The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (April 21, 1927)
Honi Takes the Train
As night was falling Honi paddled his canoe towards his raupo whare which stood out on the headland across the placid waters of Lake Taupo. He had enjoyed a good day's sport amongst the trout and was making his way home with his catch, in order that Epuki, his wahine, could prepare the evening meal. Honi was a splendid specimen of the old time native who had drifted back before the advance of the white man and had settled on the shore of the lake at about the time Te Kooti and the Hauhau natives were beginning to realise they could not stop the onward march of civilisation.
Epuki, who originally hailed from the shores of the Manakau, insisted that Honi should make a trip to Akarana (Auckland) with her, in order that she might once again visit the scenes of her childhood. An early start had to be made the following day so the two Maori ponies were tethored in readiness. Hori, the five year old son of Honi and Epuki, had been taken to the lake early in the day and vigorously scrubbed in order to have him fit for the journey to the city. Hori, hitherto, had not been overburdened with clothes, and for the 60 mile ride to Putaruru his toilet was to consist of his shirt alone. He was then to be fitted out at the store for his train journey. The horses were saddled early. Epuki mounted and Hori was placed in front of the saddle. Honi then mounted in a leisurely fashion and a start was made for Putaruru. The native places no value on time, and Honi enjoyed to the full his trip across the plains. The jig jog of the Maori pony does not register much speed, but for sight-seeing purposes this method of progression possesses many advantages. As the miles passed by, Honi began to realise that the white man was slowly pressing him and his beloved people further and further back. The Taupo Timber Company's tramline and mills were eating into the heart of the bush, whilst afforestation companies were taking up the land formerly reserved exclusively for the use of the wild horses which at one time ran in their hundreds over the Tokoroa Plains. However, these thoughts were all left behind as at last the township was reached and the ponies safely paddocked.
A visit to the store followed, and after all little business affairs were settled, Honi and Epuki retired for the night. The next day, two hours before the Rotorua express for Auckland was due, Honi, Epuki, and Hori were sitting on the platform of the station waiting to continue their journey to the city. Honi had not seen a train since the days of the Cambridge Land Courts, and was rather dubious of what was to him a strange mode of travel. As the train came to a stand he was directed to a second class smoker and as soon as he saw Epuki safely seated, he heaved a sigh of relief, sunk back into the corner of the carriage and got ready to smoke. With his pipe in full blast and emitting clouds of smoke he had soon nearly half of the car to himself. The ordinary travellers in the smoker did not appreciate the delicate aroma of the “torori” and diplomatically advised Honi of this fact. He replied: “Kapai to Maori tobacco.”
As the train was now fairly under way Epuki decided that it was time a little attention was paid to Hori who was still not overburdened with clothes. A sugar bag was therefore drawn out from under the seat and with one dexterous movement Epuki caught hold of Hori, pulled his shirt over his head, leaving the youth garbed in clothing similar to that in which the Australian black graces the wedding breakfast. This action caused a smile to go round the carriage. Hori, however, who did not look pleased, decided that the moment had arrived for him to take action, and accordingly disappeared under the page 37 seat. This manoeuvre did not upset Epuki. She caught him by the leg, pulled him out again, and arrayed him in a new suit which she extracted from the depths of the sugar bag. “Kapai te trou” remarks Honi.
The train now approached Morrinsville and Honi looked out of the window and noted the many changes in the face of the country. Gone was the old Maori pah and all its inhabitants. The Lockerbie station that used to shear its forty thousand sheep each year, was now a thing of the past. Wherever the iron horse and the shining rails had penetrated, prosperity had followed in its wake. Cheap carriage of his necessities and low freights on his manures and butter and cheese had enabled the white man to achieve what to Honi appeared the impossible.
On rolled the train across the famous Eureka swamps and at last it drew up at Frankton Junction. In 1896 the staff at Frankton Junction consisted of the stationmaster, “Bob” Peat and his porter, A Auger. The destinies of the yard were controlled by one shunter—L. Beer—a man famous for his feats on the athletic tracks. Honi proceeded to the up-to-date railway refreshment rooms, and after supplying Epuki and Hori with a pie each, sauntered around to inquire about his comrades of bygone days. Entering into conversation with a genial guard Patrick Reidy, from the Emerald Isle, he discovered that the staff at the station consisted of about four hundred men, and that all his old friends had gone to the happy hunting grounds. The beautiful fertile valleys of the Waikato, the land of milk and cheese, had developed at such a rate as to necessitate this huge army of transport workers being located there. “Py gorry,” Honi remarked, “I tink you te bigger liar than Sam Cameron.” Honi's mind instinctively went back to the days when Sam Cameron, the famous old time guard, practically ran the N.Z.R. in the Waikato and exercised more authority than all the other railway officials in the North Island. Things were certainly different in those days. There was only one train at Frankton Junction and it ran one day a week to Cambridge, one day to Te Aroha, one day to Lichfield, one day to Ngongotaha and one day to Otorohanga. The Main Trunk line had not been penetrated through the King Country. The memories of the Maori dances that were held in the Otorohanga goods shed still linger in the minds of many of the old timers in the Waikato. Dixieland could give no points to the patrons of the Otorohanga functions as organised in the days of Honi's youth.
As the Waikato river came into view, Honi thought of the days when he pursued the “kotiros” in his canoe before he finally captured Epuki and placed her in charge of his land and kumera patch. On arrival at Mercer, Honi began to feel quite at home once again, and thought of the many regattas held there in Tommy Porter's days. Then, Maoris gathered there from far and near and the entry of the Maori war canoe with a total of sixty paddles was a sight which used to attract the pakehas in their thousands. Easy travelling by rail and modern transport had, however, almost caused the native to relinquish the canoe as a mode of travelling. This thought caused Honi a tinge of sadness, but as his mind began to grasp the extent to which modern transport had brought prosperity to his land, he confided to one of his fellow travellers, “Kapai Dick Seddon and Timi Carroll, they the fellow build this railway!” On through Newmarket the train passed and, as it negotiated the tunnel, Honi had his first experience of passing through the bowels of the earth. The guard explained the position, and Honi remarked, “Py gorry—the train he must have the good eye not miss te mark!” After having got safely settled at the Waitemata Hotel, that Mecca of the native race, Honi proceeded to view Queen Street. A bevy of city girls on their way to the beauty contests passed. To inquiries as to his opinion of the pakeha ladies, Honi stated “Oh! well he got te short dress and te nice boot—but kapai Epuki to cook te kai and pull te canoe.” His final opinion of the Queen City was: “Too many te noise this town here. Soon I go back to Taupo again. Good bye all you fellow, Kia Ora.”