Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962
By D. M. HASZARD.
When a mine of the magnitude of the Martha ceases operation there are naturally good reasons. In this particular case they could possibly be enumerated as follows:—
1. Depletion of ore of payable grade.
2. Plant and equipment nearing end of useful life.
3. Staffing difficulties.
Prior to 1900 there were three treatment plants crushing ore from the Martha property, namely, Victoria (Waikino), 150 stamps, Union 40, Waihi 90. In 1901 the Victoria mill was increased by a further 50 stamps, making a total of 200. This mill was erected at Waikino, five miles from Waihi, on account of water power and suitable foundation requirements for a large stamp battery. This plant, after 1910 [1912 – E], became the only one treating Martha ore and carried on until operations ceased in 1952.
Up to 1910, metallurgical operations at Waikino were of first class standard and, in fact, many developments and innovations were acclaimed and received world-wide renown in mining circles. The Company had every reason to be proud of their technical achievements up to this period, but from then until 1952 the reverse was the case. The Company did not keep abreast of the times and when stopped in 1952, the treatment plant was completely obsolescent and almost laughable from modern standards. It must be remembered, however, that the Company always paid tremendous dividends, but should the returns have been of an even greater magnitude?
A most commendable and far sighted policy was adopted with the erection of a power station on the Waikato River at Horahora, with a result that both the Victoria battery and the mine were supplied with abundant electrical power in 1913. In effect, this supplanted any material advantage of having Waikino as a site for a battery, although re-siting at Waihi at this stage would have occasioned a very large capital outlay. However, in 1926, the Grand Junction Co. ceased operations and their mine and the up-to-date treatment plant was taken over by the Waihi Gold Mining Co., the plant being dismantled. This was the obvious period when stock should have been taken of the overall position regarding Victoria Mill.
From 1913-1952, 7,441,000 tons of ore were transported to Waikino at an estimated cost of 4/- per ton, which would represent a sum of £1,488,200. It would be fair comment to state that disposal of unwanted plant and equipment at Waikino plus clean-up of values around the site would have provided enough if not more than enough funds, to enlarge and modernise where necessary, the Grand Junction Mill at Waihi.
It must be remembered that in a gold mining operation it is essential to prune costs of both mining and milling to a minimum in order that the lowest possible grade of ore can be handled profitably. This is more essential when there exists in a mine large tonnages slightly below current payable grade, such as was the case in Waihi.
With regard to staffing conditions, it could never be said that the Martha Co. (formerly Waihi Gold Mining Co.) was generous, nor that it encouraged really good relations between employee and employer, (in all fairness, however, it may be stated that the company maintained full employment during the depression years, when Waihi as a whole suffered little). We have to remember that it is essential in mining to work at the lowest possible cost margin, and labour being a very large proportion of cost, it is imperative to obtain the best possible employee return. Such was not the case, and in this respect the policy adopted by the company was extremely hard to understand to say the least.
Apart from paying the compulsory gold duties to the borough, the Martha Co., in common with most mining companies, did little for the town to which it gave birth. Furthermore, the unwarranted pessimism recorded in its annual reports did little to encourage others to do very much either.
Let us consider activities of the Martha Company with regard to interests in other mining propositions. It would be logical to assume that many outside representations would have been made to the Company in respect to options or investigations, both inside and outside New Zealand, but it would appear that little was done. The Martha Company was offered an option on the great Fijian goldfield in the early 1930's but turned the option down without investigation. The instigator, Mr Costello, then approached Australian interests, who immediately took steps to investigate, and subsequently developed this field which is still in production today. It may be mentioned that Dr Loftus Hills, consulting geologist engaged by the Australians to examine the Fijian field, commented upon passing through Auckland, as follows: Quote: "It would appear that a certain New Zealand Mining-Company wanted everything on a gold plate."
It may also be mentioned that a very prominent American geologist and mining engineer, who was recently in New Zealand, was staggered when informed that the Martha Company never ran at a loss prior to closing. He stated that in the States a comparable mining operation would run for nine years incurring losses during which period every avenue would be explored in an endeavour to make ends meet before deciding to cease operations.
A fair summing up of the foregoing could be made as follows:
(a) The Martha Company showed initial commendable resource but reached a stage of stagnation which continued for nearly forty years.
(b) By adopting a parsimonious attitude to their employees, and Waihi as a whole, there is little doubt that the overall return in labour and brains had a detrimental effect on the cost structure.
(c) By not keeping abreast with modern metallurgical trends costs again suffered adversely.
(d) By not showing sufficient interest at least one famous goldfield was allowed to slip through the Company's fingers.
Gold at the present time is of great value to New Zealand, and one could well consider the possibility of a mine still in operation if circumstances had been other than they were.