Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967


The first time I travelled over the wonderful new road from Kerikeri [Kopu - E] to Hikuai my thoughts turned to the days when my Grandparents arrived there in 1889. My mother (Janet Black) was then a girl of twelve, and of course they travelled by sea.

The kauri gum industry was at its peak while timber work and mining employed quite a lot of men in the district. The Patons were there when my people arrived and they became close friends. Fortnightly boats ran from Auckland to Tairua, whence a launch plied to Hikuai Landing. Later my mother married Ben Savage who took up 300 acres of land at the First Branch of the Tairua River. They had 11 children one of whom, my half-sister, Mary, has spent much of her life in the area. She married an Australian, - one Charlie Beach.

Mary and Charlie Beach had the Hikuai Store until the 1st World War when he enlisted and she went to his people in Australia with their son Frank, (now in Paeroa). Charlie was badly wounded and later he and his wife and two young children returned to New Zealand and once more to Hikuai. From Thames they travelled by train to Puriri crossing the hills on horseback via the bridle track through Neavesville, Golden Hills, Broken Hills, and Puketui. Later they took over the Tairua Store and have maintained it ever since though Charlie died in 1944. They had 9 children. The Beaches also acquired a farm property of seventy acres and Mrs. Beach still lives there in the house which was originally the Tairua Police Station in the milling days. The present bath-room was once the lock-up cell.

Ben Savage died before the First Branch Farm was completely broken in, and my mother, (who later died in her 76th year), married Michael William Lennan who still lives in Waihi in his 87th year. His father as a young man was a Sea Captain, who eventually settled in Waiwera where he kept the Hotel and raised a family of nine, my father being the eldest. All the sons were big men so it seemed natural for them to take up heavy work, and what heavier than that done by the Kauri Bushmen of their day. With such an expanse of Kauri as was to be found in the Kauaeranga - Hikuai area, the hills soon rang with the cry of "Timber" as the cross-cut saws bit through the giants now so rare.

Bushmen usually concentrated on one section or another of the various branches of the timber industry and my father specialised in "dam-building". When as a lad, I visited one of his camps, I was fortunate enough to have the procedure explained to me. The site for the dam was selected well up stream, the logs either being felled into the creek below, or drawn by bullock teams to the edge, and rolled in. When sufficient logs were ready, a halt had to be made until a "fresh" brought additional water to that already backed up behind the dam.

I clearly remember another occasion when my father who, having come home for a weekend, had to leave for the bush camp at mid-night and fight his way through darkness and swollen creeks to be in position to "trip the dam". This entailed pulling a lever that in turn opened a gate to release the water built up behind it. With such a terrific volume of water cascading down the usually small creek-bed logs were driven down and out to the "booms". Here a series of logs were chained end to end in a sheltered part of the river which acted as a catchment area until rafts were made up to be towed away, either to be milled in Tairua, or shipped to Auckland.

A glance at the hills once covered with majestic Kauri now shows nothing but stunted undergrowth except for a few native trees that have resisted the ravages of man and fire. "The good old days", as the Kauri Bushmen called them, are gone, and alas so are most of the dinkum bushmen who toiled there. As the Kauri dwindled, so did the need for the bush worker. Some drifted to other parts, to seek employment in other fields, but my father stayed in Hikuai to farm until World War II, after which he returned to Te Puke, and then Waihi. A yearly Kauri Bushmen's Reunion, kindles the old flame in the now ageing hearts, and a chance remark can still bring to mind, days now gone.

A strange coincidence perhaps, but the farm (The First Branch) on which I was born, was, about 25 years later to be my place of employment, when owned by Ernie Nicol. A twenty-nine roomed hotel stood on the spot where Johnny Prescott's house now is, and was a meeting place for the bushmen, goldminers and gumdiggers. The Proprietors were firstly, the Taskers' and then Joe Dufty kept house. He was the son of Thomas Dufty, the patriarch of the family, who had arrived in Thames soon after the opening of the Goldfield, The sons were noted athletes and footballers, and some of them spent most of their lives in the Hikuai area. Joe had a Gum Store and about 30 horses which he used for packing food to the Gum-diggers (about 300 in those days), and to the camps of the Kauri Timber Co. He also had wagons for transporting machinery to the mines. Mrs. Joe Dufty, who was born on Slipper Island was a very fine person who acted as Nurse and Dr. for the district, attending both Maternity and Accident cases. Joe was frequently called on to be the Dentist! They had a family of 12 and lived on the coast for over 50 years.

As the Kauri ran out, so did the clients for Joe's pub, and when the First World War ended, almost the whole of Hikuai, now owned by George Nicol, Uncle of Ernie mentioned previously was purchased by the Government to be subdivided for the settlement of Returned Soldiers. The hotel license was cancelled, and the majestic building was used to erect about eight farm cottages, some of which still stand to-day.

The bushman is gone, the gumdigger is gone, so too is the goldminer. All that remains is evidence of what once was, are derelect batteries at Golden Hills, Golden Belt, and the Alaska at Neavesville, a few rotting logs that were once well built dams, and a few now rare, gumholes, evidence that the Gumdigger had passed by. Has Hikuai died? I think not! Although few now remember the old days, farming flourishes and the new Kopu-Hikuai road has not only provided better access for the settlers but has revealed the great potential for tourist and holiday attractions on this picturesque eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.

MICK LENNAN who farmed for many years is now in the Office at the Hauraki Concrete Works, but fishing is his chief recreation as his boat testifies. He and his wife have a Batch at Tairua so the new road has cut down their travelling time. They frequently smoke their own catch and are no strangers to an all-night fishing expedition.

JACK NELSON, a veteran of World War I is still a Bushman at heart, butaChain-saw has replaced the Crosscut. Since losing his wife he has lived in a Pensioner Flat at Te Aroha but still delights in a "good job well done", and enjoys days in the country, or on the coast with a rod.