Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 46, September 2002


By Graham Watton, Jubilee Secretary and Thames Valley Rugby Historian

Paeroa West Rugby and Sports Club celebrated an historic milestone during Queen's Birthday Weekend, June 2002, when members marked the 100th Anniversary of the club's formation.

The club can be justifiably proud of this achievement. Since its inception in April 1902, the club has retained its original name and black and white colours - there have been no amalgamations. Since that date the club has fielded competition teams every year with the exception of the dark years of World Wars One and Two. During these periods competitive rugby went into recess in just about all country areas. This is no mean feat because there are few clubs in rural New Zealand, and even the urban centres, that can match such a record.

Firstly, the origins of this proud club. Rugby was played in Paeroa from around the 1880s as the town developed as a bustling river port and the mining operations at Karangahake, then Waihi and Waitekauri, were gathering pace.

The first official rugby team in Paeroa was the Paeroa Club in 1886. A year later the Mountaineer's Club was formed and in 1890 the Ohinemuri Club came into existence. By 1894 the Ohinemuri Rugby Union was formed, involving Karangahake (three clubs), Paeroa (now one club), and Waitekauri teams. Over the next few years, Waihi and Te Aroha Unions, with their clubs, joined the Ohinemuri Union but by 1901 they had both withdrawn and the Ohinemuri Union faced recess as only the Paeroa Club was left. During this season the Paeroa Club had to travel to Karangahake and Waitekauri (not easy trips on horse drawn vehicles over rough roads, on horseback or even on foot), with only a few home games. The club was also unable to provide games for all those who wished to play.

By the end of the 1901 rugby season there were suggestions made within the Paeroa Rugby Club, that the game would be better served in the district by the club splitting into three clubs and forming the Paeroa Rugby Club Union which would be affiliated to the Ohinemuri Union.

The commencement of the 1902 season saw these suggestions become a reality. At a well-attended meeting on 18 April, the Paeroa Rugby Club unanimously decided to split into three clubs. One, Suburbs, was very easily formed to cater for the Komata and Hikutaia districts. In Paeroa it was not so easy. After much debate it was finally decided to split the town in two, but just where the line was drawn is not known. Inaugural club member, Jim Silcock, indicated that the line was along the main street (east-west) and those who lived on the north side were West, and on the south side, East. This does not compare with the Ohinemuri Gazette of the time which mentioned boundary changes involving property in Corbett Street and William Street. Again, there were not many people living south of the main street as most of the early population was on the northern side.

From research, it appears that the line was drawn north-south, along Corbett Street and Williams Street, extending from the Ohinemuri River, across to Thames Road. This would be the most practical boundary with players living on the eastern side of this north-south line belonging to the East End Club and those to the west of the line, the West End Club. All three clubs fielded senior and junior teams.

However, whatever the decision, family were put against family, even brother against brother, and there was tremendous rivalry between these two teams, both on and off the field. The word "end" was dropped at the start of the playing season, and the two town clubs became known as West and East. (East continued until the mid 1930s before disbanding.) Club competition was among the three Paeroa clubs and three, or so, at Karangahake and, at times, a couple of clubs from the Waitekauri goldfields. The Suburbs Club took blue for its playing colours and East took amber, the former Paeroa Club colours.

The West Club settled on the black and white hoops as their colours. This was the birth of the Paeroa West Football Club. West used the same colours and hoops until the late 1980s when the jersey style was changed, but not the colours. However, for the Centennial Year, the Club went back to the black and white hoops. (The Club has replicas of the 1902 jersey on sale during the celebration.)

There are some Thames Valley clubs registered in the 2002 Thames Valley competitions which were registered much earlier than 1902. The Waihou Club had its beginnings in 1880 when a club was formed at Waitoa. Mercury Bay, Coromandel and Tairua were registered in 1888 but all four clubs have had periods, both short and long, in recess and amalgamations. Rugby in Thames goes back to 1870 while Waitakaruru, now Hauraki North, was founded in 1909.

Planning for this milestone celebration commenced eighteen months beforehand when a Jubilee committee was formed and the tremendous task commenced to contact all players, officials committee personnel, manager, coaches, associate members of the rugby, cricket and netball sports teams which have been part of the club. Almost 470 enrolment forms were posted and when just over 200 were returned this gave the committee a firm indication that the reunion would be a success. By the start of the celebrations there were almost 400 individual registrations received for all, or some part, of the three-day celebration.

Informality was the main focus of the arrangements with the weekend programme commencing on Friday night with a get-together function. Some 270 packed into the clubrooms - it was shoulder to shoulder as players and members renewed friendships going back fifty or more years.

Saturday morning, from 11 00am, there was a street parade in decades, with vintage cars being provided to carry some of those who were not able to walk the distance. The 150-strong parade, led by lone piper, Streun Murgatroyd, assembled at the clubrooms and marched along Corbett Street and Willoughby Street to the Domain gates. On entering the Domain the parade was met by a local Maori Culture Group. This was an impressive welcome from a group of young warriors, despite the cool temperatures.

The club's three teams played competition games during the afternoon, with the usual after match function at the club rooms. The Under-21 and Senior C side won their games, but the Senior A side never "got-off the-ground" and could not complete a jubilee trifecta. The Senior C side got up in the last minute to retain the Robert Hughes Memorial Shield, a trophy played for between West and neighbours Paeroa Old Boys since the mid-1970s.

The highlight of the weekend was the centenary dinner held at the Paeroa Racing Club's complex on Saturday night. There were just over 300 seated for a sumptuous dinner. Former member of the club and member of a well-known Paeroa family, Kevin Hart, was the master of ceremony.

The President of the Thames Valley Rugby Union, Laurie Burns, congratulated the club on its achievement and thanked its many members who have played prominent parts in the Union's administration and team coaches over many years. Life Member, Gary Hazelwood read the apologies and called on those present to spare a thought for those who could not attend, especially those owing to ill health.

Following the dinner main course, the toast to the Paeroa West Club was proposed by Hauraki District Mayor, Basil Morrison. He paid tribute to the Club for its long and active involvement in the community. He said the strength of the Club came from its unique culture, derived from bringing together several generations of family members and moulding them into a strong West family environment. The reply came from Life Member, Norm McMillan, a player for the Club from around 1946 and who played an active coaching and administrative role over some thirty years. He recalled many of the Club's stalwarts, the most prominent being the late Jack McLeod and Hec Verran and the Club's only All Black, Kevin Barry, who was present.

The keynote speaker was the New Zealand Rugby Union Vice-president and former All Black, Tane Norton. He recalled his early club days with a similar club as West and he stressed that all clubs, particularly those in rural areas, were the genuine grassroots of the game. They must continue to foster rugby at this important level by maintaining a viable club atmosphere and make their needs known to provincial and national administrators.

The final speaker was former Club member, former New Zealand All Black assistant coach and selector, Ross Cooper. He called on Club members to not ask "what can the club do for me, but what can I do for the club. Do this and the West Club will be around for another century".

The centenary cake was cut by 95-year-old Ben Gwilliam, who was the oldest player present, having worn the black and white jersey in the 1923 third grade team. He was assisted by John Cotter, who played for the 1932 junior team. During a discussion with Mr Gwilliam, he told of another player in the 1923 team, Bill Leach, who is living in Fielding. He is a member of the well-known Leach family of bakers in Paeroa, going back to the early 1900s.

Sunday commenced with a solemn and impressive remembrance service on Leach Field, at the clubrooms, conducted by Danny Spence. Many present took some of the one hundred black and white balloons and wrote the names of loved ones, team mates and friends who have passed away, on paper crosses. These were released at the conclusion of the service.

The luncheon fed around 250 and was followed by the past versus present game on Leach Field. The closing speeches came from the Jubilee Committee Chairperson, Phillip Hughes and from Terry Williams, who played from 1947 into the early 1950s, on behalf of those attending.

All attending were warm in their praise for the organisation of the weekend. As Mr Williams summed up, "Thank you Jubilee Committee for a wonderful weekend. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, it has been a very happy and joyous occasion".

When Mayor, Basil Morrison mentioned that the West Club had been built on family ties, he was referring to two inaugural 1902 players. One was Tom Clarkin, whose direct descendant, Alex Clarkin, was a prop forward in the Club's 2002 Senior A team. The other, Ben Chamberlain, whose family is represented today by Paul Chamberlain, a longtime member of the Club's very successful raffle's committee.

Among other players from the first decade whose families have continued their association with the club are the Vuglar, Rolton, Silcock, Dean, Moore, McKee, Pennell, Short, Shaw, Manning, Thorp, Crosby, Alley, Poland, Walmsley and Taylor families.

The Jubilee Committee was: Phillip Hughes (Chairperson), John Poulter (Vice-chairperson), Graham Watton (Secretary), Debbie Gould (nee Warner, Treasurer), John Frater (Club President), Norm McMillan, Gary Hazelwood, Frank Treanor, Lawrie Smith, Mira Hill, Marie Nikora, Lawrie Jenkins, Butch Baxter, Ali Schmidt and Brian Trebes.


(Words and music by the late Jack McLeod)

We're the boys from West,

We're the boys from West,

And we proudly hail from Paeroa town,

We have made our fame,

At the rugby game.

Each and everyone from the captain down

We have played our best,

And we've stood the test,

With a record that will stand all time.

Always follow Black and White,

And the boys will see you right.

Once a West man always a West man

Every time - and proud to be

Once a West man a West man every time.


We're the boys from West,

We're the boys from West,

From afar and near we are gathered here,

Celebrating our Club's history,

Turning back the years,

Through the groans and cheers,

With a spirit that will never die.

Sixty years we've played the game,

Sixty more we shall remain.

Once a West man, a West man

Every time - and proud to be

Once a West man a West man every time.

These were words written for the 60th Jubilee, held in 1962. Changing the words "sixty years" to "100 years" and the song was appropriate for the centennial jubilee. A small group of former players relived old times by singing this song as "after dinner entertainment".

The three oldest players

The three oldest players present at the Celebrations, (from left) John Cotter, Ben Gwilliam, Bill Vercoe.

(Photo: Corina Chamberlain)

Paeroa West Rugby and Sports Club
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 46, September 2002
The three oldest players
West Football Club, Paeroa - 1902


Back row: Mr A Searle, P Skelton, T Clarkin, W Middleton, J Hamilton, J Dean, J Silcock, Mr G Forsythe, Mr J C Dromgool.

Middle row: Mr James Garcia, C Rolton, G Muir, P Flynn (Captain), J McGeehan, G Rolton, Mr N B Peters (Secretary).

Front row: B Chamberlain, McGeehan (S Clarkin, V McGeehan), H Broomwich, E Vuglar.

Paeroa West Rugby and Sports Club
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 46, September 2002
West Football Club, Paeroa - 1902
Cutting the Jubilee Cake


The Centenary Cake was cut by, on the left, Ben Gwilliam (1923) and John Cotter (1932)

Paeroa West Rugby and Sports Club
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 46, September 2002
Cutting the Jubilee Cake