Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945

From Shacks and Shanties to a Modern Town


Ti-tree, tin huts, tents and the ubiquitous "pub" — such was the Waihi of nearly sixty years ago, when parties of pioneer prospectors searched the hills for the elusive yellow metal that has made and unmade so many thousands. To-day Waihi is the foremost gold-producing field of the Dominion; the centre of a fertile dairying district, and one of the soundest business towns in the country, supporting a population within the borough of approximately 4000. At one period its population was a little over 8000.

Inception of Borough

It was not until about 1896 that Waihi started to go ahead, but once the mining industry began properly to establish itself, progress was rapid, and the carpenter's hammer was heard on every side. More and more houses were erected; the business area grew, and the population steadily increased. Towards 1900, therefore, the need for the formation of a borough was felt, and, with a view to achieving this object, a body known as the Waihi Improvement Committee was formed. Two members who were closely identified with its inception still residing in the district are the present Mayor of Waihi, Mr. W. M. Wallnutt, and Mr. T. P. Vuglar, now of Paeroa. Much opposition to the formation of a borough was raised by the County Council, which received a by no means inconsiderable amount in gold duty, and the first efforts of the committee were unsuccessful. Perseverance, however, resulted in the status of the rapidly-growing township being officially recognised, and on March 1, 1902, Waihi was incorporated a borough. To elect a Mayor and Councillors was the next step, and the Mayoral ballot took place on April 7 of that year, the election of councillors following two days later. Messrs. W. H. Phillips, C. J. Saunders and F. H. Lees sought the first honour, while there were 27 candidates for the ten seats on the council. The Mayoral ballot resulted in Mr. Phillips being returned with a good majority, whilst the councillors elected were: Messrs. D. Campbell, R. Arscott, W. J. Geddis, A. Dick, J. Tanner, C. Moyes, K. A. Katz, J. Henderson, J. E. Slevin and D. Donaldson. Of this first council all have passed away, although there is a doubt about Mr. Moyes.

Mayors of Waihi, with the periods of their office are as under: —

Mr. W. H. Phillips, 1902 to 1904.

Mr. T. Gilmour, 1904 to 1908.

Mr. J. Newth, 1908 to 1913.

Mr. M. G. Power, 1913 to 1915.

Mr. D. Donaldson, 1915 to 1923.

Mr. W. M. Wallnutt 1923 (present Mayor).

The present Mayor, Mr. Wallnutt, who was elected in 1923, entered his twenty-third year of office last May.

Municipal Progress

Waihi, ever since it has been a borough, has had an asset that very few New Zealand towns have possessed — the receipt annually, for over a quarter of a century, of thousands of pounds in gold duty. Where other centres have had to make municipal progress slowly, Waihi was able to launch out on a comprehensive scheme of development at an early date, and, within very few years, was able to build itself into a municipality possessing many advantages that towns of a much larger size might envy. When gold production was at its zenith, the borough received well over £20,000 a year in duty, while even to-day the receipts from this source amount to several thousands annually. Most people who have never visited a mining area conceive such a place to be a very primitive settlement, probably akin somewhat to those of which they have perhaps read in foreign novels about the "rush" days in the Yukon. Visitors to Waihi are therefore pleasantly and agreeably surprised to find a modern town, prettily laid out, with all the amenities and conveniences enjoyed by other and larger centres. Avenues attractively bordered with trees guard the entrances, and everywhere one sees an air of quiet and unostentatious prosperity. Few towns of similar size can boast the advantages of Waihi. Few boroughs with an area of little more than six square miles can claim sixty miles of metalled roads and 100 miles of formed footpaths, no fewer than forty miles of which are asphalted. Indeed, it is doubtful if any other town in the Dominion of even double or treble the size is so well situated in this respect.

Waihi, in area, is the largest borough in the North Island. It is four times the size of Tauranga and twice the size of Napier, and has more miles of streets than any other borough of similar population in New Zealand. It has more bridges to maintain than any other borough in New Zealand with the exception of Whangarei.

Taking the principal necessaries into consideration, living is cheaper in Waihi than in most places in New Zealand. This is due mostly to the very much lower rents, though the prices of some few foodstuffs might compare unfavourably with those obtaining elsewhere. Property holders, however, are singularly fortunate.

Rates at present are 4/5d. in the £, which may seem a substantial amount before one is aware of the facts. That sum is really low. The reason is this: sections in Waihi are held under miners' rights, for a comparatively small rental. The annual value of the borough is £32,453, and it is on this value that the rates are levied. The income from rates — something over £7000 a year — is considerably less than other towns of similar population.

As a mining centre, Waihi was the most prominent in the Dominion over a period of 55 years since the Waihi Gold Mining Company (now the Martha Gold Mining Company) took over the then existing claims on the Martha Hill, the total value of bullion won from the mine reaching the enormous figure of over £27,290,000. Allowing for the four-weekly system of pay, the monthly pay-out was in the vicinity of £15,000.

Another local industry — the Akrad Corporation — during 1944-45 had brought into the town some £25,000, of which over £20,000 was paid in wages. In conjunction with the wonderful strides made in the farming industry, Waihi should stand as one of the most progressive towns in the Dominion.

Business houses in Waihi offer for sale everything that can reasonably be expected. The shopping area, though by no means small, is compact and well laid out. The main thoroughfare (Seddon Street) is wide and has roomy asphalt sidewalks; it is also bitumenised, and other secondary streets are to be dealt with similarly. With the ever-increasing development of the dairying industry within a radius of many miles of the town, and with the augmented rail and road services, it would seem that Waihi must soon come into its own as the shopping centre of the southern part of the district.

Public Institutions

Public institutions in the town are not lacking. The Waihi Hospital, established over forty years ago, is well equipped and up-to-date, with pleasing surroundings. Plunket nurses regularly visit the society's rooms in Haszard Street, where, incidentally, there is also a ladies' rest room. Waihi's health is therefore well looked after.

There are many other public establishments. A well-stocked library has its devotees all the year round, while, to remove oneself from words to water, the municipal baths in Kenny Street attract hundreds every day during the summer season. Other borough institutions worthy of note are the waterworks — the water being considered exceptionally pure — the abattoir and the gasworks. Well worthy of mention also is the Waihi Volunteer Fire Brigade, which has done very good work. It is under the control of the Waihi Fire Board.

Sport flourishes in Waihi, and Rugby football is, of course, the most popular pastime. Cricket and hockey find favour with many; tennis is a most popular game and there are several sets of courts; croquet attracts many ladies; and there is a good golf course of nine holes in the west end of the town. The twelve acres of well laid out ground which comprise the Waihi Recreation Reserve cater for all these pastimes, with the exception of golf. On this reserve there are also an attractively laid out bowling green and cycling and running tracks. Rifle shooting has been carried on for many years, and several prominent marksmen have been turned out by the Waihi Rifle Club.

Scholastic Record

Scholastically, Waihi is very much abreast of the times. There are three public schools, a convent school, a technical school, a district high school and a school of mines. Well equipped, and with a proud record, the Waihi School of Mines has trained in its various branches students who have attained some of the highest positions in the mining world, while many in sound commercial positions and good trades largely owe their success to training received at the Waihi Technical School. Secondary school education has always been popular in Waihi, possibly more children passing through the secondary department of the District High School than have, in proportion, done so in any other similar school in the Dominion. Results speak for themselves, and the Waihi High School has a record probably second to none in the Dominion; certainly unsurpassed in the area controlled by the Auckland Education Board. For years Waihi, on a percentage basis, headed the list for New Zealand in matriculation successes, and the results of this and other examinations for a long time past have borne testimony to skilful instruction and the intelligence of the scholars.

Waihi's Splendid Beach

Waihi has a great asset in its beach, which is undoubtedly one of the finest in the Dominion, and which has become the popular watering place for residents of both the Ohinemuri and Waikato districts. "Discovered" not so very many years ago, the beach has grown in popularity yearly, and is now one of the most largely patronised summer health resorts in the country. A wide six-mile stretch of gleaming white sand, with excellent surf bathing, and with a background of fine camping country and hills covered with native bush, should surely be enough to delight the heart of any youngster, or of any grown-up, for that matter, for a few weeks in the year. Situated about seven miles from the town of Waihi, the beach is easily accessible by an excellent sealed road, and there is a daily motor passenger service. Naturally, in the winter months, this service is considerably curtailed, as the demand for accommodation is comparatively small, but during the summer the resort is exceptionally well catered for and buses meet every train. With so many natural advantages, and with so many modern improvements and conveniences, the Waihi Beach must continue to attract more and more visitors every season. The popularity of this health resort has increased by leaps and bounds, and camp fees last season amounted to £433 — a record.