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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement

The King Country Railway

The King Country Railway.

A highly-important event in the story of this district, and, indeed, of the Dominion, was the turning of the first sods of the Te Awamutu-Marton railway, the King Country section of the Main Trunk line, in 1885. The sods were turned on the south side of the Puniu bridge by the high chiefs Wahanui, Taonui, and Rewi. The Premier of New Zealand, Sir Robert Stout (then Mr Stout), was present, but he contented himself with second place in diplomatic compliment to the lords of the soil. There is a curious inner history to the ceremony on the banks of the Puniu; it was related to the present writer some years ago by Sir Robert Stout. “The sod was nearly not turned that day,” said Sir Robert; and he told the story of the dispute between the Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto tribes. Early that morning there was a conference at Te Awamutu between the Premier and his colleague, Mr John Ballance, and the Maori chiefs. Mr G. T. Wilkinson was the interpreter. Wahanui, Taonui, and Rewi were there, and all three had agreed that the sod should be turned and the railway should go on through the Rohepotae. But Waikato sent two chiefs to protest against the work in the name of the Maori King, whose headquarters were then at Whatiwhatihoe, on the Waipa.

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There were long speeches; the only one who was silent was the huge-framed Wahanui; but he was turning with indignation; his chest was heaving in his efforts to suppress his anger. At last one of the Waikato chiefs, regardless of the fact that his tribespeople were only in the Rohepotae by sufferance of Ngati-Maniapoto, had the hardihood to declare that the sod would not be turned because it was Waikato's land. “Oh, well,” said the Premier, quietly regarding the deeply-incensed Wahanui, “if it is Waikato's land we have come to the wrong place.” Then the tall, dignified rangatira Taonui, almost as big a man as Wahanui, arose and said, with angry determination: “It is our land; the sod shall be turned, and turned to-day!’ And it was done. Waikato were ousted; literally they had no locus standi; and, baffled and disgruntled, they saw the big work begun and the first step taken in the civilisation of the great Rohepotae.

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