Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969


For a period in my youth (about 1922) I worked for the Public Works Dept., at first shovelling coal for the big drag lines and dredge used to build the "Stopbanks" along the Waihou River. It was just the beginning of the era of earth moving machinery which superseded that of pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. In fact some of the early work on the Stopbanks was done with wheelbarrows on planks and originally Mr. P. Treanor did much work with his horses and drays. There were also a few horse-drawn scoops, and two men I remember in this connection were Jim Curtis and Wm. Denton.

At a later stage I was fortunate to be chosen to drive one of the tractors attached to a scoop for building the Stopbank in the vicinity of the Puke Bridge. But while waiting for the machinery to arrive I was again put to shovelling and carrying coal for one of the drag-lines which was cutting a wide canal for drainage purposes behind Thorp's farm. We worked 3 shifts of 8 hours and I was on the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. The launch brought the coal punt up the canal as far as possible (according to the depth of the water) and it was my job to fill sacks with coal, carry them up a plank and along to where the dragline was working. Here I must mention Jack Slater, an outstanding man who was nearly 70 years of age at the time. He used to walk every morning from his home near St. Mary's Catholic Church to the Puke Wharf, work with the shovel all day and then walk home after 5 o'clock. Yet he had a better attendance record than most of us.


Eventually the tractors and scoops arrived and the one I worked was a beauty in my young eyes, even though it nearly maimed me. One day when I needed some petrol I turned too suddenly while driving down the bank and the scoop behind the tractor "jack knifed" (came to right angles) and caught the foot I used to dangle under the tow bar to hold me on rough ground. There was no foot brake but only a hand-brake and clutch on caterpillar tractors. However I was able to stop it, but there was my right foot jammed between it and the tow-bar. Trying to back only stalled the engine and as I couldn't leave the seat to crank it, I yelled loudly. My friend Kelly came running from the other side of the bank and with the strength of a horse his shoulder heaved the scoop handle over to free me. I couldn't move for a while but luckily no bones were broken so I was able to hobble and carry on.

We began building a Stopbank near the Puke Bridge and worked our way down towards Netherton, and then back on the opposite side of the river, before continuing up-stream towards Tirohia. At this point the banks became smaller so the tractors were taken off and I joined the log-haulers. Besides pulling trees and snags out of the river there was much axe work to be done, for every bit of timber had to be moved back three chain from the river as timber would rot and weaken the stopbank in flood time. When the log-hauler was first brought to the Waihou job our task was made difficult by the fact that there was only one winch drum working - the one that used the big heavy steel rope for pulling trees out of the ground. It had to be carried from tree to tree on our shoulders and as long rusty spikes protruded from it, we often bled wherever it touched us. Later we received a smaller and longer rope for the other drum on the hauler.


It was a comfortable bike ride to and from Tirohia, but beyond that to Mangaiti seemed too far so I joined the campers in the Houseboat. About twenty-four men slept there and conditions were primitive. The bunks, two in each small cubicle, were made of Kahikatea saplings, one rail being nailed to the wall and the other supported by two legs. A sack opened up lengthwise and nailed on, completed the bunk. You made your own mattress of dry grass, fern or teatree brush and of course supplied your own blankets. Fleas abounded and confounded.

The cooking stove was very large and hungry on wood, yet the lazy wood-getters contrived to have their pots on first. Hence I dug myself a fireplace on the river bank. It was big enough for two billies and a pot for vegetables and answered the purpose well in dry weather. But winter brought difficulties I don't like to remember. Yet offsetting all the lack of comfort the fresh air and the bush were wonderful; the river beautiful with weeping willows bending low to reach the swirling water. It was very peaceful and after the day-long noise of the log-hauler winch, the evenings were something to look forward to. Sometimes I went to dances at the Mangaiti Hall and used to enjoy them but it was quite a difficult task to find ones way back to the river through the farms and bush. Also we had to cross the river in a Maori Canoe to get to the Houseboat as the dinghy had to stay there in case it was needed urgently. My room mate was Reg. Smith from Karangahake and others I remember on the job were: Messrs Mick Sheedy (foreman), Jim Denton, Wilson Hall (who later became a star league football player), and from Karangahake Eddie Paton, Jim and Bill Brown Jack Rackham and his Dad, Ernie Smith (timekeeper) and his brother Wattie (foreman); Tom King (Turner's Hill), a Maori named Kelly, and from Paeroa, Jim Capill, Wattie Power (foreman) and Wally Dykes (overseer).

My father (on the Queen Elizabeth) or another launchman, Bill Monds, used to bring our supplies of meat and groceries from Paeroa each week as they did for the tent campers working along the river bank with wheel barrows. On many occasions we would wake up during the night to hear the whistle from one of the Northern Steamship Co.'s boats that used to tow large barges from the Paeroa Wharf to Te Aroha. Sometimes the Skipper would want to tie up to the Houseboat for the night and proceed again next morning so someone had to leave his bed and catch the heavy rope to make it fast. The "Kopu" (Captain Adlam) was a small paddle steamer and the Rotokohu's master was "Sandy" McDonald. The Waihou flowed at about 5 miles an hour (or faster when in flood) so the empty barges travelled down stream fairly fast.

After the Loghauler passed Mangaiti most of us were transferred to other jobs some of us returning with the Houseboat to the Puke. Finally I left the Waihou River with all its beauty by day and by night - the sunshine and moonlight on the water - the privilege of seeing the lovely mats made by the Maori women along its banks, and the grand fellowship of my mates - all fine things to remember.

Note. There are still men in Paeroa who spent many years helping to build the Stopbanks, among them Messrs Matkovich, Wilton, Mathieson, and Steve Kurtovich who worked with Mr. P. Treanor in 1913. He was again pushing laden wheel-barrows up planks in 1919, and from 1922 was on the Suction Dredge which pumped sand on to the banks through 11 inch pipes. Later he was a Shift Boss and Ganger when there was an Electric Dredge and a Steam Drag Line.

The Ministry of Works has kindly supplied the following notes regarding the Stopbanks which became a necessity owing to the frequent flooding of the Rivers.

"Minor work with Horses and Drays commenced in 1913. The Waihou Dredge first operated about 1915 or 1916. About 1921 two steam Rust on Draglines were purchased in England and put to work on the Ohinemuri River building stopbanks with spoil from the river bed. In 1928 the Banks were topped and major work was completed about 1929 but 1932 is quoted as final completion date".

Stopbank maintenance has always been necessary and for many years Mr. W. Woofe [Woolfe ? – E] of Paeroa (now retired) was in charge of this work, which to-day is handled by the Hauraki Catchment Board.