Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 49, September 2005
By Colleen Bennett
In the year 2000 I attended the Paeroa Central School's 125th Reunion and was amazed at the differences in the town I had left in 1947.
Firstly I would like to give a few background particulars regarding my family (BRAMLEY). Mr Grandfather, John Bramley, was born in Pool, Yorkshire, and emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in 1869, being listed as a 'prospector'. He lived in Thames for a few years before moving to Paeroa in 1880 , opening a bootmakers and repair shop situated in Cassrell's Street, next door to the original County Council office. My Grandmother, Annie was, in a 1924 Hauraki Plains Gazette, listed as the second longest living resident of Paeroa, the longest being a Mrs Mahoney (Molony?).
Having seen the need for an established church in Paeroa and land having been purchased from Messrs Cassrells and Bennett in 1880, John, having been at the first meeting advocating the Methodist Church, was appointed to the first Trustee Committee. The church was opened in 1892 and the trees growing along the front were reported to have been planted by Annie. Both Annie and John, with four other members of the original family, are buried in the Pukemiro Cemetery. A large blue granite plinth, now alas free standing, records the deaths of John, Annie, Alfred and Annie junior. The graves are next to the upper fence line.
The sight of the Ohinemuri River, after such a long time, was quite a pleasant surprise as my memory of it had always been of a grey, sludge-filled trickle. It now was green and clear with even the odd ripple of fish being discernible. The bridge was much the same as I remembered it in former years. One of our family chores, in childhood, was to be dispatched over the river to Goonans to get the eggs. To get to Mick and Annie's, one passed three paddocks along the river and crossed three stiles. One time I decided to cross the bridge by walking the parapet, not the foot bridge provided, and arrived after falling from it, with a kit full of pre-scrambled eggs and I did not earn the "flavour of the month".
Another chore consisted of walking or cycling, it seemed like about two miles, to Coxhead's farm, for the milk. Coxhead's farm was not far from Thorp's, just by the railway line crossing. We had to pass the Chinamen's gardens in Old Te Aroha Road and found, on reaching our teens, that Ah Wong's family were not to be dreaded, but were very nice people. Somewhere around our family circle are the ginger jars that they used to give Dad, just about every Christmas.
The soda water spring also, was a bit of a surprise. Every Sunday we would go, with half gallon vinegar jars to the springs, hand-pump the water and, on returning home, mix it with lemon juice, no doubt being the forerunner of Lemon and Paeroa. It was a very popular place in those days.
The School Reunion celebrations, and seeing the old familiar faces from school days were great, one of the highlights being able to sit in, maybe, the very desk I'd occupied in the infant's department. Miss Shaw was the first Infant Mistress I understand but, in my day, Miss Patterson ruled supreme for many years. The school itself was much as I remembered it and Will Malcolm's classroom unaltered, I guess. He taught every member of our family (six), with the exception of me. As my mother was quite ill when I was three years old, and one of my siblings would have had to stay home to look after me, the solution was to take me along to school too. It was quite enjoyable, going from room to room, wherever my sisters or brothers were, or however my mood took me, but later, when I was a legitimate attender, things were slightly different - not nearly so enjoyable. I don't think that schools would be so understanding these days.
Primrose Hill, on race days, was quite something, as we used to spend the day counting cars as these passed on Thames Road. I didn't notice the Fountain in those days of yore. The Anzac Day parade and wreath laying ceremony attracted large numbers in those days.
Some of the businesses running successfully in Paeroa were J P Gamble's Drapery ( it had a most advanced communication system in place; namely an overhead wire across the shop to the office and change department); D McWatters, Outfitters; Leach's Bakery; Farmer's Trading; Self Help Grocery; Wong Hings Fruitery; Miss Marshall's lolly shop, with those beautiful home made ice blocks, complete with real fruit, sometimes even milk ones; Miss Wilson's Drapery; O'Loughlin's barbers; Broadley's Jewellers; The Top Fish Shop; Percy William's Drapery; Headges Pharmacy; Leigh's Chemist; Battson and Davies; Prime's Hardware; Wallace Supplies; Master's Shoes; Vincent's Saddlery; Todd's Chemists; Irene Malcolm's Salon; Vince's Secondhand Furniture; Shannaghan's Shoe Repairs and Fancy Goods; Handley's Garage and George's Furniture Dealers. On the other side of the road were O'Neill's Solicitors; Powell's Butchery; McDonnell's Bakery, Brenan's Carriers; Well's Butchery, with the water running down the window glass and, of course, there was Mrs Wall's Butchery, with the immense chopping block. Flatt's Shop, where I worked for four years, is now much changed, with the central fitments that formerly displayed small stationery items running right down the middle of the shop now missing. Gone also are shelves, maybe ten to twelve feet high, lining the walls where large items, such as mixing bowls, large jugs and chambers were removed when earthquakes threatened, or maybe when they needed dusting. Paper Plus these days is much more modern.
I'd never have recognised new street names but the Paeroa Swimming Baths and Gentlemen's Club were where I remembered them to be. I guess swimming baths take a bit of shifting! The large Lemon and Paeroa bottle, sited on the section at the end of the bridge was formerly a children's playground, complete with swings and li-lo and quite a good sand pit. I found it hard to realise that we used to walk along the top of the stopbank, right down to Barraclough's and thence to the opposite side of the road for a swim in the baths.
Some friends and I took a drive around the town and out on the Thames Road, with the skyline of hills and Black Rock a familiar sight. We used to cycle to Komata Creek, have a swim and a picnic, and then cycle back home to Paeroa.
The New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company is now defunct and this is where I spent two years doing office work. The factory houses and the lawn in front of the factory was where all the local nearby children and young adults would gather most evenings to play French Cricket or tip-tap. The clay bank opposite this lawn was where my friend, Peggy, and I decided to make our fortunes manufacturing marbles. Fortunately we didn't give up our 'day jobs', as the venture didn't prove to be a winner - maybe the marbles were not a true roundness! The hospital, further on from the factory road appeared to be a beautiful building, with very good grounds going to waste. Surely they could be put to some useful service.
Noch-ne-vay (not sure of the spelling), or otherwise known as the haunted orchard, is now a lay-by and rest spot. The haunting, I think can be attributed to a former owner having departed this life, seated on a garden seat in the grounds. The river used to flood regularly here, in the winter.
Capill's house, I seem to remember my mother telling me, was a boarding house at one time, and she and Mrs Capill were good friends. We used the shortcut through the Catholic Church grounds, and the church and convent were recognisable, as was Capill's house.
Takerei's Creek recollection presented it having large, deep and good swimming holes. It too, has now shrunk! Billie Beattie would be hard put to execute one of his famous dives into the pool from the bank. The building, formerly known as the magazine is still in this area but I didn't manage to find to what use it is now put. Karangahake and the route along which the outcrop stone known as Queen's Head, appears little changed. My Grandfather purchased land at Waikino in the early days, as he was under the impression that the railway line, then mooted, would be built on his, then, valuable land. Like the marble venture this didn't eventuate as the railway line was built on the other side of the river. So much for good intentions, but I still remember family picnics at the old Karangahake mine workings which were, in the very early days of Paeroa, the venue for Sunday School outings.
The Drill Hall, next to the school which serviced the 6th Hauraki Regiment, was used by the Physical Culture group to which my brother, George, belonged. The Paeroa-Waihi Road made a great outdoor roller skating rink. It presented a good run to the convent, with very few cars to worry about.
Paeroa Domain was, to my mind, very little changed, although I missed some of the beautiful trees of former days. Just opposite here was the Parish Hall, where our school had the misfortune to be sited (I think before the construction of the new high school), and we were accommodated for our classes in sort of, small cubicles, with wallboard partitions, just above head high. The other classes were overheard at all times and I recall Mr Jensen who taught us book keeping, struggling to drum the fundamentals of this craft into our heads. Maybe the acoustics were responsible, for the whole class, with the exception of John Bartlett received "0" in their exams. Miss Baird managed to get better results from her French classes, I think. As I left school shortly after the High School was opened, I cannot report on the successes of the education levels there.
The Methodist Church is no more, along with its huge trees and the arbour that was in Normanby Road, which was a good resting spot, opposite Father's Hotel. The Criterion Hotel has undergone a face lift and here I spent seven enjoyable days, while renovating our family graves. The cemetery was just a walking distance away and is very well kept.
The Post Office, where my father had retired, after forty years of service, is still an imposing building and the commemoration seats, brickwork and plaques are informative and interesting. The hotels (Criterion and Paeroa) are still doing their job, after looking after the thirst and comfort of the travelling clientele in the Paeroa's case, for more than one hundred years. The band rotunda and children's play ground are opposite here and there is a booking centre sited here. The Paeroa Railway Station, with its refreshment room, complete with pies and block and tackle weight cups, are just memories.
Paeroa, like many small towns, had a large percentage of Irish settlers, hence the Orange Hall, and names like Goonans, Maloney, Powers, McLinchey, Shannaghan, Nixon, Sheehan, O'Grady, Crosby, Pennell, were general, not to forget Father O'Meara, who was a very popular figure of the early times. Maybe to some of them, the lure of gold seemed irresistible and when the shine had faded, other vocations had to be adopted.
All in all, the reunion visit assured me that Paeroa was still there and likely to be for the next one hundred years. Along with the one penny ice-creams, three-a-penny chocolate fish and Sandy Laird's six penny paper tri-cones of chips, Paeroa will not be just a memory. The good foresight of the founding fathers in building wide streets has proved very beneficial with the motorbike races making good use of them, providing a tremendous attraction.
Lemon and Paeroa, formerly manufactured right here, still retains the old name and is now a New Zealand icon and still a very popular beverage.
These reflections ran through my mind - fifty years of alteration and improvement to my home town and I wondered how many changes will take place before my next visit.