Rolleston lies at the heart of the plains and is living up to its old title of the ‘town of the future’

Signpost to a bright future

by Andy Bryenton

In the 1970s, when Christchurch was straining at the margins of its city limits, the then prime minister Norman Kirk envisioned Rolleston as a planned satellite community, a great second city of the plains which would be developed using logic, top infrastructure and limitless optimism. The project was quietly tucked away when he left office, leaving just a bold sign by the roadside — ‘Rolleston – The Town of the Future’. Some people had a little chuckle at this sleepy railroad town with its pine plantations and small population dreaming big. Eventually, the sign was taken down. It turns out that it was exactly right.

That billboard may have been ahead of its time, but like many of history’s prophetic statements, it has come true in an undeniable fashion. Those who made fun back in the 70s would marvel at the growth and expansion of Rolleston today — a town with new commerce, new schools, new sports grounds, all in the past decade. It’s a fitting tribute to the man which this Canterbury town is named for — a figure who lived a life of contradictions but was determined to better the lot of his fellow citizens.

William Rolleston was born in 1831 in England, the son of a very conservative reverend. He was an academic young man who nevertheless felt overshadowed by his brother, who grew up to be a famous zoologist and physician. Early on he confessed to his father that he wanted to emigrate to New Zealand and make a new life for himself — this was a land where a sharp-minded man could seek his fortune.

Nevertheless, the reverend forbade it. William seemed to meekly accept his job as a tutor and teacher — but it was all to save funds for the voyage to Canterbury, in his words a rejection of ‘conservatives and ecclesiastics’. Any child with an overbearing father knows exactly what he meant. Rolleston went on to become a minister of parliament, and eventually a leader of the opposition. His anti-traditionalist and forward-thinking ways never faded — in fact, he was a champion of women being allowed to vote and participate in the democratic process, at a time when many men of his social stature were ardent conservatives. The town bearing his name continues to grow, offering new opportunities and silencing once and for all those who doubted that this would be the place where the future unfolded.