Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 19, June 1975


It was a morning I have always remembered - clear bright sunshine on the Waitemata as Father led me, not yet four years of age, on to the deck of "S.S. Nairnshire", after a 7 weeks plus trip round the Cape of Good Hope from Liverpool. What fascinated me most of all was the colour, as the sun caught the variety of painted iron roofs & wooden walls; strange to a child used to the drab grey of English buildings. This was June 1911. "And this is Winter!" was Father's remark. He was never to regret that landing.

My next memory is of meeting my cousin Birt Aitkin and his parents who had preceded us by a few months and had decided to move to Waihi. We moved with them and Father, being a fully trained carpenter & joiner was soon working at his trade round the "Junction Battery". However, the country round Waihi, in those days, looked rather bleak & uninviting to a potential farmer, so the offer of work on the building of the Gold Extraction Co. Mill Road, Paeroa was accepted. Of course we still saw a great deal of Waihi in exchange of visits. Memories are still clear of play near the river, the old waterways of the "Silverton Battery" (then closed), the Beach with its mud access road and the fisherman's cottage on piles by the cliff below the mine shaft.

The Memorial, with drinking cups, was still in the Waihi main street in those days. Mother and I were visiting that street on the day of a demonstration during the Strike of 1912. The strained looks, hysterical screaming and cursing from some Women as brakes (open horse drawn vehicles with cross-wise seats) conveyed men under Police guard to the mines, made a vivid impression on the mind of a child.

In Paeroa, Father was negotiating for a piece of land at the end of the five mile meander which led to the old Junction of the Ohinemuri& Waihou Rivers. The idea was to experiment with farming while continuing to work at the gold Extraction Co. On the completion of the building Father took work in the "Plant" where shifts were worked, as it was of necessity a continuous process, with the only halt at Christmas. In the next few years he was to work his way through the "Plant" to be in charge of a shift, at the time as educating his cows to comply with the rhythm of changing milking times each week. In his spare moments, I gather he used his English "Tech" training to coach workmates in Maths for various trade and steam "Tickets".

The cottage was an old one across the river from the beginning of Mill Road. As cash was scarce, Father &. Mother were busy for some time, putting a stove in the open fire place, repairing & decorating, clearing the orchard and establishing a garden, but it was soon "home". Completion was celebrated by a gathering in the orchard with dancing on the "green" to Mother's fiddle.

It was here I experienced my first earthquake. Rather frightening to feel the tremors and watch the pictures twist on the wall.

Nearby lived a stooped old lady, Mrs. Hemara, reputed to be over a hundred years of age. I remember she was always very kind to the strange little Pakeha and would never let me leave without some token of hospitality. I have often thought of the link there with the past. At that age she must have been running about when Marsden established his first Mission in 1814.

One night we saw a glow in the sky and next day I was taken to see the smouldering remains of the old "Royal Mail Hotel" and pointed the moral of not going to sleep with the candle still burning.

It was here I started school in Sept. 1912, sponsored by one of the Fisher boys through whose land we passed when following the river path over stiles till we entered the town near the Mill. Then came the Railway bridge and a wharf before following the river past the piles remaining at Wharf Street or a run through the town past the Criterion Theatre, by the old P.O. near the Court House and on to School. Although full of interest it was a long walk for a five year old. Paeroa was an important transport centre in those days with quite a number of draught horses still in use. The Mail Coach still met the "Waimarie" and "Taniwha" at the Puke - huge Kauri logs from Waitekauri were still coming by rail to go by tramway to the Junction while heavy battery gear was going to Waihi by horse lorry, helped by an extra team over Turners Hill.

We were soon the proud possessors of a horse and gig, giving the family some mobility. A trip to Waihi through the ford, past the derelict Mackaytown Pub, on to a failing Karangahake where the Batteries were closing, was indeed an event. The weir just through the Gorge, a horse already alarmed by the roar of the Waikino Battery and tube mills, "playing up" by the then open waterfall at the side of the road, all stand out as vividly as if yesterday.

After two or three years there was still no sign of having a clear title to the land we were on, but Father was able to buy another block next door to Fishers and nearer to the Town. These small homesteads had been established when the River was the road and so were now all served by an unformed track leading from Junction Road through the centre of the "Bend". It was known as Maori Road in those days. All the houses were on the River bank, most having very fine old orchards, ours as I remember had the widest selection. Ancient hawthorn and briar-rose hedges were featured while a row of gigantic poplars fringed the weeping willows (then common) the length of the river.

As Father was trying out many aspects of farming the place developed along almost full subsistence lines. The orchard gave a limitless supply of fresh fruit in season, the usual jams, preserves & pickles, and even dried apples plus a little cider and wine. A good garden with a few furrows of potatoes in the cropping paddock catered for all vegetables. Even half a dozen rivers were added as Father studied various Agricultural Department Bulletins. Cream and home made bread & butter were plentiful while a few pigs provided the where-with-all to go with the produce of the hundred white leghorns dotting the green paddocks.

Life was certainly very full for all of us as Mother & Father became much sought after for the many concerts of those times, especially after Mother won the "Goldfields Musical Festival" Open Recitation gold medal in 1913 at a competition held in the old Criterion Theatre. Elocution serious or comic, violin solos, Father's bracket of songs, and even yours truly used as a "child filler", gave the Halls a good slice of any programme. However it was a weary journey home, late on a dark night through gas lit streets to the candle bottle lamp hidden in the blackberry near the stile at the beginning of the River bank track. Many's the time I finished the journey asleep on Father's broad shoulder. Sometimes we went further afield in hired brakes with ears well wrapped against the frosty air as we charged along at about ten miles an hour.

In the Summer, Picnics, arranged or casual, were very pleasant outings. Bush creeks with small swimming holes were very popular, but often organized trips were made from the Junction up the comparatively clear waters of the Waihou. Launches and barges from the "Works" made large groups possible, while the voyage between the unbroken weeping willows, the voices, the laughter; swimming; swings; kerosene tin tea, the lost adolescents, all made the day. Trips to the Soda Spring for jars & bottles of Paeroa Water, "good for what you've got", with the hope of finding a marble or two among the bottles melted in the fire which destroyed the bottling plant once there. Yes, pleasures were simple, but as I remember them, gave some joy, possibly because there was no surfeit.

While in the "Bend" my brother Glenn was born. Mrs. Chamberlain of Junction Road arrived first while Father was continuing on his way to our Dr. Smith who sped to the nearest track on his bicycle, complete with straw "boater" equipped with elastic & hat clip. He served the town well and later had, I believe, the first car in the district, a Model T. The black days of the big "flu" epidemic must have tried him sorely. In spite of the fumigation room near the Gazette office, family after family was stricken. Race course buildings & the Central Theatre were emergency hospitals and as one of the few messengers on duty with a horse at the Central, I saw some of the heartbreak and suffering, which affected even a lad as he cantered from house to house and back, collecting & delivering, billies of hot soup, clothing, thermometers etc.

At about this time there were rumours and counter rumours re the closing of the Gold Extraction Co. on Mill Road. From the days of its building the short cut was along the river from Town or up from Junction Road to the "Old red house" on the bend, thence via stile & turnstile, across paddocks, the Maori Road, past Haora's and over the swing bridge to work. At first the coal went via horse wagon from rail, through the town and along Te Aroha Road to Mill Road, but later a horse tramway up Junction Road, along Maori Road to the hoppers and overhead gear across the river served the purpose more cheaply and efficiently. The "Works" was established to process gold-bearing silt which had been escaping to the river before cyanide process was introduced in the batteries upstream. Most of this material lay in the first great meander of the Ohinemuri known as Pereniki Bend. Suction and grab dredge lifted the deposit from river bed to barge, to be towed to unloading wharf.

I remember the vibrating vanner room, the rumbling tube mills with their French flints which when rounded, were much sought after as "bonces" in our marble games. The filter room and tall tanks with the cyanide solution of liquid gold; then came the sacred area for precipitation and final smelting. Water was drawn from "up the Waihou" and retained in a series of earth dams which made excellent swimming pools as well as providing a home for countless small carp and goldfish which we expertly extracted with a bent pin. Most houses in the town had at least a preserving jar containing a golden pet while even adults fished for the Auckland pet shops.

My constant companion, and protector, at this time was Ahi Peke who lived up river a few chains in a communal group equivalent, I expect, to the old Hapu. On looking back I suppose it was really an interesting social transitional period those families were going through. A group of small cottages, sparsely furnished, but always well scrubbed, surrounded by well beaten earth enclosed in barbed wire instead of palisades. Within this area I remember the building of the communal cook-house with its enormous corrugated iron chimney and long white timbered table. Nearby was the cropping paddock, where kumera, potatoes, melons, maize and kumikumi provided basic food for the group. Many's the smudge fire I assisted with to hold off early fronts, arriving home late, sore eyed and reeking of the green grass smoke.

Fishing was still important, and when a launch was added to the fleet of canoes, trips were made up the Coromandel Coast to "Cabbage Bay". When Peke arrived with a bowl of oysters for Father I knew the time had come and for the rest of the day, children would sit round the bags of cockles and pipi, cracking away & sucking off the shell. Pauas and scallops were in shorter supply but still, with mussells, gave a wide variety. The real time of plenty appeared to be the eel run. The hinaki would be taken by canoe round the bend and up the Waihou at the old Junction, and on their return I have seen the tuna by the barrow load, coming up the bank to be dealt with. Later the fences would be covered with the salted fish drying in the sun and wind. I often wonder what happened to the old carved post standing on Ohinemuri bank between Shaws and an old shingle roofed cottage up river. I was told it was a fishing boundary marker of the old days. Eels were speared and caught at other times, also bobbing was still popular. Many a time I assisted Barney in gathering worms from under "cow pats", delivering them to a group of elderly ladies, all with moko, sitting making bobs, under the willows by "Old Albert's". It was here too, that younger members of the Tukukino family would often visit and increase the playmates of the "Bend".

Albert had a fascinating collection of old weapons and bird spears, and delighted a small boy by giving him a musket or so to play with. I remember being rather upset when Father made me return them to go with Albert on his last journey. Burials were, at this stage, often by river, assisted by a launch and barge from the "Works". The fleet would move round the bend past Haora's to the tightly fenced area not far from the Junction.

Crossing the river and some movement round the Bend, was usually by canoe, or even half a canoe, with tarred boards nailed across the cut. However, simple flat bottomed dinghies were becoming common and when the Gambling family built next door, Arthur, Vic and I used their boat a great deal in our river wanderings. Also, I did see what I expect was the last canoe being adzed out of a log at Haora's.

Dave Marshall and family moved in on the other side not long after Mrs. Fisher Senior left so that although it seemed a long walk from town it was not as lonely as some would think. For me it was a period of happy memories among the best of neighbours.

In 1918 Father had no sooner arranged to sell the farm preparatory to going into the army when the war ended. However, he purchased the Milk Supply business from Mr. Roberts and while looking for another farm we carried on from the old eight-roomed kauri house by the soda spring. While there, I found warm soda water not far away. It was from here that we moved to the Mill Road area about which I have written in an earlier edition [see Journal 13: Reminiscences of Mill Road Area - E]. At a later date I was saddened to hear that the Bend had been declared a flood area and was to be left unprotected. I often think that Father's idea of a spillway across the neck of the meander might have saved it during floods.

NOTE: MR. WILLIAM HALL retired to Nahum Street at the end of World War II and died in 1972 at 90 years. Mrs. Teresa Hall sold the Nahum Street house in 1973 after coming to stay with us at Long Beach, Russell. It was difficult to sever the link after over 60 years and now at 96 Mother still misses her Paeroa friends.