Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969
By Les Morgan
General Election night, 1909, but the result that was eagerly awaited in the old Ohinemuri Electorate was not who would be the Representative in Parliament, but what would be the result of the Local Option Poll. Would Ohinemuri go dry, as was predicted by many?
When the result was finally declared, No License was carried, and the hotels would have to close. Several stories were circulating in the Electorate as to the reason for this vote, but the one that seemed to be given the most weight was that the Licensee of one of Waihi's hotels had been instrumental in having the price of beer raised from 3d to 4d per pint; this in spite of an ultimatum from the Miners' Union that if such happened they would vote No License and close the hotels. The price was duly raised and No License duly carried, and as a result Waihi, Waikino, Karangahake, Waitekauri, Mackaytown and Paeroa were without licensed hotels, and the nearest places where liquor could be legally obtained were Hikutaia and Katikati, each 18 miles distant from Waihi. At Katikati the boundary between the "Wet" and "Dry" districts was the river, [Uretara ? – E] a few yards from the hotel, and there used to be an annual football match between the Wets and the Drys.
Travel in those days was not easy, but nevertheless many thirsty souls managed to make the pilgrimmage on a Saturday to one of these watering houses to irrigate the system, and to bring home the supplies. The Journey to Katikati was by horse drawn conveyance. Those who made Hikutaia their Mecca were more fortunate as there was a very convenient railway service for them. At that time Waihi was the terminus of a branch line, the main line running from Auckland to Thames, and Paeroa was the junction. A train to connect with the Thames express left Waihi about 1 p.m. on a Saturday and passengers changed at Paeroa. This express stopped at Hikutaia. The station staff at Waihi and stations en route to Paeroa made sure that they had a good supply of return tickets on hand. The train was very well patronised, and when it was some distance from Hikutaia the engine driver would give a prolonged blast of the whistle and all doors giving access to the bars of the hotel would be opened. It was about one mile from the station to the hotel, and as soon as the train commenced to slow down passengers were disgorged from all carriages and a real marathon took place to the hotel. I am sure that if some statistical minded person had timed some of those runners the four minute mile would have appeared on our record books many years before it did. After a hectic few minutes at the bar all seemed to be served and steady trade settled down until the return of the train some 1½ hours later. The engine driver would blow the whistle continuously from the previous stop and the hotel staff would be busy sherpherding the customers back to the station. There were no sprinters going that way, but many clutched various shaped parcels and many had difficulty in keeping a straight course. With admirable patience the engine crew would wait until all were aboard and then off to Paeroa, where the Waihi liners had to change to their little train, backed in at its special line, and so on to Waihi, arriving at about 6.45 p.m.
As a rule good fellowship prevailed on this train, and many a good sing song was held, and many many thousands of tons of quartz were mined, and what the bosses were not told to do about the jobs was nobody's business.
In later years, as the roads improved and cars became more common the train was not used to the same extent, and with alterations to timetables the drink train went out of existence. With it went one of the old time memories of what to some was a happy way of fellowship on a saturday afternoon.
Provision was made by law for those who wanted their liquor brought to Waihi to do so, by getting forms from the Court House. All packages had to have the name and address and "This package contains Liquor" on them, and by this means some check was kept on the amount that was brought into the district. If any person appeared to be getting too large an amount, and perhaps selling it, he was asked to explain.
The local No License was not a very successful way of controlling liquor. It was not popular with the residents and although many attempts were made to carry Restoration at subsequent polls, the three fifths majority of the vote which was required was difficult to get. It was not until 1927 that Restoration was finally carried and licensed hotels were again legal in the Electorate. With the carrying of Restoration the way was opened for alteration to the boundaries of the Electorates and the old Ohinemuri Electorate disappeared.
Among the many stories that were told about the Electorate going dry is one that was told against himself by the late H.T. Gibson, a well loved Headmaster of the Waihi South School. Speaking at a reunion, at which he was the guest of honour, he stated that among the dubious honours he had was that when he was transferred to Waihi in 1909 his reputation preceded him, so they closed the hotels, and when word of his transfer away in 1927 came they opened them again.
One effect of the closing of the hotels was the beginning of a new home industry in Waihi - that of "home brewing". Those who liked their glass of beer but did not like sending out of town for it commenced to brew their own, and some of them made a very good job of it. History has it that there were some that were a delight to swallow, and there were some whose potency was a danger.
Many wash-houses had to serve the dual purpose of wash-house and brewery. Sunday was the day when the copper was scoured out and the brew boiled and then put to work in the keg in the corner. Mum could have the copper and tubs until the brew worked out, and then it was operation bottling. Most of the washhouses, or at some places special brew sheds, were not lined, and the cross beams around the walls were studded with six inch nails, driven about one inch into the wood, and the bottles were placed over the remaining five inches to dry. A very convenient method, for as soon as a bottle was emptied it was rinsed out and put over a nail and was ready for the next brew. It was rather a significant fact that the nails issued by the mining companies for use underground were all six inch, and were issued in five pound parcels, which would fit snugly into a miner's lunch tin.
Crown tops were not known at the start of this industry, and many were the methods used to get the corks to stop in the bottles, such as tying with string or wire. It is said that on some occasions one would have been excused for thinking that Guy Fawkes celebrations had commenced prematurely from the popping of insecurely fixed corks.
Electricity for domestic lighting was not known in Waihi in those days, and when some of the men retired to their dens at night for a convivial drink with a friend the illumination was most likely to be a pink candle, very similar to those issued by the mining companies to their employees.
As always there were those who had an eye to making the odd shilling out of their fellows in time of shortness of supplies, and there were several homes where the bottle of beer could be had on payment. For those who preferred the "Hard Stuff" there some who catered for them at one pound per bottle. There was the occasional raid by the police, and court proceedings followed, but that did not stop this trade.
At the time that No License was carried there were four hotels in Waihi. These then became more or less boarding houses. One, the Central, which was situated where the playground is in Barry Road, was sold and removed to Rotorua where it still stands as the Princes Gate Hotel. Another, the Sterling, was burned down and was not rebuilt until the Restoration of the licenses. The Central license was taken by the Golden Cross, which had been moved to Waihi from the Golden Cross some years before.
Although this era of the history of Waihi is now forgotten by many, and for those who want it the cup that cheers is much easier to come by, there are still some who prefer to brew their [own] from tried and tested recipes from "The Dry Years".