Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 31, September 1987


By C J Gwilliam 1986

I was born here in the year 1900.

I do not remember the hour, but I guess that I yelled like any other babe that first took in a breath of that fresh air which today reeks of the evacuations of the motor traffic that rushes unseeingly through.

I wonder whether my first joy was the sight of the natural beauty of the native forest and tree-fern covered heights above the confluence of the rivers Waitawheta and Ohinemuri, for in those far-off days there was not a foreign pine to be seen. Oh, for those bygone days!

Yet they are still with me each time I pass through the site of the busy old town, and pull in for a cup of tea in what is now a beautiful "Rest Area". My four and a half score thanks go out to all those who are bringing beauty back into sight and enjoyment!

That area was once a busy shopping area, from the present pipe bridge and down to the lower exit on to the main highway. Where the glorious big camellia stands at the top end stood the Post Office, where, at the early age of five I opened my first P 0 S B Account Number 9, and I still have it holding a small credit. It was a Birthday gift that started me off, and as long as I'm alive, so shall it be!

My schooling began in 1905 with Miss G Palmer as head of the Infant Department, and what a fine teacher she was! No obstreperous kids in those old days, for those were the days when the parents taught their offspring discipline before they started school. If a parent said "No", and a child answered with "Why? But I want to!", it usually ended with a crease in the seat of the pants, no matter whether the child was male or female. Yes, I'm talking about the "old days", when unruly 'teenagers got lifted back on the straight and narrow may with the toe-end of a policeman's boot, - and they wore solid boots in those days. Yes! You Human Rightists and Modernists have never lived a real life, of hard work and honest sweat.

Hard work, did I say? Well, just imagine tramping half-way and more up the hill to the Mine, then in underground for thousands of feet, followed by the swinging of a nine-pound hammer on to a hand drill, then pushing a heavy truck-load of ore for eight or more hours a day, for six days on end. Wages amounted to eight bob a day, - that's 80 cents today. You wouldn't work like that, at that much a minute!

Don't mistake me when I say that those old days were happy days, and even at that wage one never missed having a bountiful fruit salad at each Sunday night's tea.

Memories! How oft they come back to me!

My first climb to the top of the Trig at the age of 6. I'll spell it out SIX, in case you think I've missed a figure. At least I tramped it on foot to well past No 8 Adit level, and then was pick-a-backed to the peak by my uncle, Tom Fleet, who was also one of the champion cycle-riders in old 'Hake. Also he took me along to just above the west entrance of the Railway tunnel to see the last load of material wheeled out. That was early 1905. My eyes glance at the very spot whene'er I pass by.

I'm returning now to the "Rest Area" for a few more glimpses back in Time.

Below the school and just below Ivy Greening's old home there was once a fair-sized Hall. Ivy used to take me along to Sunday School there before either the Methodist or Anglican Churches were built. I was present at the building and the opening in 1905 of St Aidan's Anglican Church, on the ridge at the lower left end of the main street. That day marked my first appointment to an Office in Churchwork, and as a junior sidesman my duty was to take up the offerings from the Choir members. On one night only did I fail. The Sermon must have been too long or too boring and I fell asleep!

Along the right-hand boundary was a row of glorious roses, and some years after the building was removed I went up to see if the foundation stone was still there. All I could find was the section covered in six foot high gorse and blackberry, but there, above my head was one only single creamy rose bloom. Memories! I tore home to Paeroa, grabbed a slasher and spade and took that old rose bush back to Paeroa. In 1963 it came with me to Tauranga, where it flourishes and flowers abundantly, while its scent wafts widely with the winds. It is ancient like myself, but we enjoy the fulness of life, and what memories it too must recall - the crowds that came to fill the seats, the well dressed families as they entered the door, the tolling of the bell, the chords of the fine organ, accompanied by the lustrous singing by choir and people of those fine old Hymns, etc. These are the joys we "oldies" miss in these days of rush, tumble and bellow.

And what of the town, - its shops, owners, their wares, the festivities, the sadnesses?

Much has been written already, but perhaps I may touch on a few, - but there mere so many, drapers, milliners, bakers, butchers, grocers, - you name it, we had them. There was Geo Craig to whom one day, at seven years of age I went alone with half a crown to have a broken tooth attended to, climbed the stairs and then toddled home alone. There was the tailor, Geo Fallon who made, after measurement of a client, a 3 piece suit for less than four guineas; butchers Vuglar and Wells who delivered on horseback to the scattered homes above and around the town and suburbs; stationer, Nat White to whom once a week I would tramp down and across the road (main street) to collect my favourite weekly paper, "The World's News".

So you're feeling dry listening to all this dry stuff? Right oh! We'll cross the main street from this spot of old Nat White's and you can go into Montgomery's Talisman Hotel for a "nip", and while you're having a guzzle I'll nip upstairs and look out from the balcony. What do I see but a sad funeral procession passing by. Two miners were killed at the Mine the day before yesterday, and the crowd bids them a last farewell.

Do you see that tiny face just above the balcony rail? Well, he is the one writing of it - eighty years later.

You've had your fill-up? So now we'll cross the side road that leads up hill to the many homes above.

There stood Montgomery's Hall and what a fine hall it was, always well used with concerts, dancing, school festivals and minstrel shows, whilst at one particular function a carriage drawn by a couple of horses drove in from the back on to the stage. You don't believe me, I know, so let's go out the back door. If you are so fuddled after that or those beers, I'll drop you in next door for a breath test. Oh yes! It's the Police Station, tucked away in a street of its own. Don't worry, it will be empty, unless you haven't paid for Monty's beer.

Now let's go back and take a rest under the shade of that fine tree at the lower end of the "Rest Area". Here, we're on the site of the plumber and tinsmith's shop, Charlie Taylor's. He was commonly referred to as Charley Taylor Tanks, because he made everything, - corrugated rain-water tanks, tin plates for food, miners' candle lanterns, and even all the small tanks that rested in the wee hoose away at the far end of each house section and which the lootenant emptied fortnightly to feed such prolific gardens! You see, sewage and sex were unspoken words in those far-off days. We were a community of clean livers, - cancer unknown.

Mining folk were friendly fraternal people, and they were used to digging holes in hills, in their gardens, and into their pockets when some other family suffered misfortune.

Before we leave this spot, just glance across the river. It is all a flattish area now, but at the turn of the century it was all built upon. Opposite was a treatment plant of the Comstock Coy., who drove a mining tunnel in the gully above but in the wrong direction, to the right instead of left.

Next upstream, a Boarding house ("Tramway") run by W Ryan, a relative. Other houses, and then the Assay and Pay Offices of the Talisman Coy., and finally at the junction of the two rivers, stood the large building containing the boilers for the steam-driven air-compressors for the mines, as well as the smelting furnaces for the near-final stage of the gold and silver recovery.

Above that flattish area stood the residences of some of the Battery and Mine officials (Talisman). These homes were ornate in their day, much more beautiful than the wig-wamish architecture of today.

Prospectors and pseudo-companies are even today scratching around amongst the old workings, but they lack the elbow-grease of the genuine miner of old. There is still plenty of reef-gold up that way, and a tidy lot of float gold close by, and I am not referring to what lies in the river bed!

I must end here even though I have only lightly touched upon what the eyes and memory took in over four score years ago.