Bange on the Waihi Borough Council 1960 – 1988

As earlier outlined, there was plenty of it. To start with a few general remarks. My office space over the years; I started off in "a little cubby hole" next to the front entrance of the Council building. It had a door to the public lobby and a door to the main office, with just enough room for a desk and chair and a visitor's chair. It faced the street and a narrow space between the front of the building and the massive office safe (small concrete room) provided some room for storage and filing, (in the current "Chambers Restaurant", I think this is now the Manager's office).

My next office space was the room, to the north of the Council building, which had been the Council Gasworks Showroom, turned into a general junk room. After clearing out the debris and safeguarding some old plans, I moved in here. It had a connecting door to the main office, but also a direct access door to the street and a rear door to the outside as well. (Escape routes from irate ratepayers). I later shared this room with my assistant.

Eventually I finished up with my own office in the main building, adjacent to what had always (in my time), been the Town Clerk's office. This happened after the Library moved out of the building and major alterations were made to it.

The "Council Chambers" were moved to where the library had been (southwest corner of the building) and the old Chambers made into office spaces for my assistant and the Health and Building Inspectors with counter access to the public lobby. (The "official grog" space was provided for by a small lock up cupboard, "The Mayors Cabinet", adjacent to the Chamber)

Now a few words about some "archaic" arrangements which existed when I arrived on the scene.

Council had its own petrol pump, adjacent to the Council office building, with the key held by the Town Clerk. Every driver requiring petrol, got the key, filled up, signed the record book at the office, handed back the key and went back to work. The tally, between petrol pumped and bulk delivery made, never equated. There were always unaccounted for losses (vent pipe evaporation and/or underground tank leaks??).

So Council agreed to do away with its own pump (and worries) and our plant filled up at the public pumps at Morton's Garage, who also did most of our routine plant maintenance.

Another practice which existed was, that if any of the outside staff required some materials or small item from a local shop, they had to call at the office, to get an "order form" from the Town Clerk, then go to the shop or depot and back to work.

I changed that, so that each individual worker could purchase directly, what was required for the job they were on, up to a given limit (I think it was around 20 dollars -£10 at the time) provided they signed for it at the shop and noted the job it was for.

Another aspect, which was totally lacking when I started, was forward planning. The T.C (Ken Bargh) brought every letter and circular received at the office during the month to Council. Made for a large agenda and a lot of wasted time.

A typical early example of this lack of planning was, that in 1962 the Council suddenly decided that they wanted to celebrate the Borough's Diamond Jubilee which was due in ... 1962! No provision in the annual estimates, so what! Mister Borough Engineer, please get cracking!! So we had a Jubilee, which I partly recorded with my 8mm movie camera.

At the end, to fill up the film, I had filmed Helen and Deborah playing on the edge of what was called "The Mine Lake". I offered to show the film at a Council meeting, following the Jubilee celebration, which Council accepted. Afterwards the Councillors "to a man" (and woman) asked where the lovely spot was, showing the children playing in the water?? To which I replied, "That is a beauty spot, in the middle of your town". Well, they never!!

Back to work. I earlier already outlined my initial approach to the "mountain" of work required in the Borough. In a small way, starting with surface improvement works of a permanent nature requiring a minimum of follow up maintenance work. The flagship of this was the concrete footpath programme. I purchased a good quality dumpy level for this.

A considerable amount of preparatory survey work was involved, as I refused to follow the example of the one concrete footpath laid in the Borough (along Kensington Rd) before I came on the scene. The property owners had offered and contributed half the cost, Council met the balance. County staff had set out the path, with no relation to overall final permanent development of the full road reserve. Practically every road in the Borough required strengthening and widening and (eventually) kerbing and channelling. The latter, in most places, had to be considered a "luxury" for Waihi, as of necessity it would "simultaneously" require full piped stormwater development. With Waihi's recorded rainfall intensities, virtually double those of the area's outside the Ohinemuri River catchment, once again a service development requiring "above average" expenditure.

"My" footpath levels were therefore designed to allow for, most likely, final road reserve development levels, taking into account likely road hierarchy (local feeder or arterial) and strengthening by overlay required.

Wherever possible (and in most cases) the laying of the footpath was combined with shaping up the verge area between carriageway and footpath, allowing for a V shaped open water table, to improve drainage and this area was grassed. As well footpaths were generally laid some 75cm clear of property boundaries (to allow for future underground services development – cabling).

A small amount of "salvageable" sealed footpaths were repaired and retained as chip sealed paths to begin with. An additional (economic) benefit of having shaped grassed drainage along roads was, that it allowed for part of the maintenance costs (verge mowing) to be charged to the "subsidised works programme" (roading) attracting Government finance. I generally allowed for 50% of verge mowing costs to fall into this category.

While on the subject of road verges and mowing maintenance. When I arrived in 1960 road verges were only occasionally mown, using side mounted tractor bar mowers (attachments for the light tractors Council owned – Fergusons). These suffered regular damage, as the often heavily overgrown road verges were (almost generally) used to discard any unwanted or broken down household articles, bicycle frames were not uncommon. There was no rubbish collection. Over the years, verge mowing frequency was increased and mowing equipment and plant improved, to a standard of closely mown lawn conditions when I retired. If I remember right, I calculated it once, there were some 20 acres of grass verges in the Borough, all (apart from those along PP and Seddon Avenues) in narrow strips along the "20km+" of formed roading in the town.

I am pretty sure I mentioned earlier on in my story, that as a historic legacy Waihi was "heavily over roaded" for its population. One early action I took, to avoid adding to this problem, was to see whether any unformed, legal roads, could be closed or even, if roughly formed, and not "in use".

Only a few short lengths qualified and appropriate procedures were followed for closure. These areas then became Borough Council property.

As a point of interest, I think this is an appropriate place, to slip in another important happening in Waihi's history.

The Borough when established in 1902 was, area wise, the largest one in New Zealand and I believe still was, until reduced in size a few years before my arrival.

The original Borough included a large area around the 1960 one, the whole of the Waihi Beach Township and the full length of the connecting road reserve between the two. All these had become part of the Ohinemuri County. In these boundary adjustments, the Borough Council had retained the ownership of some 300 small lease hold sections at Waihi Beach. Originally these had been established for mine workers to retire to when suffering from the dreaded silicoses disease. Most of these lots were now occupied by holiday baches, with some permanent residents. The leases of these properties had a perpetual right of renewal, with lease payments reviewed every 21 years.

Well, back to my actual work.

Council had initiated the building of its first lot of 6 Pensions Flats, on the corner of Moresby Ave and Elliott Street (opposite our house). I supervised the building of these. Meantime, I also prepared and supervised contracts for road improvements to be financed by the 1st Roading Loan. Every effort was made for any known underground services work to be carried out by Council's own staff, ahead of any roading contracts. This included, replacing old water supply services and culvert repairs or replacements.

Another source of finance available for roading and bridging improvements (and maintenance) works were Government subsidies from the National Roads Board (N.R.B) through District Roads Councils (D.R.C's).

Applications for these had to be made annually to the Ministry of Works, in our case through the Paeroa Residency Office to the Hamilton District Office.

I built up a good working relationship with the engineering staff in both offices and the admin staff in the Residency Office. In Paeroa Bosselman, Fendall and Bill Stewart as Resident Engineers come to mind and in Hamilton Rex Hermans as District Commissioner. I also had close contact with the Ohinemuri County staff, engineers Don Dudding, Paul Edwards and Sam Didsbury and County Clerk Merv Parker. As well the Town Clerk of Paeroa Borough, Ian Parlane, I had frequent dealings with.

I will not write about all the details of my work, as that will become utterly boring, but will record some of the main events which occurred, and will expand a bit about some of the major developments in the Borough.

First off, in 1962 a major overnight collapse of old mine workings on Martha Hill (just north of Gilmour Street) occurred. There were also several old shafts on the hill. This and the need for Council to define land use etc under the new Town and Country Planning Legislation, caused Council to commission Mr Lowrie (the last Waihi Mines Superintendent, then retired in Auckland) to prepare a plan of Martha Hill defining, unsafe, marginal and safe areas of the hill. He duly produced such a plan and a report, indicating that the most likely place of a surface collapse occurring was where the 1962 one happened (large unfilled stopes of the Royal Reef).

And talking about Town Planning, doubt was being expressed, whether Council could legally produce a Town Plan as practically the whole of Borough land comprised of Mining Titles. If this was so, Council was wasting good money on consultants (Murray-North) preparing such a plan. To "test the waters" it was decided, that a "court ruling" would be desirable. The then Borough Solicitor was Mr Clark, an (if not the only) acknowledged expert on Mining Law in NZ. An expert Town Planning Lawyer from Auckland would be engaged.

Before this issue was fully taken up, unfortunately a tragic accident happened in that Mr Clark drowned in a boating accident on the Bowentown Bar. (I think it was Peter? Haszard who survived and reached shore at Bowentown).

This and the fact, that Council was making progress (after many years of lobbying Government) with a private members Bill before Parliament, allowing for free holding of Commercial and Residential Mining Site Licences, caused the issue to be no longer pursued.

Meanwhile the "hole in the hill" was a blessing in disguise. I was in the process of removing old pine trees (some 200feet tall) along Seddon Ave, which originally were planted as shelter for now mature oak trees.

Apart from dangerous dropping branches, they also were severely encroaching on the oak trees. After felling (free fire wood to the public), the stump disposal was a problem, until "the hole" appeared. From memory some 200 pine trees were removed over a 5 year programme. Danny Farmer's bulldozer transporter was used to take one stump at a time up the Hill. As well "the hole" was used to dispose of old car bodies. Had I known or been told of the severe risk involved in operating close to this collapse, it would have been made "out of bounds" immediately. In our innocence we were lucky!!

A further benefit Council derived from the old Mine Workings, was the use of extensive "Mine mullock" (waste rock) stockpiles on the Hill. I discussed access to these with the Mining Registrar (Rayna Nottle) at the Court House in Waihi and "common sense" prevailed.

Strictly speaking, I should keep a record of the quantities removed and pay a small royalty per "cubic yard". At the end of the year, I would then make application for a refund of these royalties to Council. So we both agreed, that provided all material removed was for Council use only, we cut all the paperwork, and I had free access. Most of it was used for sub grade work on roads.

I already mentioned the heavy and high-intensity rainfall for the Waihi area being on record. I had hoped not to experience an extreme occurrence of this, during my working life for the Borough. However this was not to be, and in 1967, an extreme weather pattern (substantially concentrated on the "Waihi Basin"), caused unbelievable havoc in the Borough.

Unbelievable havoc

I will go into some detail about this major event. It was very early in the morning (just on daybreak) that the phone rang and woke me up. (I think somebody had no water supply). As soon as I hung up the phone, it rang again and this continued.

Meantime, I had staggered out of bed and walked to our (new) kitchen, which overlooked the Mangatoetoe Stream valley (to the east of our house). I thought I was dreaming and could not believe my eyes. As far as I could see, the valley was one brown lake of floodwaters.

I managed to contact my foreman, Wally Bidois, and with no water supply anywhere in the Borough, the first priority was to "survey" the condition of both the Walmsley and the Waitete trunk mains (water supply). This had to be done on foot, walking in over the hills. Wally took the Waitete and I took the Walmsley. Within a few hours it was apparent that the best chance to get some supply restored to the Borough was through repairs to the 6" Waitete trunk main. The main damage to this main was the washed out stream crossing, to the west of the Waihi College grounds. The 12" steel Walmsley main was washed out at every stream crossing, including the concrete support piers. No time was wasted to even further look at this main, Wally and a small gang were left to work on the Waitete line, while I and the rest of Borough staff concentrated on safeguarding any danger spots and cleaning up work.

Once this was in train, I had to evaluate the total extent of the damage and establish priorities to be tackled.

All loose metal was stripped of metal roads, practically every edge of carriageways had been scoured out, culverts blocked or washed out, several bridge approaches washed out.

All this havoc was caused by several days of light and consistent rainfall (which had saturated the ground), having been followed by 300mm (12 inches) of rain within 12 hours overnight. But "every cloud has a silver lining". The storm caused a delay in the departure of his Worship the Mayor and the Town Clerk, to attend the Annual Municipal Conference. Their delayed arrival and their tale of the "disaster", that had befallen Waihi, was one of the main reasons that within days a "high powered" team of engineers from the M.O.W. visited Waihi, to view the damage first hand. (I personally knew one or two of them).

By then, I had prepared a rough estimate of repair and maintenance work required, in the subsidised roading work categories. The "team" approved these and as a result, the Borough received a 3 year "special assistance programme", over and above our normal annual subsidised works programme. This greatly contributed to early rehabilitation of the roading and associated damage.

No such avenue was available towards the water supply infrastructure damage.

Coming back to this, foreman Wally Bidois managed to have, be it a limited, supply restored to the Borough within 24 hours, through the 6 inch Waitete trunk main having been made "operational".

When I went to look at the repaired lower Waitete Stream crossing, I shuddered; "crossed my fingers, toes, arms and legs", hoping it would stay in place!! The pipes, with flexible joints, were suspended across the stream from a "cable" made out of No 8 fencing wire. It worked and it held until permanent repairs could be made. It took many months before the Walmsley main was back in operation.

Fortunately I never experienced a similar storm during the rest of my working life in Waihi. A later major storm which closed the Karangahake Gorge for several days and washed away the Waikino shops opposite the Hotel in the 80's did cause damage in Waihi as well, but not half as severe as the 1967 one.

The then Ohinemuri County Chairman, Blanch Fisher, who farmed East of Waihi, had to use a helicopter to get to the County office in Paeroa. He was a frequent visitor to the Waikino pub on his normal travel by road to Paeroa and told this tale after the floods; that if he had been standing at the bar, during the height of the flood, the flood waters were so high, that he could have just put his glass on the top of the bar, without a risk of losing it.

Enough of that episode.

Establishing a weekly refuse collection was a "major fight".

The only collection service in existence was a once or twice a year "inorganic" one, which was free and made good use of by residents. A weekly collection would have to be charged for in the rates and anything costing money was usually opposed to by the public, although they all wanted "better everything" in the Borough. Despite all opposition, Council proceeded to establish this service. The convenience of this service soon quelled opposing voices. Disposal was originally in convenient "hollows" within the Borough. The southern end of Victoria Street and an area between the railway line and Quarry Road were soon filled and for quite a few years the low lying area, between the netball courts and the football grounds in the Recreation Reserve, was in use. The Eastern Stream meandered through here coming close to the Bowling Greens.

To fully utilise this area, the Eastern Stream had to be diverted, several times. The last deviation which would discharge the stream into a small quarry (no longer in use) to the east struck it lucky. I expected we would have to do some blasting but the "first bite" of the back actor bucket scraped on some "level rock". It proved to be part of an old mine water race, which was soon cleared.

There were no obvious other places in the Borough and as well Government and ad hoc bodies regulations and controls on many aspects of municipal work were ever increasing, so I had to start looking elsewhere or for alternatives of disposal of refuse.

I costed out alternatives to a local "landfill" operation, but found these to be still uneconomic at the time. Two potential sites, just outside the Borough boundaries, I considered to be suitable in meeting several site requirements I considered essential. Both were estimated to have a 15 to 20 year tip life and one in private ownership, the other a public reserve. One was a densely overgrown gully along Bulltown Road and the other a saucer shaped low area to the left of State Highway 2, just across the Ohinemuri River en route to Tauranga.

The Bulltown Road site was the preferred one and acquisition approaches were made to the "farmer" owner, who was known to spend more time in the pubs than anywhere else.

The noxious weeds and scrub covered area and a few old pine trees became most valuable, high potential farmland. Long drawn out negotiations were eventually successful. Next came applications for zoning of the site (Ohinemuri County) and water rights for discharges from the site (Hauraki Catchment Board).

The first was readily acquired but the second became another long drawn out affair. I myself was only too well aware of the discharge problem which the heavy Waihi rainfall could cause. To control this I had designed the "Tip" to contain a small ponding area within the confines of the tip, as well as perimeter drains to discharge any run off from outside the tip area. A management plan was prepared and submitted to the H.C. Board and a "Hearing" of the Borough application took place in the Board's Te Aroha office.

I still have to "chuckle" about one question put to me during this hearing and my answer to it. The question put to me was; "Could I prevent any rainwater from falling on the tip area? And my answer was; "Yes, by putting a roof over the whole tip area".

In the end the necessary water rights were granted, these included regular sampling and testing of any discharge from the tip area.

I personally supervised the clearing and all construction work for the tip, as instant decisions on soil types encountered had to be made. The downstream side of the tip was contained by a compacted earth fill dam, which at final tip fill level would be in excess of 20 metres high (putting it in the "high dams" category). A "floor" drainage system was incorporated and all discharges from this and the pond overflow separately piped under the "dam" to a central discharge point. A pump well chamber was incorporated in this area to, if found necessary, pump any contaminated discharge back into the pit area.

During the time I controlled the tip no contaminated discharges were recorded and no pump installation required.

The tip was originally open 7 days/week, 24 hr/day for inorganic tipping. Weekly household collections were used to create "cells" in the tip area to contain all other material tipped. Household refuse was covered immediately after completion of the collection.

Abuse of the freedom to tip, eventually caused restricted tipping hours and eventually charges being levied. Also the tip was transferred to private operation control, which eventually led to inadequate effluent control and (following completion of Borough sewerage) pumping of effluent to the nearest public sewer.

The delay in the Bulltown Road tip becoming operational, necessitated extending the use of the Kenny Street (Recreation Reserve) tip, which could only be achieved by raising the finished level of the area above the original design level. Rehabilitation of this area created an extra playing field on the reserve (large enough for a full sized hockey field).

The Bulltown Rd tip exceeded its design life, was still in use after my retirement and for a number of years, before closing, even used as a district tip by Hauraki District Council. To my recollection the total capital establishment cost for the BT Road tip was $50,000, a bargain!! Enough about rubbish, what next?

Just a few 'small' items coming to mind, before I jump into the next 'big one'.

Public Swimming Pool:

An old concrete public pool existed near the netball courts on the Recreation Reserve, with access off Kenny Street. It was full of cracks and empty, no longer in use, when I started working for the Borough. There were moves afoot for a new pool to be built on the Waihi College grounds, which would also (part time) be available to the public.

Rumour had it, that old mine workings and settlement had caused the old pool to crack. The fear held was, that, when full of swimmers one day the pool would totally collapse and all would be 'swallowed up'.

I trial filled the pool, which rapidly lost water. However I also noticed, that along the bank to the nearby Eastern Stream (not yet diverted) substantial 'spring flows' suddenly appeared and these 'dried up; once the pool was empty. Some basic measurements and calculations showed me, that practically all water losses from the pool escaped along the Eastern Stream bank so there were no 'deep fissures' to old mine workings through which water escaped.

I assured the council of this and recommended that the pool would be temporarily repaired (crack repairs with a bitumen compound), and after testing for major leaks, be made available to the public, until such time that the new 'college pool' would be available. This eventuated and activities in the old pool assisted, in a small way, towards fundraising for the college pool. The old pool was subsequently demolished and filled in.

Street Lighting:

I already mentioned the open shade 100w bulbs on street intersections representing this 'amenity' in residential areas, on my arrival in town. Combined with a lack of footpaths, this made walking in the evening quite hazardous. Together with the footpath programme, I made an early start with street lighting improvements of necessity spread over a number of years.

In discussion with the Thames Valley Electric Power Board (T.V.E.P.B.), (the body at that time controlling power supply in our area), the lantern standard was agreed upon and the initial programme targeted street lights on one side of each street at some three to four chain intervals. (Note, once completed, it was intended to supplement this by additional lights at the second side of each street at in between intervals). This second stage was not reached in my time, but even without it Waihi borough became the best lit town in the T.V.E.P.B. area. As state highways were improved though the town the M.O.W. upgraded street lighting along their routes to full standards.

Outside the commercial (shopping) area SH lighting was the yellow/orange colour (mercury vapour I think). In the CBD it was white (sodium vapour).

In residential area's generally white lights were established, but I had the yellow/orange type installed along a few 'arterial' roads, which led to or looped back to the State Highways, a 'subliminal' guide for motorists foreign to our area to find their way back to the State Highways.

Street names and numbers:

Street numbers were rather 'erratic' in the town until Ken Bargh, in the early 1960's, the then Town Clerk compiled street numbers for the whole town.

The story went (whether true or not I can't tell), that before this happening, a 'clever' door to door salesman had been selling numbers to people, telling them what their numbers were? Street name signs were few and far between and where existing often chipped (old enamelled steel plates).

A progressive programme of installing new reflectorised aluminium street name plates was therefore initiated. In the business area these were attached to verandas in the residential area initially mounted on tall posts on the road verge. Especially the latter were subject to regular vandalism. As far as I was aware the custom of 'high' mounting street name plates was amongst others to limit vandalism (being out of reach). So why blindly follow custom? I thought one day. As well I started thinking through the purpose of street names, being displayed, and I remembered my own experience, trying to find a street in a unfamiliar town when driving around. It was not uncommon, more so at night, for me to have to pull up and park the car near an intersection, walk up to it and read the street name somewhere 'high up'.

As well local people (particularly in smaller towns) would know which street was which, without name plates. So I decided, why not mount street name plates in residential areas low enough to read when in a car approaching an intersection?? It had two big advantages. In the dark they would be visible in the head lights of a car (even on dip), and at any time, a driver does not have to lift his or her eyes to try and read a sign, diverting his or her attention (even for a brief moment) from observing the traffic conditions on the intersection being approached.

The only concern I had was, that mounted low, the sharp ends of the signs could be a hazard to small children, if they walked into one of them (at 'face' level). To this end I decided to mount the signs, not on a single 'post' but on pipe supports at both ends (50mm galvanised pipes).

The experiment was a success and the example was followed in several other towns. Unfortunately vandalising of the signs continued unabated. (It is regrettable that – since my retirement – street signs are once again mounted high, still being vandalised).

That's enough about the few small items. The next 'big one' experienced by me, was the renewed interest in Mining or initially exploration for gold!!