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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 37, September 1993

On 11 October 1992 Bert Day celebrated his 90th birthday and recalled some early memories which he related to the Paeroa Gazette. Bert was on site to see the switching on of the two huge pumps in 1992 which will keep the Tirohia-Rotokohu drainage area almost flood-free. This rekindled memories of floods of 70 years ago.

"In 1923," related Bert, "we had moved into a small house on Tetley's property, near the intersection of the main road and Mill Road. There was very heavy rain during the day and night. Next morning I woke in the dark, put my hand over the side of the bed into flood water. The Ohinemuri River had risen, shut the flood gates on the Kouiti Stream and the whole Tirohia-Rotokohu area was under water."

Bert Day was born in Dorset, England, and at the age of 19 married Nora. At that time they were looking to take up an offer to go to Western Australia where the offer was 100 acres of land at 10 shillings per day to break it in.

"It was cheaper to come to New Zealand and I left behind my wife, who was to have our first child, and arrived at Ngatea in 1922 to work for the Hayward family on their farm." he said. When Mrs Day and their son Ken arrived a few months later there was no house for them at Ngatea. They left the farm and Mr Day went on relief work at Tapu.

Early in 1923 the Days came to Paeroa where he took a job with the Public Works Department on the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers Improvement Scheme. He recalled his first task was to pour many cubic yards of concrete grouting into the Kouiti Stream culvert, under the stopbank, because it was almost in a state of collapse. Later he took on the position of floorman on one of the steam dredges which were working near the confluence of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers, widening the channel and building new stop-banks. "From our small house on Tetley's property I used to walk to and from the dredge, which was then working near the junction of the two rivers", he recalled.

In 1924 Bert took a two-year lease over a 70 acre farm owned by a Mr Davis. This was just over the Cooper's Drain bridge in Mill Road on the left and partially developed. He purchased 11 cows and milked them night and morning by hand and sent the cream to the factory, while during the day he worked on the dredge." We were paid £4 a week when I first started, but on the dredges this rose to £18 per week, but it was six days a week."

As floorman on the dredge it was his job to make sure the coal and water was supplied to the boiler, plus keep all moving parts greased. He was also responsible for insuring the dredge was correctly positioned while working. Flooding in his farm, and to a much greater extent on land further down Mill Road, were regular occurrences during his early days.

Mr Day recalled when his pigs had to swim from their sty into the coal shed at the rear of the small cottage, which was home for him and his increasing family for many years. After the farm lease expired the Days bought the farm and built the herd up to 20 cows, again all milking being done by hand.

"When there was a breakdown on the dredge we were sent to the H drain at Netherton", he said. "One day we had a large heap of blackberry and rubbish which we could not get out of the drain. We flushed it down and out into the Waihou River, right into the path of a passenger boat. The vessel became entangled in the rubbish and there was quite an ado over this."

Then came the depression and times were made much tougher for the Day's because his herd slipped their calves for three consecutive years. "I had very good neighbours and one, Ru Rasmussen, offered me 20 heifers and I had to work for him to repay him. This enabled us to get back on our feet, but it meant a lot of hard work and tough conditions for the family. There was plenty of stumping to do when developing the farm. I found two layers of stumps, with the bottom layer of huge rimu and matai logs, all laying one way and still with the sap in them. Once opened up to the air they quickly decayed. This was strange because these are not swamp-loving trees and the way they were laying indicated a tremendous storm had knocked them over. There was also evidence in the debris and sand deposits that the Waikato River could have flowed through the area many hundreds of years previously. I did the work with two horses, plough discs and paddock plough. It was very tough on both man and beast."

All through this period Mr Day was getting one shilling and sixpence to look after the Kouiti Stream floodgates; this was doubled when he took over Cooper's Drain. "I had to keep the gates clear of rubbish, and most importantly dead stock, these were flushed out into the river", said Mr Day.

The Tirohia-Rotokohu Drainage Board was formed in the early 1930's and Mr Day took a very keen interest in its activities, being a member for over 30 years, retiring in 1960. He recalls the first flood protection scheme which was going to cost £40,000 but was rejected on the vote of the ratepayers. This scheme had a stopbank and drain from the high ground at Tirohia, along the foothills, to turn the water from the lower lands and into the Ohinemuri River. "So we had to put up with all the water from the catchment of the Kouiti coming down and inundating our properties for many years," he said.

When the Days sold their Mill Road property they moved to South Auckland on to a 27 acre property. They returned home to England in 1961 to visit the family and when they returned sold their property and moved into the Mission Bay area. After Mr Day obtained a job as maintenance man at the Paeroa racecourse they returned to Paeroa. They bought, refurbished and then sold five older homes in Paeroa before building their residence on the side of Primrose Hill in Arney Street late in 1965.

Mrs Day passed away ten years ago.