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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969

By ROY TURNER.

The advent of the Paeroa-Waihi railway, (1905) and the later competition of motor trucks heralded the end of the draught horse and wagon era on the Ohinemuri roads. My Dad and brother Harry who had both been teamsters changed from "horses to launches" and were employed by the Gold Extraction Company at Paeroa a development of the Ohinemuri River Syndicate which had commenced operations further up the river in 1903. Commonly known as the "Silt Works" its object was to extract deposits of gold from the silt in the river which had been used as a sludge channel for the tailings or residue from the Karangahake, Owharoa and Waikino batteries. The remains of the large dredging and grinding plant may still be seen from Mill Road, and though the river is now clear it is less navigable because of the silt that has accumulated over the years.

The first stage of the operation was to use a suction dredge anchored near the middle of the river to suck the silt from the bed and spill it out through steel pipes suspended over barges tied alongside the dredge. My father, brother and Messrs. Hui Williams and Jack Thwaits [Thwaite? – E] were the launchmen who towed the barges to the Works where they were placed under a bucket conveyor. This was lowered into the barges and the silt was emptied into container tanks. Cyanide treatment and settling tanks were used to extract the gold deposits which had escaped from the batteries owing to inadequate treatment in the early days.

I have never forgotten the names of the launches. The "Muriel" and "Vera" were both motor launches and the "Alert" was driven by steam. One school holiday when I was with Dad on the "Muriel" he let me steer while towing a barge loaded with silt. The day was hot and the fumes from the motor were fairly thick under the deck house, hence I dozed a little; but as luck would have it Dad was wide awake and watching me. When he saw that the launch was heading straight for an old willow stump he purposely kicked a benzine tin behind me, giving me such a fright that I never went to sleep again on a launch.

Another interest I had in the "Silt Works" was the large ponds situated behind it. They were a home for many gold fish and carp which I used to try to catch on Sundays, sometimes with real hooks but mostly with bent pins and varied success. But I remember the champion fish catchers were Mr. Dilworth and his two sons, George and Jack, who were both keen and clever. We used to walk through the paddocks to the river to reach the "Works" taking about half an hour but the longer way was via Te Aroha Road and down Old Mill Road. (A footbridge spanned the river).

The management of the Extraction Company was in the hands of Mr. Aitken and later Mr. J. T. Brown (whose son George had a bicycle business in Paeroa) and Mr. C. Clews. It has been recorded that in 1918 when the Company went out of operation 907,428 tons of tailings had been dredged and treated for a return of 654,960 ounces bullion valued at £276,211. The Company paid dividends to the amount of £18,750. For many more years tailings continued to be washed down the river and to the dismay of farmers was still deposited on their land during flood times. Treatment at the Waikino battery had become more thorough and it was said that a particularly heavy flood left many thousands of feet of barren material on the gold bearing tailings that were being worked thus preventing any further chance of profitable operation. Another factor was that the Public Works Department at that time was preparing to build "Stop-banks" on both sides of the river, so the launches and dredge were transferred to the head quarters of the Public Works Dept. near the Puke Wharf.