. The trees in the orchard were so heavily laden with fruit, their branches bowed towards the ground with the weight.
Christchurch began its life as a large group of farms with property names such as Beckenham, Sydenham, Ilam, Burnside and the list could go on. But over time, housing took over the paddocks however this history as always been far from forgotten – it will always remain as part of our roots.
Standing at an impressive 13 metres high, with 8½ steel power poles and 153 street lamps, this history is saluted; these industrial items have been made into representation of a wheat sheaf tied together with a tie, in the shape of a car tyre. At the time of the unveiling, the area around its base was named the Stewart Plaza. From the 1960’s, three different fountains – 1960’s, 1987 & 1998 – have called his corner of Christchurch home and all were funded by the Stewart family. Sir Robertson Stewart, who died in 2007, was not only a very successful Cantab businessman but had introduced the manufacturing of plastic goods in New Zealand. He is also remembered for his revolutionary work in electronics.
*Photos taken by Annette Bulovic*
*Letter entry courtesy of the Pioneers of Canterbury – Deans Letters 1840 – 1854*