Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
By C.A.E. HARPER
What days they were, gone, never to return ! But one remembers odd focal points round which many a story could be woven; the huge billowing clouds of yellow dust that blew all over the West End of the shanty town, ever the despair of house-proud wives and mothers; the "ghosts" that would parade dark alleys, and scare the devil out of us; and the miners themselves with their bottle lanterns, coloured pink candles, crib cans, and all the rest of it. We had our celebrities in those days too, among them Tommy Cuts, the derelict School Master, Jimmy Galbraith, another alcoholic, a very scholarly man, a Master of Laws and a Queen's Courier, Old Shangai, and so on. Closing hour for the pubs was 10 p.m. and often later on Saturday nights.
Home comforts were of an entirely different order from those of to-day, as every now elderly housewife will agree. As for the inside toilet, well, such a luxury was unheard of. One just blundered along down the garden path to find the Blinky Thing shrouded in honey-suckle or rambler-roses. (On such an occasion a moonlight night was most welcome). The despised but very necessary night-soil wagon would go lurching, pitching and tossing its load of perfumery along rough, rocky and poorly lit streets.
And what shall I say of the lighting? This was the kerosene age, but the humble candle played a leading part in illumination. Just fancy showing your visiting guests to their rooms by candle-light! The more prosperous homes boasted highly ornamental hanging kerosene lamps, and I have recollections of some shops installing Acetylene Light - very bright and very harsh. But the lighting was so inadequate in the dark streets of the rapidly growing town, that the Borough Council at last, in 1906 erected a Gasworks, which functioned for some 25 years until wear and tear became such an expensive business that it was closed down and electricity took its place long after the Waihi Company had taken steps to obtain Power for its own use. The story is an interesting one and deserves a separate article.
Meanwhile, the Martha Goldmining Coy. was developing fast; long rakes of trucks laden with gold-bearing ore rushed along the lines past our house for at least 16 hours a day. What rivalry there was between Harry Hartley, Charlie Milne, Alf Doige and others as they timed themselves over a certain half mile or so, on the way to the Waikino Battery.
It is worthy of note that the large steam engine built by Yates & Thom. which supplied early power for the Battery, was installed later at the Maroa Sawmill near Taupo. I understand that when the mill closed down, the Japanese bought the plant for scrap, blowing it up for ease of transportation. It was a wonderful piece of machinery, the like of which we shall never see again. So, also was the Big Pump installed at No.5 Shaft in Waihi. It too, was built by Yates &. Thom. I well remember when the huge Beam Girder, drawn by two steam traction engines, brought it in triumph into Waihi, after having a terrible struggle up Turners Hill and Snake Hill! Our Head Master, Mr Benge, gave us time off in the afternoon to follow the progress from the Main Street up past the Church of England, on to a newly formed roadway, which nearly caused the whole load to capsize before finally reaching its destination.
The Cinema came as a big event in Waihi, being established in good style in by Rudall Hayward, with Pianist Miss Minnie Parker. Of singers we had the like of Evan Morgan, Billy Rowe, William Powell, Mrs Holmes, and so on. There was also the Leidertafel or Male Choir, a gallant collection of men who gave really good and enjoyable concerts, as did Mrs Daldy McWilliams and her party. Miss Morgan, a very accomplished lady, was a fine pianist.
Much could be said of communication, metal roads, coaches and carts. Those were indeed the days of the horse and the blacksmith. As for the Drivers and their Chariot races between Waihi and Paeroa, surely someone should chronicle Ernie Shortt, Earnie Fathers, Billy Bain, Harry Deverell, George Smith, Mick Crosbie and others. I remember that many roads were quagmires for much of the Winter, a fact that no doubt limited our horizons yet caused us to be a more closely knit community, intimately sharing joys and sorrows as well as interests and hospitality.