Print
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971

See also below: Mrs. OLIVE WILSON

Mr. OLIVER CUMMINGS

A life of almost ninety years all of which was spent in the district, came to an end in December, 1970 with the passing of Mr. Oliver (Ollie) Cummings of Pukekauri Road, Waihi. He would have celebrated his ninetieth birthday in January.

His parents, who were well-known and highly respected residents of Cumming's Flat on the Waihi-Paeroa main highway, were among the early settlers in New Zealand. His mother was born in Howick, being a daughter of the Brophy family who settled in that area in the very early days of Auckland. Mr. Cummings' father was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and came out to New Zealand drawn by the gold mining rush.

After the older Mr. and Mrs. Cummings were married he worked as a gold miner in the South Island and then in 1875 came to Mackaytown, where his eldest daughter Frances the first white child was born. He then moved on to take up farming in the area known as Cumming's Flat, through which the highway passes, being the last straight section before entering the Karangahake Gorge when travelling from Waihi to Paeroa. The old homestead is still standing on the left-hand side of the road with its wee attic window at the Waihi end of the building, a design which was much favoured by the pioneer home builders who came out to New Zealand in those days.

Seven children were born to the Cummings family after Frances. She was followed by Mildred, Thomas, Oliver, Elizabeth, John, Anne and William who were all born at Cumming's Flat. Mrs. Cummings died early in life and the eldest daughter, Frances, aged 16 years was left to bring up the family. With the death of Oliver all have passed away with the exception of the youngest son William who has celebrated his 79th birthday.

The senior Cummings, while developing the area as a farm, opened a general store and post office and with the growth of mining in the district the store became an important centre for the miners.

Schooling was a difficult problem in those early days, but Oliver was sent with his older brother and sisters over the old Rahu Road to Mackaytown school the only one in the district. His chief recollections of his school days were the muddy conditions in which a small child was likely to disappear if he was not careful. He recalled that on one occasion that he did get so hopelessly bogged, Miss McLoughery had to rescue him and carry him on her back. Other families he remembered who travelled that long trail were the Pennells and the McLougherys.

Mr. Cummings remembered the struggle of the early wagoners — Griffiths, Dean and Quinlevin — and that even after the gorge road was opened that travelling had its hazards. Only 12 feet of road separated the Karangahake hillside from the steep drop to the water and on one occasion Griffith's team had a serious accident near the Dawn mine when two of the fine greys were lost.

The operating of the post office at Cumming's Flat required Oliver, while quite young, to ride to Waihi with the mail and on occasions he was even needed to take the mail up the long road to Waitekauri. The late Mr. Cummings always claimed that his schooling days were brief and much interrupted, but he was able to read and write just as ably as the average person. While still very young he worked on the farm, drove carts and toiled in the bush and at the age of 14 years he left home as an independent worker. For a period he was employed in gold mining in the Maratoto district and then took up work in the bush in the Waitawheta district where he was engaged with a team of horses hauling the logs to the tramline.

While working the Waitawheta bush, in partnership with his brother-in-law Maurice Davies who had married his sister Elizabeth, they took up the block of land on Pukekauri Road, which he farmed until his death. Mr. Davies worked in the battery at Waikino and the two young men with a team of horses, commenced the Herculean job of breaking in the Pukekauri block as a weekend occupation. With a team of horses, and much hard work, they gradually brought the land into production. His brother-in-law, however, was killed in the 1914-18 war and Oliver's sister sold her share in the property to him. Oliver also joined up for the war, but was not accepted as he was considered not tall enough at the time he volunteered. He always claimed that while he had joined the army he had never been discharged and often treated this matter as a joke.

When the power came to Waikino in 1915 Oliver was still working in the bush and breaking in his farm but he found time to help lay out the cables for this power project. Eventually, Mr. Cummings built a two-roomed shack at the Pukekauri block and took up farming as a fulltime occupation, running dry stock, while he gradually brought the land into full production. Gradually it became a very productive unit and Oliver turned to dairying and the farm has been a dairy farm running dry stock as a sideline for the best part of the last fifty years. It is still being farmed by his eldest son Neil.

In his younger days Oliver was a keen footballer and played for the West District Football Club, there being four football clubs at Waikino in those days. He was in the team which won the Waikino Challenge Cup in 1905. He played for the Goldfield's junior representatives and was selected as a reserve for the Goldfield's senior team. He played as a prop throughout his Rugby career.

Interested in fishing and boating he was on board the ill-fated "Mako", the launch which was wrecked on the Bowentown bar, on April 12th 1939. Two men were drowned in this tragedy, but Oliver, with four others of the party held on to a hatch top and were eventually washed ashore on Waihi Beach just north of the Bowentown heads.

For some people in those days, Auckland Christmas racing carnival had a great attraction, and Oliver never missed visiting Ellerslie for the Christmas races, always staying at the Market Hotel in Auckland. He was a member of the Ohinemuri Jockey Club for many years.

He recalled the scare in the district when Te Kooti was reported to be in the area when he was a child.

He married late in life a daughter of another old and highly respected Waitawheta family, Olwyn Mary Shaw, her father being the late Sutherland Shaw a very well-known identity of the Thames Valley in early pioneering days.

He is survived by his wife three children, Neil (Pukekauri Road), Peter (Whangamata), and Jocelyn (Mrs. Harry Wills, of Hamilton) and four grandchildren.


Another Waihi Pioneer Passes : Mrs. OLIVE WILSON.

A long link with Waihi ended recently with the passing of Mrs. Olive Mary Wilson who died at Auckland where she had been residing for the last few years. She lived in Waihi from 1902 to 1958. A daughter of the late John McCombie who was a mining engineer and a co-discover of the Martha Mine, she spent her early life in Karangahake attending school there from 1894 to 1900. Later she became a registered State Nurse, training and working at the Waihi Hospital until her marriage to Mr. A.E. Wilson (Dentist) in 1916. (See Journal 10) [see Journal 10: Our Contributors - E].

The late Mrs. Wilson was a strong personality and worked for many good causes in Waihi. As President of the Red Cross she led activities and during the War years was one of the driving forces which forwarded parcels etc., for Waihi Armed Forces personnel who were prisoners of war. She was also a staunch member of the Anglican Church Ladies Guild and a leader of the Girls Friendly Society.

Other interests were gardening, croquet, golf, badminton and needlework. She is survived by one son, Mr. B.M. Wilson of Waihi and a daughter, Mrs. K. Coe of Auckland. Three of her brothers Messrs Charles, Roy, and John McCombie all of Auckland and two sisters - Mrs. Chisholm-Whitney and Miss Gladys McCombie also survive her.