Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007

Our history is disappearing before our eyes and it is essential that we, as a district, bring a halt to this.

Over the past 12 months, in fact for decades, pioneering and long-standing residents of the Paeroa and Waihi have taken their valuable memories of our districts to their graves and this has been a tremendous loss for our future generations.

Hauraki Plains and Ngatea historian Ken Clover, over many years, has been interviewing and recording the experiences of pioneers of his district. He then painstakingly transcribes his tapes into the printed word. He has a unique and very valuable record of the Hauraki Plains through the eyes of over 100 pioneers, and several others in Thames and Paeroa areas who have had associations with the Hauraki Plains.

In association with the Hauraki Plains Historical Society Mr Clover has published three volumes of these interviews, "The Hauraki Plains People". These are "live-memory" records of the development of the Hauraki Plains.

Early in the 1990s an enthusiastic group in Waihi, interview some 100 pioneering women of the district and produced a most interesting printed record to mark the centenary year of Suffragette in 1993—the year New Zealand women were given their first vote in Parliamentary general elections.

This publication most importantly gives a graphic insight into the development of the Waihi district through the eyes of the women pioneers.

Today there is an urgent need for a team of interviewers to continue this oral history programme in the Hauraki District. There is hi-tech recording equipment available, which is easy to use and arrangements can be made to have the tapes transcribed. In fact with certain computer programmes the tapes can transcribed from the recorded spoken word to the printed word.

Preserving Our Heritage

The major conservation project of the district over the past year, in fact for New Zealand, has been preserving the Cornish Pumphouse building at Waihi. This structure has silently watched over Waihi and the surrounding district from its position above the town and over No. 5 shaft of the Waihi Gold Company's Martha Gold mine.

Under the conditions for the Resource Management Act consent, the pumphouse had to be protected from mining operations. However, as old underground mine shafts subsided and the extensive open-cast mining close at hand, the over 100-year pumphouse was in danger of toppling over. Newmont Gold, owners of the mining operations, stepped forward and produced plans to move the pumphouse to safe ground. There were many doubters, but the company set aside $3 million for the project.

In August last year a start was made to move this building. By December it had been successfully relocated and the Cornish Pumphouse took up a new imposing site, dominating the sky-line above Waihi's main street and the surrounding district. Landscaping is underway and in 12 months time the pumphouse will have most attractive surroundings. All those involved in this massive exercise must receive the highest praise possible.

More congratulations go to the Victoria Battery Society and the Department of Conservation staff for their combined efforts in the restoration of the Victoria Battery, where a greater majority of Martha Mine ore was processed from the mid-1890s until 1953 when the battery was shutdown with the closure of Martha Mine in 1952. Stripped of its massive timbers and much of its machinery for scrap metal, the area was abandoned until two decades ago, when the enthusiastic group of volunteers and the Department of Conservation staff set about restoring the historic site.

This attraction is linked to Waihi by the popular Goldfields Steam Train Society's railway, again a most popular attraction for the holiday-makers.

In the Karangahake Gorge the history walkways have been given a tremendous upgrade by the Department of Conservation staff and already this work is reaping reward with an estimated 80,000 people a year walking the various routes. Work has now started on the restoration of the Woodstock and then Talisman Mine underground pump-house, a unique huge cavern inside Mt Karangahake.

The Hauraki District has several excellent attractions for the ever-increasing numbers of holiday-makers and overseas tourists with interests in things heritage and culture and they all are connected by the State Highway Two.

Starting at Ngatea there is the working replica of the original Orchard Bridge, opened in December, 1917, over the Piako River. The model is next to the present bridge in Tilbury Reserve. This a unique "draw-bridge" operation in which the centre span was lifted up to allow the steamers to pass as they serviced the Hauraki Plains from the around 1910 to the mid-1930s.

On to Netherton where Laurie Brunt's Yesteryear Barn is a must see, especially for those interested in farm machinery. There are also many other interesting pieces of machinery and exhibits on display.

The Historic Maritime Park, takes one back to the steamers which plied the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers from the 1870s through into the 1930s and in later years. The museum building is historic in its own right, serving first as the Waitekauri Post Office, then moved to Paeroa around 1913 to be headquarters for the Public Works Department, then moved again to its present site in 1970. Other buildings in the park include the original Paeroa jail and the Public Works Department's workshops for the Waihou and Ohinemuri Improvement Scheme operations from around 1912.

Nearby there is cairn on the side of the highway commemorating the first European settler to arrive in the district, Joshua Thorp in 1842.

In Paeroa there is the Paeroa and District Museum with its collection of historic photographs, large number of Maori artefacts, including a 200-year waka stern post and 527-piece Royal Albert bone china collection. There is also the giant L and P bottle at the east of the town—one of New Zealand's 10 icons.

Paeroa is also the centre of Hauraki Maori with four main meeting houses, Pai-o-Hauraki and Ngahutoitoi, the very old Taharua Pa in close proximity and others at Tirohia and Kerepehi.

On to Karangahake Gorge where there is a much-used reserve as the base for the many popular walkways through the picturesque Karangahake Gorge, including the old 1100m long railway tunnel, and the spectacular Waitawheta Gorge where relics of mining operations can be visited.

Travel through the gorge to Waikino where the historic Victoria Battery is undergoing a restoration programme. From the mid-1890s all the quartz rock from the New Zealand's richest gold mine at Waihi was processed. Great strides are being made to upgrade this site.

The Waikino railway station, formerly the 1895 Paeroa station building, is also the terminus for the Goldfields Steam train, which carries its passengers to Waihi through farmlands to the Waihi station, which was opened in 1905.

Waihi, with its attractive main street, is steeped in the gold mining history of New Zealand. There is the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum, the historic Cornish pumphouse, another New Zealand icon, and spectacular views of the huge present-day method of open cast mining operations.

Further on is Waihi Beach where there is a safe swimming along 5kms of sandy beach.

Planning is proceeding on tourist orientated multi-million Discovery Centre based on gold mining for Waihi and the Department of Conservation is in the preliminary planning stage for an Information Centre at Karangahake, possibly incorporating the local hall.

However, to ensure that all these attractions and many others, can reap the fortunes of the increasing tourist traffic they must all pull together and produce a united front. At the moment each section does their own thing. The facilitator must be the Hauraki District Council, and then there must be total support from all organisations, big and small.

Special thanks to those contributors to this issue of the Journal and especially Andrew McNicol for his assistance.

Graham Watton,