Topic: Fletcher's Mill by Peter Henson

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Fletcher's Mill by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

We left Fletcher’s mill around forty years ago, shifting into Turangi in late 1973. The following are recollections of my time at this mill.

 

My father, Rolly Henson was the bush boss and we had moved from Ruatahuna in the Ureweras to Turangi in 1959 when I was nearly two years old. We lived in House No.3 for the next 14 years. Always known as just Fletcher’s Mill, this was one of a number of native timber mills that The Fletcher Timber Company Ltd had in the North Island of New Zealand.

 

Heading north from Turangi on State Highway 1, you cross over the Tongariro River concrete bridge, which was built in 1955 after parts of the wooden bridge were washed away in the floods. The Tongariro River is world famous for its trout fishing. Then past the present Gosling Grove which was originally the main highway. This was named after Bill Gosling, the Post Master at Tokaanu for many years.

 

Fletcher’s Mill was located on Grace’s Road, with the turnoff opposite the entrance to the Hautu Prison. After leaving the highway, there is a long straight section of road with large ‘old crop’ pines planted on the right, along the fence line. This was a favourite place for mill

workers to ‘park up’ after early six o’clock closing at the Tokaanu Hotel and later the Turangi Hotel. Left at the end of the straight, Herekiekie Street goes off at a right angle down to the banks of the Tongariro River. A mixture of holiday homes and permanent residents, we always thought this was where the ‘posh’ people lived.

 

Then round a couple of corners were two farm houses, Donny and Neta Grace lived in the first one and Donny’s father Lancaster Rangitukehu Grace (1909-1987) and his wife Lillian lived in the second one. This was set well back off the road. Lang’s brother Fearon (Alfred Fearon Te Rangikahekeiwaho Grace 1915-1989) lived at the very end of the road, on a farm near the Tongariro River Delta. Grace’s Road was named after the Grace Family who were descendants of Thomas Samuel Grace (1815-79) and his wife Agnes Fearon. They sailed to New Zealand in 1850. Thomas Grace would go on to establish a mission station at Pukawa, on the southern end of Lake Taupo.

 

 

 

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After the closure Fletcher’s Te Rimu Mill situated on the east Lake Taupo lands, many of the houses and machinery was shifted to Grace’s Road, Turangi. From then on the timber produced was from south of the Tauranga-Taupo River, starting at Te Hore Hore behind the Rangipo Prison, then moving to Motiti and finally at the top of the present day Kiko Road. Trees felled were matai, rimu, totara, miro and kahikatea or white pine, with much of the timber being used on the Tongariro Power Scheme as well as some for domestic use.

 

A large shelterbelt of pines marked the entrance to the mill (we used to climb these). Driving past the single men’s huts, then the ablution block and caretakers hut, you drive into the mill proper. Straight ahead were skids where the logging trucks were unloaded. The logs then went through the mill, being cut into various lengths and grades. These were loaded onto bogies which were then pushed out along rails to various raised platforms. When the packets of timber were complete (with flitches between the boards), they were picked up by forklift and stacked several metres high to dry. There was also a Boric treatment plant where packets of timber were lowered into the timber preservative. Beside the single men’s huts was the office which was run by Darkie Mariu (husband of Martha), with the petrol and diesel pumps on the right. There was a partly covered in area along the front of the office. This is where all the household mail was put, so it could be collected along with the daily NZ Herald newspaper and barracuda loaves of bread. I can still remember the smell of the slightly burnt crust on top and it was hard to make it home without having a taste. The first mill manager was Bill Blenkinsop. He was followed by Darby Harris (Lucy Packer’s brother) and then Alf Porter. Alf went to Ruatahuna six months before the mill closed, so Rolly Henson managed the mill as well as his bush boss duties.

 

People came and went, but others stayed a number of years. Ian Lavender was the mechanic and his workshop was adjacent to the Boric treatment plant. Andy McDonald was the carpenter, while Rangi June was the caretaker who us kids collected bottles for. Joe Kenny and his wife ran the cookhouse where you could buy fizzy drinks and sweets. The kids would buy packets of chewing gum, with four pieces per pack, and would chew these with the outer wrapper to colour the gum. The long dining room faced the single men’s huts and the paddock in between was where the kids played bullrush.

 

 

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Brian Norton and later Googs Amorangi were the saw doctors. Moses Rihia drove the forklift, but could also ‘turn his hand’ to any job in the mill! The tank stand which supplied water to the mill and houses was located behind his house. Toc Warena, Georgie Wikohika, Gabriel Manukau, Dummy Biddle, Cecil Broomfield, Brian Thurlow and Dave Good were at the mill and also my cousin John Henson, who married Julia June, the caretakers daughter.

 

Rolly’s bush crew were, Wally Packer (Lucy’s husband), Jimmy Parry, Sam Beauchamp, Tommy Rotarangi and contractor Pat O’Keefe. They all lived at the mill. Rolly’s brother Ray Henson, Ted Signal, Para Mariu and Gill Bingham were at the mill for awhile. George Ireton drove the logging truck for T. Doidge Ltd of Tokoroa. Various contractors included Bruce London who drove trucks, Jim Print the builder, Alan Davis the plumber, John Livingstone the electrician and Jim Heaphy the milkman.

 

We were never short of firewood, although Dad still brought ‘rings’ of matai and maire home from the bush. Chimney fires were common. Slabs (off cuts) were dumped down on a lower level towards the Tongariro River and sometimes the N.Z. Army would send Bedford trucks up from Waiouru Military Camp to load up. I would get a half crown from the Sergeant for helping. Later Garth Poole would cart the slabs from the mill to this dump and us kids would be chased away. Also, on this lower level was the mill hall, where a lot of the drinking was done. Christmas parties for the children were held here too. This was later shifted into Turangi, to the rear of Turangi Primary School. Sawdust from the mill went in the other direction, being dumped in the swampland towards Lake Taupo.

 

Located on the left, along Grace’s Road were 12 houses, 13 if you counted Smallman’s house. And these were between the mill entrance and the airstrip. On the other side of the road, another three to four houses were located near the cookhouse. Off Grace’s Road, a street ran parallel with the airstrip. This was named Coronation Street after the T.V. programme (now, Old Mill Lane). There would have been another 12 houses down this street and a children’s playing field, complete with swings directly behind the workshop. Later, Fletcher Merchants had a building past the playing field on the right, which was run by John Hall.

 

 

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Most of the houses had flat malthoid roofs. These used to stink of tar on hot days. Later, sloping corrugated iron roofs were added to each house by being put over the top of the malthoid.

 

Children of all ages went to the Tokaanu Maori District High School (name changed later to Tongariro High School), until the Turangi Primary School was built. The original school bus was the one used at Te Rimu Mill. Later E.C. Reesby Ltd buses were used. In the early 1960’s Mum did the weekly shopping at Tokaanu. There was Roy Bell’s foodmarket, Kanji Morar’s vegetable shop, Joe McBride’s butcher shop and Tony Maricich with son Boris had the general store, which sold just about everything you could think of. Later on there was a row of shops between Pearce Brother’s garage and the Post Office, near the Bridge Lodge until shops were built in the town centre. On Sunday nights we had fish and chips from Arthur Maude’s shop on River Road, now Taupahi Road (originally the main highway).

 

When the mill finally closed we stayed on until Dad got a job with the NZ Forest Service in October 1973. We then shifted into Turangi. Most of the houses were rented, then sold and some were transported onto farms where building codes weren’t as stringent as in the towns. The old mill site was eventually divided up into life style blocks and sold off to the public. So, the ‘end of an era’ came to the community who called Fletcher’s Mill home.

 

 

Review Pending: currently reverted to non-disputed public version # 1

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Fletcher's Mill 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.