Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 32, September 1988
Revisited By C W Malcolm 27 September 1987
It is almost 40 years since I lost regular contact with Paeroa and in that time I find many changes. My first favourable impression is of the entire absence of the rough metalled pot-holed streets bordered by unkempt grass verges and open drains. They existed even in the main street of Belmont Road. I knew every inch of those streets, having marched over them as a member of the Salvation Army Band for 15 years and traversed them for 21 years as a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade on our fortnightly practices and inspections of the town's scattered fire hydrants, and over them I ran hauling the old hand-reel with our fire-fighting equipment in the days before Paeroa possessed a fire engine in 1926.
Today I find those streets smoothly sealed and neatly kerbed with footpaths no longer roughly surfaced nor with the menace of open drains to trap the unwary on dark nights feebly lit here and there by a street lamp fed by gas. The passing of the gas works in Puke Road was lamented but electricity has its advantages.
In the principal buildings of the town there have been decided gains and regretted losses. A far too long delayed change has been the building of Paeroa's Fire Station with its incomparable equipment for dealing with fires, floods and even serious road accidents. This replaces a series of what were known as "fire sheds" with hand drawn equipment until the firemen themselves went from door to door to beg funds for the provision of a fire engine which was eventually built on the premises of Brenan and Co by Ernest Moore an officer of the Brigade.
The appearance of the main streets, Belmont and Normanby Roads has undergone considerable change. They appear narrowed and closed in by their continuous frontage of commercial buildings. I remember them with many open spaces - green paddocks with a grazing animal or two or where a visiting circus erected its big top. Several private residences too, confronted both streets - I can remember a dozen of them with their gardens behind picket fences.
One receives a shock discovering the disappearance of one of those open spaces. On the corner of Normanby Rd and Arney Street the picturesque "colonial" style Methodist Church stood well back from the intersection allowing a pedestrian short-cut from street to street and a broad grassed area enhanced by the Paeroa Beautifying Society's provision of a border garden and seats sheltered by arbours overgrown by a mass of roses that scented the air. Church and all have been replaced by a commercial building blotting out the whole once beautiful site.
If you have spent 26 years in a school as pupil and teacher you have the urge to revisit the spot and on your way along Normanby Road you become aware of the disappearance of a number of significant buildings. The Methodist Church has gone. The once impressive Criterion Theatre with its great galleried auditorium and upstairs Concert Chamber has been replaced by the smaller war Memorial Hall. Next to it Hague-Smith's two storeyed shop and the imposing Bank of New Zealand on the corner of Victoria Street no longer grace the street and match the Criterion Hotel opposite. In Victoria Street itself, the town's post office no longer occupies the corner of Willoughby Street while in Wood Street all that remains of the original Paeroa District High School, remembered for the elegance of its impressive architecture, is its earlier Infant Room built in 1903. The main school of plastered brick, with its flights of approaching steps and its high pitched roofs, has been replaced by a sprawling flat-roofed construction of modern architectural design that lacks the permanent appearance of the school we knew.
Round the corner to Nahum Street to look, on its right-hand side, for the virgin teatree wilderness bisected by a hidden gully where we built our hide-outs in the school lunch intervals; scrub and gully alike have been replaced by a broad level grassed area, a splendid recreation asset for the pupils of the school but without the romance and adventure of its once mysterious Stalky & Co "covers". On further to the old school horse-paddock once crowded by the mounts ridden by distant pupils, and the meticulously tended vegetable plots of which we senior boys were so proud, to find the site transformed and occupied by newly constructed streets we could never have envisaged: De Castro and Lewis Streets are among the many new streets that surprize the returning visitor to Paeroa, streets on the fringes of the town, with their numerous attractive homes where once were open paddocks and barren swampy areas.
Approaching Paeroa along Puke Road where once existed no more than a couple of houses on its right-hand side of rush-grown swampy land, one meets the pleasant welcoming aspect of an almost continuous line of comfortable dwellings. The growth of the town is revealed by the new housing subdivisions such as Opatito, Grey, Menzies, Arrow, Lee, Shaw, Kinsella, Keepa, Sarjant and the extension of the desolate old Quarry Road connecting Station and Thames Roads through old Norwood Road.
But alas! housing has also invaded the lovely hilltops particularly above Hill Street where we children used to play, allowed to roam with the utmost freedom, climbing their trees, tobogganing down their slopes, bringing home the early morning mushrooms, or relaxing from play merely sitting to gaze upon the farspread views of town and countryside below and beyond.
But Paeroa has new and other recreation areas not dreamt of in our childhood days. And one of these has changed the aspect of Rye Lane where I was born. Even its romantic (I wanted to say "mellifluous") name has gone; it is now Towers Street in honour of Paeroa's first Mayor, the late Mr W J Towers who once lived there. I call it romantic because it once possessed a "castle" - the home of the pioneer Edwards family (see Journal 31) [see Journal 31: The Home of Edwin and Emily Edwards - E]. Between the Castle and Station Road was a line of private dwellings. All have disappeared to be replaced by large commercial buildings. Opposite them, on the eastern side of the Lane was a vast open paddock now occupied by a sports ground with imposing buildings.
Station Road, so called because it led to the town's original Railway Station, now ends at the park with the Karangahake band rotunda, and behind it an elevated bank divides the town and carries a single railway track used, no doubt, by a once-daily abbreviated goods train drawn by an unromantic diesel locomotive. Here the town has suffered its most devastating change. Here Paeroa's original railway station fitted neatly and conveniently into the heart of the town. It was a busy centre of life and activity with the day-long friendly sounds of commercial vehicles, of shunting rolling stock, and of steam locomotives. It was a source of excitement for us school children who saw our mates off in their train for Karangahake and Waikino at the end of the school day and for an evening stroll by citizens to greet the arrival of the "Wild Cat" - the last train of the day from Frankton Junction. After school, about 3.30 in the afternoon when the Auckland to Thames Express arrived with the daily N Z Herald, we watched, fascinated, the driver with his oilcan and the fireman at the water tank where Puke Road still crosses the line, as they tended their large steaming locomotive.
It has all gone - the neatly sanded yards, the trim station building, the large goods shed on Railway Street, the engine shed, the turntable, the signal box by the level crossing where the subway now stands, and the refreshment room - all gone, and the returning citizen feels an inexpressable sense of desolation as memory tries to replace it all.
But other familiar scenes and sounds are seen and heard no more. The Maritime Park is but a shadow of what it seeks to preserve. The river, at its series of wharves gradually shifted further and further down the Ohinemuri and Waihou, was a scene of unforgettable activity. And if the Puke Wharf with its tugs "Kopu" and "Rotokohu" transferring their cargoes to and from Te Aroha, the big ships "Taniwha" and "Waimarie" unloading and loading goods and passengers, was a little far from the town, we had constant reminders of its presence. Paeroa clearly heard the warning and departing whistles of the passenger ships leaving for Auckland and saw the coach with its smartly groomed horses spanking along the main street with its embarking passengers.
Another steam whistle that regularly marked the working hours of the town's labourers was that of the large two-storeyed timber mill (or more correctly "sash and door factory") of LeManquais-Lamb in Francis Street which now looks forlorn without it.
I ended my nostalgic visit to my home town on that mild September afternoon in 1987 with two sad impressions that linger, for Paeroa has buried one of its most historic sites and vandalised another. Cassrels Street, the town's first main street with its complete frontage of hotels and business premises facing the river, now lies forever beneath the stopbank. But visible to every eye is Paeroa's monument to vandalism on the summit of Primrose Hill, once a beautiful marble fountain, its glistening water cascading from basin to basin. The fountain, wrecked by vandals, was rescued and now stands in a private garden in Hikutaia. It has been "replaced" by as ugly a piece of rough stone as could be imagined. That fountain was unique throughout the entire British World for of six Paeroa men who volunteered for the First Contingent to the Boer War, one did not return. George Roland Bradford was the first colonial soldier from the wide British Empire to give his life in the cause for which the Empire was fighting - that South Africa should remain within the Empire. Had that cause not been ultimately lost there would, today, have been no apartheid in South Africa. And that fountain, unveiled by the great Prime Minister of New Zealand, "King Dick" as he is known in history, commemorates this man from Paeroa and the cause for which he gave his life, and the authorities and the people are content to remove from the present young generation the historic lesson taught by the fountain in our schooldays.