Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
By FIELDEN THORP
My Dad was a Government Surveyor and as a young man, about the time of the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield, he surveyed many major blocks of land for the Government. These embraced areas of the hill country from Hikutaia to Karangahake, Rotokohu to Te Aroha Mountain, including the original road link, and then to the east coast and Whangamata. He laid out the site for the Paeroa township just prior to the finalising of negotiations in 1875.
That year he invested in a block of swamp land (1320 Acres) on the Rotokohu Road, thereby commencing a long series of struggles to bring it into production. This involved draining, fencing and grassing, plus coping with many intermittent fires which burnt both fences and grass with monotonous regularity when the buried forests of Kahikatea were uncovered. They burned very easily when rotten, causing disaster in 800 acre patches, leaving only ashes and stumps.
New seed was sown on the ashes, fences were renewed and drains which had ceased to exist were re-dug after the ground hardened a bit. Maliciously, blackberries and tall fescue took charge between the myriad black stumps, over which further fires would rage every 3 to 5 years, yet the stumps and fescue remained. Horses and triangular Harrows were used in an effort to level the uneven ground, but with stumps bared to a height of 3 or 4 feet it was an impossible job. Gangs of men were then employed to dig and chop them out so that a disc plough could be used, but unfortunately they rose again and again as the ground settled. The advent of tractors made the work easier, but the problem was not solved until bull dozers were employed. After the crawler pulled out stumps and flattened mounds, the blade was brought into operation pulling and pushing enormous quantities of roots and logs into gigantic heaps for burning. Only then, after 60 years was the ground in any real order.
In 1912 my Dad died. The top part of the farm was sold to five different men who had many further years of struggle with stumps and fescue. They were Ernie Fathers, Bill Emmett, Ted Clayton, George Hunt and Wallace Henton. My brother Hal and I carried on with the balance much of which was peat country. A major problem was that it would not drain for more than one chain from a drain, however deep. The final solution came with earthenware tiles laid on a ledge 3'6" below the surface at intervals of 1½ to 2 chains apart. There are now 20 miles of these drains below the surface besides the miles of outfall drains into which they flow. These tile drains also have a habit of coming too near the surface as the ground shrinks. This means renewal after 8 or 10 years until stable conditions obtain.
In desperation we went to the hills in 1922, buying a bush section from Harry Hill. This was 300 acres of bush country isolated from the road so to get access we bought a further section of bush from Jack Clarkin of "Carting Days" fame, and then a further 30 acres of Maori land brought us to the road. These acquirements entailed riding five miles to the job of cutting bush with axes and slashers, burning, grassing and fencing. On many days it meant horse and man being on the road at 6.30 a.m. and returning at 6.30 p.m.
Depression came in 1930 and it was hard hanging on. We realised why many men walked off their farms in the King Country for the average income from the hill country for the first 10 years was £300 per annum, allowing for no interest on money invested. This went nowhere in keeping a family, let alone in meeting the demands of the land for fencing, manure and extra stock. But on the flat swamp land we piled on manure and increased our butterfat production to quite a high figure, even though the price was only 8d per lb. This kept the wolf from the door and we hung on by the skin of our teeth.
It was not till 1939 with the advent of war that prices rose. Top dressing was applied by hand with pack horses carting two heavy bags of super [Super Phosphate fertilizer – E] at a time to handy points where the men could fill their bags. This was a tedious operation and could not cover half the farm per year, but the Aeroplane solved the problem in the year of supposed "no tax". We built an airstrip and a covered concrete bin holding 100 tons. This would have been impossible without the services of the bulldozer which also enabled us to open up a quarry, metal our farm roads, and renew fences on an even grade. We now run sheep and beef cattle on the high country.
The breaking in of the land and the evolution of the farms has meant more than half a century of work every day of the year except for a short holiday in rotation at the seaside. For me this is linked with my earliest recollections for as children we were taken in trap or buggy the 30 miles via Waihi and Athenree Gorge and Ford to Waihi Beach when it was devoid of human habitation (though I distinctly remember a bush whare with an enormous sheet iron chimney). The purchase of the area by the Shaw family was the Genesis not only of a Seaside Resort but of another Farm Story.