Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
By P. WILLIAMSON
In July 1966, Mr P. Williams on gave a most interesting address to members of the Waihi Historical Society concerning his pioneering days at the place which is now such a popular seaside resort. He emphasised the splendid spirit of co-operation that existed among the early settlers and mentioned the great changes that have taken place during the 48 years since his arrival there in 1919.
When the very early telegraph line known as "The Wires'' (See Vol. 1 No. 2) fell into disuse, and shipping became less frequent it was difficult to transmit urgent messages so the settlers erected a telephone line of sorts which went through the bush and over the ranges to Hikutaia. The Post and Telegraph Department had let them have some old wire and broken bottle tops served as insulators. It was an uncertain means of communication but they could sometimes get through to the Hikutaia Post Office, send telegrams and receive news from the postmistress.
Faults in the line required constant checking and on one occasion Mr Williamson obtained a portable telephone from Thames and, testing the line with it at intervals discovered the fault to be caused by a knot in the wire filled with rust.
In the early days they relied on their own resources as far as possible. Bread and butter were made at home and meat was home killed and shared among neighbours. When supplies were short as could happen at flood time a system of barter was sometimes resorted to. The Maoris, too, used the barter system when visiting the local store, 'the hub of the universe', where they exchanged their gum for stores.
In 1923 a clay road was formed and it was possible to drive to Waihi. Mr Williamson bought a buggy from Mr Armour for eight pounds and obtained some harness. It was a marvellous feeling to be free of the burden of arranging packs on horses and instead to toss purchases into the buggy and drive off.
On another occasion, one of his neighbours, Mr Palmer, obtained from Thames a Model T Ford truck with solid tyres and after a few minutes' instruction in handling it, drove to Whangamata. Mr Williamson, on meeting him, had to turn his buggy and horses off the road to let him get by.
Waihi was accessible only at low tide, when the Otahu River could be crossed from side to side at strategic points until the road was reached at Parakawai.
In times of sickness or accident when hospital treatment was necessary, stretchers were improvised from tea-tree poles and sacks and carrying parties were organised, each pair of bearers taking the stretcher for two or three miles before changing over. Once a sick woman was taken by launch to Bowentown where a vehicle was ready to convey her to hospital.
Nurse Jarrett of Paeroa looked after the people at Whangamata and would come by horseback in response to a telephone message. She made regular periodical visits to look after the Maoris.
Mr Lindsay Martin was the pioneer in dairy fanning and brought cream to Waihi twice a week by buckboard. At the present time dairying is a thriving industry in Whangamata.
In 1924-25 sections in the beach front were opened and offered for sale at thirty-five pounds. Those behind were priced at thirty pounds and sections behind those again at twenty-five pounds. No-one was especially interested then but today they are worth four figures.
About 1929 the school was built - a very small building - and the first teacher was Miss Ross of Waihi. As the roll increased, three-foot and then six-foot extensions were made to accommodate the extra pupils, and in time a portable garage was erected to serve as their lunch room. Part of the school grounds was, of course, used as a horse paddock.
Then there was the case of the unfortunate clergyman who, after many vicissitudes of travel, arrived some hours late at Opoutere where he found he was expected to conduct a church service, baptise some children and marry some couples. He inquired gloomily, "any funerals?"
Mr Williamson spoke of the striking change in the character of Whangamata since a 1st class highway has given it better access via Waihi. Where wild horses once galloped over the almost tree-less flats, there are now fine homes and weekend cottages abound, while holiday times bring thousands. The beach is thronged in Summer with bright clad bathers and the waters are alive with craft of all varieties.
Considerable care and artistry is evident in these old family treasures which were usually the work of someone specially skilled in penmanship and with a decorative sense, in both work and picture.
Dear Mr and Mrs Watt,
On the eve of your departure from the district in which you have lived for 24 years, we the Residents of Whangamata desire to express our keen appreciation of your high character, excellent conduct and unfailing generosity. In business you have shown probity and dealt justly and honestly with your fellows. In your civil relations you have striven to promote the highest interest of the locality. In your social sphere you have kept open door, lent ready ear and aid to any trouble or distress and have exercised kindliness to man and beast.
In wishing you Good-bye we express the hope that the rest you so richly deserve and the Leisure you have so honestly won may be full of an untroubled peace and a happiness over which no cloud will ever drift.
We on behalf of the residents
D. Watson, J. Hopkins, L.G. Martyn, Dec. 1920.