Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 28, September 1984
By Chas Townshend
(This article is based on the talk given to the Paeroa Rotary Club by Mr. Townshend on 3 December l980)
The first record of Netherton area was made by Captain Cook about 1776 when he took a small boat to a point almost opposite Peka Peka Road corner where an obelisk with an anchor marks the spot. Captain Cook recorded the very large trees and dense undergrowth lining the river banks. Then, records come from Missionaries about 1830, who used the river to establish stations up as far as Matamata. Next activity was the start of timber milling with logs going to Bagnalls large mill at Turua and a lot of the heart timber going to Australia. This timber was very hard and a house still standing at Netherton owned by John Harms was from yellow pine built about 1900.
Tramlines were established at Pukahu corner, main Awaiti Road, Fishers Road and Peka Peka Road to bring logs to the river. Following the timber trade, farming started on a small scale, and all serviced by river transport. Netherton Cheese Factory was started about 1903 and a Mr Harry Heappey was brought from Taranaki to manage it. His daughter, Mrs Geo Sargeant lives in retirement at Tower Street, Paeroa.
Old Netherton Road was metalled with shingle from Puriri Stream but other roads were just mud tracks in winter. About 1932, red volcanic metal was brought by scows from Mc Callums Island and from then on development of Netherton and Awaiti was rapid. Facines were used to support the metal in peat areas, together with a lot of rotten rock from Silcock's Hill, Paeroa.
The first school in Netherton was a single room building, opened in 1890 situated near the corner of Rangiora Road, about 1½ miles from the present school.
The Public Hall was once situated at the riverside and suffered severely from the 1924 flood. It was later restored and rebuilt on its present site.
When the Cheese Factory was in operation, a General Store and Post Office adjoined the Hall. Milk was carted by each farmer by horses and wagons, while a considerable supply came by dinghys or launches up the river and was then winched to the Factory stage. A Creamery was also in operation for some years; situated on the present Tennis Court site. This cream went to Hamilton.
This all goes to show how important to the district the river transport was. The Northern Steam Ship boats, "Waimarie" and "Taniwha" ran trips to Auckland each way three times a week, loading in daylight and travelling by night, according to the tides. It was a good service for cargo and people at 12/6 per head. Landings with wharfs were at Turua, Wharepoa, Hikutaia Fishers and Netherton. From Paeroa and on to Te Aroha and Matamata, the tugs, "Kopu" and "Rotokohu" towed barges for goods only. An interesting side issue was, as Paeroa, Waihi and Ohinemuri County were voted "Dry Areas" by miners, the ships were licensed to have liquor aboard on the river, but while the ship was at Paeroa Wharf quite a few were known to grease the palm of the First Mate to open up the bar whilst the skippers had their rest in daytime. Hikutaia, being in Thames County was the nearest Pub to the dry areas and a special train ran from Waihi and Paeroa to Hikutaia on Saturday afternoons. Corbetts Pub was quoted as the best "gold Mine" in the Thames Valley.
From Netherton to Hikutaia a Ferry service was run by the County Council to get stock to the Hikutaia Saleyards. However Restoration was "carried" in 1926 and the saleyards shifted to Paeroa where Pubs and sales have prospered together since.
My own experiences with the Waihou River were that when I came to Paeroa in 1922 - 23, Pukahu Road and Wilsons Road were just mud tracks, so I railed my furniture to Te Aroha and then to the farm by tug and barge on the river. Livestock were railed to Paeroa and driven to the farm. In May 1924 the low stopbanks just below Puke Bridge gave way after 14 inches of rain in 10 hours and the whole of Netherton was under flood water for 17 days. All of my stock were taken to Mangaiti hills to graze for 2 months at 2/6 per week per head and of the 75 head taken there, only 60 came back. I had a good hack and dog those days and made some money droving other herds to grazing off the Plains.
In 1925 I married and we had a horse and gig in winter to go shopping and on occasions got stuck in deep mud.... result, unhitch the horse and walk to town to get the groceries. In 1929 I invested in a T. Model Ford car but still used the gig and horse in winter until the road was metalled, about 1933.
Flood Problems and Stop Banking.
Following 1924, the Public Works Dept. started a major scheme of protection for the whole district under the Ohinemuri and Waihou River Scheme. Suction dredges pumped sand and mining silt from river beds and then large draglines working 3 shifts, and coal fired, put a retaining layer of spoil to seal the sand. This was later grassed over. At the conclusion of this scheme, the Catchment Board was formed, taking over the River works. While great anxiety has been expressed at the possible heavy rating burdens that may be imposed on property owners, I consider that the work done in the last 60 years, has saved the area from continuing flooding. There have been breaks in stop banks at various points, but no major district floods as in the 1900 - 1920 period.
My farm at Awaiti.
The land heavily infested with large Kahikatea and Matai stumps, interspersed with blackberries, toi tois and rushes but no fescue. I had a target to stump and clear a block each winter. I became an expert in explosives and regularly used a case of gelignite box of detonators and fuses to loosen the large stumps, jacks and levers also used, followed by filling and levelling. By 1930 I had it all in pasture and by 1940, had half paid off the mortgage. I then became interested in Public life and served on the Drainage Board, Federated Farmers, Hall Committee and Vet. Club. In 1946-47, 1 joined the N.Z. Dairy Co. Board, Auckland Herd Improvement and later AFFCO, Auckland, where I served until 1968. My Grandson, Keith, now runs the farm and milks 280 cows in a 36 Rotary shed. Most of the smaller dairy farms of 50 to 80 acres in Netherton have been merged into larger blocks and herds have increased from the 30 to 60 range, to 100 to 300 cows. While Netherton Cheese Factory as well as the other Cheese or Casein plants of the Plains have been superseded by Kerepehi Milk Powder and Cheese Factory, Netherton is still a popular farming district with a very active school complex, Calf Club and Public Hall as the features sustaining its identity as a district.
Prior to the hall being built in 1908 all public meetings were held in the local school house.
On April 14, 1908, a meeting of residents was called to decide the site for the hall. There were two sites suggested, one near the creamery, which was on the banks of the Waihou River, and the other opposite the school-house.
The former site was chosen and for the next dozen or so years the hall served the district from a site which was near the old dairy factory of today.
There was a lot of hard voluntary work provided plus donations and debentures to get the hall built for around 200 pounds.
The lighting was provided by elaborate kerosene lamps and the kitchen was fitted with a large copper to provide plenty of hot water for the functions held in the hall.
However, with the advent of the motor car and the development of the flood protection in the district it was decided to move the hall to its present site opposite the school.
The move was made about 1922 and it was during this move that gale force winds lashed the district causing considerable damage to the partly reconstructed hall.
The will of the local volunteers prevailed and the hall was completed and opened on its present site with tennis courts along side. These have now become a car parking area.
Electricity came to the hall in the 1920's. Only in recent years has the large copper been removed from the hall - it is now outside and used as an incinerator.
The new hall was named the Netherton Public Hall. Since then it has been used by many clubs, associations and for countless private functions.
Among these were Sunday church services, fundraising evenings, young farmers club, weddings, dances, indoor bowls, table tennis, card games, just to name a few.
One of the highlights in those early years were the silent movies, and these provided an evening out for most of the local residents.
There were also district balls to which most Nethertonians attended, resplendent in evening wear.
Regular dances on a Saturday night, attracted the whole family. And mum and dad were not ready to go home and the children became sleepy, the ladies rest room often served as a temporary dormitory.
The men too had their days when the hall committee organised hack races, and an annual picnic with plenty of family fun.
Whenever the functions were held it was a family affair, the people came from near and far on the only transport available to them at that time which was horse and buggy or by boat which kept a regular timetable.
The Netherton Country Women's Institute did a lot to contribute to the enjoyable functioning of the hall over many years and this organisation still does. The Institute has always been foremost in the catering needs for community functions.
Many of the local residents have vivid and fond memories of the activities generated by the Netherton Hall, which has been centred around a thriving community for 75 years.
Mrs Liz Richmond remembers one occasion especially well, the most wonderful day in a young girl's life - her wedding.
She and her late husband, Bill, were married in the hall when it was on the old factory site.
Going to the movies in those days was a most enjoyable outing she recalled.
Mrs "Aunty Flo" Sarjant, a very active member of the Netherton community in particular helping many young brides-to-be. For over 30 years she organised and held kitchen evenings or afternoons for the young people of the district who were on the threshold of matrimony.
Mrs Sargent loved giving pleasure to others and especially in starting those young people out in life. She remembers that she would have been involved in about 70 such functions.
Her late husband George, was also a very active person in the community and he served a total of 40 years on the hall committee, 20 of these as chairman.
The Second World War years are remembered by Mr Chas Townshend for there was plenty of patriotic projects mounted in the hall.
Farewells to young men going overseas and the welcome home for those who returned were prominent among the functions.
Parcels for the troops overseas were packed in the hall along with fundraising for the war efforts. Even the local home guard unit trained in the hall.
Not long after Mr Townshend came to the Netherton district, in 1922, he recalled the severe gales which lashed the district and the hall was badly damaged - timber and roofing iron was scattered everywhere.
However, it did not take long to rebuild the hall and it was back in operation again in no time - an ample demonstration of the community spirit that has always been evident in this district from its infancy.
Mr Harold Prout is one of the younger members of the hall committee and during his early terms on the committee the use of the hall began to move ahead at considerable speed with many and varied organisations being formed.
In 1949 Mr Prout was authorised to purchase the timber to relay the floor - a job which took the volunteers some five days.