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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 2, October 1964

By Norman Morton

Just as modern transport prevents us from appreciating the difficulties of travel a century ago, so does easy access to a telephone insulate us from our ancestors' primitive means of communication. We read of how the early colonists waited for coastal schooners in order to catch up with the inter-provincial news, and can appreciate how welcome was the news in the seventies that Auckland and Wellington were to be linked by morse telegraph. To those who think of the early telegraph poles marching in a direct line across country as do the power pylons of today, the following story may come as a surprise.

Subsequent to the Maori Wars the troubled state of the King Country and Waikato made the construction and maintenance of a line through that area out of the question - to avoid conflict the telegraph was diverted. After leaving Auckland it came south as far as Miranda on the west side of the Firth and turned toward the east to cross the Thames River (some ten miles from the mouth) on high towers, the locality being known as "The Towers" years after the line had been dismantled. It then went over the ranges towards Whangamata the route still being known as the "Wires Track". From there the poles marched south passing some miles east of Waihi to Katikati and Tauranga, thence to Rotorua, Napier and down through bush to Wellington.

Authentic detail is difficult to get but the late Mr Charles Butcher was employed re-footing the poles in this area during the early 1890s. As kauri poles would have a life of about 20 years, it would appear the line was erected in the early 1870's before the official opening of the Goldfields. It is recorded that on the day of the opening, 3/3/75, Mr Mackay sent a messenger from Mackaytown to Katikati with a telegram to be transmitted to Dr Pollen, Katikati being the easiest reached station from Ohinemuri (this was before the Stewart Settlement and the station was in the charge of a Mr Benner). The telegraph was introduced to Europe in 1861, so one could say that ten years would be a reasonable time lag for the system to come to New Zealand. The first cable between New Zealand and Australia was completed in 1876.

I was hopeful of getting some of the wire from the old line which was used on a fence near Waihi in 1906, but it was recently bulldozed into a heap so that link with the past has gone. I would welcome any further information that those with wider sources may be able to supply.