(by Graham Watton)
During the Coca-Cola Amatil Company’s centenary celebrations of the founding of Paeroa’s famous soft drink Lemon and Paeroa in March of this year, there was some discussion over the origins of the L and P Bottle in the Ohinemuri Reserve.
It soon became apparent that memories have been dimmed even though only 40 years old. In an endeavour to gather these memories together several of those involved at the time have been contacted and each have given their views on the founding of this New Zealand icon, which has the distinction of appearing on a postage stamp in the 1990s.
One of those "foundation members" of the bottle is Trevor Watt, now living in Whangamata, but during the 1960s and 1970s, with his brother Roy, owned the well-known home appliance store Watt Bros. in Normanby Road.
The brothers were also very involved in the promotion of Paeroa through the extremely active Trade and Retail Section of the Paeroa Businessmen’s Association.
Trevor recalled that in 1967 the promotions committee of the section developed the theme that Paeroa was going to "Rocket in Christmas" in keeping with the international activities of that year of sending men to the moon and rockets around the universe.
A giant rocket, built from seven up-turned concrete cattle troughs supplied by B and B Concrete in Puke Road, was erected on the triangle area in front of the Post Office. This area was surrounded by three streets, Normanby Road (main street), a short street in front of the Post Office to connect with Princes Street on the other side.
The nose cone, with a red flashing light, was constructed and this became the home of "Radio Paeroa". From this cone Jack Keith connected the main street from William Street to Arney Street to a public address system. Each day during the week leading up to Christmas, Roy Hopping climbed into his rocket cone to "broadcast" the many specials on offer from members of the association and Christmas music.
The rocket instantly became a hit with the local residents and the travellers passing through the town over the holiday season. The rocket was dismantled towards the end of January, 1968.
Trevor said the Paeroa Borough Council was not entirely happy with the positioning of the rocket as it caused a traffic hazard in the centre of the town.
"Later the same year, when the promotion committee was planning for the 1968 Christmas activities, we were at Colin Mudford’s home scratching our heads to come up with a focal point for promotion," said Trevor. Colin had a current L and P bottle on the table, and I said "What about a bottle like that?’."
"With other members of the committee it was agreed that this would be our centre-piece. Allan Bott approached his Mackaytown neighbour Bruce Sayer, a plasterer and block layer, who designed and made the bottle neck at his home.
After discussions with the Borough Council, some councillors were not altogether happy with the proposal. The company producing the product, Innes Tartan, gave its support and when the committee received the green light the project commenced.
"Five large concrete cattle troughs, stacked upside down, were used to build the bottle and give a floor inside the neck of the bottle. Bruce shaped the long neck of the bottle using steel rods and wire netting and covered this with Ferro concrete, similar to that used to build boats, and placed a lid on top.
The Thames Valley Electric Power Board’s Paeroa depot provided a double extension ladder to give access to the bottle neck through a small door. Innes Tartan arranged the painting of the bottle and local sign writer Pete Signs did the sign writing.
Jack Keith, who was now in the Thames Hospital serious ill, gave permission to use his equipment and wiring for the public address system. Watt Bros. and their staff gave of their time to erect almost 3km of wire and several loud speakers, which were connected to the "radio shack" in the neck of the bottle.
There was a heavy-duty amplifier installed, along with a long-playing record player and a telephone. And the ‘bottle" was ready for operations during the Paeroa Christmas week in December.
Peter Rogers, a former reporter with the Hauraki Plains Gazette and then owner-editor of the local Chat newspaper, made the announcements during the day. Trevor’s daughter, Sherryl, took over the announcing after College each day and during the holidays leading into Christmas.
The giant bottle was an immediate hit with the locals and the travelling public. Over the holiday season many hundred of photos, perhaps thousands, were taken. As the news of the giant L and P bottle spread, there were many who made special trips to Paeroa to see the imposing structure.
The bottle was dismantled towards the end of January, 1969, but it had made is mark. The Paeroa business community, through the Trade and Retail Section, and the Borough Council, fully realised the tremendous impact the bottle had in promoting the town. Innes Tartan also was quick to see that the bottle was a great marketing tool for their product.
The newly-elected Mayor of Paeroa Graeme Lee led a delegation of councillors and businessmen to meet with the Innes Tartan to discuss a permanent bottle for the town, the home of Lemon and Paeroa. At this stage the product was being produced in Paeroa using the spring water.
Agreement was reached by April, 1969, but the council was adamant that the bottle could not be erected in the centre of the town owing to the traffic hazards it had created over the holiday period. Finally, agreement was reached with the Hauraki Catchment Board, Ministry of Works and the National Road Board to place the new structure on a section of the closed-off Fraser Street, just east of the Criterion Bridge and close to State Highway 2.
With Innes Tartan agreeing to meet the cost of construction and the on-going maintenance, a contract was let to Lee Bros Builders of Paeroa, to undertake the construction of a new bottle. This was done under the watchful eye of Mr Ernie Lee and foreman Cliff Pett.
The first L and P Bottle with Sherryl Watt in the centre of Paeroa, 1968.
A concrete base was laid and the bottle was this time made of four concrete rings, some 2m in diameter and 1.2m high, placed in top of each other. The neck of the previous bottle was to be used, but had been damaged, and James McGall and Son from Te Aroha were called in to reconstruct the neck, this time it was the new-style short-neck. (Bruce Sayer had moved to Hamilton by this time.) Scaffolding was built around the bottle and James McGall completed the work and then spent some time expertly sculpturing the bottle top in plaster.
Once completed and painted in L and P colours and insignia the bottle again attracted considerable attention. Holidaymakers and tourists from overseas stopped in their thousands to view the bottle and take its photograph.
But again there was a traffic hazard as the bottle was too close to the main highway and the photographers had to stand in the middle of an increasingly busy State Highway two to get their "snaps". While there were numerous near misses, fortunately, there were no serious hits.
In 2002 the New Zealand icon was moved by the Hauraki District Council some 30m back from the highway and re-sited to be the centrepiece of the very picturesque Ohinemuri Reserve. The hedge-rows around the structure are placed to represent ripples of water when a stone is dropped into a pond, the rubbish containers are replicas of lemons, and there are lemon trees in the reserve. There are attractive interpretation panels in an attractive paved area.
Photographs can now be taken without danger from the passing traffic and the reserve, which had toilet facilities added in 2006, has now become a well-used stopping-off point for the travelling public, holidaymakers and tourists.
The "Bottle Reserve", as it is affectionately known, will only be completed if somehow the actual Paeroa mineral water is available on site—"put the water in the bottle", as it were. This will complete this truly magnificent world-renowned icon, which had its beginning as an empty L and P bottle on a table in a home, next to the Paeroa Bowling Club in Te Aroha Road, almost 40 years ago.
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