Topic: A Taurewa Resident by Peter Henson

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A Taurewa Resident by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Kiwi author, Barry Crump wrote a book in 1971 called “Bastards I Have Met” and I must admit I have, also, met a few bastards over the years. But, I have also met some characters as well. One such likable character is a Taurewa resident, Ron Johnson or Ronald Clifford Johnson, if you need to know his full moniker. Born  in the ‘jungles’ of the Freeman’s Bay/ Ponsonby area in Auckland during the ‘Big Slump’ or the Great Depression of the 1930’s as it’s more commonly known. He epitomizes another of Crump’s books, “A Good Keen Man” and just like the character, is ‘rough and ready’, a true Kiwi bloke from the backblocks.

Taurewa is located on the central volcanic plateau of the North Island, adjacent to Mt. Tongariro, which is to the north and Mt. Ngauruhoe, with Mt. Ruapehu to the south. Access is along State Highway 47 between Turangi and past the Chateau to National Park Village.

Situated along the western side of this road or in the near vicinity, was a ‘string’ of native timber mills that were operating during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Since the closure of the mills when the areas were ‘cut out’ various people have lived in the remaining buildings over the years.  Firstly, at the Weir and Kenny mill site adjacent to the Wairehu Canal, there was Bill Broadfoot, then Don Brewer and now Trevor Coker. Secondly, at the Ketetahi mill site in from the Mangatepopo Camp School, there is Ernest Furze (known as Maroke) who now divides his time between the mill site and Turangi. Lastly, there is Ron at the old Egmont Box Company mill site at Taurewa. This is near the present day newer buildings of the Genesis Outdoor Leadership Centre which is part of the Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

Other mills around Taurewa included the Weir & Kenny (Mangatepopo) mill, the Pokaka mill in the Pukehinau clearing at the end of John McDonald Road and Kushi Ram Kapoor’s mill, previously located on the present day farmland off Kapoor’s Road.

Ron sits in his favourite chair, a metre from the fire, as he sips at his large glass handle of hot milky tea, in the well organized chaos which is his bush camp. His chair is against the wall. You have to look down past his bed to see the TV on the far wall which is below a Speight’s (Pride of the South) poster, showing the Cardrona Hotel in Central Otago. With a blanket hanging in the doorway, it keeps the heat in on the cold winter days and nights. His dog Bully, now 17 years old, is pretty crook and asleep in the kitchen, with the door open for him

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to come and go. The inquisitive chooks strut around and also poke their beaks in as well. He is ‘mine host’ and is able to put those who drop in at their ease. The conversation is not one sided, but it is so interesting to listen to him talk, that you feel you don’t want to say too much for fear that you might miss something. I can truthfully say that after leaving his place each time I always come away knowing more than I did before I arrived. 

His father was John William Johnson, known as Jack and born in 1903. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1930 and got married in the same year to Mabel Broadfoot. A family of seafarers and mariners from way back, Jack was a seaman like his father Samuel Philip Johnson (Royal

Navy 7 1/2 years) born in 1864 and his grandfather Edward Christian Johnson born in 1831. It doesn’t stop there with another two earlier generations. Another Edward Christien Johnson was born in 1785, and his father Samuel Johnson was born in 1748. Except for Jack who was born in West Ham, Essex, all the previous generations were born in the Greater London or Middlesex counties, with exotic sounding place names such as St. George in the East and St. George in the Fields. Jack died in 1949 at the relatively young age of 46. Ron, ever proud of his family heritage, continues to write letters to Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as in New Zealand, tracking down distant relatives to get snippets of information to add to his research.

During the Malayan Emergency, Ron served in the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Regiment, which was part of the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Group. Serving overseas from March 1958, they took part in operations designed to clear Perak of insurgents. They mounted a series of deep jungle patrols from Ipoh and Grik (south of the Thailand border) achieving great success, until being replaced in late 1959 by the 2nd Battalion, which had recently arrived from New Zealand.

A hard worker all his life, Ron has had many jobs, mainly in the construction field, all over the North Island which helped to provide for his family. During stints when he was in charge, he would have to fire the odd bloke who wasn’t up to the task, so he would tell them “think of this as a jumping off point to your new job”. A straight talker, he tells it like it is, even if he has to add the odd ‘bullshit’ word here and there. He would size up a new job, decide what was needed and got on with it, even if he had to ‘put a few noses out of joint’.

 

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Later, Ron worked with his uncle, Bill Broadfoot, both in the firewood business and possum trapping. Walking the hills to find well worn ‘possum runs’ he would put out long poison bait lines and many times would get a lucrative catch. He became an expert at identifying native flora and fauna. He knew the right tree and area to go to, to find Dactylanthus wooden flowers (New Zealand’s only indigenous fully parasitic flowering plant). During his retirement years, he has searched out old native logs, like black maire, to make spoons and shoehorns, and mainly lancewood to make walking sticks. Spending hours fashioning the wood, he would sand and then polish until he had a work of art. Most of his later spoons and shoehorns feature the distinctive fingernail carving on the end.

To keep busy he has helped out with mowing lawns and doing odd jobs at the Avondale College Camp School at Taurewa. He also helped former Avondale College teacher, Barry Gough with his research for the book “Taurewa: The Story of a Timber-Milling Town” printed on the occasion of the school’s 65th Reunion. He even placed advertisements in the NZ Women’s Weekly magazines, asking for anyone previously associated with Taurewa to come forward with information, stories and photographs.

 

During 2008, ONTRACK (now Kiwirail) employed Fulton Hogan to carry out foundation strengthening work on Pier 7 of the great Makatote Viaduct, which is located on the western side of Mt. Ruapehu. This was to stop imminent scouring in the river bed and was completed at a cost of $4.2 million for the project. Ron, and one of his mates, provided the ‘after hours’ on-site security for the duration of the job.

 

A member of the RSA (Returned Services Association) since his service days in Malaya with the NZ Army, he has spent many enjoyable hours ‘propping up the bar’ in Auckland, Waihi and Turangi etc. Meeting interesting people, he loves to talk about a plethora of subjects including the old days. With ongoing medical problems and short stints in hospital, he has had to slow down in recent years, apart from a trip to Australia to see his son.

 

As well as watching TV, he is an avid reader and receives parcels of books and the NZ Listener from his daughter on a regular basis. When I visited him recently, he picked out one of his favourite old books, “The Complete Works of O. Henry” (1,396 pages) originally published in 1899 and with numerous reprints since. Ron’s edition is from 1927 and he has

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marked the stories that he likes: The Gift of The Magi; The Cop and the Anthem; The Ransom of Red Chief; A Harlem Tragedy and The Last Leaf. I have some reading to do!

 

So, as well as the bastards you may come across in this world, you will hopefully meet some characters, like my 77 year old friend, Ron (who reminds me of my Dad). They will enrich your life with the profound stories they have to tell. Also, in case you are wondering, yes, Ron did know Barry Crump MBE (1935-1996), reasonably well in fact, but that’s another story ……

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This page archived at Perma CC in October 2016: https://perma.cc/4MXC-LB5W

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A Taurewa Resident by Peter Henson


Year:2012
Note:ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter L. Henson was born in Murupara, 1957. He has lived in Turangi for 53 years and works in the local forest industry (NZ Forest Service, Timberlands, NZ Forest Managers 38 years). An avid collector, researcher and genealogist, married to Glenys for 21 years and has a son Cameron 13.