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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 3, April 1965

by R.W. Lowry.

In the year 1904 my parents and nine of our family of 13 sailed from Northern Ireland in the "Gothic" to settle in New Zealand. They bought a farm at Hikutaia township for £22 per acre - a record price at that time. Shortly afterwards I worked at £1 per week for Alley Bros. who then owned about 1,000 acres of the land which was originally part of McCaskill's Grant. They dealt extensively in cattle and sheep, supplying butchers throughout the district. This land has now been divided into about 20 dairy farms carrying approximately 1400 cows, mostly supplying a very modern cheese factory near the Hikutaia Railway Station.

For many years Hikutaia had been the main outlet for a kauri forest from the range between it and Whangamata. The logs were brought down by bullock teams to a place where horse-drawn timber waggons brought them to the Hikutaia Creek or the Waihou River to be towed to Auckland. Many were six and eight feet in diameter and I remember a ten foot one. I spent some time doing bush work. Later a Mr. Buchanan erected a sawmill on the top of the main range and cut some splendid kauri which was brought down by motor lorry. As the road was not metalled they could operate only in fine weather, sometimes working at night.

Parker and Lamb cut about 100 logs on a side ridge and constructed a dam to bring them out but it wasn't a success. Later a large landslide created a dam which was a great boon. Hows and Williams erected a sawmill at the Huia about four miles from Hikutaia and cut some splendid trees including rimu. They sold the best kauri for from nine to eighteen shillings per hundred super, and conveyed it to a yard at the railway station by horse drawn waggons.

For twelve months I worked as a gold miner at Komata Reefs, mostly contracting on single-handed drilling. They were crushing about 100 tons of quartz per day and only averaging about £1 per ton. However, it was there that I earned my first £100 and after a period of helping my people with a milk round in Paeroa, I decided to go into business on my own account and returned to Hikutaia to build my own store and dwelling for my future wife and family. This was good practice for in later years I have built many houses.

Hikutaia was an outlet for the Kauri Gum industry, and I as storekeeper handled large quantities, the average price being about £140 per ton for good quality. Some of course was not. In one case four men came along and bled the green kauri trees and after a few years came again and collected the green gum. I would not buy it but supplied them with groceries and packed their gum to the railway for £5 per ton. Using six pack horses it took me three days to get it there.

An Englishman named Reginald Dixon, qualified as a Bank Manager at Home, came to New Zealand and was quite satisfied to dig gum and do a little gold prospecting. He also had a pallet for "mitey" cheese, asking me to bring up 12 lbs. and soon wanted more. A "mighty" man was he.

Many of my customers were miners at Maratoto and I supplied them with groceries etc. twice weekly as well as doing some carting for the Mining Company. One customer, a Mr. Coltar, made good use of a hollow kauri stump which he covered with. corrugated iron, and it provided a stable for his pony, being about 9 ft wide and very roomy. He lined his cottage with nice straight split kauri palings, planed and varnished until they looked almost like match lining. He was a gum digger. Others had their shanties lined with pictures of the "Weekly News" - many of them old but very interesting.

Near the Wentworth Mine there was a beautiful waterfall which I always admired.

I still smile when I remember conducting an Election Booth about 50 years ago. On placing on the wall some returns which read Poland 19 Moss 1, some miners who came to have a look asked, "Who was the sod who voted for Moss?", I said that I did and they let it pass as a joke, so I was still their storekeeper.

I was the first contractor to carry the mail from Hikutaia to Whangamata every Friday. It worked in with my delivery of groceries and the return trip for packing gum. I had five private bags to deliver on the way and I must say those people were very kind and would be disappointed if I didn't partake of their hospitality. I often took some heavy parcels for the fishermen and could charge for any over seven pounds, but I never did. I was well rewarded with a few good live crayfish which meant a crayfish supper at Lowry's on a Friday night.

One sad event happened at Maratoto to a Mr. Jack Paddy, a fine robust man about 6 ft. tall. He was troubled with fleas in his bunk so sprinkled it liberally with cyanide. The miners returning from day shift missed him as he should have gone on afternoon shift. They found him dead in his bed. Another sad occurrence happened in connection with the same hut, which was on a little flat near a small stream. There was a cloud burst upstream and the resulting flood caught a man asleep in the hut, washing it away and carrying him to his doom.

I had rather an odd experience when my father-in-law Mr. W. Forrest purchased the Phoenix Mining Plant many miles beyond Whangamata and Ohuia [Ohui? – E]. It took four men and a team of heavy horses to move the whole outfit to the nearest beach. One item was a flask of quicksilver which took me a full hour to find as it was planted about a chain from the building. We managed to dismantle most of the plant, but a gas engine over a ton weight had extra large fly wheels which we couldn't remove. We had to jack it up off a concrete block about 3 ft. high and get it on to the ground. I then got a nice straight kauri ricker and twitched it to the underpart, after which the team took it out easily on the fly wheels. We had to draw off the crankshaft. The whole thing looked like a gun carriage. The plant was to be picked up by a scow from Auckland and then sent by rail to Okahukura where Mr. Forrest had the contract of putting through the tunnel to Stratford. To our disappointment the scow missed the flask of quicksilver, and conrod and brass fittings. So my brother and I had an extra trip and were lucky to find them after half an hour digging in the sanddrift that had covered them. We spent that night at Whangamata as our pack horse was heavily loaded.

My family was intimately connected with St. Mary's Anglican Church which was built in Hikutaia in 1914. The late Mr. Bert Alley gave the section for it and my mother, who had been left a legacy by Mr. Alley's father, gave this money towards the building. The first two children baptised in the Church were the first daughter of one of my sisters (Mrs. Keeling) and the son of another (Mrs. Trembath). I had the honour to serve on the Vestry, to build the Communion Table and Prayer Desk, and to carve an eagle on the lectern.

Towards the end of the First World War I sold my business and took over my father's farm of 148 acres on the Maratoto Road. We dairy farmed there for about 18 years.