Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967
By the Late Ben Gwilliam
(For the Waihi Jubilee in 1962 Mr. Gwilliam wrote us an entertaining account of his first arrival in Waihi and we now quote from his story). Ed.
The year was 1894 and the weather was wintry. We had a wet trip by boat to Paeroa, and at the Junction Wharf was an old tram on wooden rails, pulled by an old grey horse - fare one shilling. We ran off the rails about six times between the wharf and the township and all hands got off the tram to lift it back.
Then we boarded the Waihi coach which left Crosby's Hotel - The Royal Mail. The roads were just mud, mud everywhere from Paeroa to Waihi - fare 12/6 and we had to get off and walk most of the way. It took the five horses all their time to pull the empty coach through some of the worst patches, and the Rahu Road between Mackaytown and Owharoa presented a problem. But I must mention the driver. Many will remember him and what a gentleman he was, always obliging and cheerful. In after years he was a very great friend of mine - Maurice Crimmins.
Leaving Waikino we turned to the left and up over the hill, coming out by Heighman's Freehold near Kinsella's. We crossed the Waitekauri River up on the flat by Chappell's farm, and from there we went wherever we could get through the scrub and dodge the mud. It was a common sight to see loaded wagons stuck everywhere along that part of the road. At last we came out on the hill above Waitete Stream, just past old Mr. Compson's farm from which Waihi got its milk supply. I wonder who remembers him with his yoke across his shoulder with a can of milk on each side, and one strapped on his back, shaped to fit. He was a grand old man - one of the real old-timers.
And then Waihi, with not a tree to be seen, only stunted scrub about 18 inches high, leaning on one side with the wind. The only bush was at Bulltown and that was being felled for mining props and for roasting the ore for dry crushing. (I had my share of that when I first gave up mining and took to battery work).
The main street from Tanner's Hotel to the present Anglican Church had an earth footpath about five feet above the road - which was either mud or dust covered. In dry weather the shops had to keep their doors closed because of the dust in the wind. There were a few shops on the other side of the road with a narrow footpath, Percy Vuglar had a butcher's shop and Archie Clark a general store while you could buy anything from a second-hand camp oven to a brand new saddle at Harley's.
NOTE: The wooden rails referred to by Mr. Gwilliam were put down by the father of the late Mr. Mick Goonan who died recently at Waihi. He had spent most of his life in Paeroa where in his teens he had helped his father to do contracting work with horses and drays. The tracks were laid from the Junction Wharf to the town because the constant heavy traffic cut up the unmetalled road to such an extent that it became a quagmire. Mr. John Phillips of Paeroa had final charge of the service between wharf and town. Mick drove the horses for the first tram trip but said he lasted only two weeks on the job. After the death of his father he abandoned contracting and purchased his first herd of cows, afterwards farming for many years and taking a prominent part in the life of Paeroa. Mr. and Mrs. Goonan celebrated their Golden Wedding in 1963 and for the last few years have alternated their time between their two daughters - Mrs. Fury of Waihi and Mrs. E. J. Fowler of Waihi Beach. (Ed).