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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

A Progress Link

A Progress Link.

The history of Wairoa, commercially speaking, is linked up with the pastoral industry. It dates back many years to when the whole district was bush-clad, and the value of sheep-raising was beginning to be recognized. Partly owing to the desire inherent in the human mind to accumulate wealth, and partly from ignorance, the first settlers brought thousands of sheep before they were able to feed them—perhaps they overestimated the carrying capacity of the land they had cleared, or under-estimated the feeding capacity of such stock—but the fact remains that page 159they died in great numbers in the bush. The mortality was so high in the winter season that when a south-bound drover met another coming up with a mob of sheep, his query, "Whither bound?" invariably produced the reply, "To the graveyard"—and thus it was. Then came the outbreak of scab, and thousands of sheep had to be slaughtered to boil down for tallow. The skins were useless, and the average price was about 10d or 1/- per head. Then, indeed, were the Wairoa farmers poor, and comparing the present, or the disappearing depression, the balance is still in favour of present conditions as compared with the early 'seventies, when the absence of good markets, high transport costs, and low wages, made the condition of the people of Wairoa parlous indeed. Highly dispirited and almost broken in the fight against scab and low prices, the Wairoa farmers were slow to see what the new system might mean for them if only the stock on a thousand hills could be sent away frozen. After a time they did, of course, send stock away to southern freezing works, and even then some of it did not go forward as it should. Such ignorance prevailed that it is stated that a leading farmer, long since dead, sent a mob of sheep to Napier to be frozen, and his merchant sent back an apparently polite letter asking what was to be done with them and suggesting that they were well fitted to be marketed as Chinese lanterns! Still, for many years the farmers were content to travel their sheep over fifty miles of bad roads, incurring heavy travelling costs, loss of weight, and depreciation. Sometimes the drovers were page 160the only men who made any money out of these transactions, yet for years, despite the urging of some leading men and the advocacy of the Press, Wairoa hung back. It was not until 1915—that fateful year for the Empire—that success came about. The Wairoa Farmers' Meat Company was formed, and opened with considerable éclat. The first returns of working were issued in 1917, when a total of 46,903 sheep and lambs was put through, together with 1,196 cattle. In ten years this rose to 105,151 sheep and lambs, 2,142 cattle, 758 calves, and 470 pigs. Then came the "unkindest cut of all," the great catastrophe of the destruction of the works by fire on 5th February, 1931, following the earthquake on the 3rd of that month. Wairoa, at that time, was mourning loss of life, and mental shock to many, combined with the destruction of valuable property, severance of town from country, and loss of trade. The latter was made more serious by the destruction of the works, which had been the means of employing 200 men and circulating about £40,000 per annum in the town and district. It is not necessary just now to recall even a tenth of the efforts made to get the works re-established, without result for such a long time. Suffice it to say that all the efforts to get possession of the company's license came to nought, and the sale to Swifts (N.Z.) Ltd. was the next best thing—and perhaps better—than local control. The new firm, we are confident, will not be satisfied to sit on its oars and drift idly along but do its utmost to further develop this fertile portion of the East Coast.