Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011
(by "Ferox", published in the Hauraki Plains Gazette, July 14, 1953)
Kerepehi is one of the small townships of the Hauraki Plains. To many it may be that it is nothing more than a roadside hotel and if they enquire they might learn that a mile or so along from the cross-roads there is a shopping area with most of the amenities required for a rural community.
Designed by a Government department to be the official centre of a vast, newly-created area, it had failed, as also did the official town of Pipiroa. Cold officialdom may propose but it takes the keen foresight and swift action of shrewd businessmen to lay foundations that will grow into a prosperous town.
The time may not be so long when it will spurt ahead for there has grown up in its district team spirit which is not as evident in many other farming centres.
Many projects have been advanced for the betterment of Kerepehi but with one notable exception they have not materialised. The exception is the annual Easter Monday fixture of the Kerepehi Racing and Sports Club, which having the whole-hearted support of all the residents of the district, has developed into a function of which any district would be proud. Its steady growth over the years has not been due to the work of any one man or small group of men, but to the fact that people of the whole district rally behind the project year after year with ever increasing enthusiasm.
Obstacles that would have deterred many other communities have been tackled and overcome in a manner which should be an inspiration to the people of other places. Not being endowed with a public domain and having lost its "race-course" by circumstances beyond local control the people of Kerepehi set about acquiring a sports ground and having raised a staggering sum of money are now developing the area in a manner which promises to make it one of the most popular recreational areas for an ever expanding district.
The present scribe attended the Kerepehi sports this Easter Monday, 1952, after an absence of nearly 20 years. He was a stranger in a familiar land and of the many hundreds present he knew but a handful. Not among the spectators but among the workers did he find those he knew. They were in pretty much the same places as they were 20 years before and conversation naturally turned to the early days and to the old arguments as to how many years the sports had been running. With this theme he sought out old acquaintances and enquired what they were doing and how long they had been associated with the sports.
The "daddy" of them all is Mr William Thompson, now 75 years of age, and though still as active as a man half his age, confesses that his memory for dates is not as good as it might be. He clearly recalls a meeting which he donated 10 shillings just to give the club some cash for the secretary's expenses. This would have been in 1913 or 1914 when he was farming at Turua and interested in the running of the Wharepoa ferry which he installed for the Thames County Council, having been employed on account of his experience with wire ropes gained in the Royal Navy and later as a captain in the mercantile marine.
He cannot recall the name of the first ferryman, but this man was not satisfactory and Mr Thompson, was, in 1914, persuaded to take over the running of the ferry, a job he held till 1923 when he joined the staff of the Lands Drainage Department and was able to take an active interest in the running of the sports. For 17 years he was the starter for the horse events and claims that to stop the repeated suggestion that he become the starter for the Ohinemuri Jockey Club he persuaded Mr Maurice Crimmins to take the job.
When the Wharepoa ferry was opened there was but a fascine track to Kerepehi and among the early settlers on what was to become the Kerepehi-Wharepoa Road was Mr J. H. Nicholson, formerly a wagoner on the Paeroa-Waihi Road, where he was familiarly known as "Jimmy the Finisher" by reason of the fact that he was always the last to knock off work for the night.
In his day Mr Nicholson was also a great worker for the sports club and his teams, implements and many sons were in great demand for the arduous joy of preparing the racing track on the old Kerepehi racecourse, which was swamp between the office of the Lands Department and the site of the present dairy factory. The story of that block of land is a long and interesting one, but as a prospective real racecourse for the Hauraki Plains or as a showground for the new short-lived Hauraki Plains Agricultural and Pastoral Association. Proposals for its use were terminated by the building of an embankment for the proposed Paeroa-Pokeno railway.
It was on this site that the "Maori" races were held. Just when they commenced nobody seems to know. Mrs Wallace Booth can remember attending a picnic on Easter Monday, 1902, on the occasion of a Maori race meeting which was then a flourishing annual event.
Whether horse races or sports have been held continuously since then is an open question but there is no doubt that Kerepehi has been the Mecca on Easter Monday for very many years. Messrs Ernie and Cecil Adams of Waitakaruru claim that there cannot be many occasions that they missed since 1908.
The consensus of opinion among patrons approached on the subject on Monday last was that it was just prior to World War I that settlers of Hauraki Plains took over the annual fixture. In those days, while launches on the river provided the main means of transport, practically everyone owned a hack and the young folk thought little of riding from one end of the county to the other to attend dances, etc. These horse sports were popular and the Kerepehi sports attracted riders from as far afield as in these days of motor cars and horse floats.
Later on when quite a few of the present day patrons arrived on the Plains and became associated with the fixture as officials or competitors there was a movement to secure a permit to hold legal horse races. This was not granted, hence it was deemed inadvisable to continue to hold horse races, so the programme was varied and included such events as bending competitions, ladies' bracelets and combination of foot and horse races, etc., as well as chopping and athletic events.
Only a few years ago permission was received to conduct real galloping and trotting races and the club still has hopes that some day it will qualify for a totalisator permit. This year, for the first time, the programme included events for the newly-formed Kerepehi Pony Club, an organisation in which a prominent member is Mr W. Kidd, who as a licensed jockey, first competed at Kerepehi in 1917 and has been a competitor or an official ever since.
As an official Mr Sam Garrett possibly holds the record with 31 years of continuous service, but there were present this year quite a number of Plains residents who were associated with the club over 30 years ago. Mr Roy Green won a trotting cup in 1920 and his brother Russell had an entry in 36 years ago.
The O'Carroll family of Kopuarahi, represented on Monday by Tom, frequently figured in the list of prize winners. Wood chopping has claimed the continuous interest of Mr E. Fisher, now a chopping ring steward, since he started competing, along with his brothers, 30 years ago.
Returned soldiers of World War I who settled on the Hauraki Plains 30-odd years ago are well represented on the list of 1952 officials of the club. Among them are the Lynch brothers, George Elvidge, Jack Millington, Fred Patterson and George Garry. There are many others for which the present scribe finds that his memory is also a bit hazy.
Bobby Wentworth has sold tickets at the gate continuously since 1928; Gordon McMillan, the racing judge, has attended practically every meeting since 1915; Eric Stansell's service since 1916 earned him life membership which he availed himself of on Monday; Nibs Kneebone arrived in Horahia in January 1913, and does not miss visiting Kerepehi every Easter Monday; Harold Candy, the starter of the chops, has worn an official badge since 1918 and Mr W. Chick, a vice-president, can recall all the meetings since 1921. Another stalwart of the early days who was present was Mr W. Herkt, who came to Kerepehi in 1916.
Among those who were missing at this year's gathering were Mr P. G. Pearce, president for many years and now resident of Hamilton, and Mr J. E. Smith, whose very many years of service as secretary earned him a life membership when he retired too live at Tararu, Thames. At well over 70 years of age he still goes the rounds of the businessmen of Thames soliciting donations for the club.
Many surnames familiar to old-timers appear on the list of officials, but these are the youngsters whose fathers set the example and which, in the years to come, will ensure marked expansion in the activities of the club.
[see also Journal 56: More Memories of the Kerepehi Sports - E]