Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 16, June 1972
By LOU RUSDEN
My Grandparents on both sides were very early settlers in New Zealand, having arrived from England and Scotland in the 1840's. Both parents were born in Auckland and in 1889 were married at Waiorongomai, then a gold miner's hope, near Te Aroha. However they went to Australia for some years and on returning settled with their 3 sons at Karangahake, where I was born in 1896.
Mr. Marsh who farmed at Turner's Hill had a property called "Wairere" on the far side of the Ford opposite Mackaytown and I have vivid memories of my boyhood spent in a cottage there. What wonderfully happy kids we were with the river in front of us, the newly formed railway behind us and beyond it the great bulk of Tapu Ariki - then known as Te Moananui's Hill. It was our favourite playing spot, especially when the wild strawberries were ripe or the lovely Karaka berries. (I can still taste them when I think of those days, remembering too the many Puriri trees that grew there). At the foot of the hill was a quarry with a big wooden shute for sliding metal down to the railway trucks - and sometimes for sliding boys, on a piece of iron or a nikau leaf - occasionally to their sorrow!
Of course we had our little jobs to do. Bringing in the two house-cows could be fun, but we dare not neglect the wood pile on which Mother's cooking depended. Dad was then a shift-boss at the Crown mine and if we found his foot marks on the rail track we took care to arrive home well laden though late. Most households in those days did a good deal to keep down their cost of living and we had a big vegetable garden and lots of fruit trees - our pride being the huge Christmas Plum. Under it Dad built a shed that Mother called her dairy and she was delighted with its white-washed walls and rows of shelves laden with preserves for the winter. Our cherry trees, well known in the district, were as tall as the house and in season were laden with fruit from almost black to a pale wax pink. I well remember how we would pick a bunch to take to School.
To get to School we generally walked along the railway line and through the paddock beside the School of Mines to River Road where there was a Kauri Tree that provided us with chewing gum. I remember Nurse Odger's home, two families of Christies, the Presbyterian Church, and the house of Mr. McGruer who was manager of the Crown Mine for over 40 years. He had a big New Foundland dog that seemed to us as big as a pony. There were many other houses and some of them still remain. Occasionally we would cross the river by the Swing Bridge to Tommy Atkin's Shop but mostly used the Traffic Bridge near the tunnel and were always pleased if a train thundered over our heads. The great Crown Battery continuously thundered on the far side of the river.
Our first interesting pause would be at Mr. Brown's fish shop - a good place to sell empty bottles, and there was a very handy horse trough outside for washing dirty ones. Mat White's bookshop on the "low road" always intrigued us but there were others such as a tinsmith (Charlie Taylor), a tailor (Mr. Fallon) and strings of sausages etc. were displayed in butchers' shops. On the "high road", besides the large Hall and Hotel I remember Mr. Searle's bootshop, a Chemist, a Jeweller and several general stores and clothing shops. Opposite the steps leading up to the School was the Post Office (Mrs. Airey).
The School was nearing its peak with over 400 pupils before I left there, and the teachers I remember best were: Mr. Scott the headmaster, Mr. Corbett and Miss Palmer who taught us in the Infant Room. My first clear memory is of gathering at the School Flag-pole, saluting the flag, and singing "God Save the Queen" before the granting of a holiday though we were not quite clear about a war being ended. When we told the railway workmen our good news they dropped their tools and made for the township to celebrate. Our School Playground was very inferior to the present one and many houses, including that of the Headmaster surrounded the small sealed area and the vast gully which has since been filled.
There has always been a grand view from the School, especially in flood time when one looks down on the meeting of the two turbulent rivers - the Ohinemuri and the Waitawheta - as they pour out of the two wild gorges. It was there that the old Woodstock Battery ground its precious quartz while beyond it the greater Talisman lay piled up against the mountain. But we didn't think much about the view when we were young. We probably thought about the magic gold in the mountain and of the men who risked their lives in the candle-lit mystery of the underground. I was proud that my Dad was a Shift-boss earning about 12/6d a day. Now I wonder how families could live on such a wage yet we were never hungry or short of necessities.
There were of course disasters in the mines but there was never any lack of community help. I think the worst thing we suffered was a big flood when the river broke its banks and aided by water from the hills inundated our home. I can just remember we youngsters sitting on our big table while Dad was trying to gather up the fowls outside before making us a hot drink with the aid of a primus set on the dresser. Poor Mother's Colonial Oven was completely under water. After that Dad was inspired to build one of the first boats in the district. We used it to go to the Mackaytown Sports ground, and to explore a Piggery and Slaughter House in the vicinity. The Hill family were our nearest neighbours (Arney, Elsie, Vida, Bernie, Lew and Beryl) but Charlie McCombie and Scotty McClymont would often come to our place - where now there is no sign of habitation.
In 1906 we moved to Paeroa and lived in Rye Lane next door to Mr. and Mrs. Bert Andrews. Other neighbours were Harry Bush, Walmsleys, Edwards and Towers, while just across the paddock were Silcocks and Adolphs. At School I was taught by Miss McCallum, Miss Lucy Thorp, Miss Shroff, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Pocock. My sister and three younger brothers began their School days there. For me the highlight was the time I spent with the School Cadets. When Lord Kitchener came to Auckland we paraded and camped in the Auckland Domain, in charge of Capt. Taylor. Len Chamberlain was Sergeant, Forty Morseby the Bugler and Claude Taylor the Drummer. We were proud of our Uniforms - white Eaton Collar, serge Knickerbockers with a red stripe, black wool Jersey, black leather belt, Glengarry hat with School colours and badge. Sad to say, heavy rain washed out our camp and we were housed in part of the Auckland Hospital just being built.
It was all exciting but floods were nothing new to us for in those days Paeroa without stopbanks was prone to them. I distinctly remember seeing a row-boat in the main streets and also have recollections of odd characters such as Striding Bill, Jockey Joe, and Banana Bob. ("Boys" of my age will remember them). I spent part of my Proficiency year (1910) in the Drill Hall after the School fire and in 1911 we shifted to Auckland to begin a new chapter of our lives. Harold joined the Post Office, Bert was with a Steel Construction firm while Len and I took on the Building trade and managed to survive Active Service in World War 1.