Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 36, September 1992

By Oliver Pipe

I left a job in the Waikino Battery (Victoria Mill) to take a job at the new Dubbo Battery at Karangahake around about 1938. I used to ride a push bike from Waikino to Karangahake for a couple of years. The road, of course, was unsealed in those days and I worked three shifts, so the ride home always seemed twice the distance. The carbide lamps we used in those days really only indicated that something was approaching you and did not [give – E] enough light to indicate that big stones or deep potholes were ahead.

Around that time the Public Works Department were busily engaged in widening the Gorge Road and had quite a large team of men working there. They had a carpenters and blacksmiths shop and also a change room situated on a flat piece of ground now covered with willows, on the left as you enter the Gorge from Paeroa to Waihi. While this work was being done traffic was diverted over the Rahu Road for about a year. We few cyclists used to shoulder our bikes and pick our way over the stones to avoid the long haul over the Rahu. The carpenters spent their time making iron wheeled wheel-barrows. The men working in the gorge wore overcoats or oilskins as there always seemed to be a strong draught. Wet weather gear was unheard of in those days, so it was a motley crowd (dress-wise) that worked there.

I eventually bought the local store at Irishtown from Mrs Haslem. The previous two owners of the store were King Meagher and before him, Clem O'Brien. The store was the agency for the New Zealand Herald and each morning at about 7am the guard on the up train to Waihi would throw out a bundle of about 40 papers as the train rushed past to the tunnel at full speed. On some occasions the bundle of Heralds would hit the iron upright that supported the station roof and would kick back under the train. The result - a trail of confetti of the days shredded news spread from the station to the tunnel. Perhaps a new slant to the saying "Spread the News". Customers, who all walked to the store to collect their daily paper at various times of the day, assumed the attitude that I had shredded their paper on purpose. I sold coal, which cost me around $29 for a 8 ton truck load. This had to be bagged and carted to the shop. Delivering coal in Karangahake was no joke as most of the houses were above or below the road and entailed climbing or descending steps with heavy bags.

The New Dubbo, as the battery was called, was at the confluence of the Waitawheta and Ohinemuri rivers. The battery was a two storied tin clad building, and the noise from the crusher and then the ball mill was deafening. It only required two men to operate it. The ball mill was loaded with three and a half tons of manganese steel balls which were imported from Australia. The actual mining was being carried out almost at the top of Karangahake Mountain and the ore was sent down to a big hopper at No.8 level via an aerial ropeway which carried 5cwt buckets. The sag in the rope was a big problem and the miners spent much of their shift shovelling the trench deeper to keep the buckets moving.

The ore was trucked from No.8 level down to the battery by two trucks driven by Shorty Moore and Jack Dent. With the War on, it became very difficult to procure spare parts for the machinery in the battery - plus the fact that payments to tradesmen and even wages were not always forthcoming. Possibly the ore was running out. Eventually the battery was closed and some of the machinery was sold to Emperor Gold Mines in Fiji.

I owned a small truck - a Ford Beauty model with a Ruxel gear. Once a party of tributers, young men who were well known for their sense of humour, engaged me to cart a load of tram rails from No.8 level to a claim they were working behind the Mountain. They informed me that I would have no trouble turning my truck after unloading for the return trip. They jokingly said "Anyone could reverse a truck back to No.8." As I had no option, that is exactly what I did. One day a miner named Joe Meagher staggered into the shop and asked me to drive him into Paeroa to the doctor. He was bleeding from countless places. He had been working in a tunnel and had miscounted the number of charges of explosive he had set and as he walked back into the face, the last charge went off blowing countless pieces of quartz through his black bush singlet and he was a real mess. He was off work for a few weeks, but then went back mining.

Once we had a big flood in the area and it deposited some quite large logs at the end of Cummings Flat. A chap named Bill Deane rigged up a staging and pit sawed quite a large amount of timber. I presume these logs would have come from the Waitekauri watershed. Another time, a party of railway men came to chip and paint the two railway bridges at the ends of the tunnel. They set up a camp of about ten or twelve huts on the banks of the little stream at the end of Cummings Flat. They camped there about a year and were very welcome customers at the shop.

Johnnie Morris, a very old identity, had a small five or ten stamper battery close to the site of the present toilet block on the picnic area. He treated small quantities of ore for various tributers. Mr Ben Gwilliam (Sen) did the assaying for him and also for the Dubbo. The hall, also located in this area, was very much the centre of things and local dances were well supported. At the dances a Mr Redfern and his daughter Emily (Mrs Bill Griffin) could always be relied on to sing a duet entitled "Willow Tit Willow Tit Willow". The removal of the hall was a great loss but I think the new hall is better situated.

When the mine closed I was offered and bought a two bedroomed house along the river bank for £26, which I let for six months and then sold for £50.1 was even offered another house for £18. I eventually closed the shop down and then shifted it to Waihi Beach and re-erected it as a house and it is still serving that purpose. I went back to work at Waikino and then got a transfer to the Martha Mine in Waihi.