A CHALLENGING scene confronted Eureka's pioneer farmers as they settled in the community at the turn of the century. While the Land Association had developed the land in the vicinity of the homestead block, the greater portion of the countryside was still untamed.
The early settlers had their work cut out for them. Most of their lots were merely ring fenced and in winter were wet and swampy. Rushes grew wild on many properties.
Farming was a matter of trial and error then. Through sweat and experimentation they gradually developed their land.
Prior to cultivation, rushes and tree stumps had to be uprooted. All the work was done with draught horses, the farmer trudging behind. On many farms the rushes were a metre high and had to be grubbed with a spade. Ploughing was no easy task. It took days to plough just one paddock -the farmer walking many miles behind his horse and plough. Paddocks were much larger then and fencing with post and wire was a slow and arduous process. Lotus Major was the popular variety of grass sown as it grew well on low fertility soils.
Fertiliser was brought to Eureka Station by train. The heavy jute bags used to be delivered to the farms by Mr John Hooper who operated a carting business in the twenties.
There were few veterinarians on call but locals remember a man called Murphy from Morrinsville. All through the thirties Mr Murphy was a familiar sight in his old two-seater car. He toured the countryside pedalling his various remedies for stock complaints. Sadly, he was never heard from again once veterinarian clubs started in the early forties.
He had no qualification but understood stock, according to Eureka farmer Mr Wally Pollock. He had a good range of drenches for cows. One favourite was a mixture of ginger, Epsom salts and molasses, generally given to cows as a booster after calving.
"He used to mix Candy's crystals and that made a good-looking drench", Mr Pollock noted. "He must have had some chemistry, though a lot of them may have been herbal remedies." In early times cows were milked by hand in walkthrough sheds. By 1910 milking machines were being used but they ran on kerosene. "We used to heat the engine up with a blow lamp so that it was hot enough," said Mr Norman McClennan, formerly of Eureka. "Then, when the kerosene came in it formed a gas and if you were lucky, the motor started."
Cows had to be leg-roped and washed individually. A large herd then was around 100 cows and four people were needed to milk them.1 The sheds were concreted only where the milking took place-sometimes the cows had to wade through mud up to their teats. 2 Wood fires and chip heaters supplied heating in the sheds in those early days.
When the milk was taken to the factory the residue from the cream, the whey, was taken back to the farms and fed to pigs. But once the factory at Eureka shut down, whole milk was taken to the factory at Matangi and slowly the pig industry disappeared.
A contractor came every day to Eureka to pick up the milk and there were pick-up points all along the roadside. There was a depot at Friedlander and Schollum Roads and one opposite the hall.
Once milk tankers came to collect the milk the regular evening gatherings for the farmers came to an end. At first the collections were planned by the tanker drivers but now the runs are charted by computers.
Haymaking before the fifties was a real feature of Eureka's community life.
"We all pulled together for haymakirtg-it was a pooling of resources-the farmers all co-operated with each other," said long-time Eureka local, Mr Maurice Duncan. " It involved horse-drawn mowers, horse-drawn implements and hay turners, hay rakes, various hay sweeps and stackers. We used to lift the hay onto the stacks which were built by hand."
As the farmers helped each other cut their hay, their wives always provided a magnificent lunch for the haymaking gangs. As the work was often near Christmas there was quite a festive atmosphere to the proceedings.
" It used to take two days to make a stack of hay-a fairly slow process," recalled Mr Duncan. "As time went on the introduction of hydraulically operated machinery meant the farmer did his own haymaking in quarter of the time. The haybaler was introduced about 1946 and that's when communal haymaking stopped."
That communal aspect of farming life has almost disappeared in Eureka today. Modern technology has made the farmer independent of his neighbour.
Herringbone-and later, rotary-milking sheds enabled farmers to milk 200 cows in half the time it used to take to milk 100. The quality of milk improved as well. The numbers of stock carried on farms increased with the introduction of artificial breeding and herd testing. Enriched soils also stepped up stock rates. Calving, unlike the Murphy era, is like a factory operation now. With synchronized mating, cows calve in seven weeks or calving can be induced.3
With mechanisation, one farmer is able to do the work that used to take three. To cope with the extra workload he now hires contractors instead of calling on a neighbour.
The introduction of electric fences in the 1960s had a tremendous impact, as they decreased the time and effort spent on erecting fences. They also decreased the farmer's costs.
Sharemilkers and farm workers have played a large part in the making of Eureka. Mr Pollock related their contribution:
Sharemilking is a system unique to New Zealand and has been the first step into ownership for many of the present settlers in Eureka. In earlier days of big families the annual sharemilking exodus made big changes to the school roll. One season 10-12 years ago eleven families left Eureka. Of course they were replaced but it does show something of the changing situation in our district.
In earlier days, 33.5% was the main sharemilking system, then came the 50:50 system, 29%, 39% and latterly the contract milking system, based on " X" cents per kilogram of milkfat.
The 50:50 system is usually the last rung in the sharemilking system which leads to farm ownership. Many of our present settlers came to the district as sharemilkers and then purchased farms. Others left the district and took large herds to other districts and became owners in many parts of New Zealand.
Sharemilkers from Eureka are known to be spread from Kaitai to Hokitika.
At one time Maber's farm-now Ammann's, Rae's, Buckley's, Gordon's and Chalmer's-ran a herd of 700 cows milked by the McLaggan family plus four or five boys, one of whom was usually a Japanese farm trainee.
Robert and Bev Kimber have also had a series of farm trainees on their farm. Through the efforts of the Eureka people the fame of the district has spread internationally, Mr Pollock said.
Over on the Waverley Islands side of Eureka, the greatest changes to the farming scene came in the seventies.
Until the fifties the farmers at Waverley Islands had concentrated on farming the rolling country. The peatland was largely untouched. But gradually the settlers crushed and burned off the manuka and the land was drained. At first the land was stocked with sheep but later dairying took over.
Good farming practices improved the soil. Research stations helped the farmers to understand the problems of peat farming. Twenty years ago the lack of copper and selenium in the soil was a real headache for farmers on the peat. This was later overcome with copper and selenium injections, fertiliser and drenches. Management of the land improved as they understood the need for pasture renewal. The phosphate level of the soil was now at an acceptable level for good pasture growth, but farmers were still struggling to attain ideal lime and potash levels.4 Another problem peat farmers faced was that of creating adequate access to paddocks through races and gateways. Peat had to be properly drained before a good road could be formed or a race built.
Mr Brian Gordon, who has been at Waverley Islands since the seventies, maintains that the pressure on the farmer is still as great but the workload has been lightened because of mechanization.
In fact farming today has become a business-a finely tuned one, according to Eureka farmer Mr Bob Appleton. Young farmers today are far more educated than their predecessors. They can go to technical colleges or universities to acquire the knowledge Eureka's pioneers gained by learning from their mistakes.
In Eureka a farm cadet scheme has been operating for the last 15 years5. The cadets are placed on farms and virtually serve a four-year apprenticeship. At present there are about 500 cadets in the Waikato on the scheme.
While on the scheme they are shifted around various farms and also attend courses at technical institutes. At the end of their apprenticeship they graduate with a trade certificate and are fully trained in every aspect of farming.
They can go to a lending institution to borrow enough money to buy a herd to go sharemilking. Through sharemilking the former cadets are able to build up their assets so that they can eventually purchase their owh farm.
The pioneers, despite their hard work, were usually short of cash. Farming was not a very profitable occupation then. Something was always required-fencing materials, seed, manure. Most of them took on contract work of some sort to supplement their incomes.6
Some took on carting work; others tried for roading or drainage contracts.
The work was tough and usually had to be done by hand-digging drains or shovelling metal on roads.
Until about 1910 a timber mill also operated at Eureka. Tyson's Mill was situated on Hunter Road near the intersection with the Cambridge-Morrinsville Road. The mill provided another source of work for the locals.
There was a large pine plantation behind the mill and Mr Tyson used draught horses to uproot the trees. He moved around the neighbourhood with his equipment buying trees and chopping them down. The timber was sold to local farmers for building purposes.'
There were nine workers at the mill, according to Mr Norman McClennan who worked there for 18 months. As the trees were cut down the logs were pulled into the mill with a winch and wire rope, he explained. Eventually it burnt down and the land was sold. When the Nixon family shifted on to the property in 1925, all that remained of the mill was a big heap of sawdust as high as a house.8
Eureka Transport also began in the twenties as a sideline to the Hooper family's farm . Mr John Hooper said his father started the business when they grew potatoes on the farm. They used to cart the vegetables into Hamilton and deliver them around town.
They began the carrying business with just a horse and waggon. For the potatoes they received five shillings a sugar bag. They also delivered manure to farms and were paid 18 pence a ton. As the business expanded they purchased a small truck.
By 1923 they had begun collecting bobby calves from the surrounding districts and bought a two-ton truck for the job. The business was still run from the farm at that time. As Hooper Road was just a track then, chains had to be fitted on the vehicles moving in and out of the farm. The road was finally metalled in 1926.
Mr John Hooper carted calves from Tauwhare, Eureka, Motumaoho, Newstead, Tamahere, Bruntwood and Matangi, picking up the animals four days a week. The calves were taken to Matangi Station and then railed to the meatworks at Horotiu and Westfield.
During the twenties drovers also operated in the district. All cattle were taken to the Frankton sales by drovers as trucks began carrying stock only in the forties.
Mr Mick Bowler, who operated in the Eureka area, lived on the corner of Woodside Road and the main highway. ''Sitting astride his horse, with his trusted dogs to help him, he guided the stock into Hamilton," said Mr Hooper. There was little traffic on the roads then and sometimes Mr Bowler handled 20 to 30 head of stock.
By 1949 the Hooper business became known as Eureka Transport. In 1928 Mr Hooper left Eureka and the family continued to run the concern. They took on a contract to cart fat cattle to Horotiu in the forties.
As the company grew a depot was opened on Hinton's Road; by this time Mr Charles (Bill) Edwards who married Mr Hooper's sister, Minny, was in charge of the company. When they moved to Hamilton in 1975 the family at Eureka continued to run the business. In 1980 the business was finally sold and the company folded a few years later.
From small beginnings the family concern prospered for sixty years.
Sitting comfortably in his home in Hamilton Mr John Hooper said with a touch of nostalgia: "I often think back to those days-the best time of our lives. We had to work hard but we were better off for it".