Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 14, October 1970
THE PHYSICAL TOWN CENTRE OF PAEROA (& FISHER'S HILL)
by C.W. Malcolm
"Fisher's Hill" which was once the town-centre of Paeroa has been returned to briefly by other contributors - the late Mrs. Silcock (Journal 4) [see Journal 3: Wharf Street, Paeroa - E], Mr. W.H. Moore (J.7) [see Journal 7: Paeroa Hotels in Early Days - E] and also Mr. J. Sinnett (J.13) [see Journal 13: Growth of Paeroa - E] who wrote, of the "Physical Changes" in Paeroa. The Historical Society is fortunate in having an 1897 photograph donated by the late Mr. Ben Gwilliam for this shows the clay-cutting that was made through the hill to accommodate Normanby Road.
The footpath today is about 10 or 12 feet lower than it was in 1897 and there is no longer the need for the "post and wire fence" to save pedestrians from sliding down the steep bank to the road beneath. Gone also is the tramline that ran from the Junction Wharf to the vicinity of Criterion Hotel.
The "hill" or rather ridge was a notable feature of the landscape before white men ever beheld Paeroa, indeed the very name, Paeroa, may have originated from it. The late Mr. William Huia Taylor, with his knowledge of Maori lore, is my authority for saying so. Rising from the flat area on which Paeroa now stands, the long narrow ridge was a striking physical feature. Its ends may be seen today at the Fire Station end of Willoughby Street (northwest corner of the Domain) and behind Fathers' Hotel. The high ground on which the Ohinemuri Club and Swimming Bath stand, as Mrs. Silcock points out, are part of the long ridge near its southwestern extremity.
Mr. W.H .Taylor told me that this ridge, rising from the low-lying flat beside the river, reminded the Maori of some object (such as an upturned canoe) brought down and stranded there; the words: "waka" (canoe) and "pae" would he used by the Maori to describe an actual canoe so stranded. As "roa" means "long", his derivation of "Paeroa" signified something "long" that had been brought and stranded there, and in this manner had the long ridge given Paeroa its name. I am no Maori scholar; I have heard no other explanation, and especially in view of the late Mr. Taylor's very high standing as one of Paeroa's most cultured and most knowledgeable citizens and his very early connections with the Maori race, I have never doubted his story.
So to-day's citizen can stand in the very heart and centre of the town in the wide open space in front of the Post Office and he will be standing in the very heart and centre of its history. He can look at the front of the Regent Theatre and imagine the main street foot-path a dozen feet higher, its edge protected by a fence near where Wharf Street - once the main street of the town - ran from the busy wharf and ended its short length blocked by the ancient clay ridge. He can imagine the strugglings of the pioneers through the clay mud as excavations carved away the "hill" for roadway and theatre, and shops, post office and Borough Chambers. He may not know how we children, on our way to and from school, loved, in dry weather, to run along the along the sloping face of the clay cuttings rather than keep to any footpath. It may have been easier on our bare feet! And he can view the remaining extremities of the ridge and muse upon its history. (In tracing the origin of the name "Fisher's Hill", we are indebted to Mrs. Isaac Robinson who was a younger daughter of the large family of the original Mr. and Mrs. Fisher who lived at the northern end of the hill behind Faber's Furniture Store, also her niece Mrs. Harry Wilton). (Paeroa's first twins were born on the hill). Ed.