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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 18, June 1974

EARLY PATETONGA DAYS Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 18, June 1974

(From 60 Years Ago)

by ARCH McDONALD

The first land Ballot for the district was held on March 28th 1913, and all the sections were taken up on that date. Most were worked before 1914. A second Ballot was held in November 1914 and further ballots came later. However, the hill areas had been settled for some years previous to 1913, and new arrivals found that Patetonga centred round Mr. Geo. Scotcher's flaxmill and store on the flat east of the present school. This was also the centre of Scotcher's farm. South of Patetonga, Reynolds and O'Dwyer had large hill sections which were partly improved.

The old "Hill Road" connected to Morrinsville and continued through Kaihere, where another road connected to Ohinewai. These were road in name only. Bush Tracks would be a better definition. Winter travel was impossible and most people used the "rail and water" transport to Thames. This was a horse-drawn flat-top tram from flaxmill to river and thence to Thames by Kerby's launch - 4 hours.

However, the early settlers arrived, and probably wondered, "How the Hell they found the place". The whole district was standing titree, 12-15 feet high, flax and rubbish, with drains and tracks cut through it. Early houses were tents, and husbands arriving ahead of wives and families, batched and worked to clear an acre or so to get a farm started. Broad shoulders were the main attributes of these pioneers and Christmas 1913 saw many families settled in. By this time a horse was a sign of affluence and a sulky was today's equivalent of a Rolls Royce. Walking was the surest way to get anywhere.

All the amenities of the district had to be provided by the settlers themselves and their first thought was for a school. This was built by Messrs E.E. Cumberland, O. Clarkin, J. Fitness, A.J. McDonald and his brother W.J. McDonald, on a site about a quarter of a mile south of the new school. The pioneers did not wait for a paternal Government to do things for them.

In the Autumn of 1914 a great fire broke out which swept from Tahuna to Waitakaruru. This removed the rubbish off the farms in one fell sweep but left a sea of ashes. When the farmers sowed this in grass they found that much of the peat land was heavily timbered with buried forests. The Grass, and weeds, flourished wonderfully and drainage took on many new problems. A man's ability to use gelignite was an added attribute. Old-timers will remember the amazing crops of scotch thistles which grew after the fires and stock could hide very easily amongst them.

The Spring of 1914 brought the first cowsheds and milking, and emphasised the usefulness of titree as fascenes [fascines – E] to keep cows from disappearing in the mud. This wonderful growing country had every pitfall imaginable, and hand-milking cows in those days, with its attendant discomforts "illuminated" the "language" of the district. Lack of fences, and deep-draining, made finding a missing cow fairly easy! The job of getting her back to dry land was the sticky bit. Many stories can be told of the lack of appreciation shown by the cows concerned.

Cream was collected from the farms by horse carrier - (an early one was A.J. McDonald) and taken to a Patetonga depot. From here it went by the tram to the river and then by launch to Kopu, the nearest factory then operating. Some time later this factory was amalgamated into the N.Z. Co-op. Dairy Co. Ltd., and a new factory was built at Ngatea. A full bulking cream depot was established at Patetonga and grading was then nearer to home. Metal road connections were still 15 years away and the Piako river was the main road. Papers and mails were via Thames, irregular, and collected when you went to Scotcher's Store for supplies. The news of the outbreak of World War I was received several days after the event and even news of it's end was a day late.

Main early district efforts were concerned with drainage and roads. Roads were laid down on a fascene base covered with peat and later with clay. Without the fascenes the clay would disappear into the peat, even though the road was well-drained on each side. Clay was spread on contract at 1/- per yard. Draining was a never-ending job, as the soft peat kept filling in, and weeds grew in profusion. Good drain diggers were in demand and rated as to their ability to do so many chains a day.

The peat slowly consolidated, or was consolidated, by stock or man. One man who did a great job of consolidation was the late Mr. Jas Woodyard, who cut and tramped his lower farm with boards on his boots so that stock could later walk over it. This farm is now about 20 ft. lower than it's original level, as is evidenced by low hills now seen, which were not seen originally.

Patetonga became quite famous in it's early life for the Maori carvings and implements found on an old pa submerged in the swamp on Carter's farm. Many of these are on display in the Auckland War Memorial Museum and were found when a drain was being dug.

The nearest doctors were in Thames and any accident or sickness victims had to rely on the good offices of Mrs. Shelley, and later, Mrs. Wallace, until help arrived. Most people could not afford to be sick and relied on hard work to keep well. In these days of Social Security it is hard to realise what this isolation meant. However, the youngsters who walked miles to School all grew up strong and healthy.

As can be imagined, the social life was limited, but Kaihere built a hall and this was used by the whole district until Patetonga built it's own hall after War 1. Incidentally, Patetonga hall was removed from Karangahake and rebuilt. The halls had a fence around them, mainly to tie horses to. The beau, or the belle, of the ball usually was either someone who had not ridden far, or had the least amount of mud on their clothes. Children had to be taken to entertainments - no baby sitters then - and slept in dressing rooms. Everyone attended functions to ensure their success - and swap news.

Saleyards were established at Mangawhero in the early years and there used to be quite a large sale until good roads allowed stock to reach outside markets, the district having developed from flaxmills to farming.