Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 46, September 2002
MEMORIES OF AWAITI ROAD 1938 TO THIS NEW MILLENNIUM, 2002
By Otto Buchanan
I married Bruce Buchanan, second son of George Buchanan, a well-known identity of Paeroa, in March 1938. I came from Dunedin, leaving behind my father, four sisters and two brothers, so the transition to Awaiti Road was like going to live in the back blocks.
Here I digress a little to give you part of my early life background. After the Great War, 1914 - 1918, my father went farming about four miles from Port Chalmers to a place called Mihiwaka because of the mountain there. Our farm was right on top of a tunnel, the longest in New Zealand until Otira Tunnel was built through Arthur's Pass. There were concrete vents, capped ones for the smoke to come out and it was visible at times. My school was Purakanui, which had a store and a church. Mihiwaka was only a name like Awaiti is. Dad was never a farmer. He was a Blacksmith so he went to work in Port Chalmers, most of the time riding a Harley Davidson motorbike to which he later added a sidecar. Many a ride and tip out we had from that as Dad hit the roadside, gutters and shallow drains. Us girls had to do the hand milking and many other chores. No electricity or mod cons so it was slavery and I vowed I would never marry a farmer. I was 15 when we sold the farm. Meeting and falling in love with Bruce changed my mind and I never regretted my choice.
Farming is so different and easy compared to my early days.
Roberts & Sons built our house beside the surveyed road which still had ½ mile to be formed before it continued past our gate. Power had not got through either so we moved into a brand-new house all wired up, light fittings, power points and best of all, a majestic Magnet electric stove. Alas! A primus sat on top of it where I cooked our meals for three months using a steamer set of pots, three high and wonderful, until the convenience of electricity arrived. Baths were not a daily schedule, showers unheard of, so water was heated in the copper and carried, bucket by bucket, to fill the bath.
Our farm was not broken in on what we called the "high ground" - blackberry bushes so high I could not see Bruce over them when on the horse getting the cows at milking time. Cabbage trees were in abundance too and on the lower ground we called "the swamp", there were stumps. Many forests had grown there and even today they continue to surface. Mr Mick Sarjant came with his heavy machinery and crushed the blackberries first, which were then burnt and he ploughed up huge areas of high ground which Bruce, then with his horse team, disced and harrowed and had the ground like dust to sow the turnips and grass. Bruce liked horses and every one that he worked, he had broken in himself.
Once I had my stove, cooking was no problem and I often baked biscuits and cakes. Bruce enjoyed it all and I remember one day, while eating one of my biscuits, he told me they would not KEEP! I was highly indignant and told him that they were made from good ingredients. He just laughed at me as he meant that he would eat them quickly.
I had a good neighbour, Mrs Peter Doran and our mail came as far as her place so I visited sometimes, when mail collecting. She gave us our first chooks and eggs. In return I made her blackberry jam, jelly and pies as Dorans lived in what today would be called a shack, two rooms, two adults and two children. Cooking was done on a camp stove - a huge iron pot. Years later a lovely home replaced all that.
Early days we could not reach our gate in the car so we had to leave it at the end of the metal road. It was an Austin 7. One night it disappeared but was found next day stuck in the mud further up the road. Fish and chip newspaper wrappings were inside so I often wondered if it had been used to drive to Paeroa for the meal and when the car got stuck in the mud, the thieves sat and ate their fish and chips before taking off.
With hard times we could not afford help so Bruce and I did the milking, eighty cows, no electricity, so engine driven machines, so noisy - a walk-through cowshed. Hard work compared to today's conveniences. Cows were weighted to let milk down and then stripped for the last drop. We used to sing while doing that and one of Bruce's dogs named "Put" used to come and sit beside him at the bail as he sang, "Put, put, put your arms around me honey, hold me tight". I think she liked it as she was a very intelligent animal. Calves were fed after milking and Bruce only had to say, "Put, calves", and away she would go and bring them in.
The farm on the high ground was pumice soil, formed from the ashes from Mt Tarawera, when it erupted. It never bogged or flooded but the swamp area surely did badly. Much draining into the Waihou River had to be done. We employed a Maori neighbour, a fine, middle-aged man to do this for us. Mick Te Moananui was his name and no one had a straighter eye than Mick. He used his eye only and when the drain was completed the sides and edges were as straight as a ruler. Mick's wife used to walk down to the river, a mile away, in whitebait season, and net that delicacy. One day Mick gave Bruce a treacle tin of these with the instructions, "Don't let the wife eat too many - she get the bellyache". He need not have feared as I never liked them but Bruce surely did and I loved cooking them for him as he enjoyed them so much. Bruce had been told by a Tirohia farmer and friend that he was mad buying this farm as it would never be productive. Later when he saw the results of Bruce's labour, he told Bruce he would have to eat those words.
Haymaking has progressed amazingly too. In our early days hay was cut by horse-drawn mowers with blades often needing to be sharpened. Then the hay was left for a day or two to dry, turned by a horse-drawn rake and, with the same implement, raked into rows. On the day that the stack was to be built these rows were dragged to the area and, after building the base, the "grab" on the stacker was loaded and lifted by a horse going forward, hoisting up the "grab" full to dump it where the man stacker pointed. Bruce was always the stacker and many huge stacks he built. Meantime I was kept busy supplying sustenance to the gang of seven or eight men, mostly Maori, and fine chaps they were. Oatmeal water in a small cream can was taken out very early. Morning tea was scones and jam, plus a huge billy of tea. Lunch was hearty sandwiches, filled with meat, and buns to follow. These haymaker buns, I called them, were huge favourites. Afternoon tea was scones and buns again. How different today, a tedder tractor tosses and rows the hay, a baler follows it and then a front end loader carries it to be shedded or stacked. Nothing personal, no good camaraderie and no work for the farmer's wife. Similar to having cows with numbers, not names - all just machines but this is progress and change inevitable.
Those early days were tough but very happy times. We got our electricity, tractors replaced horses, and a metalled road, and very dusty it was until it was tarsealed thirty-plus years ago. Now it is almost a State Highway to Waikato and Coromandel and Auckland. A continuous traffic flow.
The farm prospered and we were blessed with two sons and two daughters. One daughter became a Bank Accountant and the other a School teacher. Our sons both became farmers and they still farm on our old and extended property, milking two to three hundred cows on each farm, with sheds we never dreamed of that do almost everything but put the cups on. Both sons went to Fielding Agricultural College and they both came home to show Dad how to farm. Bruce taught them many skills as they learned from sixteen years of age until they both married and built their own homes and owned their own farms. Milk tankers collected their supply; ours was cream which had to be collected by a truck from a stand a mile down the road.
Now I live alone in the home we built sixty-four years ago. It is filled with memories and if walls could only speak, what tales they could tell of the love and laughter, joys and sorrows of this happy family. Our Christian faith and love of God has sustained us all along the way and we have been greatly blessed.