Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 14, October 1970
(from my Book of Memories)
by CYRIL GWILLIAM
The year was 1908 and the 29th January a day to remember. It all began at Waitekauri with a suggestion from Messrs Gordon Bros. to make up a party for a trip to Athenree and Bowentown. Gordon Bros. owned the coaching and carrying business, commonly called in those days a "Livery and Bait Stables" - the horse equivalent to a modern motor Service Station. Oh for the old sweet smell of a well kept stable, the horses snuffling their food in the manger, the leather harness carefully tended with neatsfoot oil, and the gentle sh-sh as the chaff with its measure of oats and bran was poured into feeding bags for a roadside meal for those same well groomed horses - the usual team being four or five to a coach or "brake".
We were to have the "brake" on this occasion for it was a glorious summer day. It seated six or more along each side with 2 seats across in front carrying 5 passengers and the driver - and all this behind 5 horse-power. At 8 a.m. the call came for "All Aboard". Lunch hampers were slid beneath the seats to which the ladies were assisted. A word from the driver, the horses "stood to" in their traces and we were away at a spanking trot.
At the crossroads near Kinsella's homestead we turned and crossed the ford and then came the long haul up hill to meet the main road leading to Waihi. Onward along the Tauranga road and then the tricky descent into Athenree Gorge. What a glorious green canyon that was to a small child in those far off days. At last we drew up beside "Athenree" the gracious home of Capt. Hugh Stewart. At that time it served as Post Office and was the passing place of the through coaches between Tauranga, Paeroa and Thames. A short stop here to give the horses a spell and a drink from the trough, and to pass the news of the day or to say that Harry the roadman had cleared the slip at such-and-such a corner. (There were no signs to say that there were "Slow - men working"! Shovels then used to be swung in the same manner as the farmer of the day tossed the sheaf in the field. The faster you swung it the less was left to pick up).
But to get on, for Athenree Beach and the sea at Bowentown Heads are not far away. At last we scramble down from our seats, the horses unharnessed and tethered. They indulge in a roll to fluff up the sweaty patches where the harness has fitted. A final snort and a shake and they begin to nibble at the salt tanged grass. What of the passengers? There's the clan Gordon, clan Campbell, the Corbetts and the Gwilliams, all busy loosening up lunch hampers or gathering sticks to make a brew of tea in the kerosene tin someone thoughtfully brought full of fruit. How good that tea tasted. (L.D Nathan's Ostrich Brand). Those sandwiches - real ham home-made cured and smoked, "live" cheese or tasty German Sausage (in a real skin) on all of which we thrived. Someone brought forth a rabbit pie, but there must have been at least two rabbits nestling beneath that crusty covering; another hamper produced jellied pig's trotters. If you still had room there was blackberry and apple pie, luscious pears, plums and peaches to eat of which you took a stance with your feet a yard behind your chin. Oh the fragrance that wafted on the breeze across that spread!
Even the horses were not forgotten. Each had its own nose-bag of chaff which hung over the ears like a bucket. Like the humans they cleaned up their plates, for when the bottom was reached a forefoot would hold down a corner of the bag and with a quick shake of the nose the chaff in the corners would come to the centre giving a couple of good mouthfuls more. They knew all the tricks did those horses.
What happened after lunch? Well we didn't lie down and flick a switch to wait for someone a hundred miles away to amuse us with "canned" music for we had come out for the day to make our own fun and to enjoy ourselves. It was a happy care-free crowd that went exploring. True, we had our cloudy moments - our fears and tears, and our embarrassing times, but it was all part of our fun and it all helped to polish the silver lining of the few clouds that came our way.
For instance there were the two boatloads of 5 or 6 people who rowed round to the little beach at Bowentown to try some fishing. In one boat a man got a schnapper hook firmly through a finger. Fortunately one of the ladies fainted so she missed seeing the "unhooking". There wasn't a pair of pliers to cut the shaft of the hook (few amateur fishermen have them at hand even today), so it was a case of the sharpest pocket knife. Antiseptic? the good old salt sea of course. The bandage - a strip torn from the flounce of a white petticoat. From where today on a mini skirt could one improvise a bandage? To end this story, late that afternoon the party set out for the long journey home tired but happy.
Where are they now? So few remain. The town has gone; clans dispersed, and of that picnic party the oldest member left us this year at ninety-five whilst the youngest will not be under sixty-five.