On the outskirts of Alexandra, Jolyon and Enny Manning have created Jolendale Park, a treasure trove of exotic trees planted on a 10 hectare site, and open to the public for walks and picnics.
The sparse landscape around Alexandra was degraded land, fire destroyed the former vegetation, and the soil was lost. Central Otago experiences extremes of heat and cold and is dry, these harsh conditions make it difficult for vegetation to recover in the thin soils around the rocky landscape.
For many years the Mannings have laboured, researching and selecting trees suited to the conditions, sourcing, planting and caring for the trees and creating biodiversity again on the site. Originally they worked when their jobs and very busy lives allowed, traveling up from Dunedin on weekends. They would leave on Saturdays after Enny was finished morning rounds at the hospital, put in a few hours carting buckets to water the trees before leaving again for the return journey in the early hours of Sunday morning to get to Dunedin in time for choir practice at 10am! To be late for choir was to experience the wrath of the choir master, who gave no allowance for mechanical troubles if the Morris Minor broke down on the unsealed road between Alexandra and Dunedin. The adults in the choir were supposed to be role models for the boys, and punctuality was essential.
The Mannings retired to live there permanently in the 1990s, and this has allowed them to put more time into the park, as well as Jolyons busy life of voluntary work and engagement at civic and national levels. The park has blossomed, with the trees growing to be impressive specimens, walking tracks and picnic tables all enhancing the appeal of the place.
The site has marvelous views, and the trees have been carefully pruned up to retain visibility so the views are retained. The remains of gold rush days are still evident, with tailings, walls and gold diggings still apparent and preserved on the landscape. The country all around is dominated by rocky outcrops and escarpments, and the rock features in the park have been enhanced by the plantings and pruning to keep them visible.
Jolyon and Enny have recently set up a charitable trust and gifted ownership of the land to the trust, it also continues to be protected under a covenant they established with the QEII National Trust to keep the park open and available to the public in perpetuity. Jolyon says he is often asked about why he did this, as some people can’t understand why he would give away such a valuable piece of land. They say that far from reducing his enjoyment of the land, making it available to the public has enhanced his enjoyment of it. When people visit and enjoy the park his own vision and accomplishments are shared. The alternatives were to subdivide the land, turning it into more of the same private lots as surround it; little spaces carved off and only available to a few private owners, Jolyon and Enny would then be excluded. Or to retain it themselves without sharing it with the public. They could still enjoy it themselves, but the enjoyment you can derive from a place, like most things you can enjoy, are better when they are shared.
Jolyon and Enny credit the St Martin Island Community as their inspiration to create the Park as a public shared space. In 1958 Jolyon and Enny met on the Island. Jolyon was subsequently elected the second Chairperson of the Community and was much involved for some years working with others in the Community to clean up and restore the Island, and in the building of the community’s launch, the J R McKenzie. Meantime Enny was very busy as a senior medical research officer at the Dunedin Medical School, and they were raising three valued children.
He thinks in hindsight the Island has been a much stronger influence on him than he would have suspected at the time of his involvement; they felt they were just working together and doing a job in the spirit of “work and worship” Looking back, the process of working together and celebrating small successes was life changing, and he suspects others from that time would relate similar stories of how their lives have been changed.
Jolendale is in some respects like a little extension of the Island, a place where the same spirit of worship, care for the land and community work resides. They are both places we have chosen to protect from further exploitation, and to allow the land to regenerate with loving input from people who live there. In some ways, Jolendale Park, owned by a community trust, is more secure than the Island which is owned by DOC, since DOC land is at the mercy of government policy with regards to how well it is protected, and that policy can change on a whim. Jolendale Park has been set up with foresight to be permanently protected.
Jolendale Park is a model of a third way of providing what people need, neither a commercial business nor an arm of government. The third way is that people band together using community groups, trusts and societies to protect and provide. The QEII model of protected “open spaces” parallels other “open” models – open source software, creative commons works and the like. They are models of people and communities providing for themselves and not relying on handouts or degrading natural resources to do so.
This is the way of the future.