Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973


The "Deed of Cession" signed in 1875 opened the way for the "Ohinemuri Block"to be proclaimed a Goldfield. It was an agreement between the Chiefs and people of the Ngati Tamatara [Tamatera – E] who were the owners of the land and the Marquis of Normanby, the then Governor of New Zealand. In return for monetary consideration it made mining enterprises legal except on certain reserves. The Block, comprised of 132175 acres, was substantially the area that became the Ohinemuri County when it was separated from the Thames County in 1885.

The provisions of land occupation under the Mining Act (1866) came into force with the opening of the field although settlement in Waihi was sparce until the 1890's. Any holder of a "Miner's Right" was entitled to occupy a section of up to an acre, and Waihi was not short of space. Fortunately there were Surveyors in practice who contrived to lay out these sections in a fairly orderly manner. Naturally almost everyone settled on their full entitlement. There are only 640 acres to a square mile and with roading and reserves extracted a net 500 sections would he available so the township sprawled in a wide belt around approximately a square mile of mining properties.

In addition to the major central block of Martha Hill and its slopes, many more or less "wildcat" mining companies each occupied a few acres with the result that in the late nineties my father had to settle for a section well over a mile from the Post Office. From memory these smaller companies were: the Silverton with a mine East of Union Hill and a battery just above the Victoria Bridge, the Extended on Boundary Road, the Consolidated in Smith Street, the Pride of Waihi where the Whangamata road leaves Walmsley Road and the Favona near the old magazine, off Barry Road. Around the west of the town were the Waihi Consols, Waihi South, Junction West and several other small concerns which did little except occupy space.

Though there were stands of building timber handy to Waihi, the demands of mining took most of it though the Tamaki Sawmill Co. operated in the Woodlands Road area and Brown Bros. sawed timber, largely kauri from the Waitete Valley. There were abundant stands of kahikatea (white pine) in the Hauraki Plains (then known as the Piako Swamp) and since this timber was cheaper and easy to work, much of it was used to build the housing which the booming settlement demanded. A 4-roomed house of about 400 sq. ft. with a tin Chimney and a small coal range could be built for £80. It was found that kahikatea was a great host for the wood borer and soon many of the houses built of this timber were riddled through and through, but though unpainted buildings deteriorated rapidly, there are many well kept houses which have stood for over 70 years.

The residential sections were frequently 5 chains by two and the great depth meant that when houses were built close to the road line, the surplus area at the back was seldom used except to keep a horse. The big blocks in turn required a great mileage of streets and it would have been impossible to construct, pave and maintain these streets by the rates levied on the fairly low priced residences. These rates were negligible during the score of years that the town was administered by the Ohinemuri County Council. After the Waihi Borough was formed in 1902, rating was placed on a sounder footing; in the first forty years it amounted to only £80,000. However during this period the gold duty of 2/6 per oz. brought in £650,000.

When I was a member of the Borough Council in later years, if it were demanded of me by an irate rate payer, "What do I get for my adjectival rates"? I could always answer "About 9 times as much as you pay for".

Much of the terrain upon which the town was built was very uneven and great quantities of filling were used to fill in gullies to ease roading and building problems. Between Seddon Street and what is now the Intermediate School was a deep gully spanned by a. rickety footbridge. The filling of this provided a basis for the Presbyterian Church and Moresby Avenue. Beneath was a large totara culvert of which a portion collapsed after about 40 years and a carrier's horse was extracted from the resultant crater with difficulty.

Many folk ask what was done with the lavish funds of the Borough but in fact many major capital works were financed out of income and as a result the loan liabilities of Waihi were extremely light. Unfortunately some constructions were of an impermanent nature. The replacement of several quarter-mile stretches of large section totara culverts, with concrete pipes has become a fairly frequent necessity. However the great quantities of country rock hoisted out of the mines for development purposes made wonderful road foundations and our tar-sealing programmes of recent years have been facilitated by these substantial base courses which have only required shaping up before sealing to make first class roads.

In 1911 Waihi was booming, its population over 6,000, but with the disastrous strike of 1912 the Borough Council's revenue was cut off, most of its out-door staff of 70 was paid off and the roading programme was halted. The eviction of strikers caused a glut in housing and only pepper corn rentals were paid for some houses while many stood empty. At that time the Waikato was starting to develop and many houses were sold for removal. Since these were of the better quality, the poorer built ones and those of inferior timber (kahikatea) were left though numbers of sound occupied ones were spared. Since many of these were built on smaller sections (down to ¼ acre) the adjoining vacant sections were often taken and the title consolidated so that up to one acre could be held under the old Miner's Right, (now known as a residence right license) - all for a fee of 5/- (50c) per year. If however a title lapsed it became necessary to take out a lease the rent of which was 5 per cent of the valuation of the section. I was staggered when applying for an acre section in Seddon Avenue to be asked £2/2/- per annum. To my subsequent sorrow I did not proceed with the deal. There are now four houses on that acre.

In spite of the removal of so many homes there were still plenty to go round for the declined population and for 18 years after the strike only one new house was built in Waihi. Several ambitious ones, started in 1912, were completed on shrunken specifications. With fewer homes the disadvantages of sprawl became more apparent. Long stretches of road with gas and water mains, had to be maintained for a handful of residents, the frequently unsealed gas pipes from the disused services putting an untenable load on the struggling gas works.

Most of the shops in Seddon Street were owned by absentee landlords and since there were always a few vacant to keep rents down the low returns did not encourage owners to spend much on the property. Since the rates were levied on annual value which was based on the rents collected, a few owners of properties commanding high rents considered themselves penalized and a petition was circulated for a change in the basis for rating to the mis-named unimproved value systems. I did not support this move and still think that in due course the position would have righted itself but for better or worse the Borough was rated on the unimproved values. In turn many large sections were sub-divided and building was largely confined to the central area.

With an upsurge in housing construction the supply of sections has almost dried up and right-of-way access to enable building on the rear of extremely long sections is already mooted in several locations. More plans of this nature will tend to make our town more compact, thus lessening the mileage of roads, power lines and water reticulation needed to serve a given population. It may be added that when the Waihi Beach area was transferred to the Ohinemuri County, large areas were trimmed off the outskirts of the Borough to reduce its size from over six to under two square miles. With these areas went some population and this must be remembered when comparing present population (3,071) with the peak period (6,436), as the population covered by the 1911 census was over the larger area for which the figure today could be 4,000 as Waihi is again prospering.