Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 3, April 1965
(In 1890 Netherton opened its first school, and this year in April is celebrating its 75th Jubilee. It is fitting therefore that we include in this issue of our Journal some recollections of old identities who remember the district in those pioneering days. Ed.)
European settlements in the lower Thames Valley have existed for just under a hundred years. Before 1870 the only inhabitants of this area were Maoris of the Ngati Maru tribe at Kerepehi. Their lands included the whole of the southern portion of the Coromandel Peninsula, with notable pas at Tararu, Puru and Manaia. It was customary for the tribes to migrate during the summer to "camps" established along the river, where they lived in scattered communities of raupo whares. Food was plentiful and varied; bush fruits, Kiekie, wild pig, eels, pigeons and duck (grey, brown and teal). The arrival of as many as twenty canoes, moving up the river in line, was an unforgettable scene. A few drew into the various camps and there the canoes lay tethered at the waters edge. Later, corn and potatoes were added to the kumera crops already grown. The ripened corn was packed behind small weirs in the side creeks to soften (probably to ferment slightly too, as the smell of the cooking corn pervaded the atmosphere for a considerable distance around).
The river was the way in. One of the earliest settlements by Europeans on the Waihou was at Turua, during the late 1870s when the five Bagnall brothers from Nova Scotia began a timber mill sending kahikatea by boat to Auckland and directly to Australia. At one time there were three, perhaps four, three-masted barques trading directly across the Tasman. Other mills were at Kopu (Gibbins and Co.) and at Junction Road, Paeroa (Forrest's).
It was timber that first brought men to this district. Two camps of about seventy men each were established to cut for Bagnalls, one about where Geo. Sarjant's place is and the other about Puke Bridge. The bush in its virgin state was particularly dense, being impenetrable to anyone not armed with a hook. As felling moved back from the river, tracks of iron rails were laid with branched lines to the working areas. Of course there were no mechanical aids in those days except the famous timber jacks, with which a log would be eased out on to the "rolling road", thence by horse drawn trucks to leading bases at the Turua mill.
Very little use was ever made of bullocks in the bush here, only one team being remembered. Horses were stabled at the camps and were the special care, the pride and joy of the teamsters. Chaff was a prized commodity, and was in great demand. Main supplies were drawn through Thames from Auckland (later 100-150 acres of oats were grown locally).
The first actual land purchases would be from Bagnalls who had secured a strip from Turua to the swamp about a mile to the west of the river. About 1880 W. Moore took up the land lying between the old factory and the Old Netherton Road. Here in 1890 the first school was opened with a roll of 14. J. Adamson's block lay on both sides of what is now termed School Road. All stores came in by boat each farm having its own landing or if necessary the boat would run into the bank and goods were unloaded there. Two paddle steamers were on the run, the Patiki carried passengers and the Kopu towed barges loaded with mining supplies etc. Others were the Eliza and the Rotokohu and many more.
By 1907 Fisher's Road had been constructed (the whole loop) and clearing was in progress. The women folk did not come up until houses were built. Then it was quite usual for them to row up to Wharf Street to sell homemade butter etc. and shop in Paeroa.
(Narrator: Mr. Pat Fisher).
(Mr. Fisher is one of the oldest residents of Netherton and the names of many members of the Fisher Family are included among those of the first hundred enrolled at the Netherton School. Ed.)
In 1882 John Adamson and his family came from Thames to live near Gibbons' Sawmill in Mill Road, Paeroa. There were four children, and Fred, who died in 1963 aged 88 years, attended the Paeroa School under its first teacher, Mr. John Ritchie. Louisa (Mrs. Frank Innis) now aged 86 has lived in Nahum Street for 40 years. Although practically blind she still cooks meals and knits for lepers. Recently we tape-recorded her recollections of her early days at Netherton, Ed.)
When I was seven years old my family moved from Paeroa to a farm at Netherton where my grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Smith had been the first settlers. In order to reach the Paeroa School it was necessary for us to row a boat up the river, but when the Netherton School was opened in 1890 we were among the first pupils the attendance being 14. I can name them all. They were James McKee, Robert McKee, William Moore, Emmet Jamieson, David McKee, Sam McKee, Walter Moore, Frank Moore, Clara Moore, Isabella Adamson, Louisa Adamson, Ellen Moore, Alexandra Moore and Emily Adamson. The settlers twice built their own little school, the first one being burned down, and even after that it faced many difficulties.
Farming in those days was largely a matter of clearing the land of bush, and often when big stumps had to be removed, gelignite or dynamite was used for blasting. Men often warmed this and thought little of the risk. My father died as the result of an explosion in his own kitchen, and I (then 15 years old) was severely injured and had to spend a long time in Thames Hospital. I still have a hole in my hip, but later, when I recovered, I used to convey the mail on horseback between Netherton and Paeroa three times a week. We all worked very hard on the farm which was situated where the present Church now stands.
In 1907, I married Frank Innis, the eldest of a family of l6, and we farmed at Komata for 19 years and then moved our house to its present site here in Paeroa. We had three children, Christina (Mrs. Hedley Grant) being the only survivor and she adopted the twins of her late twin sister.
MR. DAVE McKEE
Another of Paeroa's oldest identities is Mr. Dave McKee who also has early recollections of Netherton, his family having moved there from Thames in 1883. He recalls that at the time there were only seven families between Turua and the Puke (Paeroa). There were then four McKee boys, and three more were born at the new home. Now there are only two survivors, David aged 84, and Kenneth the youngest in Auckland.
The older children first attended the Paeroa School by rowing up the river in a canoe from Waimarie Bend to Thorp's Bend, crossing Wight's property to Phillips, then to Moore's where Mr. and Mrs. Jim Edwards now live, and on to Junction Road past the house of the Headmaster (Mr. Sullivan), now occupied by Mr. & Mrs. E. Fathers, and finally through the town to Wood St. He recalls that Mr. Wick, who then owned much of Paeroa, lived in a two storey house in Junction .Road, and that his step-son George Nicks also attended Paeroa School. However, the McKee boys were foundation pupils at the Netherton School in 1890.
In 1905 the family moved, to Paeroa and Dave's first employment was at the Gasworks. Then he married, bought a house in Dearle Street, and having reared 12 children he lived there till recently. He spent most of his young life as a driver, first of teams of horses for Brenan, Dean, Forrest, and Clark, but later he was employed by the New Zealand Dairy Co. for 21 years. In 1918 he drove Paeroa's first motor lorry.