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Bange on the Waihi Borough Council 1960 – 1988

But first, let me tell you a bit about Waihi Borough, the reason why they were looking for an Engineer and what I found when I started work. Gold mining created the town, with initially many mining companies operating or exploring the area in and around Waihi. Eventually only one large underground mine remained operational on Martha Hill, operated by the Waihi Gold Mining Company. This finally closed down in 1952 after many years of closing rumours,, year by year. Not only did the closing have a severe impact on the town, the years of uncertainty preceding it had led to neglected maintenance of all municipal services which existed at the time, and they were far from complete. Land values dropped and as a result rating revenue for the Borough was severely curtailed.

I should briefly mention here, that in the earlier mining days, the Borough received gold revenue from every ounce of gold produced. This income peaked until the 1912 strike and thereafter never fully recovered, although it was for many years still very substantial. In the early years it was almost "astronomical". The Borough was constituted as such in 1902. For a few years a qualified Engineer was in the Borough's employ, with an outside staff of around 80. Following him, non-qualified "heads" of work staff were in charge, some still called "Engineers".

When I joined the Borough the outside staff of 12 was under the control of a foreman Wally Bidois, a very capable and hard worker. Apart from the mine closing, another aspect affected the potential of the Borough. The town came into being under the Mining Act and land titles were either R.S.L.'s (Resident Site License), or B.S.L.'s (Business Site License). The former, on which a house could be erected, were of a minimum size of one acre (0.4 hectare) and all these licenses were 21 year leases with perpetual right of renewal, at a forever fixed rental. For R.S.L.'s this was I think five shilling per year and for B.S.L.'s ten shillings or a pound per annum.

These titles were therefore as secure as free hold titles, but the word Mining in the "title" caused many sources of mortgage or loan financing to shy of them (banks and solicitors). A saving grace, at the time of mine closing, was the existence of the Akrad (electronics) factory in Waihi, although employees were predominantly female. This factory came into being as the result of a local young man (Keith Wrigley), with an early hobby into radios. He managed to attract quite substantial contracts during the war related to his hobby, and his Akrad Radio Factory resulted after the war. They also produced a children's bicycle for a while (a proto type is still in the Waihi Museum). Well, in a round about way, I have come to "Why was the Borough looking for an Engineer?"

It was about eight years since the mine closed, the town had stabilised and needed urgent work to be done. Waihi was surrounded by the Ohinemuri County, with head office in Paeroa, who had a registered Engineer in their employ.

From time to time the Borough Council had called on his services on a consultancy basis, with the County Council's approval. The Borough Council also paid some nominal fees to the County to cover several Bylaw services (I think in the order of 50 pounds p.a.).

By now (1959), the Borough Council had listed a number of streets in the town, they required to be brought up to a reasonable standard and sealed. They could not pay for this out of revenue, so a loan had to be applied for. The County Engineer compiled a schedule of work, an estimate and a loan proposal for 60,000 pounds ($120,000). This was approved by the loans board, subject to supervision by a qualified Engineer (for which the County Engineer was not available).

So the Borough Council advertised for such a person and I applied, after Anne and I had gone over in the car from Te Aroha to look the place over and liked the general look of it. Lots of mature trees, a green hill in the middle of town (Martha Hill), and what looked like the ruins of an old church on the side of it (actually, the old Pumphouse from the mine). To get a section (if available), on the North West side of the hill to build a house on looked to us an ideal location. How innocent were we?!!! It should be noted that at the time there was no local information centre, nor did the Mining Museum exist, to enlighten us.

I applied with some apprehension, as I by myself would be the whole of the "Engineering Department", and I had no municipal engineering experience. The salary offered was half of what I had been earning overseas. But everything else fitted our wishes. A small town, close to a beach, near enough to the larger cities and in the Northern half of the North Island.

The whole Council interviewed me, mainly elderly citizens, with Chris Christensen as Mayor. One of the requirements I had to meet was to become "registered", as an Engineer. This meant submitting some reports and drawings of work carried out under a registered engineer, a C.V, and attending subsequently what was called a "professional interview" (P.I.), consisting of a verbal interview by a panel of senior engineers and a written "report" about an engineering problem put to you by the panel.

The earliest an application could be made for the P.I. was after three years experience, following university. By now I had eight years experience, but had to fall back on my earlier New Zealand work period. All the material submitted had to be signed by the applicable engineer, I had worked under at the time.

I managed to get all this together, attended my P.I. in Wellington and became registered in May 1963. I don't recall anything about the verbal part, but clearly recall the written part. The question was: As Borough Engineer you are to report to Council on a water supply development for the Borough, and outline the "pros and cons" of a gravity supply from a hill catchment or a pumped supply from a river". How appropriate, that this became one of my biggest "battles" with Council, later in my career. From here on I will have to skip some of the minor details and stick to the highlights or I will not finish this tale of mine.