Wairarapa’s largest town, with a 2013 population of 20,100. Masterton is Wairarapa’s main service centre and a hub for government services and schools. It has the region’s only public hospital. Each year the town hosts the international shearing competition, the Golden Shears.
Straddling the Waipoua River, Masterton has few striking natural features, but has a number of parks and reserves. Queen Elizabeth Park, with its mature trees and well-tended gardens, is the most impressive. The art and history museum Aratoi has helped foster a cultural resurgence in the region. Masterton has two main marae, Nukutaimemeha and Te Ore Ore.
Local industries include light engineering, timber processing, printing and food production. One well-known business is Hansells, which makes flavouring essences and powdered drinks.
Masterton was founded in 1854 by the Small Farms Association. The association was led by Joseph Masters – after whom the town was named – and aimed to settle working people in villages and on the land. At first Masterton grew slowly, but as its farming hinterland became more productive it began to prosper. In the 1870s it overtook Greytown as Wairarapa’s major town. It became a borough in 1877 and was reached by the railway line from Wellington in 1880. This cemented the town’s position as the region’s main market and distribution centre.
In the 20th century Masterton kept growing, but never enough to dominate the region. From the 1960s, people and businesses left for opportunities elsewhere. In the 1980s, with government deregulation and protective tariffs lifted, more businesses closed and the town declined further.
Between 2001 and 2013 Masterton’s population remained stable.
From small farms to largesse
The Masterton Trust Lands Trust has its roots in the Small Farms Association, which set up towns in the 1850s. When the association wound up in the early 1870s, surplus town land was put in trust for ‘maintaining educational establishments … and other purposes of public utility’. 1 Since then, the trust has played an important role in Masterton, funding libraries, schools, and cultural organisations.
In 2013 Masterton had a higher proportion of people who identified as European (85.4%) compared to the national figure (74%), but also a higher Māori population (19.7%, compared to 14.9% nationally). Median incomes in all areas of Masterton were lower than the national figure of $28,500. The town’s poorest citizens lived in central or eastern Masterton and near the railway. The unemployment rate (5%) was lower than the national figure (7.1%).
Te Ore Ore marae
Te Ore Ore marae is on the eastern outskirts of Masterton. The people of the marae are mainly from Ngāti Hamua, a Rangitāne sub-tribe. The original meeting house, built by the prophet and leader Pāora Te Pōtangaroa, opened in 1881. While it was being built, Pāora fell out with the master carver and prophet Te Kere. Quitting the project, Te Kere predicted the house would take eight years to finish: it was completed in three. Mocking Te Kere’s prophetic powers, Pāora named the building Ngā Tau e Waru (the eight years). In 1939 Ngā Tau e Waru burnt down, and many valuable carvings were lost. It was replaced by a new meeting house of the same name.