Great Barrier Island History

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The Orama Story
Written by K. Stowell

Years before the Orama Christian Community was established it was already alive in the hearts of Neville and Dorothy Winger. Their home in Hamilton became one large extended family and the needs of the young people they took in - needs for love, help, acceptance, discipleship - birthed the concept of a home away from the problems of city life.

Neville was a businessman who left his automobile dealership to go full-time into a rich and varied ministry. Accompanied by his wife and a group of young people Nev ventured into remote back block areas of New Zealand with a movie projector, the Gospel message and lots of enthusiasm. He counselled drug addicts on the streets, spoke at Bible-teaching conferences and was involved in many other ministries.
In 1963 Neville and Dorothy Winger purchased 800 acres of hilly terrain at Karaka Bay on Great Barrier Island, 90 kilometres north-east of Auckland. Moving from Hamilton to the rural setting of Great Barrier Island they and a group of supporters set about hammering out the basic principles of community life. Everyone who came worked. No matter what their limitations or past work experience, everyone contributed to the life of the little community.

The farm was a real challenge for ‘townies’. The house and outbuildings were rundown and there was no electricity and no hot water. For about 3 years a 12 volt generator provided only enough power for electric lights; flat irons were heated on the wood stove; the copper was boiled for the daily wash; cooking for over 60 people was done on one woodstove; the old jeep which transported visitors the 6kms from Port FitzRoy to Karaka Bay was always parked on a down slope so that it could be ‘push started’ but large stones had to be placed in front of the wheels because the handbrake didn’t work too well.

Within six months of the Wingers’ arrival the first ‘seekers’ started drifting in. People joined the rehabilitation programme for a variety of reasons; drug or alcohol dependency; family or marital conflict; emotional distress, or just plain difficulty in coping with the pressures of life. The aim was to bring these people into a close encounter with God and to help them to look objectively at their situation and decide on a new course of action. Initially the staff numbered five but as more people came for help so more people arrived to give that help.

In 1970 the original vision enlarged with the establishment of the Orama Christian Training School, commencing with 7 foundation students. Students met for lectures in a small, badly lit, unlined room, sharing a trestle table in lieu of desks. Originally the Training School was a 3 year course of study but in 1978 a 1 year ‘refresher’ course was introduced. Students shared accommodation (usually a 10’ x 10’ room) and day to day life with the ‘seekers’ in the rehabilitation programme. Students, seekers, workers and staff ate together in the large communal dining room, relaxed together in the communal lounge and shared the common amenities.

The major aim of the training at Orama was to develop mature and stable Christian character. Growth was and still is a corporate experience. The spiritual life and training is integrated fully into the daily life of the community, learning to serve one another in everyday living together.

Work was an important part of the daily programme and everybody, seekers and students, were expected to take a full part in the work schedule. The work programme meant that training was offered not only in the academic but in all aspects of the student’s life. Domestic chores, farming, building, painting, vehicle maintenance, gardening, office work, printing, cassette tapes and handcrafts were just some of the areas where students and seekers worked. Beekeeping and other cottage industries once added to the diversity of the community life and work.

For many years Orama ran a printshop for printing and publishing Christian literature and as well there was a cassette tape department which recorded, processed and despatched thousands of cassettes annually. These industries within the community helped not only with financial support but also to provide valuable training experiences and work therapy.

The first of what became known as the Orama Summer Camps was held in late 1964 and was then known as the Orama Convention. Back then a large marquee served as a dining room and with rearrangements it became the meeting hall. Back in the old sawmill shed two wood stoves turned out meals for a huge crowd of some 200 people.

The Orama Trust was formed in 1971 and registered as a Charitable Trust in February of 1972. The original 8 Trustees included Orama’s founders Neville and Dorothy Winger. The Orama Christian Community is essentially a faith ministry. It is an interdenominational organisation receiving no support from any major NZ organisation.

Now there are 2 generators which provide power for not only electric lights but for freezers, hot water cylinders, washing machines and cooking. However, gas is most commonly used for water heating and cooking. What began as a small farm with two buildings has developed into a community of over a dozen homes as well as flats, guest rooms, cabins and bunkrooms, a recreation hall and a large community building. Of the original 800 acres of property 300 acres was sold to finance a large part of a building programme. 60-70 acres is farmable and is used to meet the needs of the community by providing meat and milk. The remainder of the property is steep, mainly kanuka and manuka covered terrain.

In January 1989 Orama became the base for YWAM Family Ministries who, for over four years, ran their 3 month Family Training Schools here. During this time the average population of the community was about 150 people. When they left in May 1993 to seek a base on the mainland they left just a remnant and so began another journey in the life of Orama. Although not an official YWAM base Orama continued to be a regular venue for hosting YWAM schools such as the Surfers Discipleship Training Course for a few years.

The community was in recess for a few years with a skeleton staff but as 2004 unfolds so does a new venture.  The Orama Trust is negotiating with Christian Environmental Studies group who are interested in leasing the Karaka Bay property.  For the past few years CES have been sending students to spend a semester studying at Orama.  The Trust will still own the property and it will be managed by CES.  Holiday accommodation and Christian training courses will continue to be run at Orama.  Orama also hosts other training schools, seminars and recreational groups from New Zealand and overseas.


Sketches by Robert Mitchener