by PETER OWENS
The Queenstown-Lakes District is experiencing an economic boom with thousands of visitors every week of the year and more — and wealthier — retirees settling in the region. However, not all of that region is booming and the small settlement of Garston, which is, in fact, in Northern Southland, but which has strong ties with Queenstown, has fewer people living there than at the turn of the 19th century.

Like many other small settlements in Central Otago and Northern Southland, Garston owes its existence to the gold rushes of the late 1850s and early 1860s. After the Nevis gold field was worked out, much of the district was surveyed off into farms and the people who farmed them were pioneers indeed.

The McNamee family was one of the original pioneering families in the Garston District and they worked hard with land that was excellent for farming sheep, but which had hot summers and severe winters.

The McNamee family were, and still are, strong members of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the family donated 40 pounds in cash and two acres of land in the settlement for the erection of a Catholic church in Garston in 1901.

Garston has one claim to fame. It is the most inland settlement in New Zealand and was named after a suburb of Liverpool.

The Church of St Thomas the Apostle was, in due course, built and was served by clergy from Queenstown. This is still the case and, once a month, Fr Jaime Lalaguna, the parish priest of Queenstown parish, celebrates Mass in the settlement.

However, a problem has arisen. With the harsh climate of the district and the paucity of congregation, the little church overlooking State Highway 6 has fallen into disrepair. This caused concern for the parish council as it realised it could not justify spending a significant capital sum to repair a church that was frequented by so few people.

Once again, the McNamee family came to the rescue. While the family makes up a significant proportion of the local Catholic population, it was family member, James McNamee, who saw a way out of the problem.

After consultation with the remaining members of the Catholic community, he proposed to the Queenstown Parish Council that St Thomas the Apostle Church be re-conveyed to the family in return for certain conditions.

They included an undertaking to repair the church, maintaining the character of the building and allowing it to be used occasionally for religious services and other gatherings for 25 years.

The McNamees have retained a strong interest in the church and James McNamee, who lives in Tauranga, but farms at Garston with his brother, ensured that each of his children was baptised in the Garston church.

The parish council is inclined to accept such a proposal and set up a sub-committee to accept any comments from  parishioners.

The council advised parishioners of its views and stated it would listen to any objections up until 5pm on February 15.

It also advised that any disposition of the church and the adjoining land would be subject to the approval of the Bishop of
Dunedin.

According to Alan Brown, a member of that sub-committee, no objections have been received to the proposal. If that was still the position after 5pm on February 15, the Queenstown Parish Council was to then refer the matter to the bishop for his
consideration and approval.

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