Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 45, September 2001


Waihi's oldest surviving business was set up by a young entrepreneur who recognised an opportunity in the miner's camps at Waihi. Seventeen year old Ernest McLeay came to Waihi from Thames in 1892 to set up trade as a bootmaker. By 1894 his miners' boots were in such demand that he set up a shop. He later purchased the current Seddon Street premises in 1918, and has been there ever since. Sitting with hammer in hand, it is likely that Ernest turned out a pair of miners' boots per day, made to order and specially conditioned to cope with the jagged mine rocks and acidic mud.

At Waihi's peak there were 14 cobblers in residence, but only McLeay's has lasted the distance. McLeay's also has one of the longest standing accounts at the National Bank, having opened an account in Paeroa in 1897.

By the time that Ernest's son, Pat (born Eric Daniel McLeay), inherited the family business in 1935, he had already tried his hand at dairy farming and worked in Hague Smith's Seddon Street hardware store. In 1927 he went to Fiji and managed the hardware department of Burns Philp in Suva. Pat and his wife, Ivy, ran the store for over fifty years, before Pat's death in 1988, at the age of 85.

Ernest's granddaughter, Heather Robinson, and her husband, Ian, later took over the running of the shop and they are still there today. In 1952 Heather's brother, Doug, opened a store in Katikati and built the current premises in 1956. Doug and his family later moved to Rotorua, leaving the Katikati business to Ian.


There has been a hardware store or ironmongers in Waihi since its early beginnings, at least when Harley's store operated. Then, before the turn of the century Walter Phillips and Co. set up business on the corner of Main Street and Moresby Avenue (where the Broadway Restaurant is presently situated). Shortly afterwards the business became known as Wynward's Hardware. In 1919 Hague-Smiths moved in after a fire in their Seddon Street premises, which also destroyed the neighbouring Sterling Hotel and Hetherington's Drapery. Later, during the Depression, the legendary Stan Millar's Hammer and Sickle store took over, where one could purchase just about anything. In the mid 1950s a partnership comprising Gwynne Morgan, Ernie Hands and one other operated there until the late 1960s. The building was then demolished and replaced by Wrightsons.

Today, Waihi is served by Hank, Bev and Jo Postmaa in upper Seddon Street's Summit Hardware, where Hague -Smiths hardware store had operated. Research has failed to disclose who operated the business until it was taken over by Claude Olphert. In the early 1930s the firm of Thomas & Olphert had set up shop on Rosemont Road. The firm's timber yard in Kenny Street was run by Mr Thomas. He died in the early 1940s and was replaced in 1945 by his son, Albert, who had been discharged from the Air Force. The partnership soon dissolved, with Albert continuing to run the timber yard, also setting up business as a joiner, trading under the name, Waihi Timber and Joinery.

The hardware shop became known as Claude Olphert & Co, until Claude's retirement in 1967. The business was then taken over by Merv and Moira Bailey and it was possibly during their ownership that the business became known as Summit Hardware. The shop was purchased by Graeme and Dawn Barnett in about 1973 and was later sold to Digby Johansen and then the Davises. It was purchased by Hank and Bev Postmaa in 1996.


The building known as Morton's Garage began life in Waihi's boomtown heyday in 1906, as Lockington and Pattison, cabinet makers and funeral directors.

John Lockington and Arthur Pattison were business partners and brothers-in-law. Arthur was married to John's sister, Isabella.

John's son, Terry Lockington, aged 90 years and living in Remuera, was interviewed by the Waihi Leader. He said that he was born in Waihi and remembered when his father was the funeral director and owned the property now occupied by the Bank of New Zealand and neighbouring properties. His father's partner, Arthur Pattison, left Waihi in 1912, when the Strike caused a drop in business. Mr Lockington carried on and then sold the business to a Mr Ward from Paeroa, in the 1920s. In 1928 he relocated with his family to Auckland.

Around 1937 the business was purchased by Norm Morton and it became a garage. The Mortons lived on the corner of Featon Road and Macky Street and Norm's wife, Pat, was a primary school teacher in Waihi. Norm Morton served as a borough councillor from 1944 until 1953 and he was a noted authority on Waihi history.

Current owner, Tony Dillimore, served as an apprentice with Norm Morton and bought the business in 1967. Prior to this, his father, Claude Dillimore, served his time as a cabinet maker on the premises, when it was a joinery. He later went on to form a business partnership that was well known in Waihi as Seath and Dillimore. The company built and sold furniture and operated a funeral directors. It was in the building on the corner of Seddon Street and Moresby Avenue. This is currently owned by another son, Rex, who served his time as a cabinet maker with Seath and Dillimore.

C C Dillimore's building had the joinery in one part and the furniture showroom in another. On the corner it formerly housed a butcher's shop. Later a factory was built in School Lane, where the Medical Centre is now situated. It became the offices of AMAX when gold prospecting began again in earnest in the late 1970s.


By Jeff Gamble

The year was 1901 and a young teenager without a penny to his name had just landed on the Auckland waterfront. Having survived the boat trip from Ireland (from which he was nearly washed overboard in a storm) he had no idea of what his new life in this new land would bring. This was my great grandfather, Joseph Park Gamble. Not having known the man myself, I can only imagine the kind of determination he must have had to succeed in life. After working for a couple of firms, Joseph started work in 1914 with the Macky Logan Caldwell company where he would do trips from Auckland to Waikato, Thames Valley and King Country areas selling goods (hard to imagine doing those kind of miles without a car today). During this time he married his wife, Margaret Redshaw and had two children, Ruth and Gordon, who would still be remembered by many of the locals today.

In 1919 Joseph got news that Miss Kelsey of Waihi was selling her drapery business. They sold their home and household goods. With £1,000 to their name, on July 4, the business of J P Gamble - General Family Draper, "the home of good value" was born. Joseph had acquired a packing case of fabric samples which were done up in bundles (ie three pieces made one sheet) selling for one shilling per bundle. Opening day was a huge success and it wasn't long before they had a staff of fourteen.

Eventually the building, which Gambles Furnishings are still in today, was purchased. Not long after Joseph decided to buy the bigger shop next door. To purchase the building he had to travel by taxi to Paeroa and catch the S S Taniwha which travelled up the Waihou, into the Firth of Thames and up to Auckland, an overnight trip. There he signed the documents and returned on the 8:45 train the next morning. He was a keen man!

Business was brisk. On one famous sale day, the police requested the doors close four times during the day as the crowds were blocking the street. In 1921, Joseph, always looking for an opportunity, expanded the business into Katikati. This part of the business however, was later sold to the manager. In 1923 the Paeroa shop was purchased with Gordon (second generation, my grandfather) joining the staff as a messenger. During the Depression years, the Martha mine kept the business ticking over. Gordon climbed the ladder and took over from J P Gamble in 1939, when he retired. However his retirement was short lived as Gordon was to eventually go overseas to the War, returning in 1946. On his return he purchased the Paeroa business from his father (sold in 1954, moving up north with his wife, Jean and two sons, John and Allen to Pakari) and kept a manager on in Waihi.

Gordon's farming days were brief. The manager in Waihi resigned in 1961, so Gordon and Allen returned (John was impressed with farming and is still farming in Wellsford today) to Waihi. Four years later, in November 1965, J P Gamble passed away.

The third generation, many of you will know them, is my father, Allen and mother, Gael. They have been involved for 30 years plus. They purchased the furnishing side in 1973. The rest was sold by Gordon Gamble in the late 1970s. Having spent several years away from the area and overseas with a packback for company, I returned to New Zealand with an Aussie girl called Sarah and a container load of stuff. My parents were complaining, they reckoned it was time to retire, so I dragged them into the 21st Century and reopened the Paeroa business at 114 Normanby Road in February 1998. The shop is still in the same family owned buildings that my grandfather, Gordon, traded from up until the 1950s. We have two daughters and one son. We are encouraged by the support we have received from the people of the Paeroa and Waihi areas. We have a staff of six, not quite the 14 it used to be but we are getting there. My parents are still hoping to retire some time soon. I, also J P Gamble, and the fourth generation of Gambles, look forward to the continued growth of the company and many more years of the Gamble name in business.


By Anita Postmaa

After a century of operation, Barron's Pharmacy has seen a lot of changes in the field of pharmaceuticals - not the least of which is the introduction of pre-made medicines.

George Barron, a "pharmacist and druggist", set up shop in Waihi around 1900, making it one of the oldest businesses in town. Originally located where McLeay's Shoes is now, the firm operated nigh on 50 years in the two storeyed corner shop on today's BNZ corner, which was subsequently occupied by Brady's Florist until it was demolished about 1976. George (John Barron's grandfather) was a skilled chemist who invented Barron's Cough Balsam - a popular cough mixture which included prune syrup, camphor (with no opium), capsicum syrup and chloroform in its formula. It also had an alcohol level of 11%. The balsam was for "coughs, bronchitis, asthma, hoarseness, Miner's Complaint and affections of the chest, lungs and throat".

Suffering two fires in the space of a decade means there are few records left from the early days, but John says that pharmaceuticals were radically different in those days. For a start, everything was made up in the pharmacy, from lotions and liquid medicine to pills and powders. Liquid medicines were favoured by the chemist, as these were easier to make and took less time. Drugs were often sold in powder form, wrapped up in paper in individual doses. Pills, not tablets as we know them today, were powder rolled in small balls and took a lot of work to prepare. The pharmacy shop itself was almost certainly medicine only (besides a basic range of cosmetics, including rouge and lip colour), but John thinks they may have stocked veterinary supplies as well.

When George died during the Depression (late 1930s), his son, (John's father), Jack, took over the family business. John remembers his father bringing home the ledgers in which he had to handwrite the records of prescriptions he had filled that day.

In 1958 the store was moved further down the main street to its current premises which were previously occupied by Sterling Stores. This business eventually moved to Auckland and is now known as Sterling Sports.

Jack's sister, Muriel, also followed in the family footsteps and qualified as a pharmacist - quite unusual in those days - but upon gaining her qualification decided to enter a convent instead. She later became the chief pharmacist at what is now known as the Mercy Hospital in Auckland.

John, the current owner of Barron's Pharmacy, went to St Joseph's Primary School, and at the age of 12, moved to boarding school in Auckland. After pharmacy school and an internship in Auckland, John returned to Waihi (around 1978) and took over the running of the business. Since then the business has expanded to include a wide range of cosmetics, perfumes, giftware, photographic products and, of course, medicines. The medicines come pre-made from suppliers, but John still has all of the old bottles and powder drawers from his grandfather's time, out the back.