KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
The gold mining industry was the spur that hastened rail transportation in this area, Paeroa already being connected with Auckland in 1895 and with Thames in 1898. But the Paeroa-Waihi line presented much difficulty because of the necessity for a long tunnel near Karangahake. A loan from the Waihi Gold Mining Co. enabled the Government to proceed with the work and the line was opened for traffic on 9 November 1905. A busy Railway Station added to the amenities of the town and a side station, reached via a swing bridge was available at Mackaytown. Travelling by train was a novelty for the school children and their annual picnic to Te Aroha, an event of great importance. Those pupils who gained proficiency were able to travel to High School by train. From1911 senior pupils attended technical classes at Waihi.
By 1907 the population had reached 2000, and, through the local Member of Parliament, Mr Hugh Poland, the residents petitioned to become a Borough. This was not successful, in view of the fluctuation of mining ventures.
1910 was the eventful year of the big flood that wrecked the Woodstock Battery, and the terrific conflagration that finally destroyed it. School children were permitted to watch the spectacle from their grandstand viewing point, marvelling at the sheets of corrugated iron flying through the air like paper.
The Karangahake School site has always been a particularly difficult one to keep in order; the scrub cutting, the original uneven ground, and steps being an ever recurring expense, but School Committees did wonderful work and nearly every family contributed in some way. About 1910, with energetic Fred Davis of Mackaytown as Secretary, sufficient money was raised for a Septic Tank, and a later Committee tackled the problem of filling in the gully that took up much of the playground. Perhaps the longest record of service goes to the Bunting family, Mrs Grace Bunting holding the position of Secretary for 23 years.
In 1912 there were 45 pupils in the Std 7 room at Paeroa District High School and about a third of them were from Karangahake. The following joined the teaching profession, having attended Paeroa District High School, Thames
H.S. or Waihi D. H. S.: Amy Connolly, Margaret White, Thelma Conway, Mary Wall, Nellie Scott, Minnie Fallon, Len Scott, Aldyth and Gertie McGuire, Connie and Ernie Searle, Mary Fitzgerald, Mavis James, Cyril Gwilliam, Len Hilton, Jessie McLeod, Mavis Vuglar, Jean and Grace Milroy, Isobel and Fred Dare and Albert O'Neil.
But 1912 was the year of the Waihi Miners' Strike, which had repercussions locally. Then in 1914 many single men joined up to go to World War I. It became all too evident that a rapid recession was inevitable, and this was reflected in the school. The roll decreased while Mr Hamilton and Mr Lewins were Headmasters during the War Years and the Mackaytown School was closed.
My association with Karangahake and its people was brief - a matter of a mere six months, but it has left impressions which have remained half a century. Never before or since, have I met with a more warm—hearted community. As a stranger, I was welcomed, as was my wife, and some of the friendships formed then have endured throughout the years.
I returned from active service in World War I at the end of May 1919, and took the normal demobilisation leave at the expense of the Army, after which I was offered a temporary appointment as Headmaster at Karangahake. No definite period was stipulated but the inference was — for one month. However the "month" lasted for six months and proved to be a very happy time for my wife as well as for me.
As I knew nothing of conditions, I left my wife in Auckland, the idea of occupying the school house being out of the question. Meanwhile I would take whatever accommodation was available. The train arrived some time after dark, and to my surprise, on alighting at the station, I was warmly greeted by a group of friendly men - members of the School Committee, led by the Chairman, Mr Arthur McGuire. They had already arranged accommodation for me at the Hotel and insisted on carrying my luggage. For an ex—infantryman who had been used to carrying a 70 lb Pack around France, this was something of a change.
The Proprietor of the Hotel, and his wife, Mr and Mrs Rae, were a very hospitable couple and at the end of the first week, were pleased to welcome my wife. Another guest at the Hotel was Miss Marshall, the Postmistress, while, from time to time, a number of casuals, particularly Commercial Travellers arrived. At that time the Hotel, which had once held a licence, was "dry".
The town itself, as I first saw it, was in marked contrast to what it must have been in its heyday. Abandoned and burnt—out cottages, were scattered about the hillsides, with gorse and fern taking charge. Rumour had it that fires in Karangahake were almost daily (or nightly) occurrences until Insurance Companies refused to accept any more risks. During my time in the district there was no suggestion of a fire.
Karangahake was a dying town, for both mines, Talisman and Crown, had been more or less worked out. Most of the miners had left, and apart from exploratory drilling in the hope of once more "striking it rich", there was little underground activity. An indication of the decline could be seen in the Roll of the School. At one time about 480 pupils attended, and previous headmasters had been middle-aged or beyond, so a comparative youth, still in his twenties, was somewhat of a novelty. However, at that stage the Roll had fallen to 180, so there was no overcrowding. In addition to myself, there was a staff of four: Misses White, Hill, Gibb and Jackson, all very enthusiastic and capable so I had no real problems. The parents almost without exception, were friendly and co-operative, the Committee supported the school wholeheartedly and the pupils were courteous and responsive. In short it was a happy school.
While most of the miners had left, the permanent staffs were retained so that, had more gold been found, the mines could have been brought back into production without undue delay. As a result, many of the men were far from overworked. The bowling greens and tennis courts were well patronised and, in bowls especially, Karangahake excelled. At that time, with Ernie Jury as Skip, the local team held the New Zealand Championship, while Jury himself was holder of the National Singles Title. In addition to tennis and bowls, the town sported an enthusiastic Bridge Club. As I had played Bridge almost daily during the voyage home, I was as keen as any of the locals, and spent some very pleasant evenings at the Club.
As with most small communities, there was a suggestion of social distinction in certain quarters. Shortly after our arrival in the district we were invited one Saturday night to attend a Social at what was referred to as "The Little Hall". Functions such as this were not patronised by certain residents. While I was in Camp in England awaiting a passage home, there were frequent social functions at which both the Valeta and the Maxina (new at that time) were very popular. I asked the girls at the Hotel if these were known locally, but they were not. So, humming the appropriate tunes, I demonstrated both dances with one of the waitresses, who soon became as efficient as if she had danced them since childhood. So the Valeta and Maxina made their debut in Karangahake in the Hotel kitchen.
The pianist at these functions was Mick Meehan, who could play by ear any tune he had heard once or twice. I hummed the tunes to him, and in a very short time he was able to play them right through - note perfect - so my partner and I demonstrated both dances. Before long more and more couples took the floor until it was crowded to capacity. The next day we attended Church and were asked if it was true that we had been to the Dance at "The Little Hall" the night before. Having agreed that we had, we were asked, "Was it well conducted?" "Yes, perfectly." Naturally it was not long before the whole town knew that "the schoolmaster and his wife" had been to a dance at the "The Little Hall", and before long the little hall dances had to be held in the big hail, and at a later stage, some patrons came from Paeroa and Te Aroha.
During our stay the Peace Treaty with Germany was signed by Britain and her allies, and in common with other communities in several countries, Karangahake decided to celebrate the occasion. Arrangements were made in the expectation that the local M.P., Mr Hugh Poland, would be available to address the gathering. However, Mr Poland had already agreed to speak at a similar function at Paeroa, so the Karangahake Committee, had at short notice, to make other arrangements. To my astonishment, the Chairman, having read Mr Poland's apology, suggested "That our Headmaster, a returned soldier, be asked to give the address". Before I had recovered from the shock, the motion was carried with acclamation, so there was no other alternative but to accept.
About three months after our arrival the hotel was taken down in sections and transported to Te Puke where a licence was available, so we had to seek other accommodation. This we found with Mrs White at Mackaytown. For a good many years Mrs White had taken a number of paying guests, but was somewhat reluctant when I first approached her. She didn't mind taking men boarders but she didn't think her pioneer home "would suit the schoolmaster's wife". I assured her that she need have no fears on that score, so finally she agreed. We had a very happy three months there, and I was particularly gratified at the way the people did all they could to make my wife feel at one with them.
In addition to those already mentioned, other families come to mind. Mr McGruer was Manager of the Crown Mine, and Mrs McGruer was most hospitable. Incidentally their daughter, Alma, was later a well-known vocalist in Auckland. Then there were Mr and Mrs Aitken and Mr and Mrs McLean, who were our close friends for many years. Other names which will always be associated with the district are those of Mr Fallon, the local tailor, Mr Brocket and Mr Shand who owned a grocery, Mr Murray the accountant for the Talisman Mine and Mr Jamieson who was in charge of the School of Mines.
As the time came for our departure just before Christmas, Mrs White began looking around her farmlet to see what she could find for us to take back to the city. If my memory is dependable after the lapse of 50 years, we had a case of plums, a duck, a bottle of wine, and various other odds and ends. Surely this was an example of the good old pioneer spirit. Some 15 or 20 years later we called at Mackaytown and renewed our friendship with Mrs White, who, then in her eighties, was working on her section. Truly a remarkable old lady!
As I look back I have many happy memories of Karangahake and its people. Most of those I knew have probably moved to other parts, or have passed away, but they have left with both my wife and me a feeling of real satisfaction that we were privileged to know such warm—hearted people.
It would be difficult to name all the early residents who lived on School Hill, but old photographs show houses well up towards Butler's Track and the White Rocks. Three of these were sometimes referred to as the "British Isles" - Pooles (England), McLeods (Scotland), and Fitzgeralds (Ireland) — all excellent neighbours. Below them Mrs Green's house stood out, and numerous others were reached by steep tracks over which the Butcher, Baker and Grocer boys "delivered" their orders on horseback. There were many more above and below the school, e . g., Crosbie, Fallon and Robinson. Mrs Robinson was Elizabeth McNeil, one of a family of nine and two of her, daughters still live here — Violet (Mrs Wallace) and Phyllis (Mrs McLeod), Lee Gibson, Hutchinson, Williams, Brown, Short, la Dette, Mrs Ansley (who had the Post Office there until 1923), Ben Gwilliam (an authority on Battery work and whose knowledge was passed on to his sons, Cyril and Ben), Power, Charlesworth, Young.
Above the tunnel and above the township were many more homes. James, Rackman (an outstanding family of 8: Jack, the eldest, took a great interest in local affairs as did Melba), Jury, Ratliff, Wall, Johnston, Farrell, Meehan, McKay, Moyle, Hanley, Tucker, Casley, McLeod, Lee. A chapter could be written on each. Some of the original houses fell into disrepair or were burned, some were restored and others removed to areas where homes were needed e.g., Hauraki Plains or Waihi Beach.
Mr A. Bell took up his duties as Headmaster in 1920, and in 1921 Nellie Scott, who had left as a pupil in 1910, came back to take charge of the Infant Department, now numbering 40-odd. From her home at Turners Hill, she was accompanied by two small primers who found the way as long as she and her sister had done in 1902. (One was Glen, the son of that sister, and the other was Gwen, a much-loved neighbour.) From 1922 till 1925, Mr Jack Jones was Headmaster and with Gertie McGuire, Edith Close and a series of pupil teachers (including Albert O'Neil and Jean Milroy) they had a very happy staff, pupil and community relationship. During this period the Waikino School was burned down and two of our schoolrooms were moved there.
The "winds of change" continued to blow, the school roll to decrease, and the teachers to leave for promotion. The Infant Mistress and her sister, Mary, were tendered a "farewell Social" in the small hall in January 1925, prior to setting out for Hawkes Bay. Mr J.B. Morris, Chairman of the School Committee and life-long friend, spoke first, a pupil, Mollie Bramble, read an address, beautifully written by Mr McGruer, and little Norman Rackman and Gwen Griffen made presentations before Jack O'Brien took over as M.C. for dancing and items. It was all so typical of Karangahake hospitality, but it was also sad, portending further farewells.
But the school was one institution that did not die with the ending of the mining era. Its roll continued to decrease, and the following were the Head Teachers mostly for two years after 1926: Sale, Morgan, Mrs Wallace, Nagle, Briggs (10 years 1933-43, ably assisted by Miss Muriel Taylor who had outstanding musical ability), Rutherford, Richards, Murray, Renner, Nash (7 years 1957-64, who had the misfortune of finding the school residence in ashes on his arrival). A new one was built in Mackaytown. The playground benefited by the extra space, now graced by a swimming pool. Later Head Teachers: Morley, Wills, Sayer and Nelson (1982).
During the 1930 depression years, a scheme to provide work for unemployed men, benefited Karangahake. The Gorge Road was closed for widening, and the old Rahu route was opened for traffic. By that time there was a bus service between Paeroa and Waihi.
In 1933 the first one-day School Reunion was held on the Mackaytown Recreation Ground, but in 1959, through the initiative of Mr Eric Nash (the Headmaster) and his wife, Gwen, a grand, long weekend celebrated 70 years of the school's history. It was no small matter to accommodate the hundreds who came to the now sparsely populated area, but it was a wonderful success, aided by the fact that a new Hall had been built by the community.
The organising Committee was:
Chairman - Mr Eric Nash
Secretary — Mrs Gwen Nash
Assistant Secretary - Mrs G. Bunting
Treasurer — Mr S.H. Iversen
Editor - Mrs N.S. Donaldson (Climie)
Assistant - Miss E. Rickman
Catering Committee - Mrs G. Bunting, Mr Albert Morgan
Accommodation Committee — Mrs G. Morran, Mrs M. Bath
General - Messrs J. Cotter, C. Bradford, K. Corner.
There have been other reunions since, keeping alive the Karangahake spirit and many memories.
In 1980 the old school was completely remodelled, yet retains its old identity midst first class equipment and modern refinements - such as carpeted floors. It was always fortunate in its administration and has two teachers for about 40 pupils. Shades of the days of over 50 in each room!