Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 28, September 1984

by A.D.W. Walker (Laddie), Whangaparaora.

An article in the No. 26 Historical Journal [see Journal 26: Memories of Karangahake Shops - E] by Mrs. Thelma Conway Cummins stirred Mr. Laddie Walker's memory and prompted him to write something of his recollections of the Waihi Post Office and Waihi as it was in 1921 when he became a Telegraph Message-boy at the Waihi Post Office.

"Mrs. Cummins' husband, W. J. (Jack) Cummins was a member of the Post Office Staff who instructed me in what a 'good' Message-boy should do. He was a telegraphist at the time and later became a Post Office Inspector, then Chief Postmaster, New Plymouth.

"I became one of three boys employed in the delivery of telegrams. The others were Andy Robinson (later he became a Mines Inspector) and Harold Thomson. The staff at Waihi comprised a Postmaster, a Supervisor and about twelve other staff. Names like George Mitchell, Reg Muir, Norm Lamont, Sam Mather, Harry Horner, Peter Keohan, Harley Keven, Frank Farmer, Tommy Johns, Essie Hamilton and Clematis Newth, come to mind. Peter and Frank were Waikino boys and cycled to Waihi each day to do the Postmen's deliveries, then cycled home again. The Telegraph office was a very busy part with Press messages being received daily for the Waihi Daily Telegraph newspaper. Telegrams to and from the Waihi Goldmining Co., the Grand Junction Goldmining Co. and the many business places kept the staff and us boys busy all day. In addition, Waihi was the business place for several Stockbrokers, and messages were exchanged by these people with the Auckland Stock Exchange at intervals during each day. The two Postmen delivered mail to the homes each day.

"The Telephone Exchange was manned by the two girls, Essie and Clem, for restricted hours, something like 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Waihi was not very telephone minded in those days and for a private house to be connected to the exchange was a rarity. Some farmers had connections through 'party lines' and generally ten homes would be connected on the one line with a distinguishing letter to identify each one. The method of calling party line people was to ring long or short rings in various groups. When a line developed a fault we had to ring Paeroa where the Post Office had a resident Faultman, and advise him of the trouble. He had to be sure that he allowed enough time for him to catch the last train back to his home. If he was busy on other faults in his district, the trouble sometimes remained for several days.

"The mailroom was a busy part of the Office. Mails were despatched daily to Auckland, Hamilton, Paeroa, Thames, Tauranga and Katikati and similarly mail from those places was received.

"Mails from and to Tauranga and Katikati were frequently delayed due to bad road conditions. There was very little tarsealed areas then, and in Winter mud and slush caused many problems to the mail carriers.

"The public counter was manned by a Money Order and Savings Clerk and the postal and stamps by another clerk. Waihi then had a population of about 5000 people and the Post Office was a focal point in their lives.

"Mrs. Cummins' article also reminded me of many names prominent in Waihi during my time with the local Post Office. How about 'Miners' Cough Cure' manufactured by E. A. Clark, Chemist, - something no respectable home would dare go without. James Murray, C. B. Harper, F. G Nickisson, W. H. Toy, W. M. Jackson - all Sharebrokers with Nickisson a Tobacconist also and Jackson being a Solicitor as well. Wallace Supplies with Jack Moorhead, Manager; Billy Busch, Grocers; Isaac Brown and Son with Sam Brown the Manager. I wonder how many bikes they sold in Waihi and how many repairs Sam effected? Haszard& Haszard, Surveyors; Sam Tanner, John Say, Pearce & O'Buglien, all Butchers; Billy Roberts and Mrs. Ford-Williams, Bakers; 'Ma' Burke, the Home Brew non-intoxicating Brewer; Jock Lockington and Dan Saunders, Furniture Manufacturers; Warwick Williams, Don Mackie, Taxi Proprietors. Warwick was an ardent Ladies Hockey Supporter. 'Joker' Clark, Stationer and 'Printer; Jim Spearing, the Herald Agent; Deverell and Crimmins Livery Stables and Horses for Hire - later they engaged in Motor Transport. Mining men such as Jimmy Gilmour, Bill Morrison, E. G. and J. H. G. Banks with the Waihi Goldmining Co.; J. McConachie and Sam Leah, Waihi Grand Junction G.M. Co.; George Barron, Chemist; James Beeche and Vic Clarke, Solicitors; Mat Paul, Mines Inspector; James Cullen& Son, Peter Brady, Men's and Ladies Outfitters; Billy Wallnutt, Coroner, Journalist and Editor of Waihi Telegraph at various times, later to be Mayor of Waihi for many years; Ernie McLeay, Dawson Donaldson, George Wurm, Jack Whitehead, all Boot and Shoe Importers and some repairers; Harry Armour and Bill Verry, Blacksmiths and Wheelwrights; John B. Weedon the Rob Roy Hotel Proprietor over a long period of time. Mr. Weedon also owned Sample Rooms at the rear of his hotel and it was in these that Commercial Travellers could set out the goods they were trying to sell to Waihi business houses and to invite clients to come and examine such goods and place orders for later delivery. Many nights the lights of the sample rooms burned until Midnight. The Rooms were fairly long buildings and with the long trestle tables supplied by Mr. Weedon, they allowed for large displays with plenty of room to move around the tables.

"The Grand Junction G. M. Co. developed a Steam driven Electricity plant to supply power to the Mine. This meant that large quantities of coal had to be brought to Waihi to fire the steam boilers.

"All the coal came to Waihi by Rail and at the Station it was shovelled by hand into large four-wheeled wagons pulled by horses. There were four horses to a wagon and a shuttle service was operated by the Carriers to ensure that the Mine had a good supply of coal. It seemed that there were always three or four wagons travelling along Consols and Kenny Streets, either full or empty. The Carrier was named Fugill and their Stables were on the corner of Consols Street and Silverton Road. Many Waihi youths were employed at the Electricity plant and some achieved some fame in the Electricity world of New Zealand. All the coal used for Domestic purposes came to the Waihi Station and here it was bagged for the respective Coal Dealers by a man employed for that purpose. Each Dealer had his own wagon supplied by the Railway Authorities and each lot was dealt with separately. The Waihi Gasworks, and the Hospital received their coal supplies through the station. This was a very busy place. Practically everything needed in the town came by Rail and we had many Carriers operating from there to wherever the goods were consigned to, and most of these men were also Coal Merchants. A familiar sight was the man being seen with a sack of coal on his back, delivering coal. Names like Ashby & Son, Ken Roberts, Charles Cole, Bob Paterson, Bill Darlington, come to mind in this connection. Regular Passenger Services were provided by the Railway. One could leave Waihi about 9 a.m. and arrive in Auckland about 5 p.m. daily. Of course, you could drop off the Auckland Express at a host of other places en-route.

"The Waihi Borough Council installed the Gas Works in Bradford Street and the town was reticulated with gas pipes. Most houses were connected to this system to provide lighting and, in some cases, a Gas Stove. We usually had a 'One Shilling in the slot' Gas Meter. One had to remember to always have a spare shilling on hand in case the gas ran out. Most street corners had a Gas Lamp to provide lights at night. Each of these lamps had a 'Pilot' light installed in its works and the Borough Council employed a man who rode around each evening and with a wire hook he pulled a lever which activated the lamp light. During the late evening, he rode round again pulling each lamp lever so that the light went out. When Electricity became available, the gas lamps were phased out and the street lights as we now know, took over the illumination of Waihi streets. The Gas Works were dismantled many years ago.

"Waihi was a great place for youngsters when I was young. We had an abundance of Streams and the River. Waitete Stream was a popular swimming place. If you wished to swim at any particular hole, you had to provide a coal sack which you filled with stones from the stream-bed and when filled, you placed it on all the others previously placed there to make a dam and you were then a member of Smith's, Urwins, Roach's, O'Neills, whichever one you had helped to dam up. Worth's was another swimming hole. Here the river was much bigger than the other streams and one could have a 'real' swim."

"Here's hoping that some old Waihi-ite can tell some tales of old Waihi?"