Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 16, June 1972


In 1908 my father was working for a Contractor in the mine when wages were 7/6 a shift, and he, like many other Miners felt that if he had some land he could milk a cow or two to supplement his earnings. Actually he hoped that in time he might be able to get out of the mine and earn a living from the land. His chance came when he was offered 50 acres in Mataura Valley for £100. This land was situated on the western side of the tramline that led to Cornes' Bush. No doubt parts of it had been cleared by Bushmen who supplied firewood and timber for the Mining Company.

At that time the only access to the property was by following the tram-line after it left Warmsley [Walmsley – E] Road down to the Willows, then on round Mount Misery. The tramline then skirted round our property and was the means by which the material for our home was conveyed. It also provided our route to town. My father used to yoke a horse to a truck and we travelled down the line as far as Barry Road, to where the Mining Co. Sawmill was situated.

Our home consisted of 2 rooms constructed with materials supplied for the sum of £37/10/0, a figure that my father would quote in later life, whenever building costs were discussed. We moved out there in 1910 where my father continued with his work in the mine. Mining left more time for secondary employment than any other job as shift work was employed. This meant either day, afternoon or night 8 hour shift worked on alternate weeks. The afternoon and night shifts left time to cultivate the land and it wasn't long before a few acres had been stumped and ploughed and laid down in grass. Post splitting and fencing was hard slow work but there was plenty of timber in the bush and marpo [Mapou ? - E] poles served as slip rails, stays and framing for sheds. Trees which grew tall and straight, about 3" or 4" in diameter, could be nailed together just like milled timber and a few sheets of iron completed the job.

A shed was very necessary as the horse had to be looked after for he was our only means of transport. Not only did he have to carry the rider but also the split sack filled with our stores. To make it, a chaff sack with the top sewn up was folded in half and one layer of the sack was cut across. It could be placed across the saddle and your goods were evenly divided on either side to balance the load. Nearly every horseman you met had a split sack on his horse, and the Maoris from Mataura brought fish and kumaras to town that way.

Our neighbours were Andy Scobie, Kenneth Ross, Victor Silverstream all of whom farmed down in the Valley. Through the bush towards Mt. Misery, George Gill and his family and Pukau Davey lived in bushmen's houses. Later the Magussens [may be spelt: Mangusen – E] came from Norsewood and settled on some land further up the hill from us. There were Bert and his wife and brother Peter, both bushmen who worked for Cornes. Hugh Ross and his family lived at Whiritoa. Andy Scobie called his place Black Rock after a large outcrop that was on his land and he used his mining skill to hollow it out to form-the first cowshed to be built in permanent materials in the Waihi District. Otto Bjerring many years later was to use a rock on his land to form his Starling Castle. By 1912 we had a few acres of grass that ran 2 or 3 cows, a couple of horses and a pig or two.

Then my father and some of his workmates were involved in a cage accident at the mine. The cage got out of control while they were being lowered and when the "safety clips" were hit they held almost at once, with the result that the cage came to a sudden stop, tossing men everywhere. No one was killed but all received injury. My father spent many weeks in hospital and before he could resume work the strike started. It dragged on for 7 months and at times our farm because it was partly bush, was used as a "hide out". Mine officials who were sympathetic to the "strikers" would tip them off to get out of town. When the police were going to have a round-up some of my father's mates came and stayed with us.

When the strike was over my father got a job with Cornes in the bush. He lived at home but most of the men lived in a cookhouse, which was just a large tin shed with double decker bunks along the walls, a long table down the centre and chimney that took up the end of the building. It had a door either side that could be opened to allow a bullock to snig a back log on to the fire; this log would be anything up to 18" through and smaller wood was used to keep it burning. Camp ovens would be hung over it.

Cornes' bush cut out about 1914 and the Mining Co. turned attention to Mamaku. Dave Combie was bush boss and with a gang of Waihi men he cut and loaded the logs on the N.Z.R. to be hauled to Waikino where they were shunted on to the Mining Co. line to be brought to the Barry Road Sawmill. Our farm had not developed much during the time that my father had worked in the bush as the hours of work were 60 spread over 6 days, so he decided to sell up and go with the gang to Mamaku.

1924 saw us having another farming venture in Waihi, this time on the Tauranga Road. We had 100 acres with carrying capacity of 25 cows which we milked by hand. As butterfat prices were very low at this time, we started a milk round in the town, and received a much better return for our product. Although Waihi's population had decreased to less than half its peak of 10,000 it was still using a fair amount of the milk that was being produced here.

The farmers who were on Town Supply at that time were: Geo. Angle, Andy Scobie, and Bill Radford (Mataura Valley); Tom Tierney (Golden Valley); R. Worth and Mr. Goodwin (Black Hill); Mr. Greenwood (Crean's Road); Don Samson, Bert Fleming and Sid Thompson (Ford Road); George Hay (Franklin Road); Tom Thorn (Waitete Road). Besides these milk vendors there was the billy can supply carried on by miners who had taken up a few sections around their homes where they kept a cow or two. After supplying their own needs they would sell surplus to neighbours. Kiddies delivering milk on their way to school was quite a common sight.

In the early days of Waihi, a dairy, situated on the corner of Kenny Street, Silverton Road was run by a man named Jessup and his source of supply was Paeroa. He had 3 carts, delivering milk at one period, but as production increased and local farmers put delivery carts on the road Jessup couldn't compete as he had to rely on the N.Z.R. to carry his supply from Paeroa and had to provide alternative transport when the train did not run. On Sundays a waggon would be sent to Paeroa. Looking at the Waihi District today it is hard to realize that we drank all the milk we produced 50 years ago, but I suppose it was only 60 years ago that the Plains were thrown open for settlement on a 99 year lease.

Waihi district never had need for a Creamery, but eventually we did have home separation and delivered our cream to the station to be carried to Dairy Coys in Paeroa, Te Aroha or Frankton Junction. There used to be a good collection of horse drawn carriages at the station to see the 9 o'clock train out. In the early 1920's the Dairy Co's let contracts to farmers usually the ones on the end of the road to bring the supplier's cream to the station. Finance was hard to raise, as butterfat prices had climbed to 30d a lb during the war years but slumped back to 10d by 1921. Business and Mine Officials who had invested money in land began to lose confidence and call in their mortgages, which in some cases were only 5 or 8 year terms. Bankers were referred to as "Blokes who would hold an umbrella over you in fine weather, and take it away when it rained". State Advances or "Advance to Settlers" as they were called then were not much help because if your land was lease hold they would lend you nothing.

When the £1500 mortgage on our freehold farm of 108 acres fell due the Waihi Businessman who held the mortgage said he didn't want to renew, so we applied to State Advances for the £1500 to pay him out. By this time we had 70 acres in grass, milking 35 cows, milking machines had been installed and there was the house and sheds. After inspection and due consideration they advanced us £950. So the State Advances took a 1st mortgage of less than £10 an acre on our farm in 1928. This was a bad period as work was hard to find, (that is, "off the farm"). The land was screaming for manure especially Phosphates. Farmers would go into debt trying to build up production only to find that the more they produced, the less they got for it.

From 1920 to 1935 farmers in this country doubled the production without improving their nett income. (But we must dip our lids to those "Old Time Businessmen" who carried so much debt in those days). A story was told about the village storekeeper who on seeing all the farmers in the district gathering at the Hall went in to see what was on. A Farm Advisory Officer got up to speak. He said he was going to talk about - "The cows that don't pay". The old Storekeeper interjected with "Give Em Hell mate, you've got a Hall full here!"