Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966
By A.J. COLLINGS
Born in l870 at Cuba Street, Wellington in a house on the site now occupied by Woolworths Ltd., my late father was apprenticed to Charles Edward Cooke, Civil Engineer of Auckland and engineer to the City and the Tramways Company, the day after his fifteenth birthday, in 1885. The deed covering this apprenticeship is in my possession and is entitled in Old English and handwritten on parchment. The apprenticeship was broken before its five year tern had expired by Mr. Cooke absconding to Australia but in the years served my father had gained valuable surveying knowledge and details of structures and earthworks that stood him in good stead when he went to Waitekauri. In the meantime he had had a considerable period with the late Robt. Logan Senr. then a premier boat and ship builder located not far from the present railway overbridge at the foot of Parnell Rise, Auckland.
He married Ane' Christine Nicholson in 1896 and soon thereafter went to Waitekauri and set up a home where I was born in 1898 and my elder sister about a year later, our births being registered at Waihi. He made it plain to me that his decision to go to Waitekauri was not as a seeker for gold but with the intention of engaging in building and other activities for which he was skilled. His initial activities were the construction of miner's shacks for which reason he took out large numbers of Miners' Rights on which to locate the cottages. Ample labour was available among the hordes of would be gold seekers who quickly found no nitch [niche – E] in the employ of the Mines nor managed to secure a livelihood panning the creeks for gold. The miner's cottages were of simple construction with weatherboard walls, galvanised roofs and a large galvanised chimney at one end. The usual time taken to erect such a shack was as my father told me about 12 to 16 man hours and any gang of two men that couldn't build a shack in two days got the sack [had their employment terminated – E].
From shacks works progressed to cottages and he built for himself and his family an eight roomed house which, on collapse of the Waitekauri mine, fetched with contents the munificent sum of £100. His work at Waitekauri included the construction of several Churches including the Catholic one and he often told me that the Catholic Church was the only Church he built for which he was fully paid before the Church was opened. He regarded it as a sorry thing that he was owed a substantial (for those days) sum for some time after the Church of his own persuasion was opened. His activities were not confined to building. He designed and built a number of bridges including the Grace Darling bridge and in his later years was always pleased to hear that this bridge was still in use and in good order.
In addition, he undertook road building for which, like bridge building his apprenticeship with Mr. Cooke had fitted him. He was fond of retailing how he put a gang to work to dig up the main street about opposite Walker's Store in order to fit a new timbered culvert. On calling on the job in the early afternoon to observe progress he found his workmen busy panning the little creek which flowed down from "The Hill". The workmen had found traces of gold, indeed gold in sufficient quantity and value far beyond their modest wages and so had given themselves the sack without notice. However in a few days they were back on the job, exceedingly worried men, who had not taken out Miner's Rights and indeed who could not have gotten Miner's Rights for the good pocket was under a public road.
My father branched out into building shops etc., and at the height of the boom told me he was netting £100 profit per week all of which he ploughed back into the construction of the town, in the main on land for which he took out Miners Rights.
Whilst my father was never clear on the matter of wages paid to his workmen he was certain that at the commencement of his building operations he paid no more than 5/- per 100 square feet for pit sawn kauri weatherboards, and that latterly the figure had been what he termed a ruinous one of 7/6 per 100 square feet of 1" thick weatherboards. It is pertinent to note that in 1966, despite the use of modern machinery, kauri of like thickness would cost almost 500/- per 100 square feet.
According to my late father, in its heyday, Waitekauri was little if any better than the American mining towns shown on the movies especially on Saturday nights which was given over to brawls and fights of all kinds together with the imbibing of huge quantities of grog [alcohol – E]. On such occasions the police wisely looked elsewhere for according to my father the mines attracted some pretty tough customers. However no good woman was ever molested and the rough curses of the miners were silenced if children were anywhere near.
In 1899 my late father joined the Waitekauri Volunteer Fire Brigade as Captain in Charge he having been seized of the grave danger attendant upon a fire amongst the closely spaced wooden buildings. The brigade was brought to an excellent state of preparedness and in my father's charge entered a Brigade competition at Christchurch and carried off a prize. The brigade, however, was not able to cope with a large fire which destroyed a block of shops he owned in the Main Street unfortunately after insurance had lapsed. This fire more or less coincided with the announcement that the mine had been a pocket and was worked out.
At the Auckland Exhibition in 1898 my father gained a 1st Class Certificate for the design of a yacht. Later he heard of a proposed race for 18 ft. patiki yachts of the centerboard type the race being intercolonial in character as a challenger was coming from Sydney. He set about the construction of a contender from the town, a paradoxical entry in that Waitekauri was very remote from sailing water. He brought the boat the "Waitekauri" to Auckland in an unfinished condition having worked long hours to build it. Thanks to the late Charles Bailey the craft was finished immediately before the racing and a large party of supporters journeyed by coach from Waitekauri to Paeroa and thence aboard a Northern Steam Ship Co. Ltd. vessel for the overnight trip to Auckland a laborious and time wasting journey now taking about 2 hours easy travelling by car. Despite "Waitekauri every time" [at least two versions of this song exist, see Journal 4: Waitekauri Every Time, and Journal 10: Waitekauri ballad – E] from the supporters the "Waitekauri" failed to win which was not surprising as the crew had had only a couple of hours experience before the race commenced.
My father never told me how he managed to get the "Waitekauri" to Auckland without damage but manage it he did. Whether it travelled on a horse drawn ore cart or whether bullocks were pressed into service I do not know. I do recollect seeing bullock teams drawing carts loaded with timber in logs out of the bush which surrounded the town, and in many places the roads.
According to my late father, in its heyday, Waitekauri had several thousand inhabitants though whether this was an accurate assessment of its population I am unable to say. During his few years at Waitekauri my late father continued his training as a 'heel and toe' walker and a long distance runner and achieved some distinction though he was not in the first flight of athletics. He had been a rugby footballer whilst in Auckland and he said he had played for Waitekauri.
About the turn of the century my father's sisters and parents lived just round "The Bend" on the town side (left hand) atop a rise. With a single exception my aunts married Waitekauri citizens, Margaret (Mrs. Walker) the storekeeper, Robt. Walker; Eva (Mrs. Faulder) John Faulder the Chemist; Lillian (Mrs. Rogers) Harry Rogers onetime storekeeper at The Cross [Golden Cross – E], and Amy married Jim Gordon one of the large family so well-known for their accommodation house and for their coach service to the town. The remaining member of the family, Ethel, married Tom Feather who was not resident at Waitekauri during its boom period but he afterwards farmed near The Cross.
Though not germane to his doings in Waitekauri it may be pertinent to state that his subsequent career was outstanding. In 1901 he established the boatbuilding concern subsequently known through New Zealand and the Pacific Islands as Collings and Bell, which built thousands of small craft initially small launches for farmers for the servicing of farms near creeks and latter diverse types of pleasure boats and workboats used in this country and about the Pacific Islands. In 1915 he was commissioned Captain in the N.Z. Army a position he held until completion of hostilities and in 1925 designed built and sailed in the motor boat "Ruamano" which was the first motor yacht to circumnavigate New Zealand. From his first design, in 1900 be became known as the premier designer of mullet boats and about 1910 he built a testing tank (the first in New Zealand) so as to improve the performance of his motor boat designs. In 1914 he designed, built and drove to victory in the first New Zealand Speedboat Championship his 21 footer "Fleetwing" and he subsequently gained the same and other high honours with his "Pussyfoot" and later on the "Fleetwing Junior" the first craft designed and built in this country to exceed 60 miles per hour.
He died in 1946 just a few months short of 77 years of age. Throughout his time in Auckland my late Father served the sport of yachting, as Commodore of the North Shore Sailing Club, Officer of the Home Bay Sailing Club, Commodore of the N.Z. Power Boat Association, Commodore of the Ponsonby Cruising Club and as officers of their clubs and the Auckland Regatta. However his greatest service to yachting was the success that crowned his efforts in association with the late Frank Chalmers in securing the construction of what is now the Westhaven Boat-harbour. My father devoted many years of intense effort to this end.