Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962
By D. E. SWINTON
As one comes to Waihi on the main road from Paeroa one is confronted with a sign, "Welcome to Waihi. Home of Pye Radio and Television." Half a century ago had a welcoming sign been erected at the same spot this sign would, in all likelihood, have read, "Welcome to Waihi. Home of the Famous Martha Mine." The new sign is evidence of the change that has come to Waihi over the last few years. As long as Waihi remained a mining town, dependent on mining for its existence, each and every one of its citizens had to bear in mind that Waihi's days were numbered, that roads to mining have a habit of petering out to nothing — and what then? This new sign demonstrates the fact that Waihi is looking to the future. Mining is over and will probably never be resuscitated. Waihi's future now lies in other avenues — and Waihi is confidently striding ahead.
One fact that should not be forgotten, however, is that the development of mining in the Waihi area gave birth to Waihi itself. It is not my province to go into the history of the mining industry in Waihi, but I should like to pay my tribute to those men and women who pioneered our town.
If it were possible to bring back one of these old pioneers what changes he or she would note — the development of new housing in all areas of the town, the Memorial Hall, on the site of the old Miners' Hall, new business premises, the very up-to-date and imposing factory of the Akrad Radio Corporation Ltd., the transformation of the old Central School and the later District High School into the Intermediate School of today, the new Waihi College, on its lovely site of 27½ acres, which was once farming land, newly paved streets, concreted footpaths, enlarged facilities for play and recreation, the "bringing-in" of land outside the town boundaries, and, further afield, the new cheese factory, the beautifully situated golf course, the development of the once so bare Waihi Plains into the fertile farms of today, the first section of a very improved road to Whangamata, the transformation of Waihi Beach from a very small region with a few holiday shacks into a seaside town with a character all of its own.
Let us take this old pioneer on a tour of the town and the district he knew in his work as a gold miner of fifty years or so ago. His first impression, I am sure, would be that the town once so familiar to him had to a large extent disappeared and that though he would recognise familiar features here and there he would note that there was very little to be seen in the Waihi of 1962 to remind him that once its whole economy had been associated with gold. He would sense a different feeling, a different atmosphere about the place, an atmosphere of bustle and of confidence in the future. With new faces everywhere, new activities, new buildings, new industries and so little of the Waihi of old to be seen, I am afraid our old pioneer would feel rather lost in his new environment. Though parts of the main street would bring back memories of days long past he would have to search diligently to find the once so familiar scenes of the Waihi of his working days.
He would find it difficult to trace even the route of the old "rake" line, he would find that the once busy tracks of Martha Hill are becoming eroded away and reclaimed by the undergrowth, that the mine poppet heads have been dismantled, the mine shafts covered over, that the onceso busy mine buildings on the hill are no more. So much of his old so familiar world would have disappeared into the limbo that it would no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to him to find that he could still trace the route of Paddy Hogan's "tram," which once brought to the mine timber from the hills at the head of the Waitete, though these traces will soon too have completely disappeared.
Let us take our old pioneer to have a closer look at his old working environment, Martha Hill. He would note how the scars that cannot be avoided in a mining industry and the heaps of mullock, have been covered over with a kindly growth of bush and that even the once lordly Cornish pump house is rapidly being engulfed in a blanket of greenery. Let us walk with him through the trees, part the branches, and have him look out over the plains, which in his time were simply a brown dust bowl. What a change he would note here, neatly laid out farms with their lines of protective shelter belts, nearly every field pin-pointed with the cows that give evidence of the wealth that is derived from the soilofthis once barren region of fifty years ago.
Let us take him along Kensington Road and have him lift up his eyes to the hills. He would feel that the Waihi of today, as contrasted with the town he knew, is a green town, its neighbourhood a green neighbourhood, not green in any sense of immaturity, but green in its original meaning of colour, the new-mown green of grassy lawns, the lush green of rich pastures, the lusty green of trees just bursting into leaf, the more sombre green of the conifers, the golden green of hills in sunshine, the steely blue-green of tall hills in shadow. Let us take our old pioneer out to the cliffs above Waihi Beach on a still summer night, where he can see the white of the sand showing up through the darkness, the fairy points of light stabbing the blackness from three or four miles of houses along the foreshore, the hills behind now in the night changed from their rich green to a deep dark velvet. I ask the reader to forgive me if I have waxed rather poetical on this matter of colour, but the restful colourfulness of Waihi is something that always makes its appeal to me after I have returned from the drab concrete jungle of the city, a restful colourfulness pleasing to the eye and comforting to the soul.
With a population of 3180 and a borough area of 1330 acres, Waihi in its general set up today is similar to many other towns of comparative size. It does, however, have certain advantages over other towns, a natural beauty all of its own, its proximity to one of the finest bathing and surfing beaches in New Zealand and to the Mayor Island big game fishing region, a sunshine record of over 2000 hours a year and all in all a very good climate. Certainly it rains in Waihi, very heavily at times, but these heavy rains, peculiar to the Northland-Coromandel geographic region, are warm rains. They are the primary source of that lush growth of grass, which is the basis of the local dairying industry, but, owing-to the nature of the soil and the configuration of the countryside, Waihi and its surrounding neighbourhood never experience serious flooding. A further advantage is the proximity of Waihi to the rapidly developing harbour of Tauranga and its excellent communication by road and rail with Auckland and Hamilton.
It is rather amusing today to turn to some of the newspaper articles written around about the time of the closing of the mine in 1952-53, when fears were expressed that this town of ours was on the way to becoming a "ghost town." As it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth. The closing of the mine appeared to act as a tonic and a number of the major buildings, industries and amenities of the town were either built or established subsequent to that date or have developed and have increased in size or in scale of products manufactured since 1953.
Two at least of the biggest building projects are of very recent date, the building and equipping of the new Waihi College in 1958-59 at a total cost of from £250,000 to £300,000 and the building in 1961-62 of the modem factory for the Akrad Radio Corporation Ltd. costing £175,000. The closing of the Martha Mine also witnessed a resurgence of housing; nearly 300 new houses have been erected in the borough area since 1950, and there are few streets which have not been able to boast of a new residence since the days of 1952-53.
The giant of Waihi's industries is, of course, the Akrad Radio Corporation Ltd., an industry which has of recent years associated the name of Waihi with radio and television as in years gone by it was associated with gold. The romantic story of the growth and development of this modern industry, with its staff of 340 employees and the products of which in the shape of radio and television sets, radio communication equipment, electronic equipment, tricycles, etc., find their way to every corner of New Zealand, is such that it deserves separate treatment and is dealt with in another section of this booklet. But this is by no means the only one of Waihi's new industries which sends its products far afield. Those of Gadabouts Ltd., in the shape of first grade fashion shoes, are well known in many of our cities. Brown and Brown Ltd. make ironing tables and many other home appliances. Mason's Concrete Products (Waihi) Ltd., and its associated firm of Contractors' Engineering Equipment Ltd., make a full range of concrete commodities for farmers' use. Waihi Timber and Joinery Co. Ltd. is another firm that has extended considerably of recent year. Another important firm is the Mataora Timber Company Ltd., whose concern is with general sawmilling. Others include D. Seath and Company, and Modern Furniture Ltd. (wholesale furniture and kitchen fitments), C. E. Jennings (Engineering), the Waihi Engineering Co. (general farm traders, farm implements and repairs), the Waitete Foundary (castings, iron, brass and aluminium), J. Furey (general blacksmithing, welding and engineering), and T. K. Watters (soft drinks and cordials). This list does not pretend to be exhaustive, and I tender my apologies to firms whose names and activities I have omitted to mention. Moreover, there is room for more. Waihi is well sited as a centre of distribution and there is opportunity for the establishment of further concerns interested in light industry. The sites are available and labour isor would soon become available.
But I feel the greatest development of the past thirty to forty years has been in the farming area surrounding the town. As compared with other districts in New Zealand, farming on the land around Waihi is of comparatively recent development — firstly on the originally bush-clad land in the Waitekauri district and in the Waitawheta valley, and, of course, the Hollis farm in Waihi itself on the land which now forms the site of Waihi College.
The development of the Waihi Plains would appear to have commenced towards the end of World War I and the pioneers in this area were mostly miners. Because of the efforts of these farmers fern and tea-tree gradually yielded place to grass and by 1924 there were approximately 150 farmers in the local country area, whose farms were coming into production and yielding an average income of about £200 per farm. Even then, however, there was no evidence of that close liaison between town and country that is so evident today. At that time there was not a single business in Waihi that catered for the needs of farmers; no supplies of fertiliser, grass seed or manure could be purchased at any shop or business premises in the town. In other words, farming was just not worth catering for.
How different is the situation today! Notwithstanding the multifarious industries I have mentioned previously, Waihi today, like Morrinsville or Te Awamutu, is a farmer's town. And today's production figures demonstrates this fact. This vastly increased production has boosted the gross yield of the average farm to approximately £4000 per annum. With the 240 or so farms of today this means that farming in the country area surrounding the town is bringing in £1,000,000 per annum, i.e., the production of farming alone in the local area every year is equal in monetary value to that of the gold and silver produced in the peak years of the Martha Mine, though it must be admitted that the pound today is considerably lower in terms of goods purchasable than in 1909. But even then in comparison with the land yield of the 1920's the transformation is, as I have already stated, amazing.
And what caused this transformation? The answer, I think, is found in three words: Climate, fertiliser, management. Climate, it may be claimed, cannot be advanced as a new factor, in that it was just as much in evidence in the 1920's. But climate alone was of no effect until it was coupled with the other two factors, the intelligent use of fertiliser and trace elements and scientific farm management. The climate of the Waihi district is admirably suited to the growth of grass and hence to grasslands farming. When to this is allied the proper manuring of the land plus farming know-how we are on the way to the Waihi farmlands we know today, to the situation where land which some 40 years ago could not be sold for ten shillings an acre today has a value of up to £200 per acre, to a situation where bare brown scrub land has been transformed with the help of white clover and the nitrogen cycle into heavily stocked lushly grassed farms, to a Waihi country side which promised still more in the way of richer returns in future years. This Waihi country side of today supports a flourishing dairying industry, a flourishing fat stock industry, a flourishing sheep industry; it supports also the biggest cheese factory in New Zealand, one that has in recent years won more championship awards than has any of its rivals. Further opportunities would appear to lie in the development of the pig industry. As only one sow and her progeny are capable of adding to a farmer's income to the extent of £100 per annum, and as pigs can be satisfactorily reared on skim milk, whey, maize, root crops, and even grass or lucerne, it would seem that any newcomer who wished to specialise in the rearing of pigs would find the local region well suited to this purpose.
Notwithstanding the development that has already taken place it would seem that there is still much further development to come. There is plenty of good Crown land still to be brought into production, and with the advent of aerial topdressing it is now no longer necessary to undertake a heavy programme of ploughing and discing in order to bring in this new land. A farmer who has undertaken more of this work than any other in the district informs me that today it is simply a matter of aerial topdressing and sowing by air, and the climate does the rest. It sounds too simple to be true — but it works.
No account of the rapidly developing local countryside would be complete without mention of the Waihi cheese factory, opened in 1953 by the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company. This cheese factory is the largest of its type in New Zealand and represents an outlay in buildings, plant, equipment and grounds of £250,000. Its annual turnover is £500,000. The honour of being the first manager fell to Mr T. Myers and one has only to inspect the array of cups and trophies displayed in his office to appreciate how Mr Myers has justified that choice.
In 1961 the construction of a big addition to the plant raised its capacity intake to 22,000 gallons daily and, of the present intake, 19,000 gallons each day comes from local farms. The weight of cheese made in 1961 was 2580 tons, approximately 50 tons per week.
But the great success of the Waihi factory is notto bemeasured only in statistics of milk intake and of weight of cheese manufactured. When the manufacture and packaging of rindless cheese were found to present considerable difficulties and after some initial attempts at its manufacture and packaging had turned out to be a failure it is significant that it was to the Waihi concern that the dairy company handed its problem. And still more significant is it that it was at the local factory that the problems incident to the production of this much more attractive article were solved.
For his success in making his factory the pioneer in the country in the successful manufacture of rindless cheese Mr Myers claims no special acumen for himself. As he states, successful cheese manufacture is a team job, and any team is no better than its weakest link. But it requires one only to pay a visit to the factory to note how the drive and the personality of its manager permeate all its activities.
In a short account such as this it is impossible to note all the multifarious activities of the town and its immediate neighbourhood. Because of the limitations of space much that deserves inclusion has had to be omitted. But in conclusion. I wish to make a plea to its citizens to ensure that in its confident march ahead this town of our retains its links with days that will never return. In the foyer of the main building of the Waihi College are two murals, the work of Mr S. Campbell Smith. One is historical in character and is based on mining days and mining activities; the other attempts to depict what the future holds for its young citizens. I have often stood and admired these works of Mr Smith because I feel that there he has captured both the history and the aspirations of this town of ours. Waihi has its feet anchored in a romantic past, it looks ahead to an assured future. But, as in all forward-looking communities, there is a danger that the past can lose its significance, especially to its younger citizens who have been born into the new environment. Hence I should like to suggest to all Waihi townsfolk, young and old, that they enthusiastically support the Waihi Art Centre and Museum, an imaginative project for which its originators deserve our thanks and co-operation. The Centre has been fortunate in obtaining as its headquarters a solidly erected building, itself of some historical significance.
Let us not forget that this town of ours is a town with character, a town that is different, a town to be proud of, and, as it confidently marches along the road of its assured future let us, its citizens of today, see that its does not forget the debt it owes to the Waihi of yesterday.