The ‘Rita Angus in Mangonui’-project

Hello, dear reader from the local, local-ish and perhaps not-so-local neighbourhood,

Thanks for checking out this page.

What I’m trying to find out

At the moment I’m particularly keen to find out more about the Milligans, Mr. and Mrs. Roy and Joyce Milligan, who were longtime friends of Rita’s from Christchurch and who hosted her during her initial stay in Mangonui, where they’d retired to.

How you can help

Let’s see if it jogs your memory or that of a family member! There might be people still alive who knew the Milligans or know their exact address in the early 1950s. (I’ll be heading to the Te Ahu archives soon to fleece through old phone books!)

If you know anything, please get in touch

Any little snippet of information is appreciated because ‘formal’ searches have so far come up with nothing — apart from what is already known from sources mentioned below. If you know anything else, even if you don’t think it’s relevant, please email me at or use the Messenger option via Facebook.

And please share widely with anyone who might know something or have some records!

Many thanks,

Sitara Morgenster

What we know and don’t know

(in particular thanks to the work of Rita Angus’ biographer Jill Trevelyan in ‘Rita Angus: an artist’s life‘):

– Roy Milligan was a medical practitioner in Christchurch when he and his wife Joyce met Rita Angus.

They became good friends in the late 1930s through the Christian pacifist movement. Roy and Joyce moved to Mangonui on Roy’s retirement. He pursued there “a longstanding interest in “researching Maori history” and his wife Joyce continued to work, as the local music teacher.

– In June 1953, Rita Angus traveled to stay with them, prompted by their invitation.

“Rita stayed with the Milligans in a small flat adjoining their house, which was set in a large garden of native and exotic plants.” [From ‘Rita Angus: an artist’s life’, by Jill Trevelyan].

– Rita met up with another old friend from Christchurch, the then young sculptor Jim Allen.

He was based at Mangonui with his wife and “he was the field officer for special art and craft studies being carried out in the far north.” [Jill Trevelyan emailed with Jim Alan in 2006]

– Not sure when she returned to Clifton (where her then resident home was located) but at that time, Rita Angus completed two paintings inspired by her first stay in Mangonui, St. Luke, and Landscape with Arum Lily.

– She returned to Mangonui in December of that year (1953) and again stayed with the Milligans. Rita Angus stayed probably until March 1954.

– The next time she sold her cottage in Clifton, to move to Mangonui in October 1954.

She stayed in a cottage found for her by Jim Allen, “which she hoped to purchase from the Manonui Cruising Club. Located on the main road, although sheltered from the traffic, it was a small and somewhat ramshackle three-room structure, tucked under the cliff and right on the waterfront. Lemon, peach and tamarillo trees grew in an untended garden.” [Trevelyan, p. 258]

– Angus described Lilburn in a letter about the view from her cottage/studio: ‘The view of harbour, hills & sky, from French doors upstairs, suggests a painting. There is a workshop downstairs … The light is good.’ It further says that at high tide the sea came within a few metres of the front door. Angus also wrote: ‘At night penguins cry sounds below the cottage. Crabs & lizards on the rocks, shoals of fish in the sea.’

– A Janet Paul wrote in 1982 that Joyce Milligan remembered about Rita Angus that she: ‘went to Houhora up north and used to go round the country schools with the dental nurse and did a lot of sketching of the Maori children.’

– In November 1954, she went to stay with the artist Freda Simmonds and her family in Kaitaia, to attend a concert.

Here, she was invited to show some paintings at the local library (!). (not sure exactly when that “exhibition” took place. Possibly in December, or in January 1955). She did send for the ‘St. Luke’-painting which was down south and still unfinished as she wanted to include it in the exhibition.

– In March 1955, she negotiated for several weeks to buy the cottage from the Mangonui Cruising Club, only to find out that the site was part of a reserve owned by the County Council and that there was, therefore, no land to sell. It made her decide to leave Mangonui for good and this would have been around May 1955. Her friends had tried to persuade her to stay, to no avail.