Makeover for Downes Hut on Whanganui River thanks to DoC volunteer

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Bob Anderson at work on Downes Hut.
Bob Anderson at work on Downes Hut.

Award-winning volunteer "Sideshow Bob" has another major painting project for the Department of Conservation under his belt.

Taumarunui's Bob Anderson, known as Sideshow Bob, has painted the interior and exterior of the historic Downes Hut on the right bank of the Whanganui River opposite Atene.

Department of Conservation (DoC) operations manager Jasmine Hessell said the project has been two years in the making, with Mr Anderson staying at the hut for several days to complete the work.

"Bob has been incredible, keeping this project in sight for such a long period of time," Ms Hessell said.

"I have to acknowledge his volunteer ethic, expertise and drive to get the job done."

Downes Hut is the latest in a series of voluntary painting projects completed by Sideshow Bob.

Previous projects, including Whakahoro Hut inside and out, the interior of John Coull Hut and the kitchen at Tieke, have won the community goodwill section of the NZ Master Painters annual awards. Downes Hut will be entered in this year's awards.

Award winner Bob Anderson at the 2017 NZ Master Painters Awards.
Award winner Bob Anderson at the 2017 NZ Master Painters Awards.

"The hut looks pretty sharp now," Mr Anderson said.

"Definitely worth the wait. I go jetboating down the river quite a bit – it's a nice area and if you can do something to help out, it's quite good."

DoC community ranger Scotty Moore said Mr Anderson had been "determined and flexible, patient and generous", with a jetboat ride across the awa the only expense for DoC. The paint was supplied by Dulux which has a partnership with the department.

Downes Hut was built by historian, ethnologist and river works supervisor Thomas William (TK) Downes whose long association with the Whanganui River began in the early 1900s. In 1921 the Wanganui River Trust appointed him supervisor of river works and ranger for the domain lands within its jurisdiction.

According to author Arthur P. Bates, it was said that Downes knew the full length of the Whanganui River better than any other European.
Downes bought land from local iwi and built the hut, basing himself there often. When he died in 1938, the land and hut were gifted to the Whanganui River Trust and maintained by Lands and Survey through the 1960s-1980s until DoC was formed in 1987.

Ms Hessell said DoC had done some restoration work on Downes Hut and more was planned.

"We put in a new tank in 2016 and improved the chimney and fireplace. There are also plans to reconfigure the interior to make it more practical and user friendly.

"The hut is being used more, partly due to canoeists exploring south of Pipiriki. Also, Te Araroa trail users find the option of boating the Taumarunui to Whanganui section a great opportunity to rest and recover leg fitness."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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