Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
(by W. M. Sorenson, reprinted from the Hauraki Plains Gazette, October 27, 1948.)
I was born on June 6, 1876, at the foot of Turner's Hill, Karangahake, a spot which, in those days, was well known to carters, whose horses had to pull heavy loads up the steep hill; it was a great test for the fine beasts.
I well remember crossing the creek on stones and planks to go up and see my young friend, Bill Marsh, who lived on the hill just above our home. In fact, I think I spent most of my time there. I used to tell my mother what a wonderful baker Mrs Marsh was because she used to cook delicious cakes and tarts nearly every day; perhaps that accounts for my being a sweet-tooth all my life.
During the 1880s our four-roomed house was shifted to about half a mile closer to Paeroa by Mr Bryson, the carter, and his team of draught horses. I thought they were wonderful horses because they pulled the house in two, but I was told afterwards that my father and uncle had divided the building beforehand.
The new house which was built some few years later was cut out of one large kauri tree which my father and his brothers had pit-sawn; the shingles which they used for the roof they had also split. A Mr Cook and his son Fred did the main part of the building, which consisted of six rooms and a porch.
In all this time my cobber Bill Marsh and I was separated but we both went to the Mackaytown School. I started some time before Bill, when I turned six, and I had two brothers and one sister older than myself already at the school. There were no tar-sealed roads in those days; no cars or trucks to ride in as the children have today; we had to walk it, and the roads were not the best either.
Mackaytown in the 1880s was a fairly busy place, although several of the hotels had been closed down, one near the school being used as a post office and store. This was run by the well-known Daldy Williams who was later shot in the arm by the natives on Te Moananui Hill while surveying after he had ignored the natives' order to stop the job.
The town in those days was nearly all built on the hill overlooking the Ohinemuri River. The road ran along the top of the hill to Doherty's Creek and down to where there was sometimes a ferry to cross to the other side of the river. There was no road to Karangahake at that time, so all traffic had to cross the river either at the ford at Mackaytown or by ferry at Doherty's Creek, the latter of which was only a small pulling boat pulled by a heavy wire.
All the cartage went across the ford and up the hill on to the high country to 'Hake, then through bush over the hill which brought it to the "Tramway Hotel", which was run by mine host Alf Shepard. This was the only hotel at that time in the town; the only battery was the "Ivanhoe", which was the first I had ever seen. It was managed by my father in the early 1880s, Mr Charles Peter Hansen being the promoter.
The swing bridge was being erected at that time and the men had a lot of trouble with the standards as they kept falling over. Mr Hansen said: "Sorenson, for heaven's sake go down and give them a hand," which my father did and the bridge was finally erected. It proved a great boon to that side of the river as there was a large quantity of quartz being shipped overseas at that time.
Miners were camped all over the hill and nearly every week-end we used to take butter and eggs out to Dad and party, when we had some over we would take them to the Hauraki Camp to sell. We were lucky if we got 6d. a pound for the butter and about the same for eggs per dozen.
The first carters I remember were Bryson's Drays and Dickeys. Their trolleys, with block wheels, used to go right up to the Hauraki Camp. About this time Karangahake started to grow and they started to put the gorge road through and the road from Docherty's Creek. It was not many years before there was a lot of building along the main road and after the Crown battery had been built they began to spring up on the other side of the river.
The schoolmaster of the Mackaytown School was Mr W. Sullivan, who later was transferred to the Paeroa school and was headmaster there for some considerable time. I believe he must have followed me to see me through to the sixth standard in 1891. I still have the certificate for that, incidentally. Quite a number of my friends in that class went through as school teachers later on; too many to mention.
Across the river from our home on the Waihi Road there were a great many natives known as the Te Moananui tribe. They were a very good type of people and we knew them all from the swims we used to have together at the river. Te Moananui and his wife often came over to our place and they were a very pleasant couple.
Above our house and on the same side of the river there were natives who used to grow much maize, potatoes and water melon on both side of our homestead. Below, and on the opposite side of the river there was another tribe known as the Nagtikohe and their chief was called Kape. In 1894 there was nearly a war between these two tribes.
The Ngatikohe tribe used to help themselves to metal and gravel from Te Moananui's frontage and were told by Te Moananui to stop taking it. They refused, so Chief Te Moananui tipped their load out of the dray. Two Nagtikohe natives tipped the dray back suddenly and caught Te Moananui's hand and badly crushed it. That set the ball rolling.
We used to go up to the river bank and listen to the challenges which could be heard for miles around. There were natives coming from all directions—Coromandel, Whangamata, Katikati, Thames, Te Aroha, Kerepehi and Hauraki Plains.
Many of them were stopped as they came through Paeroa and their guns and ammunition were taken from them, but the position got so serious that the Artillery had finally to be summoned from Auckland. It was here for quite a while, but the dispute was eventually settled without bloodshed.
There was a gala day held on the day of settlement and the Artillery played the Paeroa rugby team and defeated them. Being a week-day I could not get off work but my mate was granted leave as he was one the best players in the team.
There was a Mr W. Marsh who lived on a farm near our homestead about whom I should like to tell you. He used to milk about a dozen cows and make butter which he used to sell in 'Hake and Paeroa. It was delicious butter but all he was getting was 6d per pound.
They had a concrete dairy and I think it was the only one in the district. How lovely and cool it was inside with all the milk dishes on benches round the walls. He later started supplying milk to 'Hake and he carried on a for a number of years with his son Bill.
In those days, Mr Marsh used to grow a lot of feed for his milking cows to keep them milking right through the winter.
One of the greatest days in Mackaytown was the carters' picnic which started at Paeroa early in the morning with the Paeroa Brass Band (of which I was a member), in the leading spring wagon. Mr George Mettam was the conductor of the band at the time. Nearly as far as eye could see there were wagons crowded with children, adults and flags, and what a day they all had!
At the Mackaytown Hotel we met the Waihi band under the direction of Mr E. Bestie and the two bands joined together to play "St. Patrick's Day" for Mr Carol Nash, the licensee, who was a noted and good supporter of the Catholic Church. They told us afterwards that he ran out of beer and had to send to Paeroa for some more.
Draught horses, ridden by their owners, were raced and together with foot races, completed a great day for Mackaytown.
Turner's Hill was named after Mr Turner who resided there with his wife and son and daughter in the early days. Their home was made of nikau and rushes and remained for a good number of years. Mr Turner was well-known for catching any stray horses and cattle and impounding them so consequently he was not too popular with his neighbours.
In the late 1890s, when Mr Rod Woodward was the proprietor of the Mackaytown Hotel, concerts used to be held in the little section adjoining his building. They would take place in the evening with the band in attendance and the grounds prettily lit up with Chinese lanterns hung from the small pines that surrounded the section. Coaches would come from Paeroa, Waihi and other parts of the district through the Rahu Road.
The traffic that time was all horse-drawn and it was great sight in later years to see the crowds travelling to catch the trains and steamers from Paeroa, especially during the Christmas holiday period.
In the early 1890s the river started to overflow its banks; then the silt began to accumulate all over our property, and of that of the natives adjoining our home, turning what was once a beautiful river into a dirty coloured sludge channel. This flooding stopped the cropping completely. Several times during the 1890s my father had to shift the house further back to the highest piece of ground near the river bank.
Many years later, when I was residing there in 1936, we were nearly washed out again as the water and silt came nearly halfway up the windows and all the stock was washed out. However, we were very fortunate and lost only one cow, a yearling, but by then I had had enough of farming and sold the property to Mrs Treanor.
In the 1890s Karangahake was a great little town. I remember one night when the Paeroa football team were returning from Waitekauri after playing the team there we travelled in a big dray driven by Mr George Smith. What a great driver he was. During all the years he was on the road I do not remember his having an accident.
On this night, however, he had a very narrow escape as coming down the steep hill from Waitekauri he found his brakes could not hold the big dray and about 25 passengers. It was all he could do to keep his team on the road, but we got through all right thanks to his wonderful efficiency.
When we approached Karangahake on the same night what a wonderful sight it was to come so suddenly on to the town and to see all lights of the three batteries, two hotels and the glow-worm lights around the hills. It was a sight you would not never forget, but its very different today.
Karangahake in those days had a very strong representative team. They had a rugby union with three senior and three junior teams—all very fine men. Among them were George Gillett, W. McLean, John Dufty, Chas Rockley, Monty Houghton, J. Johnson, Keating, Baghurst, J. White and many others whose names I no longer remember.
There were a number of men who lived in Paeroa and rode to Karangahake to work in the mines in those years. Jim, Ned and Fred Shaw, Harry, Boss and Gordon Moore, Jack, Tom and Bill Pennell, Bob Bellingham, George Buchanan, Frank Jones, Jim Capill and many others. We often heard them coming home in the night after the 12 o'clock shift. They used to race past our home.
Another item worthy of mention was the aerial tram which was erected by my father and his mate John Kelly—later a publican. The aerial crossed the Waitewheta River from the Hauraki Camp over the river at an angle of 45 degrees.
There were two wires which I once saw working, the wire on the right-hand side bringing down the bins loaded with quartz and on the other wire the empty bins being drawn back to the loading place and turned around the turntable to be filled again for the next trip.
I remember our father telling us once that they missed taking a label off one of the wires when putting them across the river, and consequently the trucks jumped off the wires. Father said to John Kelly: "I want you to go out and take that label off the wire over the Waitawheta." John replied he would not do it for all the gold in Karangahake. So Dad had to do it himself and being a sea-farer it was no trouble to him to cross hand over hand to release the label. John was very much surprised by this feat.
Some time after the swing bridge had been completed Karangahake had a gala on the hotel side of the river. I remember the potato race well as it was the first I had seen. The greasy boom too, was great fun and I believe there was a £5 prize for the one who got the flag. The river was beautiful in those days and much deeper than today,
In the 1880s they used to hold horse race meetings in Mackaytown and the steeplechase event, in particular, caused great interest. I remember once there was quite a lot of jostling going on between a native and Mr Jim McGuire and after the race there was a free fight which was won by the Pakeha.
Looking at the old sports ground today you wonder where the course was but they held the races there all right with a number of side shows as well. There was a man called Black Bob who used to do all the sports and races in those days. He used to play a game with his pet canary making it draw numbers from a box after Bob had sold 12 tickets. He charged 1/- each and kept the thirteenth ticket for himself, the winner getting back 10/-.Sometimes Bob would win the whole pool as I think he had the canary trained pretty well!
One of the side shows had a number of coins, up to half a sovereign, in value, all checked into a square table. If you covered any of these coins you would get paid out the amount of the coin you covered by throwing a ring, but I can tell you there was very little room to be seen on the sovereign.
There were also wrestling matches on the programme as in those days there were some good wrestlers in the district; Bill McKay and Charlie Meagher are two that used often to get into holds.
About this time metal used to be taken from the hill opposite our home and the carters were always very busy carting this to Paeroa. It was needed on all the streets in the town, making very good footpaths as it was clean and did not stick to your boots. They used to blast the metal from the hill then break it up afterwards, and what a boon it was before the real concrete came to stay.
Karangahake in the 1890s had a printing office, run by a Mr Clavis, a fire brigade, three butchers' shops, a hardware shop, grocers' shops, clothing shops, Monty's Hotel and hall and the Miners' Union Hall. There was also a baker's shop built by my Dad and brother for Ted Bromich, my brother-in-law, I think this was the first bakery in Karangahake. Bromich later went to Paeroa where my Dad and his brother built the bakery and shop for him about the end of the century. Ted carried on for a good many years there until the present owner Mr Davey Leach took over. In those early days they used horses and carts for delivery, not the cars and trucks that they have today.
Across the river from our home the Te Moananui tribe had a little church on the lower end of Te Moananui Hill. They used to hold church every Sunday evening and we could hear the bell ringing and the natives singing and chanting; it was very pleasant to listen to. They often invited us to come over to the services but we never did. I think this was where they used to take their dead before carrying them to the top of hill to bury them when they finished their "tangi"; I remember seeing their burying ground on several occasions.
In those early days there were a lot of stone breakers along the road from Paeroa to Karangahake and the great quantity of blue metal that they had stacked all along the roads is hard to believe. This was in the 1880s or early 1890s when there were many prospectors in the district, one of whom I remember well. His name was Bill Tregowe and he used to say that he would have Jack Clarkin's waggon carting his gold into Paeroa instead of coal to Waikino, but poor Bill died without getting his gold. He was a very good billiard player and I remember seeing him play a match with Jack Ryan of Waitekauri for, I think, £50 a side, but Bill was the loser after a good battle.
Another old timer and councillor was Mick Marriner who lived in Karangahake most of his time. I think he was secretary of the Miners' Union in the early days; other characters were poor "Old Spluttering Bill"; the Tresize family; Bill Williams, who lived in a mud house up from the Tramway Hotel; Mrs Collinson and family, who kept a boarding house, which I think was about the first in Karangahake; Stackpole brothers.
In Mackaytown I remember quite a few settlers when I was going to school there—Bill Dodd and family; J. Noelle and family; Kelly, the butcher; Carol Nash, the publican and one time councillor and his two orphan boys Don and Jack Kelleher; Cornes and family who lived on the other side of the river; Watty Grant and family; McGrivers and family; Bill Bunting and family; and many other too numerous to mention.