Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978
By Mesdames D. Heath and H. Lett (nee Weedon)
We do not intend to give a complete factual history of the Rob Roy but rather to present our memories of a way of life which was changing rapidly in the days we write of. Inevitably things of historical interest occurred and if some aspect is not quite correct remember that at the time we were young ladies of an age not particularly given to making records of day to day events.
Six months after the arrival of our family from England in 1921, our father bought the Rob Roy Hotel, then a Boarding House run by Mrs Young but owned by Mrs Kelly. Mr & Mrs Kelly were the licensees of the Hotel when Waihi went "dry" in 1909. The Hotel on the outside anyway, is substantially the same as when it was built around the year 1900, and is of two storeys with 32 rooms, mainly single, plus the lounge or commercial room and kitchens etc. One big difference was the shops which occupied the ground floor where the bars used to be. Joe Bartons Bakery, Green's Billiard Room and Wongs the Fruiterer occupied some of the space, which in 1926, after the restoration of the liquor licences was returned to bar space. The area of ground was substantial, spreading from the present J. & D. Clarkes premises to the Post Office and over to the area at the back of the Drill Hall.
The rooms were mainly single ones and by todays standards fairly spartan - rimu furniture, consisting of a bed, wardrobe, dressing table, (and in the earlier days a washstand and "bedroom utensils"), lino on the floor and a bedside mat. We accommodated 20 permanent boarders, mainly teachers and bank workers, at 32/6d per week while the remainder of the rooms were let mostly to commercial travellers who paid 12/6d per day for full board or 9/- for dinner, bed and breakfast. In our early years in the Hotel the standard bedroom lights were candles but the main rooms were lit by gas. The possibility of fire from the candles caused our mother endless worry but she barely considered the greater hazard of the boarders smoking in bed, and in fact her worries proved needless. In retrospect hygiene played a less important part of our lives in those days. The toilets were of the "can" variety, emptied as required, which was never often enough and the men and lady boarders had one bathroom for each sex. The hot water for the bath was supplied from the kitchen stove providing it was kept going and the supply was unending. Our father desperately tried to have a septic tank installed but it took the Borough Council a long while to convince that it was desirable. When it was installed it must have been one of the first in Waihi and took the Rob Roy well to the front in modern amenities. Needless to say the housemaids were overjoyed as were the guests, but for entirely different reasons. The shoes of the casual guests were left outside the rooms for cleaning but the permanents looked after their own. Laundry was the responsibility of each person and the Chinese Laundry opposite the Hotel in Seddon Street catered for the men while the ladies used the Hotel's facilities. This latter was the reason our mother preferred male boarders - the ladies were "always wanting to wash something."
The cooking was done on a coal range with two ovens and a gas stove. The coal was bought by the ton and as the grate held a kerosene tin full at a time a ton didn't last long. This stove also caused our mother grief as she was always scared it would go out when the cook was absent in the afternoons.
The food was plain but good. A bulk supply of vegetables came from Jim Fox, Jim Waite and Bill Shanley in Paeroa once a week, but the fruit and extra vegetables came from Wong's below. The butchers, Sam Tanner, Joe Snell, Pearce and O'Bullion all supplied us in rotation for a month at a time while Harry Rowe supplied the fish, always a must for Friday. Reg Radford was the milk deliverer for his father and as morning tea was due at 7 a.m. we were interested in his arrival as he was known to be late more than once.
The day started at ¼ to 7 and finished with washing up about 7.30 that night except that we made a cup of coffee for the casuals at 9 o'clock, sometimes running from the pictures at half time to make it. Even allowing for the couple of hours off each afternoon the six day week we worked was quite sufficient especially as the labour saving devices now available were non existent and everything was done manually. There is nothing that makes a dining room look so large as when it is viewed from the knees, armed with floor polish and every square foot to be done! The domestic staff usually consisted of six, the cook, laundress, housemaids and pantrymaid. Some of these were local girls and stayed with us so long they became part of the family. The Hossack girls, Phyllis, Violet and Hazel, Violet Birchall, Ruby Lawrence, Alma Radford, and later Ted Grylls and Jim McDonald were employees of long standing and high regard. Often we would request workers from Auckland who were completely useless and could not or did not want to learn, and these raised father's ire as he not only had to pay their fare down, but also back to Auckland, as well as for the two or three days they lasted in the job.
In the absence of today's drying facilities the laundry was always a problem especially with Waihi's climate. There were racks on pulleys for hoisting up to the kitchen roof, and after a spell of wet weather the linen could not help but smell of food when it was finally dried. Drying lines took up a large area of ground almost to the back of the Drill Hall and the sheets were mangled two at a time.
Serviettes were linen - large, starched, folded - and always present in their scores, and the laundress really did a magnificent job with her antiquated copper, wooden tubs and blue bag, in keeping the linen room full.
The restoration of liquor in Waihi brought about big changes to the Rob Roy. Extensive alterations and improvements, done we think by Mr Clegue of Hamilton, were required by the Licensing Commission. The previous windowless bathrooms were extended in size and number. The bars were recreated downstairs after the shopkeepers moved out and overall it took about 6 months work to bring things up to standard. We beat the opening deadline by about 2 days and was the first Hotel to begin bar trade as the other Hotels were a little behind us.
Two bars were opened, a curtain separating the private and the public bar. In the public bar no furniture was allowed and the floor was uncovered wood, and the private bar was for "collar and tie" drinkers, although tieless drinkers were not excluded. The three barmen and the one barmaid dispensed drinks at 6d a handle and 4d a half handle (no handles in the private bar after 4 p.m. thank you!), spirits were 6d a nip and for the "take home" trade, whisky 15/- a bottle, gin 14/6, and your own "riggers" of beer filled with draught for 11d. Hours were 9 a.m. - 6 a.m. [6 p.m.? – E] and the presence of the barmaid brought a finish to "men only" language and topics. Counter lunch put on after the day shift came off, was quite a grand affair and made alot more work for the staff. Plates of sandwiches, sausage rolls, fish and chips, cheese cooked in beer on toast, all supplied free and made short work of by the thirsty and hungry miners.
Our two large sample rooms helped bring the commercial travellers to the Rob Roy because after arriving by train, sometimes at 2 a.m. in the morning they were able to unpack their huge wicker baskets and spread their samples along the tables for local businessmen to look at. The sample rooms were often booked well ahead, sometimes for a week at a time by the travellers who in the main seemed middle aged and well behaved unlike the commercial travellers of fiction.
From time to time wedding receptions were held in the dining room but the two social events of note were the dinners given to celebrate firstly the opening of the railway between Waihi and Tauranga in 1928, and secondly the turning on of the electric power for Waihi. The then Prime Minister Gordon Coates attended the latter and was late to the dinner, rumour having it that he was too busy sampling the local miners home brew.
In 1933 father died and the running of the Hotel fell upon mother and our brother Jack who kept going for another 3 years, after which time they sold in 1936 to Mr Lees, finally selling the building to the Breweries in the early 1940's, thus severing our physical connection with something which will be a part of us forever.