Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Whanganui Quaker Settlement

From 1920 to 1968, Quakers in Aetoroa/New Zealand ran a co-educational boarding school in Whanganui. It enabled young children (aged 8 to 14) from remote rural districts, only a minority of whom were Quakers, to attend school. As corporal punishment was not accepted, some of the disciplinary methods were unusual. One pupil recorded that children carried a Black Mark Book in which any infringements were recorded. Anyone who received three black marks in a week would have their offences read out in front of the whole school.

By the mid 1960s, the government had improved the provision of schooling for rural children and the need for the Friends School had diminished.  It closed in 1968.

 Four Quaker families then suggested that the 20 acre (8 hectare) site be used to establish a Quaker community.

A trust was established which would own the land, with individuals being given license to occupy it. The community was to have no internal boundaries. Impact on the environment was to be minimised. Cars were to be kept in a central area, with limited access to the settlement land. The ethos was that residents were to be stewards of the land, not its owners, following the Maori principle of ‘papakainga’ – literally, ‘a nurturing place to return to’.

There are sixteen houses in the settlement (sometimes referred to as Quaker Acres), occupied by Quakers and others with a substantial commitment to Quaker values. These have included other Christian groups as well as Buddhists and Muslims. In September 2014, there were 27 residents, ranging in age from 6 to 88. They meet regularly for shared meals, for work parties and for weekly management meetings. All decisions are taken by consent, according to Quaker tradition.

The settlement’s mission includes finding more sustainable ways of living together and developing a permaculture approach to land use. (Permaculture is a concept developed in Tasmania by Bill Mollison and David Holmgreen, described as “a design for creating sustainable human environments, ecologically sound and economically viable, producing life-supporting system using the smallest practical area.”) Land not used for buildings is used to grow trees for timber, a food forest, gardens, orchards, to graze sheep and chickens and for regenerating bush.  They have, recently installed a large solar array on the roof of the seminar centre to provide power for the community. A dam has been created in sand dunes to store storm water from heavy rainfall in communities upstream.

As well as individual homes, Whanganui has one communal building with shared sleeping and catering facilities, used for residential seminars. From Monday to Saturday, Meeting for Worship is held each morning in the octagonal Quiet Room, built in 2000. (On Sundays, it is held in the Meeting House in the nearby town.)

A wide variety of public seminars is offered each year, drawing in people with many different interests and backgrounds. Topics range from mediation, creativity and interpersonal relationships, to the practice of permaculture and issues connected with the Treaty of Waitangi (between the government of Aetoroa/New Zealand and the Maori people).

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