Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969
By D. Grubb.
My earliest memories are those of Waitekauri where my Mother and Father kept a boarding house at Jubilee Hill. Strictly speaking the memories are of Jubilee Hill, for Waitekauri to me was a big town about two or three miles along a bush track and my world, being a very young child at the time, was that of my immediate surroundings.
Over seventy years ago people certainly were not so particular about their living conditions, and thinking back I can hardly believe that men, and women too, were happy or satisfied with their lot. Perhaps they weren't, but had little alternative but to soldier on. Our family came down from Auckland to manage the boarding house that was built and owned by Beetson end Reynolds and I think boarding house was really too good a name for it. The house was really a shed about forty feet long and about fifteen or eighteen feet wide built out of corrugated iron and with a beaten earth floor. Each wall was lined with a double tier of bunks and could accommodate about twenty-five men when full. The men on the bottom tier stowed their gear in hampers and portmanteaux [leather trunk for clothes etc. opening into two equal parts – E] under their bunks, while the top tier had a rack, similar to that in a railway carriage, above their bunks for stowage.
At one end of the boarding house were double doors, like a garage, for entrance and light, while at the opposite end was a walk in fireplace that during the daytime served as a kitchen for my mother and at night provided warmth for the men. Her cooking arrangements consisted of about six camp ovens and the usual arrangement of tins on bars for a hot water supply. In winter time this was a cosy arrangement but in summer it must have been a close approach to Hades. I remember the back log being jacked into place to provide the background to the fire on which rata was usually used, and this providing of the firewood seemed to take up most of my Father's time. Our stores came from Waitekauri on packhorses - the groceries about once a week and the meat from Peter and Dick Cotter's butcher shop more often as it had to be cooked almost immediately on arrival. Shins of beef provided a good thick soup in the winter and the main part of a side of beef or a sheep or two took little time to disappear with a family and twenty odd men to feed each day.
Between the rows of bunks stretching the full length of the house was a plank table with legs driven into the ground and the seats were of the same construction. Each man was given an enamel mug and two enamel plates plus cutlery of the thin, easily bent variety. Each mattress was two chaff bags stuffed with "minge minge" [Minge minge has quite sharp tipped small leaves, I believe this reference should be mangemange - "Across the width of each bunk—two-and-a-half to three feet—palings were nailed, and on these were laid heaps of mange-mange (Lygodium articulatum), described by Dr Leonard Cockayne as "an elegant climbing fern, whose masses of tough, slender stems twined round one another, make a substitute for a wire-wove mattress by no means to be despised." Teased out evenly, used without stint, and overlaid with sacking, it made a bed as comfortable as any pampered city dweller could desire. Lights out at nine was the general rule of the shanty." from: The New Story of the Kauri, AH Reed – E] and the blankets which the men had to provide for themselves, were in the main, split, washed chaff bags. After dark we had four huge kerosene lamps that were lit and hung from the ceiling for the men to read or play cards by. Even today the smell of a kerosene lamp easily carries me back over seventy years.
The men were responsible for their own laundry, and this took place outside in cut down tins for wash tubs, and the washing boiling away in the open in more tins. If the weather was wet washing day was inevitably put off. Outside the hut along one wall was a long wooden bench complete with tin basins for the men's personal ablutions,for which they used rough unwrapped bars of soap. There was no drainage system, other than turning around and throwing the basin of water as far as possible, and I well remember my father during the winter trying to establish a drain to take some of the accumulation away. During the winter water from the tanks was no problem, but often during the summer the lugging of buckets up from the creek was an endless job.
Our family lived in a couple of lean-to rooms on the side of the building opposite to the men's wash place, and I have absolutely no doubts that the wages my parents received were well and truly earned. I remember little of the men that boarded with us except that there were few with completely clean shaven faces, and that many of them were Australians. Rough they may have been but they were always kindly to us children, and I can not remember any unseemly conduct or fights, although of course there could easily have been. The men were mainly employed, in the Maoriland mines, and from know1edge gained later from my parents, never stayed long (who could blame them) usually only long enough to knock up a cheque to get them to their next job, or to the next hotel for a few days' spree until their cheque was cut out.
Each month despite the large number of men in the vicinity my Mother or Father, would walk the two or three miles through the bush to the Waitekauri Post Office to deposit the takings, usually about a hundred pounds.
After a year or two we all shifted to civilisation - Waitekauri - where Mother and Father took on a second boarding house, but this time in competition with two others, Gordon's and Maiden's at Battery Flat.