New Zealand Pioneer

A New Zealand pioneer, hardship & survival

Link | Link | Link | Link

This is the life story of an early New Zealand man who grew up in the early 20th Century in the Northland region of New Zealand, fortunately recorded by his daughter Lynda.

Without these records we would never know how our farming land was cleared & developed to become very productive for future generations to move forward to become a proud nation.

Some photographs will be coming soon to illustrate those early times.

Without people like Gordon Austin, who was just one of many hundreds of people who worked from dawn to dusk under most difficult conditions, then having it recorded by people like Lynda, who took the opportunity to listen to her father, write them down & let us all share Gordon's story, we would forget just how New Zealand became such a great country, standing in a way, isolated from most of the world, but an integral part of the world's food chain, with an enviable reputation of cleanliness, fresh air, scenic beauty & friendly people.

Thankyou Gordon for all your hard work, survival under extreme conditions & allowing Lynda to share your life with us.

Nothing to do with motorcycling you might say, but a story of admiration. Tim

The story of a New Zealand pioneer

Gordon Austin


1917 - 2012

One of many thousands, who with their families knew how to survive hardships to clear, develop & make productive land from bush.

Read this story, admire them & be thankful for their contribution.

Gordon Aged 94, reflects on early life in Northland, NZ

The shortened left finger is related in the story.

This is the general area of New Zealand where Gordon lived.

The Austin daughter who compiled this story about her father - now Lynda Blair on a then near new 1968 Yamaha YDS-6 250cc twin quite a few years ago, about 1972 .

I was born on3 March 1917 in the Hokianga, the fourth son of William and Ella Austin. I had always thought that I was born at Rawene, although my birth certificate puts the place of birth as "Hokianga". Keith tells me that I was born at home in the house on the Nixon Farm.

The Nixon Farm

My parents rented a house on this farm while they started to develop a bush section of standing native bush. The section of about 520 acres was about three miles further down the Utakura Valley, then up a side valley called Waikerikeri.

Probably my first memories here were of a soldier in uniform walking down the hill to the house. I cannot remember any more of him. I had three uncles away in the First World War, so it would have been one of them returning in 1919. Keith tells me that it was my Uncle Alex.

Another memory was Mother meeting the fish cart across the river. She decided to scale the fish she'd bought on a shingle bank, I saw a big eel swim out from the opposite bank to get the cleanings. Then the old dog Sailor chasing hawks trying to catch them. I can remember these things but have no recollection of Ward my older brother by two years of cutting my finger off (the first joint of my ring finger on my left hand). They tell me I was putting apples on the wood block and Ward was cutting the apples smaller with an axe so the ducks could eat them, he must have missed and got my finger. The ducks probably were carnivores and ate it. I would have been about two years old at the time.

At one time I was feeding some cats when a big tortoiseshell cat scratched me. Dad grabbed him by the tail and swung him around and let him fly through the air.

I remember when Dad was riding down to the Utakura farm he had to cross the river. He would go along the side of a bank and Sailor the dog would jump on the back of the horse behind Dad, and when they got to the other side he would jump off. Sailor didn't like getting his feet wet.

The Utakura Farm

Our parents had about a dozen ducks, which they took to the Utakura farm. This farm was higher than the Nixon farm. The day after they were let out they took off and flew all the way back (about two miles). They were brought back again and had one wing cut so they could not fly. They were determined to get back to the old home, so they started to walk back and got as far as the mill at the bottom of the right-of-way when a chap at the mill saw them and drove them back home. They must have been locked up after that because we had them for several years.

It must have been late 1919 or early 1920, as my parents were milking cows in the spring of 1920. The shed was a two-bale one which was called a Back Out shed. The cow put her head through an opening (very much like a dehorning bail). When she had her head through you pulled a rope to let a trip lock go and the cow was held fast by the neck. When she was finished being milked (by hand) you released the trip and she backed out. The milk was carted about a chain to the separator room and you turned and separated by hand to get the cream.

All the shed consisted of was four poles in the ground, no sides on, and just a shingle roof made of split timber. The floor of the shed was made of square planks cut by axe. They were about 4" thick, 9" wide and 8 ft long. The yard consisted of logs pulled in and pushed together side by side to keep the cows out of the mud. There was no such thing as running water for washing the cow's udders, it was carried by hand in four-gallon tins from a creek five chains away, and the shed floor never got washed at all.

By November 1921 another cowshed was built and a four cow milking machine (a Fletcher) driven by a stationary Anderson engine was put in. The bails of the shed only had an earth floor for the rest of the season. The cream was taken by horse and sledge to the road over ½ a mile away. It was always the previous morning and night's cream as the cream wagon went too early, about 8 o'clock.

There was one old cow called Roany who only had two good quarters, so we could not put the cups on her. My brother Ward had to milk her for house milk in the old cowshed. One night he forgot to let her out so Roany stopped with her head locked in the bail all night. No SPCA then.

It was in 1920 my parents would set the alarm clock to get up. One morning after they had gone out to milk I got the alarm clock and gave it a wash in a basin of water. I well remember the face of the clock turning brown, of course the clock never went again. There was never another alarm clock in the house until after I left home in 1934.

I remember the big display of the Aurora Australis in 1922. It was a terrific display. I have never seen one so brilliant since.

Probably in the autumn/winter of 1922 the new cow shed was concreted. The river shingle was shovelled into bags then put on a sledge and hauled by bullocks up to the cowshed at least three-quarters of a mile. The sand was emptied and the bags taken back for another load. The actual mixing of the concrete was all done by hand. A Maori chap from down the Valley helped Dad. He used to ride up each morning riding an old cream horse. He and the horse were always dressed in full cowboy regalia.

Gordon & the bullock team about 1936. Tough going, look at the cleared land, still covered with logs & stumps.

Before the road was put through to our place, people called Culham who lived opposite the Nixon farm also had another farm (with no house on it) adjoining our farm, just opposite our cowshed (see the map drawn by me). To get to their land they had to use our right-of-way, come past our house, then through a gateway by our cowshed. Whenever they came down to look at the stock, which was usually twice a week, it was nearly always the boy who Mr Culham had working for him that came. We always knew when they were coming as our dogs would start barking. This particular day Ward and I decided to play a prank on the boy. The gateway was not a swing job, but had four rails held onto the strainers by loops of No 8 fencing wire. Ward got some small sticks and jammed them between the rails and the wire loops. Consequently the rails would not slide open. Ward and I then went and hid, to watch the fun. But who should come that day to check on the stock but Mr Culham's daughter Alice. She got off her horse and tried to open the rails but with no luck. Of course Ward and I were laughing our heads off. Alice then decided to go back to our house to get help. Mother was there, and Alice told Mum what someone had done. She called for Ward and me, told us about Alice's predicament, and asked if we had done it. We owned up and two sheepish boys went and undid the rails. Once was enough, we never dared do it again.

About this time Dad and Mum went out for the day so got a local girl Jessie Webb to look after us. Malcolm, my brother, would have been 10 or 11 years old and Jessie about 16. Malcolm got the chamber pot and chased her around the house and put it on her head. Guess Jessie was not very thrilled.

At home we had two black handled table knives. How they were acquired I do not really know, but we called them curry knives. None of us boys liked having to use them. One day Ward and I were having a bit of an argument about these knives. He reckoned they were blunt and I said they weren't. So I said "you put your arm out and I will show you". I got the knife and sort of scored across the back of his hand until I drew blood. Guess I won the argument.

When feed got short for the cows in February in the years 1928-29-30 Dad would lease some Maori farms each year, which had a lot of grass, mostly paspalum, about five miles from home. We would take the cows there and milk them by hand. The first year the farm had no shed or place to sleep. We made a yard and some bales to milk the cows in and the separator was out in the open. For accommodation we built a hut in a clearing in the middle of a clump of ti-tree. The hut had an iron roof but the sides were only made of sacks. At night we could hear the wetas feeding - there were hundreds of them. Cooking was done on an open fire outside. Malcolm, Keith and Ward milked during the week and I gave a hand at weekends.

Next years farm was an improvement on the first. It had an old whare to live in and an old cowshed. As this farm and the next years place were close to the Maraeroa Native School at which I was attending (see Schooling further on), I had to help with the milking night and morning, and went to school, while Stan and Selwyn went to school from home without having to do the milking.

The third farm was much better still, the cowshed was real good for sheds in that era. The house seemed like a palace after the last two accommodations. Certainly it only consisted of one big room - we had sleeping at one end, and eating at the other. At one end was a wide chimneyed fireplace, but no stove. The cooking pots etc were placed on two iron bars with the fire underneath. There was a hole down between the chimney and the hearth, which would allow rats or mice to get inside. One night when we were cooking tea we saw two rats sneak up this hole and scuttle to the far end of the room. We smartly blocked the hole up and started to catch the rats. We chased them around and they went straight for the hole in the fireplace. Of course they could not get out, but they knew where to go. We reckoned in a confined space we would finish them off. The next thing we or the rats had moved the iron bars and - whoosh!! - the vegetables, the pudding (a saucepan of sago) and the kettle of water for making tea went overboard and put the fire out. It was a real mess everywhere. Our tea was gone! I don't think we cooked another tea that night, but we eventually got the rats. This was the last of the leasing land to save the cows from going dry.

Us kids, we were suckers - we had to really rough it over the years Dad leased these farms, as we had to do all the work really only for our tucker. Hopefully when we brought the cows back home there might be some grass grown by then. If there was still no grass the cows would be turned out into the bush to fend for themselves. There was never any manure put on the home farm in my time.


I started school in 1923. The old school was really the district hall but used as a school. It was built in 1891, my mother attended it I think in 1894 but what age she was then I don't know, although she did attend the Upper Waihou school as well. The old Hall is now in the Kaikohe Pioneer Village. The school was only a half time school, the teacher taught at Utakura school Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, and at another school Tuesday Thursday and Saturday. This is why I have no brains - I did not get taught properly. This went on until mid-1924.

All school children in those days went barefeet to school. A bit of a difference to the kids of today!

About 1923, the Upper Waihou School photo, Gordon is in shorts in the front row. This school is now located in the Kaikohe Pioneer Village.

The new teacher we had used to play football on Wednesday afternoons. He would leave the big boys in charge while he went to football. But as soon as he was out of sight we would buzz off from school, but always got home at the usual time. The teacher would think nothing of rolling up at 10 o'clock in the morning. Then come lunch-time he used to go across the road from the school courting a woman. It was nothing to have two hours for lunch-time - we thought it was the cat's pyjamas.

It was in 1927/28 when "Sidey Time", as it was known then, was introduced and the clocks were put forward one hour. We call it daylight saving time now. Dad objected to us boys going to school an hour earlier. In those days our school never started until 9.30am. After a bit of haggling Dad and the teacher agreed that school would start at 10.20am. My understanding of the reason for that arrangement was that if we had have started at 10.30am, the school would have been credited with only a half day attendance. From memory this Sidey Time only lasted two years, and then was started up again during the Second World War. Thomas Sidey was the Member of Parliament for Dunedin. He had several goes at getting his Bill (about putting the clocks forward) through Parliament, hence it was known as Sidey Time.

The total area of the school grounds would not have been ½ an acre, including the school and the two toilets, plus quite often it had to graze a horse which one of the kids used to ride on to and from school. At times we would go over the paling fence into the paddock next door. One wet day while the teacher had his extended dinner hour, we got a big branch of titree and dragged it around and around in a big circle. It made a terrific mess! When the farmer saw the mess we were banned from playing in his paddock for months, until a new teacher came and told the farmer we would respect his paddock.

As I mentioned, sometimes a pupil would ride a horse to school. One of these pupils was John Johnston. He had to help milk and lived a long way from the school. His parents had emigrated from England not long before. On this particular day Ward and John were having an argument. John's horse was dozing (standing up) under the willow tree in the corner of the playground. Ward got hold of John and pushed him into the horses back legs, saying "get home, you pommie convict"! Luckily the horse never kicked out, but just got a fright.

On this occasion in 1923 we had a woman teacher. We always had a morning talk on different subjects. When it came to Ward's turn, as sober as a judge he said "Please Miss, on the way to school I saw a big bull riding a little cow"!! Must have been springtime.

Then there was the time when we were assembled in school after lunch, when Jim Lewis noticed that one of the teacher's fly buttons was undone. So up goes Jim's hand. The teacher said "What is it Jim?". Jim replied "Your fly button is undone Sir". The teacher looked down and verified the fact, and said "come out here and touch your toes" and he gave Jim a couple of strokes with the cane. The teacher then goes out into the porch and does up the offending button!

On another time Stan, Selwyn and I were late for school. Of course, thanks to me, there was no alarm clock to wake the family up to get the jobs all done on time. The teacher wanted to know the reason, so we told him that we had work to finish. "Alright, come out front, put your hands out" he said and we got one cut on each hand. The next morning we left home on time but really dawdled until the school came into sight, just over a quarter of a mile away. Then we ran flat out and when we got to school we were puffing like an old billy goat. Of course we were late but it was on purpose. The teacher asked us what our excuse was, I said we had to do extra work at home. "That's no excuse" said the teacher. I very cheekily said "you've told us before that any excuse is better than none". "Hold your hands out" said the teacher - I got two cuts with the cane on both hands. Stan and Selwyn got one on each hand.

Then in 1926 there was a big outbreak of infantile paralysis and there was no school from the December to after the May holidays. From then we had a new teacher and did he straighten us up. We wondered what had struck us. At this stage there were six Austins, five Lewises and about five others. We had a change to a woman teacher in 1927-28.

When at Utakura school we would sometimes rob orchards on the way home. We would sometimes go well into the bush to get Titoki berries and Tawhra which grew on a low plant about 3ft high, and sometimes they would grow up trees. Actually they were the flower of the plant, there was the male and female. The female was the best to eat but ripened about August. If the male was not eaten seed parts would ripen in April/May. Rats loved them. There were many other native berries that we used to eat when ripe - these were Taraire, Miro, Tawa, Totara, Kahikatea, Fuschia, Puwfera, Wfera berries and the heart of the Nikau tree.

Another job we had to do on the way home was take a short cut across a swing bridge spanning the Utakura river. To cross this river we had to go down a right-of-way - some how there was always a horse in it, so he just kept going ahead of us. Then when we were out of sight of the owners house we went to work on old Neddy. We would chase him up the side of the river - he could not get away as there was a high bank that he could not climb up. When he came to a block across the track, which was actually the boundary where Neddy only had one option, and that was to take to the water which was about 10 ft deep at this point and swim to the other side. He would eventually cross back in the shallows further downstream, in his own time. This performance would go on for weeks if Neddy happened to be in the right-of-way. The owners never caught us at this little pastime.

On one occasion when the Austins and the Lewises were coming home from school we stopped to have a talk by the Waikerikeri bridge. Shortly after a Maori woman comes riding across the bridge. Just as she got across I made a hissing noise and gave the horse a fright. I tore across the bridge and down the bank. The woman (I could not call her a lady!!) turned and came back after me. When she saw me down the bank she threw a stick she was carrying at me and missed, but the string of unprintable words she called me didn't - I can still recall them to this day!!

On another occasion on the Waikerikeri Bridge coming home from school it must have been my unlucky day. We used to take umbrellas with us to school if it looked as if it might be showery weather. This night I had the umbrella and walking across the bridge I started to poke the point of the umbrella down between the gap in the planks. The further down it went the further I pushed it down, when all of a sudden it went too far down and the tips opened up so I couldn't pull it back. As there was a big knob for a handle, it was too big to go down between the planks to retrieve from the underneath of the bridge. We were in trouble. Malcolm had a jack knife (like a big pocket knife). The bridge planks were only three inches thick so he decided to cut a hole big enough for the umbrella to fall through. Before the hole was half finished, a mob of about 2,000 sheep came along so we had to knock off while they went past, which took a long while. After they had gone we got to work again. Eventually we got the hole big enough and the umbrella fell down on to the bank, luckily not into the water. We were sure late home that night!

Another Waikerikeri episode was the night on the way home from school the six Austins and the four Lewises decided to rob Mummy Kaipo's (as we called her, she was an old Maori woman) grape vine. It grew on the banks of the stream, about four chains above the bridge. We sneaked up to where the vine grew in a big ti-tree, a lot of the vine was below bank level and a lot above. Malcolm and I climbed up the tree and were well above the bank. We were all having a good feed of grapes when Mummy Kaipo looks over the bank and told the others in no uncertain terms to get out. She never spotted Malcolm and I up the top of the tree. We had to wait up there for about ten minutes before she went back to her house before we got down.

On another occasion coming home from school the Utakura River was in full flood. What possessed us to go down and have a look at it I don't know. We were right on the bank when Ward grabbed Donald Lewis's hat and threw it into the river. Donald immediately pushed Ward in, Ward was swept several chains downstream before he managed to get to the bank and get out. After Ward got out Malcolm went further downstream and found the hat caught up in some rubbish. I can tell you Donald got a big fright. When we got home Ward went straight and got changed, probably for the first and last time without being told. He took his wet clothes away past the cowshed and spread them out on a rock to dry. Luckily there was no more rain and it was in February. His clothes dried well enough over the weekend for him to wear to school on the Monday. We never told our parents about this little episode.

It was a common thing for the big boys at school to hide the teacher's strap or cane when he was having his (two hour) lunch. Of course when any of us misbehaved (which of course we never did!!) he had nothing to belt us with, so he would write our names down in a book with the number of cuts (or strokes) we were going to get. After a few days the list was growing fairly fast. One morning he gave Bill Herbert his pocket knife and told him to go to a clump of bush half a mile away and across the Utakura River, and get two supplejacks for him. It was just on 11 o'clock when Bill got back, which was just about morning playtime. In those days the primer kids were let out about five minutes before the standards. Harry Culham and I crawled under the school so we could hear the boys who were eligible getting the cuts. We thought it was great fun hearing but the unfortunate boys didn't enjoy it.

When we were going to school there weren't many cars about. Every time we heard a car coming we would stand up in our seats and look out the windows. Of course this used to annoy the teacher. In desperation one day he promised us he would send us out to try and catch a car. This stopped us looking out for a while. This next episode actually happened a week or so after my brothers and I were taken away from the Utakura school and sent to the Maraeroa Native School. About ten days later the kids at the school heard a car coming, and one boy, Alf Harrison, gets up and looks out of the window. This must have really upset the teacher, in desperation he bellows "Alf, get out and catch that car". Alf flies out the door and up the road. He kept going and went on home. Next morning when Alf comes to school the teacher asked why he didn't come back to school. Alf replies "I chased it till 4 o'clock then I gave up". The teacher couldn't say anything as Alf had merely obeyed his instructions. I guess that cured the kids from looking out the window for a while!!

Then in 1929 we got a man teacher who liked to teach with the cane. In the finish when there was only Stan Selwyn and me left Dad took us away from the Utakura school and we finished our schooling at the Maraeroa Native school. We all got our Proficiency there which was equal to School Certificate. There were only five European kids and 80 Maori. At this school we had football and sports with other schools which was never heard of in the Utakura school.

When we played football at the Maraeroa Native School we would come home with our shirts ripped, and the next day we would get another one ripped. In the finish Dad said if we wanted to play football we either played without shirts or wore sugar bags. In those days sugar used to come in 70lb bags. These were made out of a closely woven sacking. We cut a hole in the centre of the bottom and cut a slit about 4" down the front for our heads to go through, and a hole on each side for our arms. They were a tight fit and it was very difficult for an opposing player to grab hold of. It was not long before all who were playing football came to be wearing sugar bags. When we were playing other schools we were known as the Sugar Bag Team - certainly there were no more ripped shirts!

One afternoon in the winter of the early 1930's Dad and Mother went by horse and gig to see Mr Hulme who was my teacher at the Maraeroa Native School. They tied the horse who was still in the gig to the road fence. Time went on and they were asked to stay for tea. When they came to go home it would have been well after dark. They found the horse had got away. Mr Hulme, who had an old Tin Lizzie (Ford motor car) said he would drive them home, thinking they would catch up to the runaway. They got to the bottom of our unmetalled road and still no sign. Mum and Dad had to walk the last ½ mile up the muddy road without even a light. Just below the house they could hear the noise of the gig wheels hitting the stones which were plentiful in this part of the paddock. Luckily there was no damage to the gig and the horse knew where home was, as he could have gone any one of four ways. If it had been one of us boys we would never have heard the last of it.

When the Automobile Association was signposting the roads in our district in 1927/28 the way they did it was to put the post in the ground with the sign on, and they would then paint the posts. When we were coming home from school one day there was a new sign at the Mangataraire/Horeke junction. The paint was just starting to harden when we came along. What should we do - Ward, Stan, Selwyn and I decided to put our names in the soft paint. We made a damn good job of it, putting our full names on the post. We reckoned that people would know that the Austins lived around here, and it would be a good few years before the post would be painted again. Little did we know that our names would only last a week. Dad happened to see our names on the post! When he arrived home he really hit the roof, what us boys weren't going to turn into was everything imaginable. The result was that we all had to get some paint and brushes and go down and paint our names off that post. Having to right the wrong we'd done must have meant something to me and my brothers, as none of us ever got on the wrong side of the law. Despite all the mischief and pranks us boys got up to, there was nothing that was really bad - we were just high spirited boys.

This next episode would have happened about 1923-1924. Granddad Alexander used to come over to our place periodically to stay for a few days. He was a heavy pipe smoker. He used to buy his tobacco, Havelock Dark Flake, by the pound tin. Mum and Dad went out for the day, I don't remember where to, or where Malcolm, Keith and Selwyn or Granddad were. Ward, Stan and I were to go to dinner at Aunt Charlotte's at the end of the right-of-way for lunch. Before we went Ward sneaked into Granddad's room and grabbed a handful of his tobacco, a page of the Auckland Weekly News (as we had no cigarette papers) and some matches. The three of us went over by the cowshed and rolled a cigarette each and started smoking. The taste of the newspaper and the tobacco was vile, and after a lot of coughing and spluttering Stan and I gave up. Ward carried on with his. We then started on our way to Aunty's. By the time we got there Ward had smoked another two cigarettes, and was beginning to look a bit pale. We had dinner - I remember we had corned beef. Shortly after Ward went white as a ghost, and soon became as sick as a dog. Aunty got a bit worried, then when Mum and Dad came back he was still crook. He blamed the corned beef for his condition. It was the smoking that made him sick, but it never stopped him from smoking - he was a smoker all his life.

We were kind-hearted boys, Stan, Selwyn and me, as you will appreciate when you read the next few deeds we did. We were told to kill three old hens to eat (there was no such thing as a hen house or runs - they could roam over the smaller paddock - 50 acres). We eventually caught them, then had to kill them. We thought of a novel way. One of us would get a chook and go behind a big rock and poke the chook's head above it. Then the other two of us would fire at its head with shanghais. We must have been pretty accurate shots because we had chooks for tea that night. Then there was the big black Orpington rooster. We chased him all around the paddock until we caught him. He would be pretty hot by this time so we would cool him off in a basin of cold water. Then we would let him go and repeat the performance all over again. We did this three times, and he never died. I probably would have been no more than nine.

One day a dog strayed onto our place - we actually knew who owned him. We caught him and tied him up, he had no collar so we took our belts off and put them through a link in the chain and around his neck. We reckoned he would never get away with our three belts on as dog collars. Next morning he had gone, and our three belts as well. After that he was always referred to as Beltsy. As he never slipped his head out of the belts we think that Dad must have let him go and put the belts somewhere and forgot about them.

One day Dad had been out in the bush at the back of the farm. He managed to catch two kiwis, he brought them home and put them under a box. Next morning they had gone. Us kids got the blame for letting them out during the night, which we never did. We reckoned Dad let them go in a clump of bush, about five acres in size, which was about four chains from the house. They stayed there for several years. We would hear them regularly calling to each other at 9 o'clock at night. For several years two native pigeons nested in this clump of bush.

When the cows were being milked by machine the old Anderson engine used to get quite warm and the water tank would give off steam. This morning I thought that it might need some more water in the tank. I had a look and decided that it needed some. I got a billy of water and went to put it in the tank - the next thing I knew I was in the corner of the engine room with no pants on. Evidently as I went past the engine my short pants got caught on the crankshaft and tore my pants off me. I could easily have been flung around and killed. For some reason Ward was wearing two pair of shorts that morning and so he gave me one of his pair. We never told our parents. I would have been about nine.

We now come to another episode with horses. For which Ward, Stan, Selwyn and I were involved. This happened during the Christmas school holidays. We would catch our own horses and tell our parents that there were some of the neighbours sheep in our place out at the back of the farm (was only an excuse). There were three Maori horses that occasionally would get in our place. We would catch them and reckoned we would train them for the Races. About the only flat area that there was, was on a ridge which had been a hauling track for getting timber out which went further into the bush we would gallop the Neddies up and down for a long time. Sometimes the horses would duck off the track into the bush and we would get pulled off by low branches. This went on for several days. One day Ward got a sharp kitchen knife and took it with us. After our horse training we cut their manes as short as we could with the knife. Then one horse we cut every bit of hair off it's tail. Toward the end of the holidays Ward and I got some gelignite and detonators. The contractors who had been working on the road had left them behind in an old shed after the road had been completed. We went out and caught the short-tailed horse and went about another mile into a steep gulley. At the bottom of the gulley there was a dead hollow tree. We tied Neddy with a very light piece of rope to it. We put the charge of jelly with the detonator and a long piece of fuse which we lit inside the tree, and got to hell away and waited. (We actually had no proper fuse - we rolled plugs of jelly to the thickness of No 8 wire between our hands to make the fuse. We had to do this very carefully, and how we didn't "go up" is a wonder. We made this "fuse" probably about 6-8 feet long, and we wrapped it round and round the trunk of the dead tree.) The "fuse" hissed and fizzled, and the suspense of waiting for the charge to go off was terrific. Then there was an almighty bang, and Neddy broke the sound barrier getting out of the gulley. When we got home Dad asked us did we see or hear anybody shooting. We told him it was some Maoris shooting pigeons.

About a fortnight later Nika Anderson, the Maori who owned this horse with the trimmed tail, was riding it down the road. Ward and another Maori chap were talking when Nika rides past. This horse always held his tail straight out behind when it was being ridden. The Maori chap said to Ward "Doesn't old Nika look trim".

One Sunday Keith, who thought he knew the Waikerikeri Basin (about 1,000 acres totally covered in bush), said he would take Selwyn and I through it. We tramped for several hours when we came to a trig station, and Keith realised that he was completely lost, and didn't know which way to go to get out. Luckily I had been up to this trig station about six months before from a different angle, with my brother Malcolm. I was able to tell Keith the right way out, but it took a lot of convincing him that I was right, otherwise we would have been out in the bush all night.

When I was around nine or ten years old, Stan, Selwyn and I were at the spring one day. (The spring was where the house water came from.) We decided to have a drinking competition. We had a dipper with us (probably about a litre in volume), and being the eldest I had to go first. I drank a dipper of water, then Stan and Selwyn did likewise. I had another go, as did they. I braced myself and drank a third dipper, but the other two chickened out. I guess I won, but I was like a bloated pup for quite a while afterwards!

The original farm at Utakura consisted of 92 acres freehold and 360 acres of Maori lease. The access to the farm was a right-of-way from the road one chain wide. It went straight up an incline for about a quarter of a mile with several steep pinches with the last five chains very steep for horses and wagons. Dad swapped half the width of the right-of-way up to the last five chains so he could come around an easier grade (refer to plan). I don't think it was ever legalised, just verbal. The deal was made with a Maori owner, and it seemed to work although the Maori shifted the boundary pegs on the other end and gained a bit extra land (see map).

The bush on the section of millable timber was mainly Rimu, Kahikatea, Matai and Puriri, and odd Kauri. The totara which was suitable had all been worked many years previously, mostly used for bridge piles and cut up for telephone poles. When the bush was felled it was just burnt, a terrific waste.

This is not the Austin Homestead but typical of those in the area, copied from Google

Of this block about 250 acres was felled and grassed. The house paddock was fifty acres, another of 60 acres, another of 70 acres. The two paddocks were only fenced on three sides, the other side was open bush country and scrub land of about 10,000 acres. There was another paddock of 65 acres which was fenced on the two sides only, and open to the bush. The water supply was non-existent as you know. There was one major creek through the farm which did not dry up over summer and several smaller ones but they always dried up in summer. We milked 40 cows, and used to rear all calves.

When they were weaned in February/March they were turned out into the bush as were the cows when they went dry usually March/April. Sometimes the cows would have calves two weeks old when we found them. The house that was built first was not big, all the timber was pitsawn. Later on Dad had a small mill driven by a water wheel, and cut the timber to make additions to the house. There was no electric power until 1938. In 1928 a road was made (by the County) up to our place. This was a big improvement, although it was not metalled for another five years. It was alright in summer but in winter was awful. The front portion of the farm was covered with scattered rock of various sizes. In the winter of 1932 a County gang broke the rock up into pieces that could be handled, and put it into heaps. In the summer of 1933 a portable crusher came in and crushed this rock to metal the road. Dad got the contract to cart the heaps of rock to the crusher, at a shilling per yard of crushed metal. As Stan, Selwyn and I had broken four pair of young bullocks (and got told off when we started breaking them in the previous year) they were used with a draught horse. Stan and I used the bullocks and Selwyn the horse. We loaded the spawled metal onto a sledge by hand and dragged it to the crusher then unloaded it again by hand. This job took us 2½ months. We also had to milk about 35 cows night and morning as well. In all we carted 850 yards. In all there were 850 yards @ 1/- = £43-0-0 and we never saw a brass razoo for our work.

We always had a pack of dogs for hunting the cattle. We would send them into the bush, and they would go off at full cry, and we would follow them. About a chain into the bush we would always find one old dog sitting behind a tree frightened to go any further. If there was stock in that particular part the dogs would find them and bring them to us.

In the early days most families kept a pig or two for bacon. The pigs would be killed at home and the bacon home cured. It was a long process, it took about three weeks. Our pig was a fair size, probably would have weighed 140-150lbs dressed (meaning edible meat). Us boys were instructed to get the two coppers going to get the water boiling for scalding the pig. When we had the water ready we went and got the pig from the sty. This took a lot of doing - we got a rope on one front leg and after a lot of pushing and shoving we got him up to the coppers. Dad comes over to kill the pig and do the scalding. He took one look at the pig and decided it wasn't big enough. He told us to take it back to the sty, and he would look at it in six month's time. Us kids were not very thrilled doing all that work for nothing. It turned out to be nearer nine months before the pig was killed, and boy was that pig a size when we killed it, just like a big old sow.

There were a lot of wild horses on the 10,000 acres the stock used to roam. We used to try to catch them by putting up rope snares where they had to go through scrub. We never had much luck, they were too cunning. There was one prized horse amongst the mob. Other people used to try to catch it as well as us. One day Ward set the snare and chased the mob through to where the snare was set. The prize horse was caught by the back leg. Ward left it there overnight. We went back the next day and brought it home. Ward only had it about six weeks when another horse kicked it and broke it's leg - Ward was very disappointed.

On a bush contract well out of Kaikohe the supplies for the camp cookhouse were pretty erratic at getting through. Probably the worst occasion was when there was no meat for tea. The men did a bit of a growl, but put up with it. The next night no meat again. The poor old cook got it in the neck. Next day when it came time to get the tea ready no meat had arrived. The poor cook was desperate, and when the men arrived back for tea they were really ready to get stuck into him. Poor old cook was ready for them. He told them that the meat had not arrived but he had managed to get a big buck rabbit and made up a nice rabbit stew. This was welcomed by the men. But alas the cook's cat went missing and never turned up again. Your guess is as good as mine as to what happened to the cat.........

The Utakura Valley

The Utakura Valley

The Okaihau tableland from the settlement to the top of the Utakura Hill on the way to Horeke consisted of a narrow belt of flat volcanic land which dropped sharply on both sides into the Utakura Valley in the south and the Waihou Valley in the north. From the top of the Utakura Hill you can see part of the Hokianga Harbour. At night you can see the lighthouse flashing at The Narrows, which is a narrow piece of water between Rawene and Kohukohu.

The original road from the top of the hill into the Utakura Valley was practically straight down. Some stretches had a grade of 1 in 7. There was only one stretch of about three chains that was reasonably flat. This road was never metalled, although there was quite a lot of natural scoria on it. It was only used as a coach road - no motor cars in those days. On one trip down the coach tipped over and one of the passengers was killed. When this road was put in I don't know, probably around 1870. The present road down was made before my time, it was twice as long but not as steep. The old road was then used as a short cut up the hill for horse riding or droving stock traffic.

The top half of the Utakura Valley had only an area of flat land of a few chain on either side of the Utakura River which was fed mainly from Lake Omapere. There are two smaller valleys further down, the Mangataraire and the Waikerikeri and then also the Okaka valley, which is further north-west. The bottom half of the Valley consisted of much more flat land and was tidal. The river entered the Hokianga Harbour about three miles north of Horeke. The north side of the Valley was very steep and rocky although it had all been felled of bush and grassed much earlier than Dad's block. The south side of the river and the Mangataraire Valley was much easier country and more fertile and shows to this day (1994).

With the help of Google these are much later photos & details of the places mentioned in the text

The Hokianga Harbour and tidal rivers were really the main road through the Hokianga County. Around 1915 there used to be 250 launches, plus hundreds of rowing boats on the harbour. The road from Okaihau through the Utakura Valley to Horeke was the mail connection from the railhead and the harbour. All mail used to come to Okaihau by train three days per week arriving at Okaihau any time from 6.30-7.30pm. All the mail for the settlements on the harbour would be delivered by trucks to Horeke and then by launch. Each small settlement would have a Post Office in those days. The reverse would happen next morning for the out-going mail.

In 1927 they started the rail line again down the Waihou Valley which is north of the Utakura. The line was completed for five miles to a place called Puketi although the trains never used it. The earthworks were finished another five miles to Rangiahua. When the big depression started in 1929 all work was stopped, and has never been started again. To this day (1994) two concrete platforms for the railway station still stand - the road goes through the middle of the two platforms where the railway lines would have gone.

When the railway was being put through from Kaikohe to Mangamuka before 1920 there was talk of coming down the Mangataraire Valley into the Utakura Valley and skirting the Hokianga Harbour and around to Rangiahua or Lower Waihou. What changed their minds I don't know. If this plan had have been followed, the railway station at the Mangataraire Valley would have been ½-¾ of a mile from the farm house. The line was put through to Okaihau by 1920. When the railway line was being put through from Kaikohe to Okaihau it skirted close to Lake Omapere, consequently the ground was very swampy. They lowered the lake about six feet (they drained it by digging channels about 15' wide), and I can remember seeing kauri stumps sticking above the water for many years after.

Before the lease expired on the original block the timber was worked off it the brothers had put in a mill to cut the timber this was after the Second World War. Then the lease was made freehold but the rest of the bush was never felled and put into grass.

In 1931 Dad got another 600 acres of bush and scrubland at the back of the original section, it was Crown lease. Dad, Malcolm, Keith and Ward chopped 200 acres of the bush the first year. Now the environmentalists will not even let them work the millable timber. In 1932 we built a cowshed with a wooden floor like the original "back-out" cowshed, and hauled the milking plant with bullocks and milked by machine. We brought the cream by packhorse uphill and downhill through bush for about two miles to the road. In those early days the Dairy Company gave a differential payment for farmers who had to bring their cream a long way to the road. Dad enquired about the differential but when they told him it was only going to be 1/8 of a penny per pound of butterfat Dad thought it was too lousy so did not apply for it. Us kids could have used it. Mind you butterfat was only 6 pence per pound. There was not a fence on this new 200 acres that we milked on. As I mentioned previously the cattle could roam over 10,000 acres, so we were constantly riding over this area to keep the stock closer to home. There was much loss of stock - some got pinched, some shot for meat, others got into creeks and drowned. One time we found two cows about thirty miles away at a Maori farm at Waima. Many a time when we were way out looking for stock it would be dark before we got home. From memory we only slept out once under the stars and got home later the next day.

Up until the mid 1920's all the groceries etc would come from the Farmers Trading Company in Auckland. Usually the order would be for a fortnight or a month. It would be put on the boats at Onehunga and shipped up and into the Hokianga Harbour discharging at Opononi, Rawene, Kohukohu and Horeke, which was where our groceries were unloaded then the boat would take on various things back to Auckland. There was a general store at Horeke and another at Okaihau. There was a small store and Post Office attached to a house opposite the school until about 1925 when the shop closed but the Post Office was still going in 1938, perhaps longer. In about 1928 when the road was put up through to our place we dealt with the store at Okaihau. They used to deliver by an old truck once a week. There was no general telephone system until possibly 1930. If we wanted to get messages out there was a phone at the Post Office.

Up until 1925 there was no doctor closer than the Kawakawa Hospital (possibly 30-odd miles away), or the Hospital at Rawene, which had to be reached from Horeke by launch. Many a time when a bushman was seriously hurt in the bush around the Hokianga Harbour old Dr Smith would take the launch as far as he could and pad the hoof sometimes several miles into the bush to help the injured. I remember in 1927 my mother was critically ill. Dr Smith was called from the Post Office. He came by launch to Horeke, got a car ride up to the start of the right-of-way to the farm and walked the rest of the way. I think he did this twice. Then after a few days Mum was taken to the Rawene Hospital. The only way to get her there was a home-made stretcher made out of 4x2 wood and chaff sacks. Then this was carried by Dad and three other men to the road, put on an old Chevrolet truck and taken to Horeke, then taken by launch to Rawene Hospital, where Mother was for several weeks. (Can you imagine this in the 1990's?)

Most of the farms in the Utakura Valley milked a few cows, ran probably 200 sheep and a few dry stock. They virtually existed, never made a fortune.

The Valley was started to be settled about 1870 when it was all standing bush. Most would have been felled and burnt. There was a mill at the end of our entrance to the farm from about 1916 until 1925 when it shifted to Horeke. As the timber was all milled the mill then got their timber from around the harbour, the timber was floated down the rivers and rafted to the mill. There would still be to this day logs that had broken adrift from the rafts and ended up in the mangroves around the harbour. The timber for this mill at the end of our road was hauled by bullock team or carted on bullock wagons. The owners were McSweeny and Alexander, who was my uncle Gower. Mrs McSweeny was a real old tyrant (or so us boys thought). We all used to call her Biddy Mac. She knew we referred to her as Biddy Mac, they used to live in a house alongside the mill. One night coming home from school we stopped and sat on the bullock wagon. The old girl yelled at the top of her voice "get off Mr Biddy Mac's bullock wagon".

At the time I lived in the district there was not a lot of social activity. From the time I started school in 1923, until the time the mill closed in 1925, there were only three dances and one wedding reception in the hall/school. One teacher put on an evening for her pupils on the occasion of her 21st birthday. A church service was also held in the hall/school I think once a month. Whenever there was a general election the hall/school was used as a Polling Booth. Elections in those days were held on week days, so we got the day off school. In 1924 there was a combined Christmas party with our school and two Okaihau schools, which we attended. Some years there would be a picnic by the river which most residents attended. I do not know who organised these events. On mail nights someone from most households would go to the Post Office and wait until the mail arrived and was sorted. It was a sort of focal meeting place.

Lake Omapere was a great home for eels. When the eels used to migrate out to sea (to breed) in March each year the Maoris would make a V-race and put it in some rapids. The water would only be about a foot deep there. At the end of the race they would attach their hinake. They would then go up-stream perhaps half a mile and with home-made flares drive the eels down-stream. In one night alone they caught 500 eels of various sizes.

There was a lot of puriri around Okaihau/Waihou/Utakura. This is a native tree, very tough and long-lasting in or on the ground. This timber was in great demand for railway sleepers. There were thousands split and squared with a broad axe. On one block a mill was put in just for cutting sleepers.

The Hokianga bar was very dangerous for shipping. Quite a few ships were lost on it. When there was a storm no ship would even think of crossing it. In a major storm we could hear the roar of the bar at Utakura, some 25 miles away as the crow flies. The seagulls and other sea birds would come into the upper reaches of the harbour in their tens of thousands, and stop until the storm abated.

In 1931/32/33 Dad was on the Hokianga County, and along with the other County members he went to meet Lord Bledisloe, who at that time was the Governor-General. Lord Bledisloe was taken to the Waipoua Forest, and he asked to see Tane Mahuta (the giant kauri tree). Because of the shallow root system that kauri trees have, no-one was supposed to go right up to the trunk of Tane Mahuta. Lord Bledisloe however wanted a photo taken with someone right at the trunk, so he asked Dad and George King (a bushman/mill owner) to stand right at the base of the trunk so he could take a photo. I have seen the photo but I do not know it's whereabouts now - it is probably with Keith.

To earn a bit of pocket money, Malcolm Keith and Ward would go scouring around the kauri trees for kauri gum. Almost all the mature kauri had been bled. (This consisted of chopping some of the bark on the trunk which would what we called bleeding. After twelve months the gum would have hardened then it could be chopped off and another fresh cut was made and the process repeated itself). It was not good to the tree as it let the Kauri Beetle get into the trunk and over the years it rotted much of the tree. Another source of a few bob was to collect fungus. This grew on some softwood species of native trees after the bush was fallen and burnt. This grew on the rotting timber during the wet months from about May to October. It contained a lot of water, and was sold dried. From memory say 50lbs of wet fungus would dry out to probably 5lbs. It was a delicacy for the Chinese people. I don't remember how much per pound they got for it.

There was not much chance of teenagers getting jobs like picking up hay, cleaning drains etc as the young ones of today can get. Although I have mentioned odd jobs were few and far between, there was an occasion when a Mr Bob Flood asked Dad if Selwyn would like a job helping milk a few cows (by hand) and I suppose odd jobs around the farm. Certainly the pay would have only been five shillings per week. At that time the average pay would have been around ten shillings per week. But Dad said to Mr Flood that he had told us boys that if we wanted to go out to work we could, but we said that we would stay at home. That didn't go down very well with us boys.

Then Charlie Wells, who had a farm of 150 acres in Okaihau (sheep and cattle only) and another farm in Utakura of about 1,500 acres up the Mangataraire, asked Dad if I could work for him. It would have been a very good job and pay would have been ten shillings a week, as Mr Wells was not hard up for a crust, and he treated his employees well. Dad told Charlie Wells he would let him know if I wanted the job or not, but Dad never asked me about it. This sort of thing made us kids hopping mad. Shortly after Mr Wells had asked Dad he employed a Maori boy. This boy was only there for nine months when he broke his neck playing football. That job was no good to me then as I had left home and was working at Mangamuka.

When I flew the nest (of which I have no regrets) I had £1.0.0 in a Post Office savings account (how the blazes it got there I don't know) and 7/6 in my pocket. Half of that I borrowed from my brother Selwyn, we'd earned it scrounging for bottles around the old bush camps, and selling them. Not worth much more then than I am today.

I never saw active service overseas during the Second World War. I was classified as Grade 2, which meant that I would only be called up for service in New Zealand. I appealed against being called up for six months, as Olwyn had to go in for a major operation after Roger was born, and I was needed to help out at home. Roger was actually put back into the nursing home for a month while Olwyn was recuperating. I came up for a re-hearing of the appeal again but was told I had to stay in agriculture at that stage and would not be called up for the army in New Zealand. (By this stage of the war the tide had turned, as the Americans had turned the Japanese back away from New Zealand.) The first appeal was granted for "Undue Hardship", but the re-appeal was granted for "Public Interest" (keeping the farm going). So the only army training I did was in the Home Guard from 1940 to the end of the war in 1945.

After I left home I had several jobs on farms. When I was working as a farmhand on Rowe's farm in Blucks Road at Otorohanga I met Olwyn Fairbrother. On 24 June 1939 we were married at the Methodist Church in Otorohanga. We worked on farms as a married couple. These were at Te Kawa (Burton's), Fencourt, Cambridge (Norman Robert's), and Waitoa (Bob Malcolm's). In 1950 we started 50/50 sharemilking first at Fencourt, Cambridge (Hoyles) for six years, then at Te Aroha West (Hogans) for eight years.

In 1964 we bought a farm at Hoe-o-Tainui, 17 miles north-west of Morrinsville. After a lot of hard work we knocked it into shape and stayed for 29 years, selling it in June 1993. We then retired into Morrinsville.

We had a family of three girls and two boys - Olwyn Marianne (called Marianne), Roger Gordon, Lawrence Selwyn, Beverly Edith and Lynda Dawn. Sadly we lost Beverly when she was 11 years old - she had a kidney disease nowadays called nephritis, but then called Bright's Disease. It was a terrible loss to us all.

Now that Olwyn and I have reached old age our children and their spouses are a big help to us.

Footnote (added by Lynda December 2005):

Sadly, Olwyn passed away on the 3rd of October 1997, just a couple of years short of our Diamond wedding anniversary

Austin Family (in order of age):

Malcolm (23.11.12), Keith (12.11.13), Ward (3.4.15), Gordon (3.3.17), Stan (15.6.18), Selwyn (15.9.19), Neil (12.12.24), Alan (29.4.26)

My Uncles/Aunts on Dad's side:

Born Died Marriage Details etc

Alex 1882 1956 wife Flora

Mary (Polly) 1883 1951 husband Rod McKenzie

George 1885 1982 wife Hazel

Ella 1887 1971 never married

William 1889 1978 wife Ella Alexander (my parents)

Donald 1892 1943 Frances

Malcolm 1894 1924 never married - was killed in Kauri bush in Thames in 1924 - was in First World War

Lena 1896 1923 husband George Daniels

Annie 1898 1988 never married

Rita 1900 1994 husband Frank Shaw

Oliver 1903 1988/89? wife Arley

Claude 1904 1904

Ward 1907 1914

My Uncles/Aunts on Mums side (Alexander):

Born Died Marriage Details etc

Ken half brother, lived in Hamilton

Annie 1874 1875

Bartrum Gower 1874 1876

Harry 1876 1957 wife Hannah

William 1877 1955 wife Charlotte, Maori woman

Winnie 1881 1948 husband Arthur Graham

Clara 1882 1918

Joseph Gower 1884 1943 wife Irene

Ella 1886 1953 husband William Austin (my parents)

Margaret 1891 1983 husband George Ferguson

I do not know much of the Aunts and Uncles on Dads side of the family. Some I had never seen probably because they lived further away, whereas Mother's family lived nearer to us, or as I was a black sheep and left home early.

My parents are buried in the Anglican Church Cemetery at Okaihau. My grandparents on the Alexander side (Alfred Ambrose and Annie Alexander) are buried in the Anglican Church Cemetery at Waimate North. My grandparents on the Austin side (Edward and Henrietta Austin) are buried at the Purua Cemetery, which is out of Whangarei.

I have been involved in the following organisations and services:

Federated Farmers I joined Federated Farmers Bruntwood Branch in 1953, and transferred to the Manawaru Branch in 1956. I became Sharemilkers Delegate from the Te Aroha Sub-Province in 1958 to the Waikato Province, then a Waikato Delegate to Wellington. I transferred to the Tahuna/Hoe-o-Tainui Branch in 1964, and was Chairman of that branch from 1982 for four years. I resigned from Federated Farmers in 1993 when I retired from farming.

NZ Co-op Dairy Company from 1969 to 1993 as a Committeeman

Livestock Improvement Committee for fifteen years, ending in the late 1970's

Bobby Calf Committee from 1977 to 1993, including approximately 12 years as Chairman of the Tahuna Bobby Calf Pool

Farm Discussion Group from 1964 to 1993, including 21 years of being Convenor of the Group at Hoe-o-Tainui

Hoe-o-Tainui Hall Committee from 1965 to 1993, including approximately 13 years as Chairman

Hoe-o-Tainui Social Club Committee from 1964 to 1993, including approximately four years as Chairman

Hoe-o-Tainui Primary School Committee from 1965 to 1967 (which was when Lynda left the school)

Hoe-o-Tainui School Calf Club - involved for twenty-odd years with fund-raising events on the annual Calf Club day

Justice of the Peace since 1978

I have found that being involved in these organisations and services has been very rewarding. It has given me a good appreciation of how such organisations work.

The following pages contain copies of photographs, documents, photos etc which relate to my life to date.


My earliest recollection of the cattle tick would have been in the early 1920's. As I understand it ticks were introduced into New Zealand in 1902 when the troops returning with their horses after the Boer War brought the ticks back with them on the horses. However, according to "Ectoparasites of Sheep in New Zealand and Their Control", published by the NZ Veterinary Association Sheep and Beef Cattle Society, the first ticks were collected near Kaitaia in 1911, although they were almost certainly present before this and probably reached the country via Japan and Australia. The ticks were very bad in the North Auckland area. They were practically dormant in the winter, and hibernated. Their breeding cycle was in late spring to late autumn. The tick's host was the bovine animal. When the beast lay down the tick crawled onto the beast from the grass and attached itself. Horses were only affected to a small degree, and sheep were free from them, I think on account of their greasy skin. Mature ticks were about the size of a green pea. They attached themselves mainly to the ears, under the belly, and up the back of the udder and tail, where the animal could not rub itself against objects to get rid of the tick. I can remember that one Christmas morning, it would have been around 1928, we removed 400 ticks off 30 cows! Another time I recall Dad getting a chisel and scraping it down the backs of the cows to remove the many ticks that were there. In the area north of Whangarei all sale yards had a cattle dip and before stock could be sold they had to be dipped. In the Utakura Valley there was a commercial dip which some of the farmers used regularly. I understand that a group of local farmers raised the money to build this dip. There used to be large flocks of starlings which helped keep the tick in check. I don't think the tick was such a problem in the South Auckland area. At one stage it was an offence to move cattle beyond the Puniu River just south of Te Awamutu without a permit from MAF.

The early settlers of the district had a hard time getting their holdings into production. I have been told that some would not have been able to get started had it not been for the generosity of the Maoris supplying kumara, vegetables etc.

In my time I can recall some families who saved wooden grocery boxes, placing perhaps four or five together on their side and hanging a curtain on the front to make cupboards. Benzine (petrol) used to come in four gallon tins, and these tins were packed in wooden cases containing two tins. Although there were many different brands of benzine, the wooden cases were all the same size, and were very useful for making cupboards as well.

The flour for cooking used to come in calico bags of 25-50-100lbs. After the flour was used, the bags were opened out and sewed together to make sheets, tea towels, singlets, pillowslips etc. Sugar came in 70lb bags made of a closely woven type of jute. These were made into aprons, oven cloths etc. Even the chaff sacks were sometimes used as mats.

The lower half of the Utakura Valley was predominantly occupied by Maori families. They all had their individual blocks of land, ranging from perhaps 10-20 acres to 50-100 acres, with a few up to 150 acres. In the earlier years prior to my time the menfolk would work in the timber industry - bush felling, fencing etc. Some worked on forming new roads. I can remember two Maori men had bullock teams and hauled timber logs to the mill.

Towards the middle of the 1920's and mid-1930's, many milked 10-15 cows by hand, with one particular one who milked about 60 cows by machine. There were three Dairy Companies collecting cream through the Utakura Valley, namely the Bay of Islands Dairy Co at Moerewa, the Kaikohe Dairy Co at Kaikohe, and the Hokianga Dairy Co at Motukaraka, which was on the opposite side of the harbour from the other two, and the cream was taken from the Wairiri bridge by punt. The cream cans were lowered over the side of the bridge onto the punt, using ropes. One particular supplier used 20-gallon milk cans for his cream. These were very heavy and hard to handle. The factory kept asking this supplier to use the smaller cream cans, but he wouldn't. One day the 20-gallon cans simply didn't return from the factory - rumour has it that they ended up in the Hokianga Harbour! Two of these cream runs were done by two local Maoris for a time.

Another Maori had a truck and had the contract for carting the new un-assembled butter boxes from Horeke to the railhead at Okaihau. These boxes were made at a timber mill at Kohukohu from kahikatea (called "white pine"), which did not taint the butter. From memory the logs would be about four feet long, called peeler logs. They would be placed in a type of lathe and a thin layer about one-eighth of an inch thick peeled off as it revolved. This was then cut into the size of the four sides of the box and stapled onto two strands of wire - the two ends were made separately. They were kept flat like this for ease of cartage. The flat unassembled boxes were loaded onto a punt at the mill, as it was right on the harbour, and they were taken to Horeke. They were then loaded onto the truck, then taken to the railhead, and unloaded again. This was all done by hand. From memory each load would have consisted of one thousand boxes. The boxes would be assembled at the various factories where the butter was made. Each box held one single block of 56lb of butter. Once the butter was put on the box the sides were tied with the wire to form the box, and the ends put on separately.

All the Maori families had good gardens, with all small varieties of vegetables, plus enough kumara, potatoes, pumpkins and corn to last all year until the new crops were ready. The Maoris used to tie cobs of corn onto long poles to dry. The way they were arranged the outside leaves shed the water.


Another thing on the Utakura farm was that Dad could not get finest grade for the cream. One of the reasons was that Dad only sent the morning and night cream instead of night and morning. The Dairy Inspector talked Dad into trying a cream cooler which Dad decided to try on trial. Of course there was no running water at the cow shed. Dad used a four gallon kerosene tin with the top cut out as a reservoir and a wooden tap to regulate the supply through the cooler. This was alright for the first day and then the wood swelled and you could not turn the tap on but Dad managed to get finest for the cream. Dad kept the cooler for about two weeks although it was not working but got finest grade cream all the time. When he sent it back and told the Factory about the tap was no good. Immediately the grade dropped like a hot potato to first again. I can’t recall whether we ever got First grade again.

* * * * * *

As mentioned before the first part of the original house was only small. The timber was all cut with a pit saw, all the timber was totara. Wherever a tree was growing it would be felled and a pit made. Actually there was no pit dug as we think of a pit. Generally on a slope four posts would be put in the ground. Sometimes two trees close together would be used then two long poles about eighteen feet long and about six inches thick would be put on the posts or held up on the trees with forked props on. When the two long poles were in place about six feet apart four cross poles about seven feet long would be placed across the two long poles. These were short poles would be square on one side to stop them from rolling. There would be one at each end which were in a more permanent position while the other two which were called transoms then another two poles about twelve feet long would be placed at right angles on the long pole on the high side of the pit. These two poles or sometimes called skids were used to roll the logs up onto the transoms. The whole structure would have to be strong enough to hold the weight of a log probably twelve to sixteen feet long and anything from two to four feet in diameter. When the log was firmly secured on the transom which would be about ten feet apart for a sixteen foot log then the small end of the log would be marked so as to get the biggest square of timber from the log. Then this same sized square would be marked on the big end. Then a line of heavy string which would have been soaking in a tin with an ounce bag of Reckitt and Colemans Blue (which was used by the housewives when they washed the linen etc to make it whiter). Then with a man holding the string at each end of the square on the log and pulled tight then one would pull the line up in the air and let it snap back suddenly and you would have a straight blue line along the log. This would be repeated on all four corners of the square. The log would have to be rolled to get the bottom corner of the square. The blue line was a guide for the pit saw to follow. The same procedure would be repeated for marking for the different sizes of timber to be cut: 4 x 2; 6 x 1; 4 x 3; 9 x 1 and so on. The actual cutting would start at the end of the log with one man on top of the log holding the tiller (as the top handle was called) and the man underneath would use the box (as the bottom handle was called). The sawing would start along the top of the blue lines. The man on the top controlled the pit saw on the top line and the man below would control the saw on the bottom line. They would then saw up to the first transom then shift to the other side of the log and again cut up to the transom. Then the saw was removed then with a log pole levering off in cantilever fashion (and sometimes timber jacks were used) the back cross member to lift the log sufficiently to move the transom toward the cut end of the log so the saw could be put in one of the existing cuts and sawn up to the next transom. When both cuts finished this procedure of shifting the transom forward would be repeated. The cut timber would then be sledged by a horse to the house site anything up to a half a mile.

Dad only used totara timber for building, the reason it was so far from the house site was that the easy totara had been worked as I mentioned previously.

* * * * * *

Dad’s mill as mentioned previously was water driven. He made a dam on the Waikerikeri creek. The mill was about ten chains from the dam. The dam was at the side of about a twelve foot waterfall. From the front of the dam the outlet was taken in pipes although it was always referred to as boxing for several chains then crossed over the stream on staging. It would have been at least twenty feet above the stream. At this place where the main Waikerikeri waterfall was situated, the stream was full of big rocks - some of them up to 12 feet high. After crossing the boxing turned a bend and carried on downhill until it reached the mill site.

The boxing was made from 9 x 1 totara boards which Dad had got the loan of from his neighbour Jim Culham who had them cut at the old mill at the bottom of our road. The arrangement was that Dad would cut some logs for Jim Culham in repayment.

These 9 x 1 boards about fifteen feet long it took four to make each section. These were nailed together to make approximately an eight inch square. The ends of each section were staggered by about twelve inches so it could be joined to the next section and so on until it reached its destination. When each section was nailed together Dad cut 2 inch x 1 inch x 1 foot approximately all done by hand from 9 x 1 puriri boards. Then he drilled three-eights of an inch holes in each end. These were put one on top and one on the bottom of the boxing. These two would then be bolted together. Had it only been nailed together the pressure of the water would have dislodged the nails. These bolted straps of timber would have been about three feet apart. In all there was seventy-five feet of fall from the dam to the mill.

The last two sections of boxing was made of heavier timber 9 x 1 inches which reduced it in size then a three inch pipe was fitted to the end of the boxing - this gave more pressure to drive the water wheel. The water wheel was an old fly wheel from a steam engine. It was six feet in diameter and about four inches wide. This wheel was lying in a paddock two miles away. There had been a mill there in the early 1900s but it had gone bankrupt (or so the story goes). Dad got the fork of a puriri tree much like a V. This had grown naturally. The runners would have been 8 inches in diameter. We always called it a koinaki. Dad loaded the wheel on the koinaki and dragged it home with the bullock team. The cups which the force of the water hit were made of blocks of wood bolted onto the big fly wheel then boxed all the way around to stop the water from going sideways from the cups. The breast bench and pulleys, rollers, trolleys and rails Dad got from a disused mill at Rawene. For belting Dad cut tyres in half and joined these together with post and rail fasteners. The logs for cutting would be hauled for anything up to a mile with bullocks. The logs would be cut in half with the pit saw as there was no breakdown to cut them down to make them easier to handle. There was only enough water in the creek during the winter or very heavy rains to drive the water wheel. The wooden boxing squirted water out in many places. Every now and again they would take a couple of kerosene tins full of sawdust and put it in the dam. This would be sucked into the boxing and would get wedged in any places where the water was escaping. It used to help block it up.

* * * * * *

This episode happened before I got married. I used to bike about five miles into Otorohanga on a Friday night. Then when 9 o clock came and the shops shut I put my bike on Olwyns fathers ½ ton truck and would go to where Olwyn lived with her family, about one mile in the opposite direction from where I worked. I would bike home again quite late. This particular night was pitch black, a bit foggy, and I had a torch which I shone sometimes. Of course there was no tarsealed road then, only gravel. Of course with the cars and trucks there were two small tracks with no loose metal on them which were of a lightish colour which made it a bit easier to see, although you had to concentrate. About half way home on a flat straight and probably I was going a little bit faster, when I sort of looked up a bit and here was a horses backside right in the wheel tracks. I had no option but to go right between his back legs. I do not know who got the biggest fright, me or the horse who was asleep with a young man on his back (also asleep). He had been to the pictures and he and the horse had gone to sleep. Luckily I was not hurt nor the bike damaged. I told my boss the next morning about it. He said that was common for them and he thought the rider was a few bob short of a quid. A few days later the rider was talking to my boss and said some Maori bastard had run into him.

* * * * * *

They called North Auckland the Winterless North. I can recall when we were going to the Utakura School we would have frosts for several days on end. As all the roads were metalled it was the usual thing to have potholes. They would fill with water and when we had frosts there would be quite thick ice. All the children had bare feet in those days, and as all children we liked breaking the ice.

On one occasion come the first of May which was the start of the shooting season, irrespective of what day of the week it was, not like it is now, the first weekend. We had a mob of about 40 turkeys so that they did not stray into the neighbours it would be a job for us boys to drive them across to what was termed the big hill well away

from the neighbours farm. This particular first of May was a heavy frost. I remember coming across a Tasmanian wasps nest attached to a strainer stay about 18cm about the ground level, and the wasps were frozen to the stay. Incidentally we were barefeet. There were times when we would find where a turkey had been shot and plucked so it would not take up so much room in his haversack.

* * * * * *

I can well remember the first aeroplane that I saw. I know it was a January but not quite what year - it was in the 1920s but Iam not sure if it was 1928 or 1929. We were milking the cows, it would have been about 5.30pm or 6.00pm when Mother came over to the cowshed and told us. It was straight above us but we watched it until it went out of sight.

* * * * * *

Most years around March we would do what we called Robbing Wild Bees for honey. Their hives would quite often be in a puriri tree, sometimes in an uprooted rata which would be hollow for a few feet in the middle. We would place a small fire at the entrance to the hive and put green bracken on it to make a smoke which seemed to quieten the bees. We would then chop into the side of the log until we came to the honeycomb. We would take it home in kerosene tins opened at the top. The comb would be put in a muslin bag and hung over a rail and would be squeezed and let drip into a large bowl. This would take several days but it used to attract other bees by the hundred. You had to keep the shed door shut but some bees always seemed too get in. Some hives would have a lot of honey, others very little. It was very rare for the bees to stop in the old hive, they would go into another tree somewhere. Sometimes we would get more stings especially if we had to fell the tree first.

* * * * * *

Kaikohe Okaihau Rangihau Utakura Horeke Mangamuka Victoria Valley Broadwood Herekino Kohukohu Rawene Opononi Donnellys Crossing - all professional.


The pit saw

Wherever a tree was growing it would be felled and a pit made. Actually there was no pit dug as we think of a pit. Generally on a slope four posts would be put in the ground. Sometimes two trees close together would be used then two long poles about eighteen feet long and about six inches thick would be put on the posts or held up on the trees with forked props on. When the two long poles were in place about six feet apart four cross poles about seven feet long would be placed across the two long poles. These were short poles would be square on one side to stop them from rolling. There would be one at each end which were in a more permanent position while the other two which were called transoms then another two poles about twelve feet long would be placed at right angles on the long pole on the high side of the pit. These two poles or sometimes called skids were used to roll the logs up onto the transoms. The whole structure would have to be strong enough to hold the weight of a log probably twelve to sixteen feet long and anything from two to four feet in diameter. When the log was firmly secured on the transom which would be about ten feet apart for a sixteen foot log then the small end of the log would be marked so as to get the biggest square of timber from the log. Then this same sized square would be marked on the big end. Then a line of heavy string which would have been soaking in a tin with an ounce bag of Reckitt and Coleman’s Blue (which was used by the housewives when they washed the linen etc to make it whiter). Then with a man holding the string at each end of the square on the log and pulled tight then one would pull the line up in the air and let it snap back suddenly and you would have a straight blue line along the log. This would be repeated on all four corners of the square. The log would have to be rolled to get the bottom corner of the square. The blue line was a guide for the pit saw to follow. The same procedure would be repeated for marking for the different sizes of timber to be cut: 4 x 2; 6 x 1; 4 x 3; 9 x 1 and so on. The actual cutting would start at the end of the log with one man on top of the log holding the tiller (as the top handle was called) and the man underneath would use the box (as the bottom handle was called). The sawing would start along the top of the blue lines. The man on the top controlled the pit saw on the top line and the man below would control the saw on the bottom line. They would then saw up to the first transom then shift to the other side of the log and again cut up to the transom. Then the saw was removed then with a log pole levering off in cantilever fashion (and sometimes timber jacks were used) the back cross member to lift the log sufficiently to move the transom toward the cut end of the log so the saw could be put in one of the existing cuts and sawn up to the next transom. When both cuts finished this procedure of shifting the transom forward would be repeated. The cut timber would then be sledged by a horse to wherever it was needed.

About 1940. Gordon & Olwyn with Marianne

About the author, Lynda is a dedicated road race follower along with husband Hamish, they both travel extensively to see major events, write interesting blogs of their travels which include details of their travels & visits.

Nowadays 2012 Lynda Blair (nee Austin) rides a 2004 Ducati Monster