FRESTA fraternity: Final fling

Wednesday 20 Apr 2022

If you were at all connected with the Forest Research Institute over the past 30 years you’ll remember it. The FRESTRA (Forest Research & Training) club and bar. It emerged on the campus of Forest Research Institute (FRI) at a time it probably wasn’t even questioned if it was appropriate for a government department to have such facilities on site.

The FRI Campus of the day incorporated, Forest Research, Forest Management Training, Timber Preservation and associated NZFS (NZ Forest Service) groups. A vibrancy was created by numerous visitors, overseas researchers, scientists and the like, training course attendees from all around NZ and local NZFS staff. Legalising an Incorporated Society wasn’t so hard, establishing a social facility complete with bar and licence demanded more covert activity and more innovative thinking.

A number of FRESTRA members were and are highly regarded as innovative thinkers. Think of a large training room, complete with whiteboard, low tables and easy lounge chairs and it’s easy to see how value was added to the training facilities on campus, and kept the bureaucrats happy.

The Club was incorporated in 1982 and was open to membership to staff from FRI ,the training centre, Forest Services Rotorua Conservancy and ultimately campus associates and visitors. Visitor books show single night memberships from overseas visitors and cohorts of forestry trainees, many of whom now occupy senior industry positions. The club facilities provided a meeting point particularly Thursday and Friday nights when any forestry type visiting Rotorua or left over from a course, could be guaranteed conversation and entertainment around the ‘leaner’.

The club was also responsible for other legendary ‘sporting’ pursuits and events, including cricket, trivia quiz nights, home brew competitions, the dog race, mediaeval banquet, annual golf tournament and even an athletic pursuit or two. The club can also claim association with the annual polar plunge and ‘study tours’ undertaken by FTC (Forest Training Centre) staff.

When the NZ Forest Service was corporatised in 1987 there was a loss of identity for NZFS staff and along with this came a need for the Conservancy Social club to pass on the club bach (crib for South Islanders) at Papamoa to FRESTRA for safekeeping. This served as a holiday bach and then holiday house, after the section was subdivided and a larger dwelling erected. The FRESTRA Club was the owner and custodian.

Sadly, a series of events conspired to a declining membership and under- utilisation of the bach. This meant the bach had to be sold and a wind-up of the club. With a lot of soul searching and with the participation of all remaining members, the bach proceeds were distributed to the Waiotapu Forest School camp, NZ Timber Museum and the bulk to Future Foresters, a special interest group of NZ Institute of Forestry. They are all charged with doing their bit to promote and preserve the values of the Forest Service, while maintaining the sense of fun and social engagement promoted by the captains of industry and research who provided the culture of FRESTRA.

So, to mark the end of an era, the final wind-up is happening at the Rotorua East Bowling Club on Saturday 30 April from 4 pm. The form will be informal, with drinks and a meal, with numbers probably limited to 200 people.

If you are an ex-member, visitor or associate and want to participate, please contact Terry Lemon at:

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