Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 32, September 1988

I have been asked to write my recollections of my days at the Tramway Hotel, Karangahake. It all seems a long while ago now, so forgive me if I quote my diary to get the facts right.

I arrived in Karangahake in April 1882 just three weeks after John McCombie, Alf Shepherd and their mates had discovered the large gold bearing reef, later known as the "Maria". What a wild, remote place it was then. No huts and even the tracks made by the original prospectors in 1875 had over-grown. Tents or rough huts that were hastily constructed from bush materials were the first accommodation, although we occasionally trudged back to Nash's Hotel at Mackaytown to enjoy the comforts it provided.

Our camp was at Battery Flat across the river from today's picnic ground. It often puzzles folk today as to why Karangahake's first store, hotel and Post Office were over the "other" side of the river, but that was where the mines were. There were no roads or settlement on the later "town" side of the river, and of course, no bridges anywhere.

It soon became obvious that mining was going to boom so Alf Shepherd, who owned the Tramway Hotel at Waitekauri, decided to move his establishment to Karangahake. He commenced to erect a building at Battery Flat in October 1883. On 11 December 1883 the Ohinemuri Licencing Bench Commission approved transfer of his licence to Karangahake and the hotel, also named 'Tramway' opened 2 weeks later. I was one of his first residents.

All supplies to the hotel, including barrels of beer, were carted from Paeroa, across the ford at Mackaytown, up Hill Road towards the mountain, and then lowered down the hill, behind the hotel.

Soon there were many miners at work and space became short for building. Settlement began across the river and in 1885 the county built a swing bridge. Alf's baby daughter, Ivy, gave us all a fright when she crawled across the bridge before it was even completed!

Alexander Hogg had a store next to the hotel and on September 14 1885 a post office was opened there. He was "postmaster" until Alf took on the position on 1 April 1888.

Alf's wife, Mary, had some difficult times and some most hair-raising experiences. Besides feeding us all, a multitude of men who both worked hard and drank hard, she was always looking after the lost and injured. I remember that when an epidemic of measles struck the miners, the hotel was more like a hospital. Domestic help was hard to come by because conditions were so primitive. Much of the cooking was done on the open fire or by camp oven. The Shepherds had five children. The older ones started at Mackaytown School, then went to the Karangahake School when it opened in 1889.

It was a great shock to us all when Alf was thrown from his horse whilst on his way to a funeral. Alf landed on a heap of metal and suffered brain damage. The accident happened on 29 November 1888. He was never the same again. Everyone helped do what they could and Alex Hogg took back the Post Office agency and was eventually officially reappointed Post Master on 1 December 1892. The Post Office was moved to a shop in the now booming town's main street in the mid-1890's.

In December 1897 Alf sold the hotel to L D Nathan & Co., who were brewers in Auckland. The Shepherds moved to Katikati and had the Talisman Hotel there for six years, before retiring. For a short while in 1898 Algar Bunyard was our licensee until Bill Ryan took over. One of our new neighbours at this time was Bert Reed, whose house was behind the hotel. He often loaned me his bike and we became great mates.

At first the hotel was a single storey, but was soon enlarged and another storey added. Alf had built a high fence all around and had a St Bernard dog to keep guard. He seemed a friendly dog to me; I don't know if he would have frightened off a thief.

The hotel was lit by electricity which was a great novelty in those days. Water from Scotchmans Gully was used to drive a generator set up in the stables out the back. By the turn of the century Karangahake was a busy town but I must stick to telling the "Tramway's" story and not ramble on about all the happenings in the old town.

Montgomerys bought the hotel but it continued to be run by Bill Ryan until his death on 26 March 1902. His wife, Kate, carried on and after she remarried Peter Crosby, he took over as licensee.

The next event I'll never forget took place on 16 September 1906. I was having a drink at the bar with a couple of mates after a hard day up at the mine when, at 9.30, suddenly one of the maids rushed into the bar screaming, "Fire! Fire! The kitchen's on fire!" We shot out into the back of the building, only to retreat before a wall of flames as the fire took hold on the building. Everyone got out and the fire brigade soon arrived, only to find the water mains turned off. Then, when the water was turned on, the hose repeatedly burst. It had not been renewed since the Brigade was formed in 1898 and had perished. By now the old wooden building was a raging inferno which spread to the adjacent Volunteer ("Crosby's") Hall and Billiard Room nearby. These were destroyed as well as the hotel. Nothing was saved. Next day a temporary bar was rigged up (necessary to preserve the licence). I had to move temporarily into the boarding house above Scotchmans Gully but it was not long before a new hotel was built as the building had been insured.

Injured miners were often taken to the hotel. It was on Friday July 10, 1908 I had to help bring up two of my work mates from the Talisman. Charlie Lewis and John Chester had been working at the south end of No. 11 level, drilling and blasting. They cut the fuse too short, the inquest said but we'll never really know. We carried Charlie out dead and John died soon after.

Later that year, in December, we were struck by disasterofanother sort. When they counted the votes on Election night "Prohibition" had been voted in. The hotel bars closed for the last time on 30 June 1909. After this the "Tramway" was run as a boarding house. A few years after this the mines began to falter, although I was one of the lucky ones who still had a job at the Talisman Mine.

By 1915 Mr Monsey had become our landlord and at the beginning of 1916 had gone on a visit to Australia with his wife. Mr Monsey's mother-in-law, Mrs Dawson, was looking after the establishment. There were only four of us boarding there and I had gone away for a weekend. The news which greeted me on return was another shock. At 3.00am on Sunday 20 February (1916), the hotel had burnt to the ground and Mrs Dawson had been trapped and burnt to death. Constable Capp, Karangahake' s sole charge police officer had given me the news. What about my mates, I asked. He told me they had been burnt and were in Waihi Hospital. Well, they recovered, but that was the end of the poor old "Tramway" and it was not much longer before we were all looking for jobs elsewhere in the country as the Talisman Mine closed in 1918. There was no demand for building sites in Karangahake and although the Dubbo "Battery" was built nearby in 1938, the Tramway Hotel site remained vacant.

The present Walkway follows the formation of the Crown Mine's tramway which ran behind the hotel. It seems a long time ago since I watched the first ore carrying trucks pulled past on 27 April 1893, but that's all anotherstory.

When you walk the Walkway and draw near the bridge over Scotchmans Gully, give a thought for the old "Tramway" and my friends of long ago.