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Volume 11 (2018)

BOOMS FLAT

A Major Industrial Area for the Kauri Timber Co. in the Kauaeranga Valley

by Dave Wilton

INTRODUCTION

The author has been tramping in the Kauaeranga Valley area since the 1960s and has observed a large portion of the kauri logging infrastructure still existing at, and after, that time; which was only about 30 years after logging ceased in the valley. Over the past 10(+) years, the author has conducted a 'rolling' program of archaeological site-recording in the Valley, including the complete Kauaeranga tramway system and the Thames water race. This article describes sites identified and recorded around the Booms Flat area (the name 'Booms Flat' now applying to a DoC campground near the old Main Booms). Some of the individual sites and features were shown to the author by a member of the public - Ron Standfield.

The main logging, tramway and Main Booms areas were originally recorded in 2007-08. Updates have been submitted since then to reflect additional sites and features in the Booms Flat area, such as the log-hauling canals and Wainora Homestead. Sites more recently recorded include portions of the booms on the true left bank of the river, a log hauler site and the probable site of the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) headquarters camp near the Wainora stream. Other articles on The Billygoat Camp and tramway and The Dancing Camp Gumdiggers' Camp have appeared previously in The Treasury Journal.


Figure 1
Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 1 above: Logging map from Hayward (1978), superimposed on a topographic map background, showing logging infrastructure around Booms Flat. The close proximity of the tramway to the booms, and to the main river, is considered unlikely - major log drives would have inundated the tramway with water and huge logs.

A Brief History of Kauaeranga Kauri Logging.

Logging of kauri timber from the northern regions of NZ in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played a major part in the development of the colony, and, later, fledgling nation. Kauri timber also provided a very early source of export income. Mature kauri trees were of massive size, and their growing locations, in remote, rugged, bush-covered terrain, meant that innovative transportation methods had to be adopted to harvest them. There were two main methods of transporting logs over long distances: flotation, by means of natural waterways, assisted by water stored in dams; and tramways. Both methods were used in the Kauaeranga Valley.

The Thames goldfield was proclaimed open on 1st August 1867 and there was an immediate demand for timber. Initially, this could be satisfied by felling trees around the town and along the coast, but these sources soon dried up. The first major contract to mill kauri in the Thames area was let to C.J. Stone, the so-called 'Auckland millionaire', in 1871. Stone and his brother Robert had a 99-year lease and access to vast tracts of the Kauaeranga Valley area. The Stone brothers built a saw mill at Shortland, near the Thames wharf, and a huge set of chain booms across the river at the tidal limit of the Kauaeranga, near what is now the Thames racecourse. Both these projects took place in 1871. The cost of building the Parawai booms was £3,000, a huge sum for those times.

The principal means of getting the huge kauri logs out of the bush was to fell them into, or close to, a stream or river, and float or drive them out using water stored in dams. Booms were basically a giant screen across the river that halted the logs but let the water pass through. On high tide, logs were towed from the Parawai booms to the Shortland Mill for cutting, or to the Shortland wharf, where they were joined together into rafts and towed to Auckland.

In 1885, C.J. Stone died, and the enterprise began to slump. The cutting rights were purchased by the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) – established by a consortium of Melbourne-based businessmen. In 1888, the KTC took over the cutting rights to the Kauaeranga area, and the Shortland mill.

According to Hayward (1978 p.6), the KTC drove logs down the Kauaeranga River to the Parawai Booms until 1908. By then, farming was well established in the lower Kauaeranga Valley and farmers were understandably irate about their land and facilities being affected by log drives. Also, continual battering by logs had weakened the road bridge over the Kauaeranga, originally built near the race course. 1908 also saw a sharp decline in demand for kauri timber, and the KTC sold the Shortland mill, but retained the cutting rights to the Kauaeranga area.

To get the remaining kauri out of the Kauaeranga area, the KTC constructed a tramway from the Billygoat stream junction with the main river, down to Thames, which made the Parawai Booms redundant. Part of the scheme involved the construction of a new 'main booms' between the Wainora and Whangaiterenga streams, to collect logs driven from the main Kauaeranga dam, and dams on the numerous upstream tributaries. Work on the tramway commenced in 1913; however, it wasn't completed until 1920, due to the intervention of World War 1.

From 1920 until 1922, the main tramway terminated just downstream from the old Parawai booms, from where logs were towed by launch down the Kauaeranga River to the Shortland wharf. However, it was difficult to get logs under the road and railway bridges, and the tramway was extended through Totara to the Waihou River. This new terminus was near the junction of the Waipapa Creek and the Waihou.

The tramway system was operated under contract by brothers, Bill and Les Nankivell, with a staff of up to 15 men, who lived in a camp at the junction of Barney’s Creek - this camp site is yet to be found. They used two ex-NZ Railways 'D' class steam locomotives. These completed two round trips daily, uplifting logs from booms and branch lines en route. There were also two jiggers, used by the maintenance crew and by prime contractor Bert Collins.

The tramway operated until 1928, when the Kauaeranga area had effectively been logged out, and logging operations ceased. An attempt was made by residents of the Kauaeranga Valley to keep the tramway open for other purposes - this was referred to the Minister of Public Works, who agreed to investigate the matter, but did not intervene. The tracks were removed shortly afterwards.


Figure 2
Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 2 above: Topographic map of the Booms Flat area, showing GPS waypoints of kauri logging sites which have been located and recorded

KTC Headquarters Camp (Wainora)

The Wainora camp was the headquarters for the KTC prime contractor, Bert Collins, and he lived there with his wife Edie. The store was the source of supplies sent to remote bush camps higher up the valley by packhorse train. The area has been heavily modified by the creation of the existing Wainora campground, and there is heavy re-growth in the area, including large patches of blackberry. A rubbish tip and possible building piles or posts, were been found in the approximate area of the HQ camp, and it is considered likely that these belong to the camp. However, dating, and other, evidence is still being sought.


Figure 3: Artefacts found in the approximate area of the
KTC HQ camp, Wainora Stream area.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 4: Large iron artefact found
at possible KTC HQ camp site.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Wainora Homestead

There are extensive thickets of wild roses (both white and pink flowers) growing close to the road, west of the Wainora campground. A possible source of these is the homestead of George and Jessie Hawkins, which was located close to the Wainora stream in the 1920s (but apparently separate from the Collins headquarters camp). George was a sub-contractor for KTC, and Jessie (nee Adams) was the sole-charge teacher at Kauaeranga School from 1916 until she was married in 1920. A photo provided by Allan Berry shows that the Wainora homestead was more substantial than the normal temporary logging camp buildings, and had an extensive garden.


Figure 5: Wainora Homestead (20th January 1923)
showing Jessie Hawkins (nee Adams) with eldest
son Logan (photo provided by Allan Berry)
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 6: Wild roses near Wainora campground
(looking south along the existing road).
Click to enlarge the photo.

The probable site of the Wainora Homestead rubbish tip was reported to Coromandel Heritage Trust by Ron Standfield, a resident of Tauranga and long-term camper and explorer in the Kauaeranga Valley. This information was communicated to the author, who visited the site with Ron. The rubbish tip is on the eastern side of the existing road, opposite a large exotic tree (species unknown) which probably dates from about the 1970s. This is in the area of wild roses, which bloom extensively in November each year, but generally don't last after Christmas.

The site was able to be dated by the presence of two beer bottles dated "1921" and one dated "1925". Numerous items were found, including bottles, broken crockery and glass, a section of rail, cooking utensils (including a camp oven, which looks to be intact, but buckled) and sundry other household rubbish. It is considered likely that the rubbish tip was associated with the homestead, rather than the Collins camp complex, as the tip is north of the line of the tramway, and is consistent with the photo in Berry's book (taken looking towards the ridge leading to Table Mountain) whereas the Collins camp is shown in photos to be south of the tramway (Hayward 1978). However, the buildings were possibly close enough for the rubbish tip to be shared. Apparently the KTC bush camps were 'dry' (with respect to alcohol) but it is not clear whether this extended to the headquarters camp, nor the homesteads of married men!

Ron Standfield assessed the likely site of the homestead building as being on the existing road, in the vicinity of the large exotic tree. The author agrees with this, as it fits the photo in Berry (2007), which appears to be taken from about the tram lines looking north towards the ridge running west from Table Mountain.


Figure 7: Remains of cooking pot, crockery and bricks.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Log-Hauling Canals, Main Booms Area.

Historical photos taken in the Booms Flat area show a canal being used as a haul path from the main booms to the loading skids of the tramway. A survey was carried out to locate this canal, and to attempt to clarify the layout of the tramway infrastructure in the Booms Flat area.


Figure 8: Logs being hauled in a canal, from the Main Booms
to the main Kauaeranga tramway (Orwin, 2004)
Click to enlarge the photo.



Figure 9: Remains of canal near Catleys Campground.
There is an old log running parallel with the channel
at the top right, partly concealed by fern.
Click to enlarge the photo.

A search was commenced at the Main Booms, approx 50m south of the road, as it was considered that this would have been near the middle of the booms structure. Sections of canal were soon located, and the canal route was able to be followed, in many places, to Catley's campground, where it petered out, due to extensive modification (ground infilling and levelling). It was not possible to find any sign of the canal on the north side of the road, as the area is well overgrown by scrub and is very swampy in places. According to Dr Neville Ritchie, this is only the second industrial canal recorded in NZ; the other being at Kopuku open-cast coal mine, near Maramarua. Ron Standfield has since located several more sections of canal in the area.

Possible Log Hauler Site

A set of timber baulks, with iron fittings, was found approximately 50m west of Catleys Campground. This is possibly the timber frame for a steam hauler, presumably abandoned after the mechanical elements were removed and transported away from the area.


Figure 10: Steam hauler in vicinity of Main Booms
(Tudor Collins photo, Matakohe Kauri Museum)
Click to enlarge the photo.



Figure 11: Steam hauler, Matakohe Kauri Museum.
Haulers were usually mounted on skids, so they could
be 'self-propelled', i.e. haul themselves along.
They frequently had a temporary cab built over them
to protect machinery and operator from the elements (see Fig 10).
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 12: Possible log-hauler frame,
near Catley's Campground
Click to enlarge the photo.



Figure 13: Possible log-hauler frame,
near Catley's Campground.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Main Booms

Remains of the main booms can be seen on the 30-minute Booms historic walk, close to Booms Flat campground. There are several sections of old log, joined together by steel wire rope. Detailed searches conducted by Ron Standfield, and the author, have located several more remnants of the Main Booms, including the remains of piles in the main Kauaeranga River, and numerous piles (including one full-height) towards the true left end of the structure. The true right end of the structure is still under investigation, as is the actual route of the tramway through the Booms Flat area (see next section).


Figure 14: Main Booms, 1920s.
(Tudor Collins photo, Matakohe Kauri Museum)
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 15: Close-up of main booms, showing
details of construction.
(Tudor Collins photo, Matakohe Kauri Museum)

Figure 16: Remains of main booms, visible
on historic walk near Booms Flat campground.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 17: Main booms piles on true right bank of the
Kauaeranga River, easily accessible from the 30-minute Booms
Historic Walk.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 18: Remains of piles near 'true left'
end of main booms structure, including one
near-intact pile (approx 2.5m in height).
Ron Standfield provides perspective.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 19: Piles in series, near 'true left' bank.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Probable Route of Tramway through Main Booms Site

The exact layout of the main booms, tramway and tramway worker's camp in the Booms Flat area is not clear – presumably the camp and tramway would have been physically well separated from the booms, but the 'true right' end of the booms structure has not yet been located. The main Kauaeranga tramway basically followed the route of the existing road on the true right bank of the river, from the railhead near the Atuatumoe (Billygoat) Stream junction, until Hoffman's Pool, where it crossed to the true left bank.

Hayward's map of the area (Figure 1) shows the tramway route coincidental with the existing road; however, it is unlikely that rails would have been laid in an area subject to periodic inundation by water and logs. The author and Ron Standfield discussed this many times - Ron follows the orthodox line, that the road and tramway used identical routes. According to Bert Collins, the KTC prime contractor, the booms were 29 chains (580m) long (as per his written recollections, recorded by A.H. Reed). This means they would have stretched to the edge of the high ground to the north of the flat area in the valley. This would mean that the tramway, and presumably the tramway workers camp, could have been on the very edge of the flat area, or on the top of the escarpment to the north (the route now taken by the three-phase power line running to Coroglen). The length of the booms, in terms of remnants located to date, and the length according to Bert Collins are portrayed on the Google Earth view below. This also shows a GPS waypoint for a 'top' - the upper branches of a kauri, discarded after a felled tree was cut into lengths for driving - which, in this case, must have been picked up by the waters of the drive and made it down to the main booms. Being of no use, it was abandoned, and still remains, adjacent to the Booms historical walk, near Catley's campground.

The fact that the kauri 'top' is only about 20 metres from the road, indicates the road would almost certainly have been subject to inundation during a log drive, and would not have been a safe position for a tramway. The author is of the view that the tramway was routed well to the north-west of the Booms Flat area; however, archaeological evidence will be required to confirm this. The location of the Nankivell Brothers (tramway operators) camp on Barney's Creek, the tramway itself, or the 'true' right end of the booms structure would be ideal.


Figure 20: Google Earth view of Booms Flat area.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Summary

The history and archaeology of the Kauaeranga Valley have been extensively surveyed and recorded (see References). This included considerable input from members of the public, e.g. long-term Kauaeranga resident and tramper Neil Campbell, who contributed to Owen Wilkes' work. However, there is still a rich variety of logging sites (and other site types) that remain unrecorded. The author has found input from members of the public, such as trampers, hunters and farmers, invaluable; and it is considered unfortunate that there isn't a more systematic way of capturing this tacit knowledge and channelling it into more publicly-available information. The small amount of information which is passed on to someone with the time and skills to survey and formally record sites tends to be ad hoc and almost accidental (e.g. verbal messages passed through multiple parties). A Blog or some other sort of on-line system, would be of benefit.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to acknowledge assistance and input from members of the public, with good knowledge and a strong interest in local history - in particular, Ron Standfield. Many of these individuals are effectively amateur archaeologists, without even realising it!

References:

  • Berry, A. (2007). The Kauaeranga Valley, Allan Berry, Thames.
  • Hayward, B. W. (1978). Kauaeranga Kauri, Lodestar Press, Auckland.
  • Isdale, A. M. (1977). Collected Notes: The Kauaeranga River, Thames.
  • Mahoney, P. (1998). The Era of the Bush Tram in New Zealand, IPL Books, Wellington.
  • Orwin, J. (2004). Kauri: Witness to a Nation's History, New Holland, Auckland.
  • Reed, A. H. (1953). The Story of the Kauri, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington.
  • Wilkes, O. (1997). Inventory of Historic Logging Sites In and Around the Kauaeranga Valley, Department of Conservation.



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