Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
by Ivan Hall, B.A., Dip.Soc.Sci.
It must have been about 1920 that my Father, William Hall, took up his farm on Mill Road. We were hardly strangers to the "Road" as we had spent eight years in the Pereniki Bend, just across the River, although several miles distant by road. The farm at that time consisted of a wilderness of teatree, blackberry and tall fescue, with an occasional stand of Kahikatea rickers. Bulldozers and such being non-existent, breaking in consisted of chopping, burning and draining, followed by logging up using spade, axe, crowbar, gelignite and bullocks or horses. After more fires came the preparation of a seed-bed with necessary fencing.
Mill Road took its name from one of the early mills which it served. Flax, timber, gold extraction, and in early days a flour mill existed on the bank of the Ohinemuri River in the angle of Mill Road and Te Aroha Road. The wheel was turned by brown swamp water from the Kuaoiti Stream, the diversion channel to the mill having crossed the Te Aroha Road on the Paeroa side of Mr. D.F. North's house. Signs of the old mill were still visible before the stopbank was built but most of the iron work went as scrap during World War I.
In those days the old Tetley house as shown in Lee Johnson's "As I See It" was seldom occupied but was quite a popular area with Angus and Eric Tetley, Allan North and self, especially when the oranges were ripe. Up the "Road" at that time the only buildings were on the river bank facing the old "water road". A relic of the days when most traffic was by river and this was particularly obvious in the Pereniki Bend area. The first house across the next stream outlet was Farrelly's with its fine old orchard. I still treasure a stone adze picked up by Mr. Farrelly on the river bank. The next buildings of any size were on the bank near where the present housing group is situated and it was this area that Father leased so as to have handy housing while developing our own farm. As we were milking, developing the area, and running a town milk supply at the same time there was not a great deal of "fun and games" but both Mother and Father managed to continue some of their "concert" items while the young of the area seemed to manage to amuse themselves in each other's homes with various games and anything that would make music. I suppose we had our problems and frustrations as they have to-day but nobody seemed to discuss or magnify them. Anyway we couldn't afford the luxury of self-pity. We had to get on with the job of making a place for ourselves or fall by the wayside. Perhaps in some ways life was simpler for young people then, with most problems, and answers, clear cut.
In the next block were the remains of the Waihi-Paeroa Gold Extraction Co. buildings still being demolished. The tall tanks, the long heap of gravel tailings, the "dams" holdings the water pumped from the Waihou, where a few years before I had swum and caught carp and goldfish on a bent pin. Beyond were a group of huts, belonging, I believe, to the old timber mill and still the beloved quarters of various young bachelors who, in spite of the lack of amenities seemed to delight in the freedom and possibly the cheapness of the area.
At this time there was still a camp of mainly Dalmations on the Waihou, up river from the end of Mill Road. They lived in small, two bunk 8' x 8', P.W.D [Public Works Department – E]. Huts with a tin chimney and open fire. It was amazing how comfortable they had made them. They were building with shovel and wheelbarrow, the outside walls of the stopbank to be later filled with sand from the river bed by the suction dredge. The Waihou provided plenty of eels and incidentally it was there that I caught my first trout on a small eel hook baited with beef. It was here also that I saw the last use of muzzle-loading shot-guns as some of the oldtimers claimed they could use a heavier charge and so capture the "highflyers" out of reach of modern cartridges. In those days the Awaiti swamp just across the Waihou had not been fully drained, and the evening flights of duck and swan were something to wonder at. I often rode out to this camp to enjoy the company and banter of the men and I must say that on looking back, no parent would have needed to worry about the company a lad was keeping. They were fine people.
Farming on Mill Road was not easy in those days. Although the soil was rich when drained, blackberry persisted and until the tall fescue was controlled ergot [disease of rye, etc. caused by fungus - E] poisoning was a constant worry. We had to be ever alert; for the tell-tale hunching of the hind quarters and move infected beasts to clear paddocks. Occasionally, a beast lost out "back", would be found with literally rotting hind legs. Ergot which is used medically to aid blood clotting in wounds, affects the hind quarters first as furtherest from the heart. (In humans, on the authority of Sherlock Holmes himself, it affects the big toe).
Another problem was flooding. Originally, the Mill Road area near the Ohinemuri did not flood seriously but when work on stop-banking commenced on that side the gangs moved slowly down river. The "bank" had almost reached the site of the Gold Extraction Co. when we had heavy rain over several days in both the Waihou and Ohinemuri watersheds. I awoke to a peculiar stillness and "feet on the floor" was a splash. What a mess! At daylight we opened all gates for stock to reach the higher parts of the road. The horses took off towards the Waihou and I remember Father and I holding hands to stagger across the current where the pent up waters were pouring round the end of the stop-bank and inundating land never before seen flooded. There was no talk of disaster and assistance in those days. It was just one of the hazards of farming. The sun came out strongly just before the last few inches had drained away, and it literally cooked the grass. The odour was that of hundreds of acres of rotting cabbage. All that winter we hand fed the stock and managed to survive.
During the early twenties one of the former Extraction Co. houses was occupied by a well known ex-waggon driver of the day. I remember having seen him behind a team of sixteen draughts [draught horses - E] when bringing out boilers from Komata through Paeroa.
Tom Buckley was quite an asset to the area as he kept a team of draughts for contract ploughing and general farm development. Having the requisite "flow" he trained what I imagine would be the last team of working bullocks in Paeroa.
After spending all my School days at Paeroa District High School, from P1 to FVI [Primer One to Form Six – E], from Miss Shaw and Mr. Murphy to F. Wilks and G.A. Taylor. I left the "Road" and Paeroa in February 1925 but it is still a pleasure to wander round to renew old friendships and chat of the days when life was a little less hurried.