Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 6, October 1966
By HARRY ARMOUR.
We had just come out of the winding muddy Athenree gorge and mounted the hill leading into the Waimata area when we got our first view of Waihi which was to be our future home. Now nearing the end of the 2nd day our horses had had a dour struggle with the waggon packed with our furniture, and belongings. It was the 19th of April in 1896 and the rain had played havoc with the newly formed roads. From Waimata to Tauranga bridge [aka Coronation Bridge – E] it was mostly open country, covered with tea-tree, fern, and tutu. The hills showing a lot of yellow clay and stunted Rewarewa trees were not a very pleasant sight, but when we see the lovely farms that are now in full production, it is hard to visualise the contrast of those days.
The earliest settlers as far as I can remember were the Dihars, Johnstons, and a family by the name of Lynch; then came Bob Samson & Harry McWilliams a brother of Daldy. About this time things began to move towards getting "Bush Leases" settled so that the abundance of kauri trees that were in this area could be milled, and once this was finalised things went ahead at a very fast pace. Val Brown was there and B.L. Knight with two very active foremen (Foss Brown and Tim Jones) pushed things along at a great rate. Men married, the Bush roads were formed and the first Mill was built and got under way.
Much N.Z. first class kauri was cut in this bush, and carted into Waihi in big horse-drawn wagons. Harold Lever was the contractor, the Drivers being Aleck Prole, Harry Ormsby, Walter Hunic and Bill Nelson who took over later on. They used to get as far as Locket's garage by evening and leave the waggons axle deep in mud till next morning. We loved to see the horses harnessed up and coupled to those waggons. After a tip with whip they got set in the collars and gave a lift like one horse. Yes, it was grand to see them settle to their work just like a machine.
As the trees that were in close range were cut out, a second Mill became necessary. The No.2 Mill was built at the Katikati end of Woodlands Rd. and connected to No.1 Mill by a tramline, all the timber being brought to Waihi by tram and waggon. After many years the line was extended to the Cemetery gate and made the cartage so much easier.
The next big move to put Waimata on the map was the cutting up of the land between Waihi and the Gorge [Athenree Gorge – E]. A Government Ballot was held and as each successful Candidate got his allotment he faced years of "double drill". At first progress was slow, most of the men taking up the land being employed in the Mine and their remunerative work came first, so the getting of the land in order, in most cases had to be done at weekends or late at night. However I should say that 90% made the grade. The Railway going through the area was a considerable help and saved a lot of cartage which was a major factor in those days.
Then came the time for home building and for the families to take up residence. For some considerable time their children had to be brought to the Waihi School. Some rode bikes; others horses and some were brought one way only and had to get home the best way possible. This was not satisfactory and I can remember a little girl took the wrong track and got lost. Luckily she was found by her parents shortly after dark in a very frightened state. However these things helped to hasten matters towards getting the School which was opened in 1916, and celebrated its Golden Jubilee this year. I remember it was made good use of during the patriotic campaign to get money by means of Queen Carnivals, as Waimata did not have a Hall then. As the land was fenced, our riding area became smaller. To keep to the road was a new order, and put an end to the wild horses from Waimata to the head of Beach Road.
WAIMATA WILD HORSES
Looking back over the ramblings of these horses I am reminded of an American who wrote about a similar mob of horses in his Country. He spoke of them in this vein.
A trampling troop I see them come; in one vast squadron they advance
I strove to cry, my lips were dumb. The steeds rush on in plunging pride
But where are they, the reins to guide? A thousand horse and none to ride.
With flowing mane and flying tail, wide nostrils never stretched by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein, and feet that iron never shod.
And flanks unscarred by spur or rod.
On came the troop, they stop, they start, they sniff the air,
They gallop a moment here and there; Approach, retire, wheel round and round,
Then plunging back with sudden bound. They snort, neigh, swerve aside
Then backwards to the forest fly.
Actually "Horse Racing" was carried on in the early days at Waimata and although it never developed as in other districts, it always provided a good day out for the Waihi public. The Stakes were never high, and the Course was little better than a tea-tree paddock with a track round it and no Grandstand. About the end of the 1st World War it was sold to Mr. W.E. Busch who made a beautiful farm of it, now run by his son Clive. Among the early Race Horse Owners I remember Barney Windsor, S. Samson, W. Earl, H. Pearce, C. Potier, W. Woods, L. Brierley, R. Worth, J. Gerrand, Barrikat, Radford, Dr. Forbes, and G. Moyes.
Yes, time has brought many changes. When we drive along the road where the old line connected the two great saw-mills, and pass the beautiful farms rich in pasture and alive with sheep and cattle, we might give a thought to the days before the white man trod here. Those who have history at heart must be interested in the fact that Maori Artifacts have been found in this vicinity - axes one might expect, but whence the half rotten ancient canoes and paddles? Was there then a lake here? Thoughts return to our own youth; we ask "Just where was that Saw-Mill?" We find it difficult to imagine that this was our shooting and hunting ground for birds and pigs. Looking back, I am reminded of the happy days spent in the bush that surrounded Waimata, perhaps the outstanding, being days of pigeon shooting. Probably shooting expeditions are akin to fishing, and the devotee hesitates to admit that the size of his haul is secondary to something he gets from the quiet "aloneness", a very different thing from loneliness. Certainly in those early days the "larder" was a consideration but no one set out with the idea of deliberately exterminating the trustful, and at that time prolific pigeon.
When you enter and go deeper into dense bush beyond sight of human beings, where only bird life exists, the prevailing stillness and the feeling that grips you, seems to transport you into another world. Its creatures speak to you in the intermittent sweet songs of the Bell bird and Tui, the fanlike brush from the wings of the Pigeon, the twiterings of Fantail and Finch, and the heavenly trill of the Warbler. On retracing your steps you are conscious of an indefinable sadness, reminding you that you are leaving behind a kinship with something noble and infinite in that great denseness, something experienced so rarely in the ordinary course of our lives.