History

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John ‘Little John’ Cooksey

John Cooksey known as “Little John” held the first scout camp at the Weka site in 1911. Little John was a wiry English immigrant who arrived in New Zealand in 1910 and started working on his cousin’s farm at Rissington.

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Visitors to Weka

Little John was inspired by Baden Powell (BP) when he was a lad. One evening when dining with friends he was given a book title “Scouting for Boys” by Major General R. Baden-Powell his boyhood hero. It was after reading this book that Little John decided to start up a Scout group with lads from around the local farming area.After gathering together 10 boys and reading from the Baden-Powell book the boys decided they wanted to become scouts and called themselves the “Wekas”. That was because in those days the area teemed with these lively cheeky birds.The Weka campsite became home to the “wekas” and in 1911 they held their first camp, this only four years after Baden Powell held his experimental camp on Brownsea Island England 1907. I think this extract from Little John’s book “My Job” says it all:

“Whenever I came to this peninsular it gave me a strange felling. I felt I should like to live there. There was a feeling of peace and hospitality. When the Wekas were formed it seemed that this spot should be their home. As a matter of fact it was inhabited by the real bird’s ling before my pseudo ones came along. So it became our camping ground and most of our work was done there. At one of our first meetings under the pine tree, we gave names to the main features. The big pine under which we sat named, The Chief. Other large trees were named after the Royal Family. Other spots were named after famous national heroes. The whole peninsular was named the Weka Peninsula and this is the name it bears today”

There must be hundreds of men in Hawke’s Bay who have fond memories of “Little John” JRH Cooksey (MBE). He may have helped them light their first camp fire, tie their first knot of lean the basic laws of scouting. Many former scouts will remember Weka for the stop at “Little John’s” house to get the key for the old winch house. While there, they would look at the “Museum” and the souvenirs presented to “Little John” at many Jamborees and on his travels.

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Little John assisted across the river by two scouts

Weka is possibly the second oldest scout camp outside England and certainly one of the older in New Zealand. The campsite is the property of the Scout Association of New Zealand and consists of 6.5 hectares of land, which was gifted to the scouting movement in 1949 by Mrs G Absolom of Omatua. The campsite has seen many changed over time but still remains wild by nature from its isolated access. As couple of small shelters existed on the peninsula but after the Second World War a substantial hut was constructed, and of course called “Little John’s hut”, this was officially opened by Ron Giorgi (Hastings Mayor) at the 1949 gifting ceremony. The campsite sits on a peninsular surrounded by the Magaone River and steep cliffs. All vehicles must remain in the paddock beside the road, about 70metres above the campsite, while gear, food and tents are lowered by cableway to the flat camping area below.

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Scouts at Weka

From here it is a short tramp down the access track to the Mangaone River where it once There must be hundreds of men in Hawke’s Bay who have fond memories of “Little John” JRH Cooksey (MBE). He may have helped them light their first camp fire, tie their first knot of lean the basic laws of scouting. Many former scouts will remember Weka for the stop at “Little John’s” house to get the key for the old winch house. While there, they would look at the “Museum” and the souvenirs presented to “Little John” at many Jamborees and on his travels.

It was this access issue that caused the only fatality on the site. On September 1979 a group of boys were camping at Weka and heavy overnight rain caused the river to rise to a dangerous state and while trying to cross Scout John Burns was carried away by the currents to his death. From this terrible tragedy it was decided that the campsite needed all weather access and plans to construct a swing bridge was started. Staff from Department of conservation and engineers from the army were used for the bridge design, then fundraising kicked off in full, with large donations from the Lions and Eastern and Central Trust, the project got underway and the bridge was built with the effort of the Rovers and Scout groups from throughout the area. Thanks to their hard work the site is now much safer and can be accessed regardless of weather conditions.

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The new hut

With the campsite having all-weather access and the hard cover of Little Johns hut and a toilet block the campsite was being used by scout groups from all over the East Coast and used about 30 weekends a year. But on the 26th December 1997 (Boxing Day) Little Johns hut was destroyed by fire and over recent years there has been no hard shelter available. This was a particular issue for the younger members of scouting (Keas 5-8 years, Cubs 8-10.5 years) as under the safety rules of Scouting NZ they are only able to have camps where hard cover is available for them. This also removed the ability to collect rainwater and meant that the site has no source of available drinking water. This resulted in less scout groups using the site and the campsite has been increasingly invaded by new residents Gorse and Blackberry.

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Scouts camping at Weka 2010

The campsite has been cared for by many passionate volunteers over the years aiming to maintain the facility for boys and girls to learn the skills of survival and leadership that scouting teaches. In 2009 a commitment has been made from the scout groups in the Hawke’s Bay area to rebuild a hard cover shelter at Weka, so that once again it can be used by keas, Cubs, Scouts and Ventures. Work has already started with clearing of gorse and blackberry, some of the large pines trees on the site are being cleared and will be sold for firewood to help raise finds. Native tree planting has begun to try to attract some of our native birds back into the area. Repairs are needed to the swing bridge that gives the all-weather access, and building plans have been drawn up with the big challenge of fundraising the dollars required to see this wonderful site put back to a facility for the youth of the Hawke’s Bay region.