The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (January 1, 1934)
The Opening of the King Country to Railway Traffic
It is many years since the line of rail first crossed the Puniu River and entered what is now known as the King Country, but a chance remark by one of my Maori friends brought forth a little story connected with the time when the Government was negotiating with the tribes of the Rohepotae for the purpose of building the railway through their lands. For many years after the conclusion of the Waikato War, Te Awamutu had remained a kind of border settlement, but at last, after the bitterness of the late trouble had somewhat subsided, the railway was pushed forward to halt finally after the construction gang had carried their line of steel to the banks of the Puniu River.
Just opposite, on the southern bank of the river, stood an old pa, Haere-awatea, one time stronghold of old Pehi Tukorehu, fighting chief of Ngati-Maniapoto. Here, amid the historic associations of Haere-awatea, a great meeting of King Country tribes was held to consider the advisability of throwing open the Rohepotae to the pakeha. Representatives of many tribes were present; the following men were the leaders remembered by my informant:—Manga, Wahanui, Keremeta, Tapihana and Tukorehu, son of Pehi.
Long and protracted were the discussions, for while some were in accord with the idea, others were bitterly opposed to European intrusion. Manga, or to give him his greater name, Rewi Maniapoto, was agreeable that the railway should proceed, but would not officially state his case, as he feared his mana would be lowered in the eyes of his people. Finally, after much talk, Manga walked forth, and taking up the ceremonial spade, dug the first sod, while Wahanui wheeled it away in the wheelbarrow.
Although no words were spoken, the people immediately knew the significance of such an act, and as Wahanui was wheeling away the barrow, Tapihana called out: “E Waha, he kai ma taua he waipiro?” (O Waha, a food for us shall be intoxicating liquor?”) Meaning, that as the King Country was now open to Europeans, their liquor would also be permitted.
Wahanui, however, immediately answered: “Me mutu atu te waipiro i tera taha o Puniu. He kai kino tera. He kai whakapohara tena i te tangata. Nga hua mea kino katoa e puta ana i te waipiro.” (“Let the intoxicating liquor stay on that side of Puniu,” pointing his hand towards Te Awamutu, “that is an evil food, a food that makes men poor. All things that are bad come from liquor.”)
Thus were the doors of the King Country opened to the railways, and thus were they closed, officially at least, to the liquor traffic.
As the Main Trunk line leaves the southern end of the Puniu bridge it cuts through the ancient ramparts of Haere-awatea, in these days a wilderness of blackberry and hawthorn, for with the last great gathering of Ngati-Maniapoto, the glory of this riverside stronghold passed away.
With a whole railway carriage fitted up for the purpose, the Sight-testing Officer of the New Zealand Railways was busy “putting through” all manner of railwaymen in Wellington recently. Both ordinary sight and colour vision are quickly tested by this expert, and the results are accurately recorded and faithfully dealt with by the Department. This service is just one among the many means by which the Railways, quickly and unobtrusively, carry on their work of ensuring that their transport service shall ensure the utmost measure of safety for their customers. Every so often every man in the railways who has anything to do with the operating side has to be tried and passed for visual acuity and colour sense.page 40