Topic: The Big Celebration by Peter Henson

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The Big Celebration by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

The door burst open with a bang, hitting the wall of the box like, one roomed, hematite coloured hut. The reddish brown of the walls stood out against the decimated landscape of the once dense primeval forest, partially cleared now to accommodate the workers dwellings of the PWD (Public Works Department). Situated at Makatote on the western side of Mt. Ruapehu, the year was 1908.

Jack Collingwood, dressed in saddle-tweed trousers, braces and hob nailed boots stepped out into the early morning sun, its rays filtering through the damaged trees, to wash in a basin filled with cold water. He was eagerly watched by his dog Rory, a Border Collie. Jack had a big smile on his face, for today he was a happy man. Invited, one week ago, by Andrew Anderson, the man ‘in charge’ for Messrs J. & A. Anderson & Co.’s (of Christchurch) operations at the gorge, to a celebration marking the completion of the Makatote Viaduct.

The PWD, and Jack in particular, had worked on the Waimarino Plateau for a number of years, involved in the ‘push’ to link up the northern and southern ends of the North Island Main Trunk Railway. He had been involved in widening the ‘service road’ from Ohakune through to Raurimu, originally started in the 1880’s and it’s associated logging operations, and also, with the erection of PWD Camps and foundations of other viaducts and bridges in the area. In early 1905 tenders were called for the building of a viaduct over the Makatote Gorge and on June 27th of that year, Anderson’s tender price of £53,369 was accepted. Jack’s first encounter with Andersons was meeting William Maher and his advance party, sent to Makatote to clear a site in the wilderness with cross-cut saw, axe, timber jack and bullocks. And erect a workshop 285 feet long by 30 feet wide. Over the preceding three years he had become great friends with all of Anderson’s crew. Now, with the last girder placed on June 4th, this allowed the cable way and attached ‘blondin’ to be dismantled and removed so earthworks could be built up to the abutments at each end. This work was completed on July 10th. Then finally, with the end of winter fast approaching, track laying was completed on August 3rd. He was overjoyed at the thought of being involved in today’s celebrations.




Now fully dressed, with his hair combed back, his moustache neatly trimmed and Rory following close behind, he made his way along the ‘zig-zag’ path from his hut past stumps and logs. Then, navigating over the wheel ruts left by coaches, he crossed the service road, going slightly north to avoid the steep cutting by the viaduct. Here he crossed over the newly laid railway tracks, continuing across broken ground, before dropping down onto another level flat where the cookhouse and other accommodation buildings were located. Mrs. Bright ran the cookhouse, and this was to be the venue for the celebration.

Already gathered outside were a group of people he mostly recognized, and with hearty greetings and firm handshakes, he congratulated Andrew and Laura Anderson on their great achievement. He then spoke to some of his fellow PWD workmates, John McEnnis, Peter Keller, Sydney Agar and also members of the Anderson crew, Fred and Arnott Anderson, George Pascoe, Harry Beck, Billy Moore and several permanent hands from Lyttelton among others. Also, there was Constable Montgomery and his wife, along with various local representatives from the railways in Ohakune and Raurimu. A few children also played games nearby, so Jack left Rory with them.

Special mention must also be made of Messrs. Clarkin Bros. of Paeroa who carted all incoming goods from the northern railhead at Oio to Makatote, a distance of 20 miles. Later the railhead moved to Raurimu. Over the three year period they had hauled 1,200 tons of cement, 1,000 tons of steel, machinery and stores using combinations of five and eight team horses, depending on the weight of the load. Pat Clarkin and one of his drivers, Bill Turner,    arrived earlier for today’s celebration.  

The large cookhouse with its distinctive three chimneys was located at the most northern end of the village. Its entrance door faced the road and the long table dominated the dining room. There had been many delicious meals served there, and today would be no exception, with an extra row of chairs put around to accommodate everyone present. They all filed into the decorated room, where speeches were the first order of the day, congratulatory ones from some of the invited guests, including Jack Collingwood. The main speech was given by Andrew Anderson. Firstly, he thanked everyone for being present and wished them all success in their future endeavours. Then he thanked the Anderson workforce and the PWD for their gallant efforts in bringing the successful completion of the viaduct to fruition. He told them, that from this day on it would always be known as ‘The Great Makatote Viaduct’.


Mention was then made of the cold harsh winters which they endured, the extra work needed on some of the foundations because of ‘bad ground’ floods and damage caused by the recent huge bush fires, illegal hop-beer making and games of two-up. On a lighter note he mentioned Constable Montgomery arresting a man last year, who sold seven bottles of whisky for £1 per bottle. It turned out to be cold tea! This brought smiles and laughter to the invited guests. Jack then proposed a toast to Andrew & Laura Anderson. Three hearty hip, hip, hooray cheers echoed through the building.

With the formalities out of the way, Mrs. Bright announced that the food was ready. Besides the pork and venison with vegetables (on large ½ inch thick brown and white serving platters), there was also Mrs. Bright’s famous Beef Stew with dumplings. This was a personal favourite with many of the people at the celebration who had dined there before. Two desserts were then put out for the guests, Upside-Down Pudding with apples and cinnamon and Steamed Pudding with raspberry jam. Both served with lashings of hot Custard. If all that was not enough, there was fresh bread and jam available, with ‘K’ Brand Jam from Kirkpatrick’s of Nelson, St. George Jam from Dunedin, Mountain ‘T’ Brand Jam from A. Tyer & Co.’s, also jam from Mennie & Dey’s ‘Southern Cross Jam Factory’ both of Auckland and even jam from T.W. Beach, Fruit Grower of Ealing Road, Brentford, Middlesex, England.

Apart from aerated water (the equivalent of todays ‘fizzy’ drinks) in marble-stoppered bottles for the children, there was alcohol and beer for the adults. The area was ‘dry’ so Andrew Anderson’s older brother John, sent everything up from Christchurch for the celebration. As the railhead was now at Makatote, the crates of bottles arrived by train, being off loaded in the sorting yard not far from the village. There was whisky, gin, brandy and German hock wine in tall slender bottles, up to nearly 16 inches (41cm) high. There was roughly 22 dozen bottles of beer in 12 once and 26 once sizes. All of the beer was in ring-seal green bottles adorned with paper labels. These were purchased from S. Manning & Co. Ltd (Brewers and Bottlers, Christchurch Brewery, Lower High Street), founded by Samuel Manning in 1860.





The celebration went well into the evening, and all present will never forget the day in August 1908, they celebrated the completion of ‘The Great Makatote Viaduct.’ Jack Collingwood and the PWD moved onto other works still to be completed in the Waimarino District. Then on November 6th the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward ‘drove the Last Spike’, not far south of Makatote. Over the remaining months the machinery at Makatote was packed up and the workshop dismantled, as was the accommodation buildings and the cookhouse. Some buildings were sold and erected again in other parts of the district. Anderson’s workforce returned to Christchurch. The Post Office which had opened on August 27th 1906 closed on February 6th 1909. The Makatote Village then became one of the camps which completely disappeared when railway construction had passed. The encroaching native bush, beaten back during construction, was now free to slowly take over the village site again, making it oblivious to future passing trains and cars.


Andrew Anderson died in 1927 aged 76, his wife Laura died in Surrey, England in 1944 aged 82; Lieutenant Fred Anderson (Canterbury Infantry Regiment) was KIA at Messines, Belgium in 1917; John McEnnis was District Public Works Engineer at Fendalton, Christchurch when his wife was accidently killed by a train in 1920; Peter Keller was District Engineer at Taumarunui in 1926; Sydney Agar was appointed Inspector of Works (PWD) serving at Wanganui, Blenheim then Auckland, returning to Wellington in 1927 to be appointed Inspector of Steel Structures in head office, dying in 1938 aged 60.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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The Big Celebration by Peter Henson

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.