Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982

by C. W. Malcolm

JOURNAL 13 contains a splendid article, "Notable Visitors to Paeroa", by Ian Parlane, in which he records a day of great expectation for the District [see Journal 13: Notable Visitors to Paeroa - E]. It was a glorious summer day when a great crowd gathered in Coronation Street, Paeroa, to witness the turning of the first sod of the Paeroa - Pokeno railway. Mr. Parlane records it as 2 p.m. on 27th January, 1938 - a Thursday. I was there, as also, I remember, was everybody in Paeroa.

The ceremony was performed by that great showman, the Hon. Robert Semple, Minister of Public Works, who could always entertain a crowd with the colourful] language of his inimitable speeches. Though he was initiating the construction of a main trunk railway line, his speech, as I remember it, was a tirade against the drunken motorist, and how he was after him to put him off the road. A Salvationist in the crowd shouted, "Good old Bob!"

I was born in Paeroa in 1905, and as long as I can remember I heard talk of the proposed Paeroa-Pokeno Railway. This particularly interested me as, with my Mother, I spent all my holidays on my grandfather's farm in Pokeno Valley. We always caught the "20 to 7" train from Paeroa, via Te Aroha, Morrinsville Frankton, and Mercer, arriving at Pokeno some time after midday, a five-and-a-half hour journey for the eighty miles, an average of a little over fourteen miles an hour! The 40 mile journey straight across the Hauraki Plains, direct from Paeroa to Pokeno, seemed far more attractive, and in the May school holidays of 1922 I attempted the journey on my push bike. But the road was not the railway and I reached Pokeno at midday on the day after I had set out, having been hospitably taken in for the night by kindly sharemilkers at Maramarua.

Some time before the turning of the first sod, a luncheon was held in the Criterion Hotel, Paeroa, attended by leading citizens and quite a number of Members of Parliament. The M.P. for the District, A.M. Samuel Esq., commented that one-eighth of the New Zealand Parliament was in attendance to hear why the proposed line should be proceeded with. He said a glance at the map was the greatest argument for its construction. It would obviate the great hairpin bend in the route from Pokeno, via Hamilton, to Paeroa, shortening the Journey by 40 miles; it would bring Paeroa and Te Aroha, as well as Waihi and the Bay of Plenty 40 miles nearer the port of Auckland. The travelling time for passengers on the Rotorua and Thames expresses would be considerably shortened as the straight line across the flat Plains would allow maximum speed. It would be one of the easiest and cheapest lines to construct. It would develop the potential of the Plains.

What he did not say was that there would have been no need for the Kaimai Tunnel and that Paeroa and the Bay of Plenty line would be upgraded in importance for all time and not fade into insignificance as has ultimately happened.

So the first sod was turned and work commenced only to be halted by the Second World War. However this was not regarded as the final abandonment of the project. In 1945, when the Ohinemuri County celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, a fine publication compiled by Mr. A. A. Jenkinson, had this comment on page 85: "There is every prospect of the work on the Paeroa-Pokeno line being resumed at a very early date, and that it will be completed in the near future. When that line is open Paeroa Junction will have the unique position of being the only four-line junction in New Zealand". An exciting prospect: trains converging on Paeroa from Auckland via the Hauraki Plains, from Thames, from the rich Bay of Plenty, and from Te Aroha, Morrinsville, and beyond!

Alas! for dreams, though they last for 40 years, that do not come true. Pierre Berton has recently written the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in two volumes, the first entitled "The National Dream", the second, "The Last Spike". The dream of that vastly greater undertaking was realised and the last spike driven in record time. But not so our Paeroa-Pokeno Railway. The traveller by road today may see in a number of places, shallow cuttings and level embankments across adjacent farmland where the line was to have run but where the rails were never laid. For years a high embankment ran parallel with the main highway from the Puke Bridge towards Netherton to raise the line for a rail bridge to cross the river. As with other sections of earthworks, it took up a considerable area of the owner's farm.

At Netherton the area marked off for the railway station, lay behind the Netherton Hall and not far from the school from the windows of which the nearby passing trains would have been a lively source of interest. At the proposed Kerepehi station, where rail and river touched, goods could have been transferred to barges for inland distribution. The possibilities were great, their denial a misfortune.