Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 50, September 2006
(By Justine Lord, grand-daughter of the late John and Thora Ganley, of King Street, Paeroa. and grand-daughter of the late Des and Thelma Lord, one- time owners of the Fathers Tavern.)
"HEY HAVE a look at this beauty," came the bellow from the computer room.
"Now that is something, bet you it's got history," I said, peering over my father's shoulder.
"And cost a packet probably," he added.
There it was the house I had been looking for, for near on two years.
The search had started half-heartedly by my mother Seane (nee Ganley) and her sister Kim, both ex-Paeroa girls, on their annual pilgrimage back to Paeroa for the Highland Games and Tattoo. They had come back to Auckland, mum joking, that she had bought a four-bedroom house in Paeroa expecting me to freak out.
I got the last laugh by first selling my brother's house within three days—it's alright, he lives in Botswana, Africa. I then put my own house, which I had been renting to friends, on the market.
With my son and father in tow, I went to see the house that had tickled my mother's fancy. I understood at first glance why. It was beautiful "art deco" set on a large section with awesome views. We missed buying it by an hour, most disappointed, but it wasn't meant to be.
Some time went by, many hours at the computer looking, looking at four bedroom abodes for my mother, daughter, son and myself. Requirements, only three. It had to be old, four bedrooms on a relatively large section.
Most sections in Auckland are tiny, 500-600sq. metres with the house taking up most of it, costing an arm and both legs. Everybody is living on top of each other, the traffic, the troubles.
My daughter, Spencer, was in her first year at school, 36 kids in her class, just one of 420-odd pupils at the school to slip through the cracks if you didn't stay on top of things.
I had to drag her, literally, to school each day kicking and screaming. She hated it. "Too many people Mum, they pick on me," she would sob, enough to break your heart. My son, Dalton, couldn't get into Kindy until he was almost four. There was no room to swing the cat. Time for action.
Finally in August, 2005, I rang some Real Estate agents and arranged to see seven houses the next morning. Only three requirements, it had to be old, to have four bedrooms and a large section, easily satisfied you would think.
Early Saturday morning we loaded up and headed for Paeroa, it was going to be a long day. Well, we were in for a disappointment. The Realtor had only two of the five houses I had arranged to view the previous evening. Oh well, we are here now.
First stop, a beautifully kept house, looks promising, ok not as old as I wanted, but large section, great, and excellent views. Inside we go, sun streaming into the sunroom, very nice kitchen, lounge, dining-room and bathroom. All good, so far. First bedroom not big, but nice; second bedroom for one of the kids; third bedroom, even smaller than the one before.
"Ok, I say", "The fourth bedroom is?" "Oh no," is the comeback "only three, you could turn the sunroom into a bedroom or build on the deck outside". Mother and I exchanged glances and go back to look. Yeah right—not. It was left unsaid.
Onto the next house. It was in the shadow of Primrose Hill, where my grandfather Jack Ganley took us to slide on cardboard boxes when we were kids. I could do that with my kids. Loved the kitchen, huge, but dear oh dear the bedrooms were tiny and the fourth of these was an L-shaped little room where Spencer would have had to sleep around the corner after climbing a set of very steep stairs.
One Realtor down, onto the next. They only had one of their two listed properties left and well let's not even go there. I was by now feeling very dejected but the Realtor was onto it. "I can show you a house which belongs to one of the other agents. It's not in town, but just at the start of the gorge at Mackaytown." Well we had come all this way so why not.
We turned into the street, up a slight incline in the road, my breath catches. There sitting stately on the hill is the graceful "Old Lady" my father had shown me on the internet all those months ago. "No way" I giggled. "Look mum that's her, that's her, the one on the internet." My heart skips as we pull into the driveway. "This is it, this is the one. I want this house," I announced to mum as we stop.
Within an hour we had made an offer, two weeks later it was signed and sealed. Mind you it was the longest two weeks but filled with good omens.
On returning to Auckland I went to the library seeking information if any on "Our House". There sitting on the Librarian's desk is a book about Karangahake Gorge, flicked open to a page, there in all her splendour "Our House".
Later, speaking to my Auntie Pauline, she sleeps every night in the bed that used to be in the front room of this very house. She bought it for 10 shillings ($1) a long time ago from Mrs Ritchie herself.
"Talisman House" steeped in history. Unfortunately its history has become a smidge confused of late, the more I look into it. I have read that it was called "Talisman House" as it was built in June 1900 for the then Talisman Mine manager, Mr John McCombie making her 106 years old.
Mr McCombie, in 1875, was a prospector who had taken part in the celebrated rush of that time. In 1878 he was working at the Waitekauri goldfields some 10kms west of Waihi, but he was drawn to the glistening white quartz peeking through the manuka scrub covering Pukewa (Martha Hill) north of Waihi. With American partner Robert Lee they mined a small quantity of ore but lacking financial support had to abandoned this venture and he then headed for the goldfields of Te Aroha. The following year, 1879, William Nicholls staked a five-acre claim over the diggings and called it Martha after a relative. Returning to Karangahake Mr McCombie, with others found the Talisman reef in 1882.
At some stage he became general manager of the Woodstock and then Maratoto mines. He returned as Talisman Mine manager and finally Superintendent of the Crown mine.
Now this is where things get hinky-strange. I spent some hours at the library before coming across an interesting article written by long time resident of Mackaytown, in which was stated that "Talisman House" was also known as "The Terraces" due to the imposing series of steps and terraces leading from the front door all the way down to the main road.
Also mentioned was another house "Fernleigh", built for Mr Kitching, the accountant for the Crown Mine. It was sited on the headlands not far from Mrs Claudia Milroy's home in a straight line with "The Terraces" facing the same way. The dates given in the article age the "Talisman House" some 10 years putting her at 116 years. This to me is a huge discrepancy and somewhat confusing. The article goes on to claim Mr McCombie was the manager of the Woodstock Mine in the early 1890's when he supervised the building of this large verandah kauri house. He lived there until 1898 then shifted to Auckland.
A Mr Rich (I think possibly a Mr Rickard) became the new manager of the Woodstock Mine and in doing so took up residency in the big house until the Woodstock Mine was taken over by the Talisman Mine, returning Mr McCombie, not only as the mine manager, but also as occupier of the big house until 1909. Thereafter other managers followed.
The articles concludes with a list of owners of the Talisman House: McCombie, Richard (again I think Rickard), Dutton, Ritchie, Wilson and Smythe, the owners in 1989.
All other articles I have read have McCombie supervising the building of the house in 1900 and living there until 1909 when with his family of five he moved to Auckland. John Rickard and family occupied the house for the next ten years followed by the Duttons.
Mr Fred and Harriet Ritchie bought the property around 1920. Fred, the son of the first school teacher was already a sick man and died about 10 years later. Mrs Ritchie, having no children of her own, continued to live in the big house.
Jim Wilson owned the house in the early 1960s. At this time the land was subdivided and the grand terraces and steps were lost. Changes also took place inside the house, lowering of the ceilings to some three metres high to allow another floor to be added upstairs amongst other changes.
At some stage the house changed hands to Peter and Paula Symthe. They were living there in 1989. They may have sold to Kevin Miller. Possibly one of these two families may have rented it to, by all accounts, a sweet young lady who came with good references. Unfortunately for the "Grand Old Lady" and surrounding neighbours, she brought with her an undesirable element. Apart from a few hammer attacks on the doors and the knifing of a poor defenceless balustrade rail it is still truly a magnificent old house.
My daughter has blossomed, she catches the school bus, her classmates number just 13, the entire school has 53 pupils, the teachers are great. They teach sign language as the school has two deaf pupils and Spencer just loves it. Yeah, Karangahake School.
Dalton is in kindy. Every day he asks me two questions: "It is kindy today mum?" and "Is the girls going to be there?" He is enjoying himself. Yeah, Paeroa Kindy.
This house is magic, the views are breathtaking, my children are happy, I am more relaxed. Although the kids don't get to see their grandfather Murray Lord (whose father owned the Fathers Hotel in the late 1950s and 1960s) as much as they would like, at least they are getting to know their great grandmother Thora Ganley (who still lives in Paeroa) which not many of us have been able to do.
So I shall go forth, read, check and double check, gather as much information as I can on this "Grand Old Lady" to piece her history back together and hopefully in the not too far distant future start restoring her to her former glory.
At least now I have plenty of room to swing a cat good and proper.