History of Limestone Downs
Limestone Downs, a property of 3,219 hectares (7,954 acres) lies on the coast between the Waikawau and Kaawa Streams, extending inland to the Te Akau Line.
Read more on the history of the property below or grab a copy of Barrie Macdonald's Imperial Patriot: Charles Alma Baker and the History of Limestone Downs (1993).
When the property was purchased by Charles Alma Baker in 1926, more than a third of the land was still in virgin bush and little of the development to that stage had been well-planned or executed. The pasture had mostly been lost to the depredations of rabbits and had reverted to weeds. The greatest potential lay in some 200 hectares of swamp country to the south of the farm.
There was no direct road access and, for much of the year, the farm was only accessible on horse or by foot. There were few fences, with many of the paddocks being more effectively divided by stands of bush than by fences.
In addition to the purchase price of £30,600, Baker made a heavy investment in bush clearance, fencing, and the draining of the swamp. Within three years, sheep numbers on the property had been increased from 1,800 to 9,000. Baker continued a brisk pace of development despite the Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. By 1935, sheep numbers were over 12,000. By the mid-1930s, Baker had invested more than £100,000 in addition to the purchase price; the property carried a mortgage of £40,000 with the balance being covered by capital transfers from Malaya.
After the Second World War, Limestone Downs languished, as Baker’s trustees considered the future of his estate, grappled with the problems posed by death duties and wartime shortages, and lived with the threat of a forced sale to government and the subdivision of Limestone Downs for ‘Rehab’ – the re-settlement of soldiers on the land. By the 1950s, however, there was more optimism with wool prices boosted by the Korean War, debts cleared, successful experiments with aerial topdressing and, in Malaya, a rubber boom that contributed some of the capital needed at Limestone Downs.
The impetus for accelerated development was carried on by Dan O’Connell who was appointed Manager at Limestone Downs in 1950. O’Connell remained until 1973, during which time second-growth bush and scrub was cleared, ‘the swamp’ (now ‘the flats’), were re-developed with heavy earth-working machinery renewing and extending the network of drains; in addition, all fences were replaced, and a new wool shed and yards built together with a new manager’s house. The farm could now winter 12-13,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle.