ALONE tractor putters from Seddon Road, the dust trail following its waning whirr. Dust? From land once likened to an inland sea? All around the lush pastures touch the horizon... the great Piako Swamp, 1984. 
Back in the forties the manuka forest reached for the sky. Hawks nested in the vegetation and rabbits multiplied on the ground. At night the terrain was blanketed in fog. In summer the black peat smouldered, the tiniest ember sparked off large-scale fires. 
The tale of the pioneers who toiled on the peat soils spans more than a century. The transformation of the Waikato "fens" into fertile farmland began with the Land Company and still continues today.
About 12,000 years ago the Waikato River left its previous course through the Hinuera Valley to the Hauraki Gulf and broke into the Hamilton basin. At that time erosion of the central plateau during the last glaciation loaded the river with debris, sand and fine gravel.
In the process of filling the basin with debris, the river kept blocking itself up and following many different courses at different times. Along these courses ridges of sand and gravel were laid down and the original drainage pattern was upset. Shallow lakes began to form. These lakes were left behind when the river followed its present course.
Around the shores of the lake peat began to form. Eventually these became peat bogs and the peat grew inwards towards the centre of the lake forming deep peat bogs.1 Thus the Piako Swamp was formed.
The Waverley Islands block subdivided by the Land Association consisted of some 1005 hectares. Of this, 243 hectares were rolling country surrounded by peat swamp. The " islands" snaked and curved their way through the swamp-hence the tag.
Waverley Islands' first owner, Mr Joseph Barugh, sold his land for 3400 pounds to William Higgins around 1904. The parcel of land changed hands several times and each owner concentrated on developing the rolling country.
The swampland remained virtually untouched until the property was split into smaller farms. 
In 1916 Mr Frederick Lovelock purchased Waverley Islands and had managers on the farm until 1925 when the family shifted to Eureka. Mr Ivan Lovelock, his son, said that the rolling country was sown in oats and grass and the rest of the property was peat swamp, covered in manuka and over­run by rabbits. 
Stuck out in the swamp, the Lovelocks were in an unenviable position. Their homestead was the only house on Waverley Islands, situated roughly in the middle of the property. The main access was from Piako Road. But there was also a track which led past the railway houses into Eureka. To use it they paid a fee of 10 shillings a year. 
Cultivating their land was a matter of trial and error. The manuka was cut down and burnt. Before any ploughing could be done they "bagged" their horses' feet. Three or four sacks were tied around the animals' legs and this extended their width and prevented the horses from sinking into the bog. They also milked 135 cows with sharemilkers and ran some sheep and cattle. The chaff from the oats was sold to nearby stock farms. 
They had no power or telephone in the house. Candles, kerosene lamps and wood stoves had to suffice. Manuka was cut down for kindling.
Mr Lovelock said he used to hike five kilometres to the Eureka store if there was some emergency at home. He also collected the mail from the post office for the six families living near the station then. 
They were friendly with the railway folk-their closest neighbours. The porters at the station often came over in the evenings for a game of cards.
The depression years were a grim time for the family. They had to mortgage their farm and Mr Francis Burley eventually took over the property in the thirties. Part of the land was sold to Mr Mervyn Buckley, while the remainder was bought by William Saunders in 1951. Maber Lands acquired the Saunders property in the sixties and the land was later subdivided and sold off in small lots. Some of the old railway houses were purchased by Maber Lands and placed on the property for use by sharemilkers. Most of them were pulled down later. 
The Buckley family moved to the northwest corner of the Islands. By 1946 they owned 284 hectares. 
"Everything that was not hard country grew nothing but tall tea-tree and there were millions of rabbits," recalled Mr Claude Buckley. The Buckley family still resides on Waverley Islands. 
 One tiny plot of land, Chinaman's Hill, was in good pasture then. It had previously been leased to a Chinese man for twelve months. Part of his contract had been to sow it in pasture while he grew vegetables there. 
This knoll of 16 hectares was surrounded by manuka and peat. Most of the stock made their way to Chinaman's Hill as that was the only decent pasture and there were few fences up then. 
When the Buckleys.arrived, their home was only partially built. "That first year was quite a struggle," said Mr Buckley. They milked 30 cows and nearly starved to death. But they progressed and milked 130 by the third season. They also experimented with farming techniques as no-one knew how to farm peat economically. 
The Buckleys tried applying lime, potash and phosphate on a forty-hectare section. Most people thought they were pouring money down the drain. The work was hard; although a contractor carried the material to the site, they still had to do the rest of the work by hand, moving the materials from the truck to the spreading trailer. But it was worth it. By that autumn they had a field full of clover. 
But the peat was not their only problem. 
"We were surrounded by wilderness and the constant danger of fires coming through with the tall scrub nearby," recalled Mr Buckley. "There were always fires. We were in the middle of the swamp and they could get us from anywhere."
In the summer months the peat became so dry that a carelessly flung cigarette butt or a few sparks from passing trains used to set it alight. And, once the peat caught alight, the fires raged all season as the peat burned under the surface. Only the winter rains put them out. 
"At Christmas time there were always peat fires going," Mr Robert Stokes remembered. " In February there was that much smoke you couldn't see an inch in front of you. With the heat you only needed a beer bottle lying on the peat and the heat of the sun was enough to set it alight when the peat was dry. 
"And there were terrible fogs. Mr Casey (a local farmer), went to leave Morrinsville to come home one night in the fog and he found himself driving round a farmer's paddock. He'd gone the wrong way. With the smoke it was more like smog".
Long-time Eureka resident Mr Frank Hinton said: "1 remember as a boy having it instilled into us that no way do you build a fire during the dry period. Once my sister walked into what she thought was a soil paddock but she had walked into a part that was on fire and had her feet burnt." 

Crushing ti-tree on the Eureka Swamp in the late 1950s.
Crushing ti-tree on the Eureka Swamp in the late 1950s.

Crushing ti-tree on the Eureka Swamp in the late 1950s. 

Although the fires did not spread at a terrific rate, once they struck pasture land they became creeping fires as the small animals went rampaging around on fire themselves, trying to escape. This spread the fire and they could not be put out easily. Grass fires were fought with sacks. 
Even though a fire may have been put out on the surface, if it had seeped to the peat it burned underground. Often the whole neighbourhood was out fighting fires in summer and the locals labelled them 'Piako Road Picnics'. "If we had not had those diversions I don't think we'd have had the necessary stimulation to continue developing. Once the land was developed to a certain point the fires could be held back," said Mr Buckley. 
Over the years Eureka has coped with fogs, fires and floods and one morning in 1952 it even withstood a tornado. 
At 9.15am on November 14 that year some of Eureka's farmers were going about their normal day's work. While making ensilage some of the residents noticed an unusual cloud formation over the swamp. A long tail of swirling cloud seemed to be reaching down from the sky but stopped well short of the ground. 
Eureka's residents watched in amazement as the clouds nearby tossed about and the tail disappeared and reappeared. A very thick tail began to reach out from the clouds towards the earth accompanied by a distinct roar. 
The cloud began to revolve faster and faster and the noise grew louder as it dropped rapidly. With a terrifying noise it hit the middle of the swamp and then began to sweep in a southwesterly direction. 
With alarming intensity and a deafening roar, the tornado flung itself along the swamp towards the cultivated land. It swept across several farms in the district, but fortunately the damage was confined to uprooted trees, wrecked hedges and fences. Only a couple of buildings were damaged. 
The tornado jumped across the main highway, flinging fences and gates in all directions as it continued across farmlands before retreating back into the sky. 
The roar of the wind was deafening as the ominous cloud swept along. 
Settlers watched in disbelief as it wreaked havoc-huge trees which had withstood gales and storms for years were smashed like matchwood. 
That day the skies over Eureka were very dark and the settlement was lashed by rain.

Eureka 1874-1984, Published by The Eureka Express