Topic: Te Rimu Mill by Peter Henson

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Located roughly 10km inland from State Highway One at Te Rangiita, the mill was situated on a ‘frost flat’ clearing surrounded by manuka scrub. Previously the site of Rabbit Board huts it was adjacent to the northern side of the Tauranga-Taupo River.

The Maori name Te Rimu literally means ‘The Rimu’. The nearby Ngati Tuwharetoa-owned podocarp forest that was logged included some totara, kahikatea and matai, but early on rimu was the predominant species. There was also a ridge in the area that was mostly covered in miro trees, but this was left untouched as it provided food for the Kereru (New Zealand Pigeon).

Cutting rights in the East Lake Taupo lands were granted to one Digby Eric Perrett by the Aotea Maori Land Board during the Second World War, to supply his Wellington box factory. A small diesel mill (known as Perrett’s Mill) was built and commenced cutting in 1945, but it only operated a few short months before continuing financial worries forced him to sell out to Te Puke Sawmills. This was owned by Fletcher Holdings who had purchased it as a way of getting into New Zealand’s heavily regulated timber industry during the war.

In 1946 a second sawmill, this time steam, was built beside the original plant with the mill machinery being installed by Harry Marsh of Taihape. Shared cutting rights in the Opawa Rangitoto block were purchased from the landowners, and this saw roughly half the resource going to Te Rimu and the other half to Huka Timber Mills, more commonly known as Woodward’s Mill located at Nukuhau in Taupo.




A cookhouse and single men’s huts were built, and through a hire purchase agreement with the State Advances Corporation of New Zealand (Government Timber Workers Housing Scheme), 21 two and three bedroomed houses eventually arrived in prefabricated sections. These were erected by carpenter Jack Bourke and laid out in an L shape for the increasing workforce. The surrounding hills gave the village a sense of friendly isolation for the incoming families.

The dusty pumice road ran from the highway through the farm and then through scrub country to the mill, before carrying onto the bush operations. This was improved with Fletchers Caterpillar D8 bulldozers, with various streams being crossed in the process, and also Henson Lake was formed. Near the confluence of the Hingapo and Te Tiringa Streams a ‘pump house’ was installed and pipes buried in the ground which supplied water to the cookhouse, ablution block, houses and the steam mill.

From varied backgrounds, both Maori and Pakeha, local and outsider, they all came together as one cohesive group of bushmen and mill hands to ‘get the job done’. Firstly, there were Ngapuhi migrants who had travelled down from the north in the late 1930s to work on the various Ngati Tuwharetoa Land Development Schemes in the district. The kauri logging had come to an end, and these schemes were seen by the Government as not only contributing to the valuable expansion of productive farm land, but also helped to address the poverty and unemployment of the hard Depression years.

This is how the Reihana, Bolstad, Rameka, Harris and Peihopa families became established in the district. Secondly, there were ex-volunteers (bushmen, sawmillers and State Forest Service employees) who had served overseas during the war, in England, Algeria and Italy with the 11th, 14th and 15th Forestry Companies (New Zealand Engineers, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force) from 1940 to 1944. Lastly, many locals who lived near various maraes in the area found employment and were aptly suited to the hard work in the mill and bush.




It wasn’t long before both mills were in full swing with the mill whistle dominating the day’s activities: 6am up, washed, dressed and breakfast; 7am mill start up; 10am morning smoko; 12.30pm lunch; 3pm afternoon smoko and 4.30pm knock-off. The daily routine of the housewives was also regulated by the monotonous ever present sound of the mill whistle.

Various trucks and their drivers played a huge part in shifting the timber resource. George Davis drove the GMC logging truck and the Leyland Super Hippo was driven by Barry Sinton, which carted the logs to the mills. Te Puke Sawmills fleet of Leyland Comet trucks in turn carted the sawn timber and peelers to the nearest rail at National Park (formerly Waimarino).

Later Poole Brothers took over the timber cartage contract for Te Rimu and other mills in the Rotoaira area. They had various trucks including 7 Ton Commer’s.  Lindsay Beard was one of their well known drivers. Afterwards, Bill Bleasel secured this contract to cart the timber.




Eight different men served as mill managers, some doing more than one stint. The first was Howard Levien of Taumarunui followed by Gordon Rae and Arthur Ashby. Next was Bunny Ormsby who had the small diesel mill dismantled in 1953. Syd Brown and Roy Shirley were followed by Bill Blenkinsop and lastly by Brian Smyth.

Marama Wall of Waitahanui was the most well known and respected of all the mill hands who worked at Te Rimu. Others included: Tiger and Chulla Wall, Georgie Wikohika, Para Mariu and Darby Harris (later, mill managers at Turangi), Les and Ted Flight, Rima Whakatihi, George Spain, Ray Bridge, Joe Kenny, Sonny Downs, Mau Rihia etc. Laurie Donaldson and others ran the mill office.

In the bush operation only two held the position of bush boss, firstly Les Cann of Whakatane who had been Mentioned in Despatches in Italy during 1944 and later, Peter Heta. Other bushmen included: Rolly Henson, Wally Burgess, Pat O’Keefe, Wattie Peihopa, Eric Fisher, Pat Waihape, Wally Packer, Reg Ham, Jubie Pitiroi and rugby player Manu Maniapoto, among others.

The women played their part as well. Aunty Lena Wikohika, Violet Schow and Thelma Luxford were the cooks. They ruled their domain and even the toughest bushman obeyed them! Chrissie Waihape, a teacher at the Tauranga-Taupo School will always be remembered by her many pupils (later, a JP for over 25 years and awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 1995).

Other school teachers included Mary Ham and Addie Wall who made huge contributions to life at Te Rimu, as did Kath O’Keefe. Although the women were kept busy washing, sewing, gardening and minding babies, they still found time to organise a Country Women’s Institute which was held once a month. They ran ‘500’ card nights, table tennis, children’s picnics and even a football team.

Children who resided at Te Rimu left each morning on the mill school bus which took them out to the highway and along to the Tauranga-Taupo School, where they got to swim in the largest swimming pool in New Zealand, Lake Taupo. Before returning to the mill, the bus called in at the Te Rangiita Fishing Lodge, General Store and Post Office. Besides catering to fishermen, locals and the passing traffic, it was the link to the outside world for Te Rimu residents. It picked up the mail, newspapers, milk, eggs and barracuda loaves of bread baked at Tokaanu by Fred Edkins etc, before returning to the mill.

The early 1960s saw the Fletcher Timber Company operating six sawmills, all indigenous: Te Rimu, Ngongotaha, Kopaki, Ruatahuna, Turangi, and Tataraakina. Fletcher’s boss Lou Hahn, had managed to secure the last remaining prime indigenous resources (the Hautu blocks), with a condition of sale by the owners of the land that a mill be built at Turangi. (Fletcher’s preference was to keep Te Rimu going).

By this stage Te Rimu’s bush had already been cut out and logs from Te Hore Hore (located between the Hautu and Rangipo Prisons) had been used to keep the mill operating, with the owners consent.

So it was with great reluctance that the Fletcher Timber Company closed their Te Rimu sawmill on September 8th 1961. This event saw much of the workforce relocating to the new Turangi mill, which had commenced cutting on August 1st 1960. Although the native timber industry workforce throughout New Zealand was largely transient in nature during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, some families had resided and raised children at Te Rimu for a number of years. They regarded this closure as not only the end of an era, but sadly, the end of a way of life that would be lost forever.

On the journey from the highway to Te Rimu there was a sign as you entered the scrub country: “Beware, you are now in Indian Territory. Signed Cisco Kid.”

The identity of Te Rimu’s ‘Cisco Kid’ was Tama Hurae. He and his mate James Flight - ‘Jessie James’ - were responsible for the sign. Just like in the movies they had many adventures on their horses. James Flight, now aged 83 of Turangi still has fond memories: “We were happy, worked hard, ‘rough as guts’ and loved riding horses, sleeping under the stars. We had dogs, hunted deer and pigs, also pigeons, and we chased Brumbies (free-roaming feral horses). If only we could go back 60 years to that time”.



This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Te Rimu Mill by Peter Henson

Year:c.1940 and 1950
Note:About the author: Peter Henson, aged 56 of Turangi has worked in the local forest industry for 40 years (NZ Forest Service, Timberlands, NZ Forest Managers Ltd). He has had articles published in the NZ Logger Magazine 2005, NZ Memories Magazine 2013 and has self published a book ‘Stories I Wanted To Tell’ (The Copy Press, Nelson). Currently he is working on a second book ‘Te Rimu’ about a native logging saw mill east of Lake Taupo. His other interests include anything historical; especially military and genealogical research; collecting old bottles (now mainly NZ jam jars and researching the associated company histories).