Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 24, July 1980
By C. W. Malcolm - BA.
One is somewhat apologetic about introducing this subject. Yet it was a social and historical phenomenon in the life of the town though many today enjoy our modern amenities with no knowledge whatever of the inconveniences and crudities suffered by earlier generations.
To those of us who lived in Paeroa in the days when this vehicle made its nocturnal journeys, its very name offends the sensitive ear in these days of greater refinement; yet that alone was its official and accepted name, though it was also referred to as "the last tram" and "Gabriel's chariot". It was a necessity in the years before the town was provided with an up-to-date sewage system. Yet one wonders whether it was necessary to have it made to produce so great a volume of thunderous and reverberating noise! On its two heavy dray wheels, pulled by a solitary draught-horse, its approach over the rough metal roads was heralded by the ominous rumble of distant menacing thunder. It must have caused many a fearful awakening of the young disturbed in their slumbers.
It was scheduled to travel late, but there were letters of protest in the "Gazette" when Sunday evening church services were distracted by its rumbling approach at so early an hour!
Those of us who were older and at school related it, with surreptitious schoolboy humour, to more cultured items of our learning! When one of the nocturnal contractors was actually accompanied on his rounds by his wife bearing a lantern to light his path to the rear of our dwellings, I regret to say that she became a rival of the great and good Florence Nightingale for the title of "The Lady with the Lamp." I fear, too, that our appreciation of Lord Byron's grand "Eve of Waterloo" was somewhat spoilt when we reached the lines:
"But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!
Did ye not hear it? - No; 'twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o'er the stony street;"
Who could blame us for our knowing looks around the class? Our teacher was new, from the city; but we knew just such a car that indeed rattled o'er the stony street. This thing in the evolution of our own local history unfortunately also coloured the picture presented by our teacher in his lesson on the Great Plague of London where, to quote our old school history book, "At dead of night the cart passed along the streets, and the cry of "Bring out your dead' was heard in every house." We knew it! and in half-awake drowsiness waited for the cry!
Yes! this thing existed! disturbed the tranquillity of our evenings and impinged upon the culture of our school lessons! But it is a part of our history, and there is no point in attempting to hide it from those for whom we seek to record the past. It recalls one of the less pleasant aspects of life not so many years ago, an aspect which succeeding generations should be thankful to find removed from their experience. We should, too, be grateful for the foresight of local men who advocated progress and achieved it for the benefit of all.