Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973


One of my first impressions after my arrival at Tairua was awaking to the morning chorus of bird-songs. All round the Sir George Grey Hotel was ample cover for bird life. The tuis were in fine form with their familiar "kwork-kwork" of the throat-clearing process, followed by the clear half-dozen liquid notes of exquisite clarity. Their tunes changed as the next group half a mile away had a totally different arrangement of similar notes.

An inspection of the school and dwelling revealed the school's two rooms with a porch between them. It faced east and was warm and comfortable, but there was a steep hill behind it. The Residence, over 40 years ago, seemed palatial for a bachelor. The five-roomed weather-board house contained a kitchen with a fuel stove, scullery and sink. Across a bricked yard was an outbuilding with copper, tubs and galvanised iron bath, and at the far end was another tiny building with the door opening outward looking on to a grassy street.

In the yard between the house and the School was a magnificent grape vine trained over six foot railings. It had been planted about 1886 by one Jules Lopes, a native of Cape de Verde Islands and a one time sailor. The prolific crop from this vine was harvested by picking twice weekly and was divided among the children attending the School. No attention other than pruning by Jules Lopes himself had been given to this marvellous vine.

A short climb gave one a lovely view of the Tairua Harbour, with its bar of ill-repute, and Shoe Island a mile or two off shore. This rugged eminence was covered with scrub, and was reputed to harbour many rabbits. Slipper Island rolling and fertile lay to the south-east some six miles away, and on it was an unfenced sheep and cattle farm conducted by two bachelor brothers named Leighton. They had a good launch and had constructed a slip-way on which their craft was pulled up on rails beyond the reach of stormy waves. Adept at judging the weather, they came to Tairua at six-weekly intervals to collect their mail and stores.

At times a scow would call at Tairua and stock or wool would be loaded from the beach. The Rangi, with Von Pete in charge, was a frequent visitor. She was sailed in on high tide, the centre-boards were raised and the vessel was deliberately beached close to the woolshed and stock-yards. When the water receded the stock and wool was driven and wheeled aboard, and by the next full-tide the scow had disappeared. Occasionally the steamer would bring stock in, principally pigs and stud beasts for Hikuai. The pigs were carried in pairs, in strong crates which were hoisted by the ship's winch and then lowered to the wharf pen. What the pigs had to say in protest at the way in which they were handled could be heard a mile off.

On one occasion a large animal being off-loaded broke through the sling and fell into the tide. He could easily have swum to the shore at which the ship was moored, but elected to make for the other side of the harbour. The animal reached its destination all right and was well ahead of the men who pursued him in a dinghy hastily commandeered from a resident named Timoti. All work on the ship was suspended, and all and sundry crowded on to the bridge of the steamer to watch the chase. There was something really humorous to see a squad of angry men tumbling out of the dinghy and chasing the pig along the sandy beach. The hunters thought they were out of earshot but their lurid language could easily be heard across the water. Finally someone collared the squalling beast low and he was secured and brought back to the other shore.

Edward Hutchinson's farm lay across the water from Tairua, but the homestead was a couple of miles away at the foot of the hills. It was practice to ride to Tairua for his mail. He sometimes crossed the ground via Shapherd's Ford, but if the tide were in he came direct to the beach. Here he would ride right out to his dinghy which was anchored in about 4 ft. of water, and then transferring from his horse to the craft he would remove the saddle and tie the horse's bridle to the cleat on the boat's transom. Hutchinson would then pull up the anchor and row slowly across the harbour. If the rower pulled a shade more vigorously his cunning mount would stop swimming and would allow himself to be towed the whole of the way.

Nearing the beach just above the wharf and where the horse could walk Hutchinson would drop the anchor of the dinghy and saddle his dripping horse from his seat in the boat and then mount it. Watching this operation one day when the weather was not so good one could only marvel at the serene indifference with which the horse accepted the bumps of the boat's gunwale against his hocks. No less amazing to the writer was when half a dozen of Wensor's horses walked casually along the beach by Wensor's Creek and then just as casually entered the water and calmly swam to the other side. Emerging from their swim they shook the water off their bodies and trotted off to the homestead.

It was evident that the blanks in the young teacher's education were being gradually filled. On the fence opposite the school was hanging a brand new bridle. It was there for some days and inquiry among the pupils did not establish its ownership. One of the senior pupils, however, said, "Leave it there; the owner will call for it some time". He did. Some 10 days later a young man came off the steamer, collected the bridle, rummaged under the hedge by the school gate and fished out a roll tied with a strap. The parcel contained his dungaree trousers. He then set off walking. The youth had ridden into Tairua with his best trousers protected by the dungarees, and let his horse find its own way back eight miles away to a farm at Hikuai.

Shoplifting was not a common practice 40 years ago. Imagine a storekeeper these days leaving his shop unattended to go to his home half a mile away. Charlie Beach did this. On going to the store one morning and seeing no one about the writer waited. Presently a woman came in and put something on the counter. When asked by the teacher for 3 lb of sugar the woman looked a bit startled, but said, "I suppose I could get it for you". When proffered the money she exclaimed, "Oh, I couldn't take that - I'm not serving. I am a customer, but I will write it in the book for you."

The woman was Mrs. Martin Heath, later to become a firm friend of the teacher. A few moments later a large man in a blue flannel shirt and dungaree trousers came into the store, and sized up the situation at a glance. He wasted no time but grabbed two tins of meat from the shelf, and then, making an entry in the book, he strode off. After he had gone a scrutiny of the transaction was made and revealed the entry cryptically as: "Len. L. 2 tins dog". Charlie Beach came in shortly afterwards carrying a calico bag. He had merely gone for his change. Not that that was of much importance, for most of the business of the store was "on the slate". Charlie remarked, "You have only to leave your cash at home when some silly blighter wants to change a cheque".