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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 4, September 1965

By JOHN JENSEN

"Whenever we plant a tree we are doing what we can to make our planet a more wholesome and happier dwelling-place for those who come after us, if not for ourselves". That was the view of Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Another is expressed by an avaricious laird in "Heart of Midlothian" - -"Jock, when ye hae nothing else to do, ye may be aye sticking in a tree; it will be growing Jock, when ye're sleeping". The Scot had his eye on the unearned increment.

In this golden jubilee year it behoves the citizens of Paeroa to pause and give thought to those whose toil and vision have endowed the town with the Domain and Primrose Hill and their wealth of living loveliness.

The late Mr. Courtenay Kenny and indeed many of the earlier scholars at the Wood St. School remembered Primrose Hill as a mass of almost impenetrable tea-tree. The bowling-green end of the Domain was formerly a swamp encircling a lagoon some acres in extent. The other end was Earl's Paddock where stood a slaughterhouse and piggeries; the drier places provided grazing.

Paeroa was first administered by the Thames County Council; Ohinemuri being gazetted as a separate county in 1885. About this time the Domain and Primrose Hill area were put in reserve by a government order & were administered by a Domain Board until 1915 when the new Paeroa Borough Council was appointed as Domain Board.

It was the Domain Board under the Ohinemuri C.C. which employed William Hamilton to plan and develop the Domain area. Mr. J. W. Silcock recalls playing bowls with him and describes him as "tall, spare and sandy". This description reminds us of John Guthrie Smith of Tutira and the two men had some similar interests. Guthrie Smith's interests in natural history had taken root in the inhospitable soil of an Oxford education in Latin and Greek. Hamilton's interest in trees grew out of his work.

In those days New Zealand had few nurseries where trees and shrubs could be bought and gardeners had often to establish overseas contacts for their supplies. A splendid specimen of willow-oak grows near the croquet pavilion. Where did William Hamilton get it from? Willow-oaks are never advertised these days. There are other specimens in the Domain that suggest that Hamilton had access to choice and exclusive sources and that he strove to secure the greatest possible variety of trees. It is likely that were he with us to-day he would deplore the fact that posterity had not followed his lead and worked on to ensure that Paeroa made for itself a tree museum second to none in the land.

It is obvious too that William Hamilton planted many trees merely for shelter and that he intended that these be removed so as to allow his choice specimens to develop and display their true habit and beauty. Successive councils have timidly permitted an internecine warfare amongst the trees and have been content merely to remove the casualties. Sir Bernard Fergusson, on his visit to Paeroa, remarked that the scarlet oak and. Japanese maple planted by his parents had little elbow-room and asked meaningly whether the Chile pine leaning over them had any historic significance.

Voluntary service organizations have through the years helped in the beautifying of the area. There exists a copy of a letter dated July 1908 to the Minister of Lands explaining that the young men of Paeroa who called their organization "The Bachelors" had amassed a sum of £38. This, they said, was enough to pay for labour and fencing of a tree-project on Primrose Hill but not enough for the purchase of trees and could the Hon. Minister please get them some trees, gratis, from the State nurseries. Two clumps of incompatible and over-closely planted trees on the hill suggest that the kiwi laid no egg on that occasion and that the £38 was made to do what it could.

Primrose Hill is a far better vantage point than those who rarely visit it may imagine. Old survey maps name it Tuikarangi ; Kakaipo ; or Kirikirangi. Its soil is not conducive to luxuriant growth of popular plants. Fifty totaras planted on the tip of its nose in 1938 have had a dour struggle. Thousands of daffodil bulbs sent from neighbouring towns and planted further up the hill by the Rotary Club, do not relish the clay swept clean of all organic matter by the winds of the years. A score of choice rhododendrons also planted by Rotary are scarcely thriving. They had more success with a line of flowering gums along the drive. Flamboyancy is not in the nature of these gums and they reveal their loveliness only to the pedestrian who looks closely.

The round-headed, glaucous Aleppo or Jerusalem pine half-way between the cenotaph and the memorial fountain is unique. It is the oldest daughter of the forty-seven year old Lone Pine at the Melbourne Anzac Memorial. As late as 1954 the Melbourne pine had not produced a cone. A year later it produced cones and seeds, and in keeping a promise, the curator, Mr. A.W. Jessep, forwarded seeds to Paeroa. The Aleppo pine has no economic value at all but being small and round-headed rather than tall, it makes what New Zealanders have long sought for, the ideal tree for streets or roads.

The marble fountain, which vandals attacked with tyre-levers, is in memory of G.R. Bradford, a Paeroa man, and the first overseas soldier to fall in the Boer War. The cenotaph is a replica of the Whitehall cenotaph and is appropriately illuminated at night. Apart from its value as a dignified memorial it is a useful link with an era that pursued its art for an end other than that of a day's notoriety.

Down in the Domain the towering sixty-year-old trees look down on the placidity of bowls and croquet. The Bowling Club was formed in 1904 although the green was in existence before that. In those days, too, the tennis courts occupied the area now used by the Croquet Club. The grandstand on the rugby grounds is comparatively new. The tender of W.N. Chamberlain of £736 for its construction was accepted in 1933. A giant sycamore is threatening its security and the tree stands condemned. On the northern side of the grandstand a dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, is doing well on a bank of silt built by the Jaycees for the benefit of football spectators. Until 1947 the metasequoia was classified as extinct; it was known only as a fossil. It was rediscovered and seeds brought from an inaccessible part of Mongolia have grown well in New Zealand. This tree was donated by the late Mrs. E. Bowen and was planted so that she might see it from her home. Dr. Bartrum donated trees at the same time and these are making headway on the northern side of Primrose Hill. Other trees donated and planted by Mr. M. Beattie will in time grace the northern boundaries of the Domain.

Every one of the vegetable communities that we call a tree in that area has a personal and geographical interest which it would be pleasant to pursue did space permit. Enough is to say that within a few kindly acres, care, patience and vision have combined to acclimatize exotics from almost every environment in the world, and the deodar cedar from the high Hymalayas intertwines its branches with those of the fern-fronded swamp-cypress from the lagooned Everglades of Florida. May it long be so!