Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 25, November 1981
(Contributed by his family)
Reg. Roberts was born at Driving Creek, Coromandel on 27 April 1878, the son of a miner, and was educated at Driving Creek School, Coromandel. His father, Mr. Leonard Roberts, a shift boss, was killed when he fell down a pass at the Royal Oak Mine on 16 October 1901. His mother came to New Zealand with her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Murray, who brought with them the family Bible of their forebears dated 1769. This Bible, in old-English spelling, is still in the bands of the family in Paeroa.
Mr. Roberts spent his early years at Coromandel and came to Paeroa to live in 1902. He worked as a wheelwright for Mr. Joe Brenan, coach-builder, for several years. Mr. Roberts used to delight in telling of his experiences in the coach-building days. Paeroa, at that time, was a depot where fresh horses were held and used for coaches passing through on long trips.
In January 1905, Mr. Roberts pulled down his parents' family homestead at Coromandel, shipped it by barge to Paeroa, and rebuilt it - for his widowed mother in what was then known as Hill Street, later re-named Brenan Street. It is still there and appears to be in good condition. In the Hauraki Plains Gazette dated 1st April 1974 it was offered for sale at $25,000.00. No doubt in these days when the cost of building has soared, it would be worth considerably more.
On 16 January 1908, Mr. Roberts was married to Miss Rose Jubilee Collett at Paeroa by the Rev. Gow. They built their home at 24 Flora Street, Paeroa, and remained there for the rest of their lives. They raised five children - Len, who is retired and living with his wife in Puru; Bruce, also retired and living with his wife at 4 Aorangi Road, Paeroa; Clem, who died at the age of 11 years; Kathleen, now Mrs. Johnson, and Norma, now Mrs. Collinge, both of whom live at 62 Thames Road, Paeroa. Mr. & Mrs. Roberts celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary nearly five years before Mrs. Roberts' death in December 1962. Both were active until a short time before their death, Mrs. Roberts at the age of 75, and Mr. Roberts at the age of 86.
In 1906 Mr. Roberts established his own building business, preparing his own plans, specifications and blue prints, drying out the blueprints by dripping them over the bath! He won the respect of the community with his integrity and attention to detail. His motto in business, and in fact, in everything he did, was "near enough is not good enough". He was full of energy and enthusiastic in all he did - for instance, when coming down a ladder, he jumped the last 2 or 3 feet, not feeling a need f or those last few rungs.
One of the many buildings he erected was the Ohinemuri County Council Chambers built in 1911, and those who have seen the fine workmanship in this building will realise it is a memorial to his skill and precision. The contract for this building was signed by the late Mr. Neapan Kenny, the contract price being £1800. Competition in those days was keen and the difference between Mr. Roberts' tender and the next lowest was 18/2d.
Houses were cheap and a copy of the Hauraki Plains Gazette dated 24th July 1933 shows Mr. Roberts' advertisement, offering to build a 5-roomed house for £400, the deposit being £200, the balance to be paid in rent. As a result of a serious accident to his leg Mr. Roberts was forced, much against his inclination, to retire from business in 1946 at the age of 68 years. His son Len, took over the business and was joined by his brother Bruce a year later when Roberts Bros. Ltd. was formed. They remained in business for 25 years, retiring in 1972. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts loved the beach, and when Len and Bruce were small they decided to have a camping holiday down the Thames Coast. Mr. Jack Ruzich offered to let them camp on his section at Puhoi Creek, Te Mata, so the faintly hitched up the horse and cart, piled on their camping gear and set off, the trip taking a whole day. Len and Bruce still have memories of trips to the beach, perched on top of the laden cart. Later the faintly spent a holiday at Mr. Ruzich's section up the Waiomu Creek. However that year there was a storm, the tent ripped and they were flooded out. The family sheltered for the rest of that night in a nearby shed, and Mr. Roberts decided then to have something more permanent in the future.
Mr. Wm. Cullen, draper of Paeroa owned some land at Puru, and Mr. Roberts bought a section for the sum of £90, building a small bach on it. Cooking was done on a kerosene stove, and clothing was washed in large oval tin tubs outside. Water was drawn from the creek which skirted the backyard, and heated in an outside copper. As the family grew the original bach was too small, so Mr. Roberts erected a cottage on the property, turning the original bach into a garage.
The farm behind the cottage was owned by a Mr. Mitchell, and besides running cattle he had an apricot orchard. As Mr. Mitchell marketed only the apricots picked from the trees, he was quite happy for the family to wander around picking up the tree-ripened fruit from the ground, filling a large basket almost to overflowing for the nominal charge of 1/-. The family has many happy memories of those apricots, eaten perhaps while reading a book with the pile of stones in the saucer growing, or while sitting around the kerosene lamp at night, with the moths flitting around, playing draughts or Five Hundred with much hilarity, battling their way to victory - or defeat! No apricots since have tasted as lovely. Those were the days of simple pleasures, when families worked and played together, when there was open communication between the age groups, with no undue pressure from outside sources.
In 1920, Mr. Roberts decided to buy an unimproved property of 124 acres on Pukahu Road. In this venture he went into partnership with his brother-in-law Mr. Bill Collett, and their registered stock brand was "RC". Roading was primitive in those days, and transport was by horse and cart when conditions permitted, and when they did not, by foot. Later on Mr. Collett sold his share of the farm to Mr. Roberts who engaged the services of Mr. Bill Cheale who share-milked the property for many years before eventually buying it.
In the early part of this century Mr. Roberts was a keen member of the Ohinemuri Volunteer Rifles (6th Hauraki Regiment) and was a frequent competitor in rifle shooting. He was one of an enthusiastic party of 12 men trained under the then Colour-Sergeant, Jim Silcock, for competition in military tournaments. This team specialized in bayonet fighting, physical drill, tent pegging etc., and had considerable success at various tournaments throughout the Auckland Province. He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Hauraki A. & P. Association and a Vice-president of the Paeroa Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club to the date of his death.
And so we move forward slowly to the close of this century, remember - with love and affection the parents who cared for us, but looking forward also, and watching with interest the lives of those young ones they never saw, the great-grandchildren who would have been the joy of their hearts. Only three boys, the young sons of Don Roberts, Bank Manager of Auckland will carry on his name, but the many great-grandchildren, whether they bear his name or not, have an ancestor of whom they can justifiably be proud.