• Murray McCully

Plans to mark the centennial of the birth of remarkable New Zealander Rewi Alley received a significant boost today.

Rakaia MP Jenny Shipley presented a Tourism Facilities Grant of $22,000 dollars towards developing an information centre at Rewi Alley's birthplace in Springfield, mid-Canterbury.

Rewi Alley is a legend in China, where he lived for 60 years until his death in 1987.

He was instrumental in establishing industrial and agricultural co-operatives and technical schools in many parts of China. He was a personal friend of key political figures, and was officially recognised by the Chinese government as an "honoured foreigner".

Jenny Shipley is a patron of the Rewi Alley Centennial Committee, which is planning a variety of events to celebrate his life.

"Rewi Alley was a remarkable New Zealander who was whole-heartedly committed to Chinese socialism and the Chinese people, " Mrs Shipley said today.

" There is no doubt he made a huge contribution to China, and whether or not one agreed with his politics and philosophy, he must be admired as a man of principle."

Tourism Minister Murray McCully says the grant reflected the closer relations between China and New Zealand.

"Approximately 17,000 Chinese citizens visit our country each year but we are currently engaged in talks with China in the hope that New Zealand will be granted approved destination status so that Chinese nationals are able to holiday in this country," Mr McCully said.

Mr McCully said the planned developments would enhance the stay of Chinese visitors to New Zealand.

"With the pending growth in this market it is particularly appropriate to support a project of such significance to the Chinese," he said.

In addition to the Tourism Facilities Grant, the committee has received funding from the Lotteries Board, the Trust Bank Community Trust, and the Christchurch City Council for the Information Centre. The centre will feature information display panels and an audio programme which will include a recording of the voice of Rewi Alley himself.

The committee also plans to landscape the site around the information centre and the existing memorial sculpture, and has received donations towards the landscaping from the Selwyn District Council and the Selwyn Plantation Board.

The facility is due to be completed by Rewi Alley's birth date of December 2, in time for an official visit by a Chinese delegation.

At today's cheque presentation, Mrs Shipley praised the work of the Rewi Alley Centennial Committee.

"The committee, led by Chairman Professor Bill Willmott, is putting a great deal of work into ensuring that Rewi Alley becomes as well known in the land of his birth as he is in his adopted home of China," Mrs Shipley said.