By H.D.M. Haszard, F.R.G.S.
During the mining boom of 1895-6-7 when there were from 70 to 80 survey parties engaged in pegging out mining claims on the Coromandel Peninsula I was transferred to the district as Inspector of Surveys.
As I had previously been connected with the reclamation of swamp areas in the Waiuku and Northern Wairoa Districts, my attention was immediately drawn to the immense possibilities for settlement, of the huge area lying to the south of the Hauraki Gulf, at that time known as the Piako Swamp.
When the press of inspection work easedoff, I surveyed and named most of the streets in the mining townships of Waihi, Waikino, Waitekauri, Golden Cross, Mackaytown and Komata.
I was next instructed to road and subdivide for settlement the area lying to the west of the Piako Swamp and the top of the main range, stretching from Waitakaruru in the north to the boundary of the Piako County in the south, including the settlements now known as Tahuna, Patetonga Torehapu and Ngarua, but at the time of which I speak (the year 1899) there was not a white man living in the whole of this stretch of country. I took the occasion while working in the vicinity, to run some trial levels in the Piako Swamp and in May, 1899, I induced the then Chief Surveyor (the late Mr. G. Mueller), to come down and inspect it. From that time onwards for several years I kept on sending in reports to the Department of Lands, urging that a drainage scheme should be undertaken, also wrote articles to the local papers and interviewed prominent business men at the Thames, pointing out what it would mean to their town if the swamp was drained and settled.
One trouble at this stage was that the Crown held a title to only a part of the area, the balance belonging to the natives. However, the late James Mackay was engaged as Land Purchase Officer, with whom I was associated, and we started buying out the native interests, the "modus operandi" being as follows:- A meeting of the native owners in any particular block would be arranged (such owners sometimes totalling up to two or three hundred, each holding varying individual interests in the blocks) and after a price had been agreed upon, which in no case should be less than the value shown on the Government roll, we had to obtain the signature of each individual owner and pay over to him his share of the purchase price.
Thus the position was such that in 1905 a complete series of levels was undertaken under the direction of the late Mr. A. B. Wright, Road Surveyor, and in 1906 the actual drainage operations were started under the supervision of the late Mr. Breakell, who was succeeded by Mr. J. B. Thompson, now Under-Secretary for Lands.
The first ballot for sections took place at the Thames in 1910. It must be hard for a person, unacquainted with the past, bowling over the now splendid roads on the Plains in a motor car, to realise the conditions in which we obtained the first level, often up to our waist in water and raupo far above our heads.
It may here be interesting to relate how the change over from Piako Swamp to Hauraki Plains in the name of the district, originated. The swamp land between Hamilton and Morrinsville was also known as Piako Swamp and as it had a very uninviting appearance, as viewed by travellers from the train, and was also unfavourably impressed on the public mind in connection with the dealings of the old Piako Land Company, I thought that in dealing with this new area it would be well to get rid of the name Piako. As the land was bounded on the north by the Hauraki Gulf, I suggested to the authorities the name "Hauraki Plains" and this was adopted.