Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
(as related to Lance Deverell, May 1968)
For a period I was employed by the coaching firm of Deverell and Crimmins, and used to drive the Royal Mail Coach drawn by a 5 horse team to Tauranga, changing horses at KatiKati. There were of course favourites among them, some names recalled being: Nigger and Jerry, Prince and Rowdy, all great workers that could be relied on to lay on their collars when required. After a hill was topped they would run freely into the valley floor in loose harness at a steady pace, the light coach braked to a nicety at every bend by a watchful driver who cared for his team and passengers likewise. At one time our firm had 25 greys, lovely animals admired by all, and much rivalry was indulged in with many stables keen for trade.
For a spell I was with Pullan and Armitage, a large stables situated in Albert Street, Auckland. Excellent services were offered - you could have your horse fed, gig washed and harness cleaned for 1/6. Two men were employed full time washing vehicles, this being done in bare feet (no gum-boots those days).
During the 17 years approximately that Waihi had prohibition the KatiKati Hotel did a roaring trade. With five timber mills working it was a job getting a drink at the bar on Saturday evenings. There were many hard cases in the camps. One cook, after too much strong drink, made a duff in the kettle and later could not get it out. Another time, he cut a decoy duck in half and put it in the stewing pot. The bushmen worked long hours and often by candle light were sharpening axes and saws. It was nothing unusual for them to arrive home very hungry when they would eat almost anything, such as fly blown meat and half cooked bread, sometimes prepared and put on to bake as soon as they got in. The Uretara River was the boundary during the prohibition years, and at one time the Hotel Proprietor refused an offer of £11,000. Some years later he lost his life in the terrible influenza epidemic.
About 1912 a great sheep drive came through, about 4,000. Many weeks later the camp sites were easily distinguished where large areas were eaten out, fern and all growth trampled down. Three sheep were killed per day to feed men and dogs. Pack horses were a regular sight on the highways.
When the Waihi beach gold mine was being developed a scow delivered a heavy boiler to the bank site at Pio's Point, just north of Bowentown heads. It was my job with Clarkin's 25 horse team to haul it the five miles to the mine over the white sand hill area which made a great sight those days. (Bill Ashby, Joe Ashby's grand-father, with an Irishman named Bill Cain, put the road through the Waihi Beach about 1906.)
For several years I was employed in the Gold mines, and the Union Battery [Waihi Battery - E] (the old workings still to be seen at the back of the recreation ground) was an amazing scene of activity with great stacks of timber in all directions. A huge hole was excavated into which was placed about 50 tons of wood, and truck lines overhead distributed quartz over all. When ready it was fired and left to burn for many weeks. The men had to truck out the residue from hoppers below the great fire pit. The hot ash and dust made conditions shocking and were the cause of many fine young men going to an early death. To try and alleviate the dust menace first beer was tried then milk, but to no avail. Then an issue of silk was used as a respirator.
Naturally some of this material found its way to the young ladies who made very nice blouses to suit those days when fashions were outstanding in beauty and mode. The timber used was mostly Tawa and Rata the best burning quality. Harry and Bill Manning, (not related to Mick Manning, Stables Proprietor), worked on the wood stacking. The Grand Junction was a very hot mine, for though the shaft was down only 600 feet, the ventilation was very poor and conditions were a trial to the workmen who carried on as best they could.
A well known character who used to deliver fish and rabbits to householders was Bob Urwin. One day a friend noticed the poor condition of his ponies drawing the light wagon and remarked that they had had a hard winter to which Bob quickly replied, "Not as hard as the one I've had!" Jim Birse lived next door to us and his father used to hike fish around, carrying them over his shoulder.
Note: Bill Roycroft was born at Waihi in 1893 and belonged to the Druids Lodge. At the time of his marriage a cottage was rented for 5/- per week in Walmsley Road. Mr. and Mrs. Roycroft reside to-day at No. 71 Fox Street, Hamilton East and enjoy their retirement, taking a keen interest in making useful articles in his ample workshop. His versatility is very evident.