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Why Waterwheel?

The Trust Committee voted to name our Endeavour after the first Power Unit in this District.

In 1860 a Waterwheel was ordered by Sir George Gray,the Governor General at that time, to be set up at Braemar Road on a subterranean stream that was an outflow from Lake Rotoma as it had a constant unvarying water flow.

The wheel was to drive a flour mill to save sending the local produce to Auckland by coastal boats and then to bringing back. Also it was envisioned to hopefully bring together local people and tribes to help each other and to share thus improving their lot.

"We have a responsibility to record what we can before all is lost">

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The Waterwheel Trust

Started by a small group of concerned local people whom saw a great need to preserve the History of the Eastern Bay of Plenty area. This began in 1989 and was registered in 1990

Stan Fretwell, Trustee, gives us some background. A large collection of equipment over this time has been worked on and restored mostly to working order all by volunteers who have clocked up in excess of 65,000 hours of labour, to date 2008. Our funds have been raised by all sorts of endeavours.

We also trained and taught young people to learn trade skills and helped over 100 back into the work force. Our failure rate was 8 out of 100 but because we could not get any Government help had to stop for ‘lack of funds’ although most of these people were sent to us from the Courts, WINZ, Secondary Schools and Blue Light Programmes.

We have proved as retired people we can still make a difference if given some help.

There is a huge backlog of stories, history, photos etc in the endeavour to break this area of swamp into high producing land that it is today. Also the Industry to support this endeavour that grew up throughout this time is note worthy too. Timber Mills, Flax Mills, Paper Mills, Railways, Board Mills, Dairy Company, to name a few.

What is often forgotten is that much of the land went through as many as 6 owners before it was finally profitable enough to sustain the last person to take it on and so survived on the work and hardship of previous owners who went before them. Those who failed often walked off totally broke with only what they could carry. The human stories are often lost. My own family lost 3 properties through my Dads lifetime. Such was the cost to build what we see today.

Thus we have a responsibility to record what we can before all is lost. Every piece of equipment we have saved has its own story, of which we only know in part, has its own story. The donors often tell us the price they paid and the effort to save enough money to purchase it, and how much better life was after it came into use for them. Thus, in retirement, they still remember that cost and often I have noted the tears and hurt in their eyes when younger folk say it is only junk so dump it. The fact was it made us the wealthy nation we are today. The young need to stop and think but for those elderly folk things could have been so much more Spartan for them instead of how it is today.

The drudgery of hand milking a herd of cows, even if the number was only 25, was great. Four to five minutes per cow equalled 2 hours and over, then add all the associated work. It was into the 1930’s before milking machines came along, and they were quite slow to start with.

The simple task of cutting down a tree was hard work. No such thing as a chainsaw, only 2 man crosscut M tooth saws 7ft long.. A large tree meant a large scarf or cut out to the base of the tree to enable the saw length to cut past the centre line.

Drains were dug by shovel by 2 men (one right handed and one left handed) shoulder to shoulder would dig along a cord line and so start an 8ft or 10ft cut as a wide drain was known. How many would even try that way today?

The ability to handle stock was a very important part of yesteryear as horses and bullocks were the only way to get heavy work done. It was not uncommon to see 4 or 5 teams ploughing a paddock, one behind the other. Remember animals were the only power units for thousands of years. In my lifetime we have seen so many changes.
This area started like most others in New Zealand. The difference was the large area of very wet swamp over most of the low ground with small areas of sandy ridges that ran in all directions, probably as the sea left it many years before. Peat was the result and later the 1886 Tarawera eruption overlaid a large amount of ash and pumice. Much of the first farming endeavour was small areas of crops, with wheat, barley, oats etc. This caused the first power unit to be built in 1860 which was a waterwheel to process the grain. This was commissioned by Governor Grey. So began the small or light industry to service the need.

As the land became more settled and cattle began to arrive, a service industry sprang up to supply milk, and later butter and cheese, to local people. Even today one can find the abandoned buildings dotted around the area that serviced the needs at that time, some are converted for other use today. Often it was the craftsmen who serviced the area with their skills: Blacksmiths, Carpenters, Boat builders etc who worked out of very rough and basic buildings to help a community, but as my Grandfather found in 1890 a Blacksmith had plenty of work but people had no cash to pay. So often it was pay in kind; some of their crops or whatever they had. It was a very hard life just to survive. Thus the beginning grew out of slow development of the area. As markets were found outside the district the butter and cheese factories were established.

By 1900 a large building was erected on the banks of the Whakatane River to establish a meat works but that dream suffered failure and cost many locals hard cash but many years later it became the Board Mills. In the 1950-60’s the small local factories were taken over by more progressive companies and transport came into being on quite primitive roads to say the least. All previous cream and milk carting was done by the farming families who supplied the small local factories of which most of that was done by horse and dray, as was all the farm work. As more equipment came to hand the farmers were able to purchase it so the land development improved. It is these agricultural items that The Waterwheel is trying to save as a memento of how basic and useful this was to our growth in this District and to the skill and determination of local farmers to get on and get the job done. As this went on, larger industries came into being. The dairy factory at Edgecumbe, paper mills at Kawerau, board mills and earlier sawmills were dotted around wherever trees were to be found and many stories of their history are great reading for anyone who can appreciate the incredible effort that has been made here.

Today we have towns of service industries who keep the economy going but who likewise have to grow with a sympathetic approach to the need of the community. Those who did, lasted but those who only had profit in mind often failed. All the community was and is dependant on all pulling together. As an overview we today have reaped where we did not sow but owe so much to our forefathers. Our primary industry is our land and the successful use of it but it is all tied in with the service to that end to make it all work.

Written by Stan Fretwell.