Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
(reprinted from the Hauraki Plains Gazette, October, 1930.)
The old order changeth and giveth away to the new. Last week, the last launch carrying cream to the dairy factories on the Hauraki Plains ceased running, giving way to the ubiquitous motor lorry, which now runs everywhere over good roads, which the early pioneers knew not. In the subjoined article the Gazette's representative at Ngatea gives an interesting historical review which recalls many old memories.
The Last Trip
The New Zealand Dairy Company's cream launch "Daisy" has made it last trip to Patetonga, for the past week the cream was taken into the factory by motor-lorry. For the past 18 years this launch has been carting cream on the Piako River and for the greater part of the time she has been driven by Mr T. Smith.
When the first settlers on the Hauraki Plains commenced milking cows in the 1911 season, the Thames Valley Co-operative Dairy Company set about building a receiving depot at Kerepehi. Mr H. K. Petersen, who still resides in Kerepehi, was engaged to collect the cream on the river, graded and tested it, and bulk it in big cans at the depot.
While the depot was being built, he took the cream to Shortland, Thames, in a little launch named "Bret", after the maker of the engine, and from Shortland it was railed to Paeroa. This only lasted for six weeks.
From October, 1911, to May, 1912, Mr Petersen ran the launch to the Kerepehi depot and sundry carters conveyed the bulked cream to Paeroa. Mr J. M. Thompson, a well-known Kerepehi settler, was the first contractor.
Cream Transported by Launches
Desiring to be relieved of his duties Mr Petersen arranged with a Ngatea settler, Mr J. Brattle, to run the launch, but he was a very tall man. on the first day on which he had the boat he was attempting to start the engine when it back-fired and his knee being in the way, the two lugs were sheared off the crankling handle. Feeling that the next time the engine back-fired it might be his leg that was broken, Mr Brattle gave up the job and a Mr Gunlock took it on.
He continued to collect the cream from Shelley Beach to Kerepehi until the Thames Valley Co. built its Kopu factory. The "Bret" was then used on the Waihou River and the "Elsie" was employed on the Piako until such time as the "Daisy" came out of the hands of the boat builders.
The "Elsie" was then engaged running three days a week to Patetonga, going up one day and down the next. The "Daisy" did the Puhanga-Kopu run, and, as the Piako River mouth could only be crossed at from half-tide, the service was run to time-table. Frequently she left Kopu before daylight and frequently she got back after dark.
Past and Present Quality Butter
It was this service, the best that could be arranged under the circumstances, that created for Hauraki Plains the reputation of being unable to produce quality butter. It is little wonder that the cream did not grade well after having to be kept for hours in hot weather waiting for the tide-bound launch. The evil reputation persisted for many years but now the achievement of the Ngatea factory in winning the Weddell Cup on three occasions has completely dispelled it for ever.
The increase in production on Hauraki Plains warranted the building of a butter factory at Ngatea, and, on its completion, the "Daisy" creased running to Kopu and commenced the Ngatea-Patetonga run, which service she has continued in, with only a few breaks until last week.
The "Elsie" came to Ngatea as a standby for use during the winter months when the volume of cream did not warrant the use of the bigger launch. She was also used when the "Daisy" went away for overhaul or annual inspection.
The same fate has befallen the "Daisy" as has been the lot of dozens of other launches which formerly plied on the Piako River. They have been driven out of business by the metalling of roads and the coming of the motor lorry.
The Deserted Waterway
Once a very busy inland waterway the Piako River is now practically deserted. For two or three years Land Drainage Department launches still found employment transporting men and materials to works in the upper reaches; one commercial launch ekes out a precarious existence transporting goods for Patetonga stores and settlers from the Auckland steamer at Kerepehi, and two or three privately owned launches used during the shooting season are practically the only motor boats which use the river.
The "Daisy" is the last of the old fleet, and her passing will bring fond memories to the original settlers of the Hauraki Plains, for the launches played a very vital part in the opening up and settlement of the Piako swamp.
There were no roads, so the river was the very lifeblood of the community. Launches brought the prospective settlers to view the land, later they brought the fortunate section winners, then they brought the timber and tin chimneys for the first house, and for years continued to bring supplies of bread, meat, groceries, newspapers, mail and all the requirements of the pioneer settlers and drain workers. Even drinking water had to be brought from Shortland, but for this job the small Government steamer "Hauraki" would tow punts laden with tanks.
"Hey-days of the River"
Those were the hey-days of the river, when so dependent was the community on the launches that every one quickly learned to recognise the sound of the different engines. The competition was keen, and every tide brought half a dozen or more passengers and goods launches up the river.
One of the regular traders would carry 120 passengers, and so frequent were the complaints of overloading, that at times the police were noticed on Shortland Wharf the firm would send another boat out into the Gulf to take off some of the over-load.
The old settlers will remember the "Settler", the "Portare", the "Omati" and the "Ahiki" run by Mr H. Kerby, Mr McCarthy's "Defender" and the "Shamrock Leaf", Mr Tom Storey's "Samson" and many other boats, which were known by the name of the owner, and which ran for short period at the height of the boom.
The Glitter of Pay-day
All the settlers' business had to be done in Thames, and the hundreds of workmen employed by the Lands Department and its contractors had to have their week-end, so there was work aplenty for the launchmen. However, no fortunes were made, for the pioneer settlers lived mainly on hope in the future and bank overdrafts in the meantime and the workmen were paid monthly.
The arrival of the Government steamers "Hauraki" was the signal for a week's "beano", for it was invariably followed up the river by a small fleet of "beer-boats" as well as the "Pea-nut", a diminutive launch owned by a Thames fancy good dealer, who purveyed everything from corrugated iron tanks to shirts and chocolates. Thus, at times, only the pioneer firm which could not afford to go off the river leaving much money owing to it, had the only launches which stuck to the settlers.
The Changing Scene
In appearance the river was very unlike the present broad channel with well defined stopbanks. Wild ducks blackened the surface and rose in flocks to let the launches pass, willows lined the banks, so that in places above Kerepehi it was possible to cross by climbing along the branches, and snags abound, so that launchmen needed to know their route.
The channel was shallower below Ngatea, but in the upper reaches there was water everywhere, and the difficulty was to know just where was the channel. Bearings had to be taken from willow trees to sticks and empty benzene tins etc. It has only been of later years that the tide has had any effect above Ngarua landing.
Twenty years ago the Northern Steamship Company's steamer traded regularly to Tahuna, and it been told that on one occasion the steamer "Kapua" sailed right up to Morrinsville. The Northern Steamship Company's "Gael" traded to Patetonga, but now the "Waipu" or the "Hauiti" rarely go as far as Ngarua Landing and never above.
Truly the passing of the "Daisy" recalls memories—pleasant memories as well as memories of hardships and long waits on dismal wharves.
Gone are the days when everyone in the district knew everyone by reason of travelling together on the boats, and gone to pleasant dance parties, fishing excursions and moonlight trips across the Gulf.