Thoughts and memories

John Martin


When the railway went through in 1861 villages were built approximately every 10 miles and infrastructure pertaining to civilisation put in place – e.g. schools, churches and businesses developed around the farming necessities of the time and survived until affected – primarily – by improving mobility.

The village had – I believe:

A blacksmith;

A baker;

A branch of the Bank of New Zealand (while it was still a NZ bank) which operated one day a week from a room in the Plunket Rooms;

A tennis club.

A sawmill.

Two hotels/pubs

I remember the village also having:

Two grocery stores & a roadside dairy;

A butcher;

 A barber;

Two garages;

A fertiliser depot;

A trotting track

A hall,

A post office with manual and then automatic telephone exchange;

Two churches

Any comments I make about these latter features are from my actual memory.

One grocery store was situated adjacent to the hotel and on the northern side.  It was owned by Gordon Scott who lived on the southeastern corner of Wi Tako & Wi Pere streets.  It was a shop selling all farming necessities (fencing wire, posts, milking equipment) as well as food.  Gordon Scott also ran a transport business which as well as general cartage had the contract for milk can collection and was being a depot for bagged and bulk fertiliser. His transport business also spread bulk fertiliser.  Before the name Ravensdown the fertiliser company was Kempthorne Prosser.  The grocery store had several subsequent owners – Anderson, Batty, Fenwick -  till it finally closed in about the mid 1980’s. Behind the store was a holding place for concrete fencing posts and strainers; that folded in about the late 60’s with the advent of tanalised pine fencing materials and though some people look askance at the CCA treatment use of tanalised fencing materials has become very popular because of the weight and durability factors.

The second grocery store was started by George Fairley in about the mid 1950’s, on the south side of the hotel and just over Wi Tako street I think he was the only owner and it closed in the mid 1960’s.

The roadside dairy has to my memory always been there; the first owner – as far as I know - was Gracie Gordon.

The butcher shop was operated by Arthur Price, was attached to the south end of George Fairley’s store and was shortlived. It became a fish and chip shop for a very short while.

The barber operated from Gordon Scott’s store and – equally – came and went.

Mother always dealt with Gordon Scott’s store.  It was sold to Merv Anderson in about the mid 1950’s (I think) and I have memories of Merv Anderson ringing on Friday mornings with, “Good morning Mrs Martin, may I have your order for today please?”  Mother would order what she wanted butter, enough flour for the week, bread as well as a few other bits and pieces and it would be delivered later that day. She had her own hens and any surplus eggs were preserved in earthenware crocks using Nortons Egg Preserver – a sort of milky white gelatinous goo. She got her first fridge in about the late 1950’s and before that the leftover meat from the roast would be stored in the meat safe hung in the tree.  Bacon could either be bought freshly sliced from the side of bacon at the store or you could obtain a whole side yourself, hang it in the pantry and cut off what you wanted when you wanted.  Personally I used to find it too salty but then I guess it had to have that amount of “salt or whatever” or it would have rotted.  Biscuits were loose in 12 inch square tins.

Further north again was the Post Office which had full post office facilities: banking, postage services and – up to the mid 1960’s - a manual telephone exchange with ‘party line’ facilities.  There was a gathering in the Manakau hall to celebrate the opening of the automatic exchange in the mid 1960’s, with the first call being made by the then MP – Allan McCready.  The Post Office closed with the advent of Rogernomics.  There was an article in the local “Chronicle’ in 1953: an elderly gentleman remembered as a child Thomas Rose (my great-grandfather) getting on the morning train at Wellington and coming to Manakau to hear opinions from the locals about the siting of the – to be built - Post Office: where it was sited, or out towards S.H 1 or the other side.  He went back to Wellington on the afternoon train and made his decision from there.  And today we growl about decisions made by bureaucrats – what’s new?

The Bowling Green - just north of the Post Office - has been there for longer than I can remember.

The Cenotaph was built well before my time.

The first garage owned by Gordon Scott was situated alongside and immediately south of what is now the closed Ravensdown building, though I believe Page Spreaders may be using the building in some manner.  In the late 1950’s the garage was shifted to the western side of S H 1, was managed by Gordon Scott’s son-in-law Trevor Smith, continued to sell Caltex petrol, subsequently lost that facility in the fuel distribution network consolidations, Trevor Smith retired, Bobby Miratana – a long term mechanic – took over but with further changes to population shift and Warrant of Fitness standards the garage finally closed, became the K9 Bathhouse for a while and the building now looks to be being rejuvenated with a new focus.

The second garage was on the corner of Waikawa Beach road and S H 1 on the northern side. It was started by Jack Irwin in the 1960’s, he was a sole operator, only owner and only lasted a few years.

The original hall was situated on S H 1 just to the south of the garage and between it and the driveway leading westward.  It was originally a ‘stand-alone’ Manakau Hall Society, was – I am told – started by the Manakau Sports Club and around the years before and immediately after WW 2 dances would be held every Saturday night.  In the 1960’s a decision was made to replace it and fundraising started.  One evening a Crown & Anchor illicit fundraiser was being held, there was an accident involving a participant and a car on S H 1, the tables were very hastily cleared and the local MP who was present – Allan McCready – spoke to the police and nothing further eventuated.  That idea was not tried again, housie evenings were popular and because of that – and no doubt other society changes - the badminton club started to suffer a decline from its once very strong membership.  Not that many years after the building of the new hall the badminton club folded but indoor bowls continues to this day.  We had the plans for the new hall – fortuitously as it happened – because we awoke one morning to be told the old hall had burned to the ground.  Caltex offered 2000 pounds (we were still in sterling) if we would shift the siting to elsewhere; their concept was to make the Caltex sign more visible to northbound motorists.  State Insurance – though they remained suspicious for quite some time and ‘casually’ visited Bill Gordon the then chairman of the Hall Society to ‘see if anything had come to his notice’ – did pay out because nothing untoward ever surfaced, an agreement was made with the Bowling Club over – I believe – water and driveway and the new hall opened debt free on the site of the then in recess Tennis Club.

Some tales of the old hall.

 I am told that when there was a proposal to amalgamate Manakau Dairy Company with Kuku Dairy Company; the opponents gathered in the main hall, the proponents gathered in the supper room and by the time the opponents woke up to the fact they were in the wrong place the vote had been taken; to my mind the accuracy of that is ‘questionable’ but it is what I was told.  When I first started milking cows in the walk through (now known as ‘conventional’ sheds) in December 1960 it had been Kuku Manakau Dairy Company for quite some years and the cans went to the factory at Ohau in the building that is now D Paku Ltd.  Kuku-Manakau subsequently amalgamated with Levin Dairy Company, then Wellington Dairy Farmers and the rest is history

The Great Benyon started his magic career in the Manakau hall and gave his final performance there.  I remember two things about the evening.  He had several large rings, rubbed them together and linked them like a chain, rubbed them again to unlink them and then handed them round the hall so we could all get the impression that they were solid.  You could put a message in an urn at the front of the stage, while he was absent for a break, somebody set fire to them and he came out with a blindfold and read some of the messages albeit in a less than verbatim manner.

The first telephone call to activate the automatic telephone exchange was made by the MP Allan McCready at a gathering in the hall.

Computers were starting to make their presence felt and there was a meeting in the hall acquainting the locals with the concept and showing where they could improve business.  A concern at the time was how we would fill our days if these fantastic things would enable us to do so much more so quickly and easily.  The geek (though that term hadn’t at that stage been invented) then made a statement I have never forgotten: “Well, actually, they create work.”

The railway.

There was a railway station with the platform on the western side of the track about where the solitary small building currently is.  I remember being taken down to the station accompanied by my great-aunt Gertrude Mary (Rose) to have a day in Wellington with father’s sister.  We would wait in the waiting room until the station master lifted up the shutter,  ask us to where we wanted to go, issue us a ticket and when the steam train pulled up, would get on and away we would go.  I was fascinated by all the long levers that could sometimes be seen in the stationmaster’s room but for some reason they were off-limits to small boys.  On the northern end of the track was an outrigger from which the stationmaster would sometimes hang a metal canister and the train would swipe it off as it roared through heading north .  I boarded at Wellington College from 1957 to 1960 and on the weekends, when I would/could come home, would get off the railcar at Manakau and on the Sunday night would return via the Field’s train – as it was known - back to Wellington and walk from the station to the college beside Government House at the end of Kent Terrace.  The Field’s train was so called because an MP Field was a keen tramper of the Otaki Gorge and he organised it for trampers returning to Wellington (pre W W 2).  There were cattle yards on the south end of the railway complex, on the village side but their use had ceased quite some years before my memory.  But I do remember – once, vaguely - going down to the station with father to put cream cans on the train for transport to – somewhere? late 1940’s. I was concerned about the carriage leaving before we were finished.  One of the things that used to happen was once a year some of father’s neighbours and he would arrange for a wagon load of coal to be left at the station, it would be bagged up and volume apportioned. Along with the wood that was gleaned from around the farm that would provide enough heating for a year.  Between the tracks and Honi Taipua Street leading towards the subway were a series of railway houses, the same design as can still be seen at Taihape.  The subway has been there for longer than I can remember, unaltered in all that time and is a testament to the durability of Australian Hardwood

One day Bill Swainson and Johnny Bryant – two residents at the top of North road were – I am told - on horseback driving some beef cattle to the Levin sale,(suspect pre WW 2) got as far as the Catholic church at Ohau when a Maori woman shook her flax kit at the cattle, that afternoon the cattle were still being rounded up from out at the beach and that was the last time that exercise of droving cattle to the Levin sale was undertaken by them.  Dairy cows must have been quieter because up to the mid 1960’s a Ken McLeod, who had been a drover and works yardman, would - when father had cows for the works - come to the shed and collect the cows for taking down to the yards on the western side of S H 1 about 200 metres south of the North road entrance, and his mode of transport was a push bike.  I remained in awe of the skills he obviously had, totally relaxed and not at all fazed by issues I imagined he would have to confront. A sad note here is that it was Ken’s wife who was killed crossing S H 1 from a service at the Methodist Church one Sunday evening; she could have saved herself but she was determined not to abandon the person she was helping across.

George Lander who farmed opposite Tatum Park used to walk his milking cows up SH 1 to the land he was leasing just north of the Catholic church; the cows got very used to the traffic and remained unfazed but by the early 1970’s traffic volumes became such that he decided to stop the practice.

Up to the late 1940’s milk would be separated at the cowshed and the cream put in cans and loaded onto the train. Then separation stopped and bulk milk – still in 10 gallon tin cans would be taken to our front gate and collected by G S Scott Transport for delivery to the factory at Ohau.  Tanker collection started in 1966.  In the days of cans milk from the machines would be pumped up to an open vat below the ceiling, trickle down over open bars which were supposed to cool it, into a tray underneath and then it ran out the two holes in the tray to the cans below.  Cowyard washdown pumps hadn’t been invented and yards were washed by heaving a 20 litre bucket of water and it all went down to the nearest stream.  Cases of mastitis could be cured by one shot of 50.000 units of procaine penicillin.  How times have changed!

Manakau School

It used to be the case that children within a certain distance from school had to make their own way there, beyond that a school bus picked them up but once the child reached standard 5, form 1, now year 7, the qualifying distance for bus collection increased.  So for my form 1 & 2 year I biked to school; down the unsealed metal North Manakau road to SH1 then to the village.  At the end of North road there used to be a wooden frame either side of the railway tracks and at each end and every morning I read: Wellington 52 miles & 76 chains written on the frames and as I rode down the highway was able to see vestiges of the fence line which existed between the railway and the road, presumably erected to keep wandering and/or stock being driven off the railway.  Manakau School in those days was a full primary school with around 110 pupils, was decapitated when Otaki College was built but now has been recapitated. A consequence of decapitation was that the school had surplus buildings and a Playgroup was started in what is known as “The Old Block.’  Prior to the school 90th jubilee word came that the Education Board was going to knock down the Old Block.  The locals objected so control of the building passed from the Education Board to the local community and though the new entrant class was still being taught in that building the Education Board ‘didn’t want to know about it.’  However, with the advent of Tomorrow’s Schools and lobbying the Ministry of Education brought in a relocatable classroom . This gave the school the chance to shift its ‘miniature code-sized ‘ library over to the Old Block.  With a roll increase the Ministry was persuaded to take over the Old Block again, some alterations were made and more toilets were added. I suspect it came as a surprise to the Ministry engineers who checked the building out that it was perfectly sound with the exception of needing repiling – which was done  This gave the Playgroup a problem: they had to move. So they went to the Plunket Rooms – which were too small. But: enter the Sunday School Rooms.

The Sunday School rooms next to St Andrews church were built in the late 1940’s? with a donation of 50 pounds by Len Barkla – a resident of Waikawa Beach road. Len Barkla was a welldriller, one of those people – that many deride – who could ascertain the presence of underground water by use of a willow rod.  He was deeply religious.  The Sunday School Rooms use gradually declined and around 1970+ they became virtually unused.  So, at the time of St Andrews’ centenary – which happened to coincide with Playgroup moving and the advent of Tomorrow’s Schools - the building was offered to the School – Marj Gordon engineered this.  School Board money was spent in transporting the building down to, and attaching to, the Plunket rooms and on re-roofing the entire complex.  Permission to spend Board money on the exercise of transporting the building as well as bringing it onto the school grounds was NOT sought and when the Ministry maintenance officer      – on his first visit - woke up the happenings he was astute enough to ‘look the other way.’ It could be argued though that there was nothing he could do about it anyway and it was for the benefit of the school and community.  However, because of internal alterations and external additions to make the complex fully functional a way had to be found to service the ‘not insubstantial’ debt.  Enter the Manakau Medieval Market.

Manakau Medieval Market

Somebody from out of town Woolshed Antiques - wanted to run an Antique Fair over a weekend in the Manakau hall and suggested the locals might want to do something at the same time. Phillippa Martin at the meeting said Yes please.

Some locals pooled their ideas.  Kevin Chapman suggested Medieval. The first Medieval Market was the ‘right theme, in the right place, at the right time, with the right weather.’  The first fair had about 40 stalls, and raised $4 or $5,000; the locals provided all the necessary manpower and after two years the Plunket/Playgroup debt was paid off.  The Market continued to expand, money raised went to various local activities – the Manakau Hall received many thousands – but it was obvious that local enthusiasm for providing labour on the day would/was waning, the rules surrounding some of the consequences of success – traffic disruption being the main one – began to be forced upon it so a move to the Levin A P & I Showgrounds was made.  Towards the end of the Market being still held at the school the Police started to have their opinions, a traffic management plan drawn up by a ‘professional’ was demanded, we were no longer allowed to put out cones on the road at 0530 hrs (though it is conceded that was probably wise) and we had to have ‘professionals’ to do the traffic direction within the village confines. I personally felt that there was a substantial ‘putting down’ of local input – which had been successful and had taken account of relevant factors as far as it was possible to do so – purely on the basis of egos feeling that changes had to be made because their idea was better and ignoring the fact that differences were merely that, a difference and not necessarily better or more efficient or more circumspect, merely different  Though the Market has moved away from the village it is still known as the Manakau Medieval Market, mainly because the alliteration works well and because there is no real need to change the name but because most of the committee now are not from Manakau affinity with Manakau is rapidly dissipating.

What is now Kirkwood Café used to be the Methodist Church; it closed in the 1960’s? when the Otaki Methodist parish amalgamated with the Anglicans. 

The Manakau Sports Ground down Waikawa Beach Road is – I believe – owned by Horowhenua District Council.  The Sports Club – mainly horse activity – has waxed and waned over the years but is still going and the grounds are now used by Manakau Football Club as well.

The trotting track was opposite St Andrews church across the other side of Mokena Kohere Street, became a nursery for a while and is now all housing.

The sawmill operated from halfway up North Manakau road and hauled logs out of the bush at the top of the road.  As a boy in the early 1950’s I remember seeing the remains of the tram rails in the bush but the sawmill’s days of operation were well and truly gone.

Tatum Park

Tatum Park was the headquarters of the Scouts Association; I remember that; comments pertaining to its earlier life I only recount from having been told.  The land was owned by a Major Tatum and he allowed the Scouts to acquire the land very favourably as a result of ‘significant emotional pressure’ from a senior Scouting master - Mr Littlejohn.  Major Tatum was a very proper English gentleman who at an evening where he took a cupcake with paper bottom – they having just come in – deemed it unseemly to be seen to be removing the paper with his fingers so ate the lot.

Concluding observations, thoughts and predictions.

 The land where I live along with the Williams property and the Bryant property on the north of North road up to almost the top of the road was owned by a Mr Wilson and he subdivided it taking water availability into account; open running water races – as they were called – were prevalent  Sheep farms have all gone, we are the only dairy farm left, there has been extensive subdivision into ‘lifestyle’ – or a bit bigger – blocks and my prediction is that subdivisions will continue.

My parents lived through WW 1 – although young at the time – the depression and    WW 2. For them “Take care of your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves” was practiced and stood them in good stead and mother had trouble adjusting to the new culture of , “I want, therefore I’ll borrow and have.” For them, doctors did house calls, all cooking was till the 1970’s done on a Shacklock Orion wood burning stove, penicillin was a ‘wonder drug’ and death during childbirth was still something to be mindful of.

Since WW 2 we have seen the most amazing increase in mobility, technology and socio-economic conditions; that is only going to continue. We are being promised ultrafast broadband; surely one can be forgiven for thinking, “So we can run faster to stand still.

I predict changes will continue and specifically:

The Manakau subway will close;

Manakau school will survive;

A four lane highway will eventually go through, at the back of the village and will join Arapaepae road behind Levin; (Having just written that the new SH1 proposals just out are making my prediction wrong.  April 2013)

The finding of potable water and disposal of grey water, both locally and nationally will become a far greater issue than it currently is..

The buildup of antibiotic resistant bacteria will continue and deaths from seemingly innocuous ailments in people with ‘no underlying health issues’ will become more common.

Deafness as a result of all the earphones playing incessant music as people walk, exercise, or just go from ‘A to B’ will become more prevalent.

Because of its generally clement weather Manakau and its surrounding environs will remain a pleasant place to live.

John Martin 

March 2013 

I have just discovered that a man by the name of Ron – who works at R D 1 in Levin had a father who lived in one of the railway houses and worked on the railway.  

 May 2013

« prev  |   top  |   next »

Powered by CMSimple | Template by CMSimple | Login