I have written this article on the history of the KDV Mill at Ongare Point, as the Subritzky Family's contribution to the historic 125th Anniversary of Katikati in the Northern Bay of Plenty. I lived the first 15 years of my life in three local towns, Katikati, Waihi and Te Puna, leaving for the 'Big Smoke' of Auckland and an apprenticeship at the age of 15.
If any of the other 'KDV families' would like to add to our recollections and expand on this article, they are most welcome. At the end of the piece we have included a nominal roll which contains the names of all of the timber workers and their families that we can remember. Please do feel free to add to it if, or to the photo captions, if you remember anyone we may have missed out.
|The KDV Mill
Mike Subritzky, with help from his sister Stephanie, recounts life in the 1950s at the KDV Mill at Ongare Point.
KDV photo scrapbook
above: From left, Mike aged 2 - 3 months, Joseph, Leonie, Stephanie aged 8, and David at the KDV Mill at Ongare Point in 1950.
I remember the smell of creosote like it was yesterday, and just the slightest hint of it in the air, will immediately take me back to the earliest memories of my childhood, and the years we lived at the KDV mill camp at Ongare Point, just outside of Katikati. I was born in Katikati, at the local maternity hospital at about 8 PM on Tuesday the 13th June 1950, and I was delivered by the now local identity, Doctor Joe Burstein so I guess that makes me a native 'Katikatian' by birthright. At the time of my birth, my family and about a dozen others were living in the KDV mill camp where my father was employed as a timberworker. It was just after the war and everything was still being rationed, and so our home and those of everyone else in the camp had been painted in black creosote.
World War II:
When the war ended my father, and his ever-increasing family, was once again free to move about the place and so developed a wanderlust drifting from one dusty mill camp to another. After my brother Joe was born in 1948, my parents and older siblings moved to Machins Saw Mill Ltd which was in Kopaki in the King Country. There my mother and all of the other camp wives did their family washing in the river, and often at night my sisters would stand outside of the house and tell mum where the light from the primus was shining out of the weatherboards so that she could plug the holes with newspaper and make the whare a little warmer. Kopaki had bitterly cold winters and so my father then got work at Henderson's Mill Camp on the Tauranga side of the Upper Kaimai Ranges, nowadays just about where the top of the old Kaimai road leads to. My family didn't remain there long; perhaps a month when my father learned from mates that there was more money and better conditions to be had, at the KDV mill in Katikati.
above left: The KDV sawmill which used to be located at the harbour end of Ongare Point Road close to the present Tuapiro Point subdivision. The Auckland-based Kiln Dried Veneer Company obtained cutting rights to part of the pine forest on Matakana Island in 1945. Pine logs milled on the island were rafted across to the KDV. Sawn timber from the mill was trucked to the Katikati Railway Station, loaded on to wagons, and railed to Auckland. The mill closed in March 1958 when the cutting rights expired.
above right: A view from the KDV wharf looking north across the Tauranga Harbour towards the Bowentown Heads. Matakana Island is just visible on the right. Like the mill, none of this structure exists today.
The Camp Layout:
above: Logs were felled on Matakana Island then rafted up and towed by boat to the KDV mill.
A number of the families that lived at the KDV when we did are now local identies and so I will run down where they were living in 1950.Once you passed the line of populars, there was a right hand turn into the village and going down on the left were Hone and Rama Tarau, the Staffords, the Watenes, and the Taihunganuis. Whilst on the right as you entered were the Moriatys, Bergersons (before the Bergerson's this house was occupied by the Westrupp family. The Bergersens arrived at the KDV Mill on 29 June 1950), Baldwins, Subritzkys, McIsaacs, Becks and the Callaghans. Just down from the Callaghans house was the large cookhouse for the single men. The Proberstill family ran the cookhouse and lived in accomodation at the rear. There was another house down by the mill and the Walsh family lived there. On the seaward side of the cookhouse was the singlemen's quarters which was a line of about 10 or a dozen huts each joined to the other. While behind the hall was the Hutchinson's house, and they were another Maori family.
The Manager of the mill was Frank McIsaac, and the Bush Boss Mr Roy Callaghan. Mrs Callaghan ran the singlemen's cookhouse for a time, although later Mr and Mrs Proberstill took over the cookhouse, and lived in accomodation at the rear. Later still, while we were still living in the camp Tommy and Zelda Baldwin and their family moved out and were replaced in the same house by Tommy's brother Eddie and his wife Fimi. Once a month, the camp cookhouse was utilised as the venue for a Euchre tournament.
My family lived in many mill camps during the 1940s and 50s and this was a fairly typical layout, with the exception that most of the timber was being cut from the forest on Matakana Island which was across the harbour.
Between the Taihunganui's house and the village hall the road turned left and led down to the shoreline with the huge mill complex on the right, and at water's edge was a wharf with various shackle devices for hauling logs and for securing the towing launches...it was also an ideal fishing spot. The slabs from the mill were burnt at the back of Mr and Mrs 'Tai's' house.
middle: Rama Tarau with Michael Subritsky aged about 6 weeks.
left and right: Subritsky family photos.
The Rosaleen and the Zita:
Hone Tarau was the launchmaster of the towing launch 'Rosaleen', and he towed pine logs across from Matakana Island with this vessel. As well, the Company owned its' own launch called the 'Zita', and the skipper of that vessel was Mr Hooper. Hone always sat on the upper deck and steered his launch with his feet which were as hard as nails. On one trip across the harbour Mervyn Bergersen watched as a couple of the bushmen held a cigarette lighter under his feet as a joke, Hone's feet were so hard he didn't even notice. The mill complex butted down to the water's edge and there were skids for hauling the logs out of the water using a large bull chain, and up to the 'breaking-down' saws, inside of the mill.
The whole of the foreshore was a mass of beautiful pohutakawa trees, and to the left of the mill complex, and behind the Maori families homes were large, ever expanding sawdust heaps. These were used by the boys as a place to build underground huts ... it took only about half an hour to scoop an entire fortress out, and then do battle with the girls by throwing 'snowballs' of wet sawdust at each other. I daresay that now-a-days OSH would place a large 'NO ENTRY' sign and a fence in front of such places of adventure. As well, the whole area must have been constructed over an ancient pa site as behind the European family houses was a very high bank of burnt Pipi shells, so obviously there had been human habitation in this beautiful area for many centuries.
Supplies and Stuff:
My family lived at the KDV for about three years and when we first arrived there was electricity in the houses, but we used to have frequent power cuts and so we often used kerosene lamps for lighting. This was very common at the time, and every family had two kerosene lamps, one for the cooking area, and one for everything else. Candles were also used very frequently, especially in the long drop 'dunny' which was to the rear of every household. Very few families owned cars back then and so the families weekly grocery order was first drawn up with an indelible pencil on a pad, or sometimes even a piece of timber, and then taken up to the office where it was rung through to the Farmers Trading Company in Katikati (The old Farmers building was located about in the main street where the BP Garage is now. The 'Farmers' then prepared the various grocery orders for each of the village families and then the big green Farmers van would drive up to the mill with orders for everyone; the usual driver was Mr J.C. Thomas Jr. Mail was also picked up, along with newspapers and other comforts such as the purple covered 'Auckland Weekly News', which was read widely. The office phone was the village's only link with the outside world and was used in emergencies so as to summon Doctor Burstein, or the 'Plaza' Chemist Shop (the Plaza Chemist shop was located about where the Sun Dragon Takeaways are today).
As well as the above folks who were part of the village life there were also many visitors who were often in the camp and one family that often stayed with the Watene family was Mr and Mrs Tuanau. I think they actually lived at Athenree, and that Mrs Watene and Mrs Tuanau were sisters. Mrs Taunau's daughter Helen, later married Doug Runga from Waihi who was a friend of my brother Dave. Doug and Helen were tragically burnt to death in a house fire in about 1960, leaving behind a young family.
Other Maori families who sometimes came and stayed over with whanau, were members of the Walters, Jacobs, Wharekawa, and Samuels families. These families actually lived at the Pa which was located on Tetley Road, just south of Katikati. 'Bunny' Walters who went to school at Katikati later became a Kiwi Icon during the 1960's and 70's and a rock singer.
above and below left: the KDV mill
above right: Bowentown from KDV 1949. below right: Kauri Point looking from the north, 1948.
Gordon McLarnon was the local milkman and came out every day on his run. At the time milk was transported in large cans and each family owned a billy as there were no such things as milk bottles. Mothers would walk to the milk truck, billy in hand and there catch up on the latest gossip from the outside world. Milk was (I think) fourpence a pint and Mr McLarnon simply placed his dipper into the can and then poured the measure into the family billy. It was also the place where the womenfolk gathered to chat. There were no fridges back then and so every household owned a meatsafe, and these 'safes' were usually suspended from the inner branches of an evergreen tree or the eves on the south side of the house, away from the heat and sunlight. Mr McLarnon also delivered the newspapers, the New Zealand Herald, Auckland Star and the Bay of Plenty Times.
The KDV Hall:
The Hall which was used by all of the families in the camp was actually brought and paid for by the families themselves. It was used for the monthly card nights, the 'Break Up' hangi at Christmas time which was always the biggest occasion of the year. As well there were also occasional dances. On dance nights Keith Johnson played the saxaphone, while Jack Walsh was on the drums. They even had dance lessons which were taught by Sally Breed (later Mrs Sally Henry ), and one of the single men, George Harwood. Alf and Reg Harvey used the hall each Sunday to teach Sunday School to all the other denomination kids in the camp. This gave a lot of mums and dads a bit of a lay in while the kids were being taught about Jesus and the bible. Both of the Harvey brothers were well known in the district at the time, Alf built the shop at Kauri Point and Reg owned a garage in Katikati.
In about 1953, Sally Henry took part in the Carnival Queen competition which was just one of the fundraising activities that Katikati was involved with to raise funds for the building of the new Katikati War Memorial Hall.
George Holmes had the contract to transport the sawn timber from the KDV down to Katikati Railway Station and load it onto the freight wagons. George drove and 'S' Bedford articulated truck and his offsider was Slim Kelly. There were no forklifts back then and using simple 'Kiwi Ingenuity', George simply welded a piece of angle iron onto a small cream can and this was used as a fulcrum to load the sawn timber onto his truck, and later transfer the timber onto the freight wagons at the Katikati Station ... very simple, and jolly efficient too!
Mr and Mrs Brinkley:
As I said, we were living in Waihi at the time and I think that the local Katikati Taxi Driver who uplifted us and transported us to the movies was Rex Cunningham ... I do remember that he was very kind and understanding as I threw up in his cab returning through the metalled Athenree Gorge and he assisted my mother to clean me up using several brown paper bags ... my brother Joseph, and my sisters had the windows down and their heads out, all the way back to our new home in Rosemont Road in Waihi.
After the KDV, Hone and Rama took over the old Tarau family farm in Te Puna which they worked together for many years. They became 'Aunty Rama' and 'Uncle Hone' to me and I spent just about every school holidays living with them and Joe on the farm; they were the most Christian people that I ever met and taught me a great many of the values that I personally hold to this very day. They were like blood kin to me and I loved them like parents.
Being Catholic meant that we were required to attend Mass regulary and in the 1950s this was a mission in itself, living deep in the heart of a Northern Irish Protestant community. Father Crawford held a Sunday Mass service once a month, and believe it or not, the Mass was held in the local Orange Hall, which to say the very least was bloody ironic. At the time the Orange Hall was situated just past the Old Mill on McMillan Street. At the time, taking the sacrament of Holy Communion required a 'fast' from midnight of the previous evening; that is from midnight until fifteen minutes after Mass had ended, the parishoner must not partake of anything other than water. David and my mother always did this and then we walked in from Ongare point to the Orange Hall, on empty stomachs so-as to be in a fasted 'State of Grace'; most times we only had to walk to the corner of the Main Road where we were picked up by the Boggis family or the Bergersen's who very kindly took us to Mass. The women and girls were required to have their heads covered with a hat or a mantilla, or in the worst case of forgetfullness that sometimes happened, simply wearing an unfolded handkerchief on their heads. Other Catholic families that we remember were the Rueggs, Morrie and Beth O'Flarhety, Leslie Hume, the Rosses, Wickhams, Casseys, Nevilles, Bergersens and the Pamments. Stephanie and several other Catholic kids made their First Holy Communions while we were at the KDV and this actually involved them being billetted in Waihi for a week and attending various religious classes at Saint Joseph's Convent. Stephanie was actually billetted with Stan and Vi Callaghan, and their children, Rosalee and Tony.
Most of the photographs that my parents took were at various community gatherings such as Christmas and invariably these events always centred around a few beers and a hangi. The photographs were taken using a standard Box Brownie camera, and at least there are enough of them to give a little of the spirit of how things were for some Kiwi families back in the 1950s All of my family have very special and warm memories of our childhood at the KDV, it was a moment in history which was more akin to the pioneering period of New Zealand's history rather than the mid-twentieth century. My family left the KDV mill camp on the 3 October 1952, and moved to a mine manager's house in 102 Rosemont Road. We lived in Waihi for the next 16 years, until my parents sold up, and once again moved...this time to Thames. The KDV Mill closed in 1957, and after all of the families had moved out and the gates were locked Clarry Bergersen stayed on and cleaned the place up. The Bay of Plenty Times actually sent a reporter out and Clarry gave him the history of the KDV.
KDV MILL NOMINAL ROLL
Eddie (Timber worker)
(about 2 kids in total)
Tommy (Timber worker)
(about 2 kids in total)
Norman (Timber worker)
(about 3 kids in total)
Clarry (Timber worker)
(about 4 kids in total)
Mr (Mill Manager)
(about 5 kids in total)
Barny (Singleman/Timber worker)
George (Singleman/Timber worker)
Goldie (Launch master)
Timmy (Timber worker)
(about 3 kids in total)
Mackie (Singleman/Timber worker)
Reg (Timber worker)
(about 4 kids in total)
|The Murray Family were living at the KDV in the 1940s. John (Jack) Leslie was the Manager at that time, and being a forestry chief, organised the logs coming off Matakana Island. His wife Ruth Murray was the office person for many years. Jack and Ruth organised Keith Hay, who had just started in Auckland, to come down and build more houses. Prior to working at the KDV Jack and Ruth worked in the bush in the Kauaeranga Valley near Thames. Jack was a bushman and Ruth a camp cook. Their experiences are described in Chapter 5 Camp Life and Companionship and Chapter 6 Women in the Bush in Duncan Mackay's book Working the Kauri - A social and photographic history of New Zealand pioneer kauri bushmen. published by Random Century 1991.
Jack and Ruth's children are now settled throughout New Zealand: Beverley (Kerikeri), Jacqueline ( Whangarei), Lorraine (Blenheim) and George (Kawakawa).