Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
By Sid Fugill
About 1890 my Grandparents with my father (who was then only a young lad) left Hull in England for New Zealand and on arrival went to the Te Aroha Goldfields. Later my father left for Australia and tried working in the Gippsland District where coal mining was in progress. It was here while opossum trapping around the Dargo River he collected some handsome souvenirs, a rare white opossum skin, a platypus skin, and the tail of a beautiful Lyre-bird. This is a remarkable bird, though only fifteen inches in length its magnificent tail displayed during its courtship dance can reach to 23 inches. Conditions were found to be pretty tough in Australia. Before deciding to return to N.Z. a young lady named Mary Young came into the picture. This meeting culminated in marriage and later the young couple set sail for Te Aroha, N.Z. where I was born.
Shifting to the Waihi Goldfields in 1900 my father, George, worked for nine years with the Martha Company. As the dust and general conditions were unhealthy, he decided to quit and was able to buy part of Clarkin's outfit, 20 heavy work horses, drays, waggons, harness and two hacks. Our stables were situated on the corner of Consols Street and. Silverton Road, very handy to town and central for carting purposes. A contract to cart coal from the railway station to the Grand Junction Mine kept our waggons on the go, four wagons doing six trips per day. My brother Frank, who was born in Australia, and my brother Clarrie (born in Waihi) and I myself all drove on various jobs. After about ten years this business was sold to Mr. Ted Best who shortly afterwards sold out to Harry Ashby.
We now enter the period 1910 when my father moved to Bowentown Heads. The Maori Pa there had about 100 people in occupation, their living being obtained largely from the sea by line and net. The shark was most popular, and this large fish used to be hung up under a tree where the skin crinkled to a tough case. The stench was terrific to the early white man, but the Maori was probably immune in a sense. The shark flesh was sometimes smoked and also eaten raw. When aged it became soft and was easily prepared. Sharks 9 ft. to 12 ft. frequent this area today, and the food value in a fish of this size would be enormous.
It was here in 1910 where a flat high landing was used by scows which carried coal from Auckland to help develop an early goldmining venture on a steep cliff at the northern end of the Waihi Beach. Unloading of coal was easy at full tide. My father had the job to deliver this coal which could only go down according to the tides and it became a tricky and exceedingly dangerous business on the last very steep pull up a narrow long stoney hill to the shaft head. The men took many risks on this frightening last stretch with a sheer fall to great rocks below and the sea breakers dashing in most of the time. This mine lasted for about five years and, it is said, produced no ore for treatment. [see Journal 43: Sinking on the Treasure Island Reef – E]
A large acreage of land was bought at Athenree near the Ford and my father had our house from close to the Junction battery shifted to a site not too far from the Tauranga Waihi highway where it stands today. Near the Ford onions and maize were harvested. Further inland oats were sown, this being harvested at Christmas time when the family were on hand to help stook the sheaves and load the waggons to go to the stack. A brake and gig and a four wheeled buggy were used for private transport.
It was in these adventurous years that I was able to indulge in shooting and fishing. Our launch the 24 ft. "Foam", could negotiate up the river [Waiau River – E]on full tide to a cosy landing place below our home known as the "Cherry Grove". With the land more developed in recent years we now have Steels Road [Steele Road – E], a bridge over the river (which winds its way down through the Hikurangi gorge [Athenree Gorge – E] and comes out into the Athenree estuary) and the causeway to Waihi Beach and Bowentown put in to open up property for Mr. Emerton. On the left bank was a large pond known as Rennity's, the Maori who occupied the farm above this swamp area where wild duck were plentiful. Hundreds of rabbits frequented the sandhills near by where a short sweet vegetation covered many parts of the valleys. Right through to Katikati, it was a sportsman's paradise with game of all sorts running wild. The country being sparsely settled, was very quiet and mostly open range to shooters and hunters who came in the shooting season from 100 miles away to roam this noted hinterland.
The fishing was just as famous in the harbour, and fishing from Bob Blakney's [Blakeney – E] wharf (Mt. Stewart [see Journal 34: Harvest Days at "Mt Stewart" 1918 - E]) half a dozen big schnapper could be caught in an hour. One very exciting incident happened while inspecting our set net which was full of fish of many varieties including some big sharks. It was dark when my Uncle Charlie (Rick) Fugill and I made an inspection of the net which was in about three feet of water. Just as we were working along quietly my Uncle suddenly over-balanced and fell in on top of the sharks. The activity that followed was amazing, for Uncle Rick lost no time in making a very hasty retreat from the scene. To get rid of so much fish was a problem. It took three hours to arrive into Waihi by waggon where my brothers and. I delivered the schnapper and other delicious fish to householders on our bikes as best we could and sold them at sixpence (five cents) each. Those were the days when adventure and romance were not hard to find.
About 1916 our property passed into the hands of Mr. Arthur Rapley and my parents went to live in Ponsonby, Auckland, where after a spell my Dad decided on a trip to England and France. When some years later at the age of 75, my father passed away (1926), my mother had several trips to Australia to renew old. family ties and friendships. I worked in Waihi for many years, and became apprenticed to the Plumbing trade. One had to be a tinsmith, a sheet metal worker, a drain layer and experienced at gas fitting. After seven years I was classed as fully qualified. During the apprenticeship I received 6/- per week for the first year, 8/6d the second year, 10/6d the third -year, 15/- the fourth year and so on. As this was as an interesting trade as any other, one could always learn something new, as the times and methods were for ever changing.
One of the last jobs I carried out was in 1923. It was the plumbing of two railway houses at Katikati for Roy Newth whose father was the Mayor of Waihi in the early years. Soon after that I left for Auckland. There I gained a position as gas maintenance man with the Auckland Gas Company on the strength of my trade experiences at Waihi. For many years I carried a yearly ticket to travel on the tramways system and stayed with the Gas Company for thirty years.
I am indebted to Mr. Lance Deverell for his assistance and to Uncle Charlie for checking the proof at his seaside home, Ongare Beach, Kauri Point, Katikati.