Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
by Tom Myers
Visitors to Waihi in the immediate post war years would have been struck by an undercurrent of uncertainty in the town. Sooner or later they would have noticed that this uncertainty centred around the Martha Mine. In the bars, shops, places of business and most important, the homes, the question was - is the mine going to close, and consequently, what is going to happen to us, to our town? The answers were as varied as the people that discussed the topic, but in the meantime houses that needed a coat of paint remained without it, business that could have been expanded and premises renovated were left as they were because of all the possibilities that could have eventuated. The thought that Waihi might become a "ghost" town was uppermost in many minds.
Fortunately dairy farming in the Waihi area was going from strength to strength. A comparatively new generation of farmers had either taken over family farms or had bought them from the earlier and sometimes pioneer families. Armed with enthusiasm nurtured by the frustration of the war years, its restrictions and loss of youth in the forces, dairy farming entered an era of prosperity. Not yet fettered by rising prices and still certain of overseas markets the local farmers introduced new and improved farming methods, and this, plus the injection of capital into the holdings, created an asset for Waihi. When the news finally broke that the mine was to close the air of optimism was perhaps greater in the town and district than had been anticipated. As if to substantiate this growing feeling of confidence the New Zealand Co-op Dairy Company saw fit to build a cheese factory at Waimata, and this factory commenced operation in 1953, having been built at a cost of half a million dollars.
Initially there were 45 suppliers who brought in 12,000 gallons of milk daily in 20 gallon cans, and this milk was made into 637 tons of cheese by a staff of 14. These men lived either in a single men's hostel or in one of the five houses supplied. Eight years later, in 1961, progress was such that the factory was expanded so that 22,000 gallons of milk per day could be processed. After a further 6 years the gallonage handled increased to four times the original, and at the moment a total of 50,000 gallons can be handled per day.
If the milk increased so did the cheese production - from the original 637 tons to over 3400 tons. The staff did not remain stationary either; 44 employees are now on the pay roll, some of these living in the hostel and some in the 10 houses now provided, double the original number.
Just as the farmers improved their methods of production so did the factory which was the first of the Company's factories to change, in 1958, to the manufacture of rindless cheese. In order to cope with the 50,000 gallons of milk per day mechanisation of production was essential. But quantity was not the only order of the day - the quality of Waihi's cheese is evidenced by the fact that at one time or another every major grading or show award for cheese making has been won, most notably the Dairy Board Cup for the highest average grade of cheese exported from the Auckland Province, and. the Thos. Clement Cup for the best rindless cheese graded both in N.Z. and the United Kingdom.
Today the milk is collected from over 100 farms by stainless steel tankers based at Kerepehi. Waihi is far from the ghost town it might have been, thanks partly to the Waihi Branch of the New Zealand Co-Op Dairy Company, and the industry of the Waihi farmers.
OUR CONTRIBUTOR: Mr. T. Myers spent his early life on farms and in 1936 joined the staff of the N.Z. Co-op. Dairy Co. Ltd. at Pukekura where casein was manufactured. After a conversion to cheese in 1939 he was appointed 3rd assistant, became 2nd in 1942, 1st in 1945 and Manager in 1949. In 1953 he was transferred to the new Waihi Factory then in the final stage of construction and is rightly regarded as the top cheese maker in the country.