Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
The Waihi Historical Society congratulates Fred Carbutt on the occasion of his 90th birthday this year. Fred was born in Auckland, on 10 March 1907, the only son of Harry and Amelia Carbutt. Fred had five sisters, one born in Auckland and the others in Waihi. Fred and his family moved to Waihi in December 1911, where his father purchased a grocery business on the corner of Haszard and Kenny Streets, opposite the Court House.
In those days there were a great many boarding houses in Kenny Street and Fred assisted in delivering groceries to them, on a trolley his father had built him. This was Fred's first set of 'wheels' and he recalls that after finishing the grocery deliveries he would go to the top of Haszard Street and then race down the hill in the trolley, straight across the Kenny Street intersection, and on down Haszard Street. It was whilst racing across this intersection that Fred had his first 'motor' mishap when, on 1 October 1916, he and his trolley were ran over by a Model T Ford. The car had to be jacked up off him but, amazingly, he was not seriously injured.
Later Fred had a push bike, enabling him and his friends to explore further afield as well as continue his grocery deliveries. After leaving school in 1924 he learnt to drive motor vehicles and this led to him being asked (in February 1926) to drive a Police Sergeant and Doctor, to Whangamata, in his father's Model T Ford, to deal with an emergency. Leaving Waihi at 4am they arrived in Whangamata at 6pm. That was when Fred earned the reputation of being able to handle vehicles. This led to him spending years driving service cars and buses between Waihi and Auckland. After giving this up at the end of 1931 he spent the next few years in casual work underground at the Martha Mine and also a year as owner/driver of a Ford Model A taxi, before obtaining the Rural Mail Delivery contract starting on 1 August 1935.
In 1945 he sold the Rural Mail Delivery contract to his brother-in-law and he was then employed in electrical and auto electrical work. He was a tester with Brown & Brown for a time and later was employed by Dillimores until his retirement in March 1972. He is a foundation member of the Waihi Historical Society, serving on the committee for many years.
He was involved with St. John's Ambulance for many years. Following the major accident at the Martha Mine on 25 July 1933, when a cage broke away and fell out of control down the Number 2 shaft, Fred Carbutt was responsible for driving the ambulance that 'ferried' the injured men to the Waihi Hospital as they were brought up from the mine. The ambulance at that time was an old World War I model. (Details of the accident are recorded in Journal Numbers 7 and 21.)
Mr Carbutt said that after studying at the first aid classes during 1932/33 he passed his exams in 1934 which entitled him to wear the St. Johns badge. The first Christmas season after that he and Bill McConachie set up an ambulance tent at Waihi Beach and in addition to bandages, they had a two-litre blue bottle of castor oil and the same of sal volatile. He recalls that on the first day they had 100 patients who had all been stung by Blue Bottle jelly fish.
At the time of the Waihi Rugby Union Centennial (see the item below) Mr Carbutt was presented with a certificate in appreciation of his service to Waihi rugby, whilst serving with the St. John's Ambulance.
Fred Carbutt served 37½ years with the Waihi Volunteer Fire Brigade having joined on 1 January 1933. He recalls that one of the biggest saves they made was the Rob Roy Hotel. This was during the Second World War years. The fire began behind the fireplace in the dining room on the ground floor and quickly spread through the ceiling joists to the bathrooms on the floor above. Chief Fire Officer Royce Morgan despatched Mr Carbutt, and two mates to tackle the blaze on the first floor.
The bathroom walls had been lined with copper sheeting and when they got there and opened the door all they could see was the copper sheeting, glowing red hot, and they had to get through it to fight the fire. Fred recalls, "It was so hot in that bathroom that all I could do was take a deep breath, rush in and take a few hacks at the sheeting with an axe, and then get out and hand the axe to a mate. He would do the same. We kept that up until we got through the copper. It was the only way we could get to the fire."
Meanwhile the blaze had gone up the wall behind the copper and into the ceiling but luckily the fire was eventually controlled and the Rob Roy saved. Not so fortunate was the Academy picture theatre in 1938. It was lost, but the adjacent Golden Cross Hotel and J P Gamble's was saved from the flames. It was also in that year that the Commercial Hotel was burnt.
The most spectacular fire remembered by Mr Carbutt was the blaze that razed the Stirling Hotel to the ground on 23 March 1919 and which he'd watched as a boy of 12. He says that when the brigadesmen reached the fire station they found that all the spark plug leads had been ripped from the magneto of their fire engine, a Darracq. The engine was pushed to the fire which had, by then, got a firm hold and had spread to the adjoining Hetherington's Drapery Store and Hague-Smith's Hardware Store and into their motor petrol store. In those days petrol was sold in four gallon tins, two to a wooden case. He recalls that as each case of petrol blew up, it shot a blue-green flame about 100 feet into the air.
Mr Carbutt says that up until the time of his retirement from the Brigade, in March 1972 there was an average of 100 calls a year.
An article regarding the history of the Waihi Fire Brigade, written by Mr Carbutt, appears in Journal number 16 [see Journal 16: Waihi Volunteer Fire Brigade - E].
EDITOR'S NOTE: We recently visited Mr Carbutt at his home in Waihi and were pleased to be shown a number of his interesting photos, plans and other historical records and to hear recollections of his life in Waihi. Many of these are worthy of recording in the Journal and it is hoped to do so in next year's issue.
In 1995, Mr Ken Clover, of Ngatea, recorded on audio tapes, some of Mr Carbutt's recollections and Mr Clover has since transcribed them into booklet form. This is an important record of the district's history.