There was a houseparty at Woodlands. During the afternoon the young ladies had been out riding, but now they were gathered in the lovely dining room for the evening meal. One of the girls said, "We met a woman with such an interesting face in the village, John. A Mrs. McNichol. I'd like to paint her."
"I've a great admiration for that woman," said the gentle Mrs. Gordon. "She gets things done."
"Yes," said John Gordon. "Her husband was one of the drovers who took cattle to Auckland in the early days of the estate. I guess it was tough droving the half-wild cattle along unfenced roads and unbridged swamps. McNichol later started an auctioneering business, but he was only 37 years old when he died. Mrs. McNichol has been left to raise the kids by herself. She's doing a great job."
"When he died, the people round gave 300 pounds to help the family. The money was used to educate the children but now she has bought the Primrose's place in Hukanui." chimed in one of the guests.
"She does a lot to help the Maori folk too." added Mrs.Gordon.
John chuckled. "Did you hear the latest, my dear? Mrs. McNichol takes a church service at the pa each Sunday morning," he explained to his guests, "and a fortnight ago when she went, there weren't any men to be seen. She discovered they were all practicing for the races. The race course starts behind McNichol's house, and goes across Piako Road up the old Woodlands track opposite the village. Nearly all the young men were on the course. Every Maori man in the district has a horse that he hopes will win on Saturday. So Mrs. McNichol put a notice on her gate; 'No Maori admitted on Sundays. When she went to the pa for her service, someone had written; 'No Pakehas admitted on Sunday'. She just pulled down the notice and went on with her service. Everyone laughed, and they loved her more than ever."
"The only one in the district who does more for the Maori people is my husband." said Mrs. Gordon.
"I picked up a notice for the races." remarked one of the girls. "The King of the Maori people is to present the prizes."
"Did you notice the fifth condition?" asked one of the men as they glanced at the poster; and he read, "Jockeys must wear trousers in all events."
There's no liquor to be taken onto the grounds." observed another man.
"Yes," remarked John, "King Tawhiao is very anxious to keep drink from his young men. He knows the harm it does."
"Listen to rule No. 3," said Bill, and he read, "Men who have taken much drink will not be allowed on this course. If any man disobeys this rule, he will bring the Whip of the club down upon him."
"Are you going to run any of your horses?" asked one of the older guests.
"No," answered his host, "but all the shepherds are going to try their luck."
"Hukanui Race meeting," read Bill. "Where does the Hukanui come from? It doesn't seem to be the name of any of the pa."
"Well, no," answered John, "in George Pritchard's survey of 1869 there was a big pa, Karamu Pa, beside the cemetery, and another on Ormond approached by a causeway across the swamp. The pa across the road from Ormond was built a little later. The main pa, Waihiu, was across the Kamakorau stream from the village not really very far from Woodlands homestead along the road that the Waikato Swamp Association formed to get a refund of half the purchase price of the property. It was to go from Taupiri to the Thames goldfields. But even before the war, the Maori had started to move out and were living on the better country where the village is. Hukanui is actually the district."
"Is it called Hukanui because of the heavy frosts?" asked another guest. "It could be, you know, because the frosts are heavier than we get in Cornwall."
"Maori place names often tell a story," answered Mr. Gordon. "You may have noticed that in the bush round here, Keikeis (Astelia Cunninghami) grow very well indeed. They are the principal food of the little bush rat, so that animal was more plentiful than usual, though there were never very many anywhere. They had quite well defined runs, sometimes going for miles through the bush and the Maori caught them fairly easily by setting spring traps on their runways. One Autumn, they had caught more than usual and put them in a pit till it was time for the feast. There must have been an early frost that year, for in the morning their warm breath above the pit looked like a white cloud. So the name of Hukanui."
On Saturday morning the Woodlands party made ready to go to the Hukanui Races. The ladies, with long white gowns and big floppy hats, went in the waggonette and the gig, but several of the men rode. There were always plenty of horses to be had at Woodlands.
The Hukanui Race Course was a gay and colourful scene with the crowd of men and women, Maori and Pakeha, prepared to enjoy the holiday. Little boys ran here and there getting into everything, but the girls were kept close by mama, their brightly coloured parasols shielding their pretty faces. King Tawhiao was an impressive figure, very smartly dressed in a black suit and top hat, though some of his followers were wearing their native mats or blankets. The races were exciting. Everyone seemed to be yelling and calling, surging into the track, so that it looked as if there wasn't going to be room for the horses to pass.
At the end of the second race, Sam, one of the Joodlands shepherds, came over to the group of women putting out their lunch on a tressle table under one of the trees. He hoped to impress Nell, one of the young guests, by his riding.
"It's not fair," he grumbled, "my 'Trixie' can easily beat Roto's grey, but they told me the race was four times round the course so I was holding her in; they finished the race at three rounds when Roto was ahead."
Nell sympathized sweetly, but the others laughed.
"Never mind," said Mrs. Gordon, "it's only for fun."
After the last race, Mrs. Gordon said, "I think we will go home now. Most people will just stay here until it's time for the dance, but Woodlands is so close that we can have a good roast dinner in comfort."
"I'd like a wash too," murmured Nell, "its been so hot that I'm afraid I may have got sun on my face."
The other ladies offered their sympathy, and each had a special recipe designed to keep its owner's face delicately pink and white.
The evening dance in the old hall was fun. It was only six years since King Tawhiao had officially declared peace between Maori and Pakeha, and only the year before that, the much-feared Te Kooti had forgotten his hatred enough to enter his horse in the Kihikihi Races. Some of the ladies from the "big House" had felt a little diffident about mingling with the Maori folk, but here in this little district was a gay comradeship between the races that really worked. Children dropped off to sleep and were carried out to their waggons, or covered with a blanket in the corner of the supper-room while their parents danced away or just chatted to friends whom they met only on such occasions as this.
As dawn approached, the music ceased, and horses were caught from the paddock behind the hall. Tired men and women harnessed up, and for a while the roads echoed to the creak of harness, the clop, clop of hooves, and the cheerful "good-byes" as the Hukanui Races finished for the year.
In 1887, there was a profit of 3 Pounds 12 shillings!
"What shall we do with this money?" the Maori wondered. "Something that will help both our races." they said and the money was donated to the recently re-constructed Hamilton library.
The years passed slowly. For Mr. John Gordon, they were busy years. Times of triumph, and times of disaster, but always there was something new to be attempted.
In the winter of 1892, Mrs Gordon was expecting her second baby. It had been a difficult winter, with rain, rain and then more rain until much of the estate was under water. In the wet and cold, the men dug drains to try to release the impounded water without consulting any over-all plan, and these unsurveyed drains often caused flooding further down. Peat that had been burned away was lower than the surrounding land, and here, too the water stayed in treacherous pools.
Worried about his stock, Mr. Gordon was even more worried about his wife. In spite of the love and care by which she was surrounded, she seemed to be getting weaker every day. The mid-wife arrived and taking one look at the patient said, "I think you had better send for a doctor."
How grateful John Gordon was then for the telephone line that the N.Z. Association had erected in 1885. Often he had growled about it when he and his men had to turn out, usually in wet windy weather, to fix the poles or mend the wires, but now a message went to a specialist in Auckland, and a special train was chartered to bring him to Taupiri. As soon as they knew he was on his way, the best horses left Woodlands to bring him the rest of the way - the road was quite impassable for the gig or even the waggon, so it is just as well that even an Auckland specialist could ride a horse.
The baby was born in the early evening, but gentle Mrs. Gordon slipped quietly away. "I am sorry," said the specialist to the sorrowful husband. "We just don't know enough to save these mothers."
As he paid the specialist's fee and the 20 Pounds for the special train, Mr Gordon wondered if his wife would have been saved if he had lived nearer town.
"But ladies don't go to hospital to have their babies." remonstrated the mid-wife. "They are much better at home."
Early in the following year, George Powell, the head-stockman who lived at "Ormond" (which the N.Z Land Associationhad purchased from Mr. deVere Hunt) was up at Woodlands discussing the new Shorthorn bulls. In October of the previous year (1892), the Waikato Agricultural and Pastoral Association had held its first show in Claudelands, but it had been too soon after his wife's death for Mr Gordon to be interested. This year they planned to exhibit in several classes. For the next ten years Woodlands shorthorn cows and bulls attracted great attention, and many prizes, at every Show. The Leicester rams and ewes were usually highly successful too. The horses were to be entered too.
As the stockman was leaving he asked, "Did you notice that the Hamilton Borough Council has asked the Kirikiriroa Road Board to contribute half of the cost of 450 Pounds for the Heapy Terrace Culvert? They'll get it too, if we don't have someone from this end of the riding on the Board." and he looked significantly at the manager.
"I'm too busy." John Gordon replied quickly. "It will take a whole day each meeting to be a trustee on the Road Board."
But that night in his den he began to consider the matter more carefully.
"The Board collects about 680 Pound in rates," he mused, "and this year 134 ratepayers out of the 230 in the area haven't paid their rates though most are only between 1/- and 17/6. Woodlands pays almost half of the rates collected, and what do we get?" As he considered the roads and bridges in his area, he decided it was indeed his duty to serve on the Kirikiriroa Road Board.
Hauling Out The Logs
Again in 1894 the question of a contribution from the Kirikiriroa Road
Board towards the Heapy Terrace Bridge came up.
"About forty ratepayers have signed the petition." the Trustees were told as they considered the matter. "The children from Claudlands must use that bridge to go to school, and so does everyone who wants to cross over the river to go to town."
Mr. Cox who was the manager of the other big estate, Freshfield, which stretched on the opposite side of the road from the Hukanui Soldiers' allotments to Taupiri was also on the Kirikiriroa Road Board. But the Freshfield homestead was much nearer Taupiri than Woodlands, so when he spoke in favour of granting the loan, John Gordon replied, "Gentlemen, before we offer to assist the Hamilton Borough with their expenses, it would be wise to consider our own. Of those who signed the petition, probably not one pays more than two Pounds in rates, and the rest of us could not use that bridge because when we want to go to Hamilton we have to go to Taupiri - if we can get there - and then go by train. We have 30 bridges of our own to look after, and how many of them are unsafe for traffic? This year I have 12 new tenants on the Woodlands property, and their names have been entered on the valuation roll. When I engage a new man, I want to be able to tell him he can at least get to Taupiri."
"If he can read, he'll see the frequent notices in the 'Waikato Times' -such and such a bridge on the Hukanui Road is unsafe for wheel traffic." laughed one of the other Trustees.
"Yes," said John. "That's bad for Woodlands too. And advertising is also expensive. It would be better to stick a notice on the bridge itself."
The rest of the committee agreed to this, though they did not think it would be difficult to get suitable workers for Woodlands. The wages were good, and now the affairs of the N.Z. Loan and Mercantile which handled the business affairs for the estate, seemed to be straightened out, a man could be reasonably sure he could keep his job if he worked efficiently.
"Mr. Isaac Coates has started a flax mill in Hukanui," added John Gordon. "We will need to improve the road so that he can get his stuff out."
"Dressed fibre is selling at 23 Pounds 10 shillings a ton," observed the Chairman. "And Coates says his mill will turn out one and a half tons daily. That should be 450 tons a year which makes it worth 10,575 Pounds. We really will be able to improve the roads if we get some extra rates out of it. Talking of flax. Does anyone know how Nathan Rumney is?" he asked.
"He's improving." answered Mr Cox. "Thank God he can stand up now, though it will be a long time before he can walk freely".
"What happened to him?" asked one of the others.
"Didn't you see the report in the Times?" answered Mr Gordon. "He was taking a load of flax to Taupiri, and near T.H. White's farm, one of the dray wheels went into a pothole. The flax slipped - its beastly stuff to carry, you know and Nathan was pitched out. They thought at first that he would be paralysed from the waist down."
"I'm glad he's not." added Mr Cox. "Nathan is a good man on our Sports Committee, and besides, how do we stand when accidents are due to the bad state of our roads?"
"What nonsense!" objected the Chairman. "People use the roads at their own risk."
Rushes ‘an Raupo, To cows an’ Clover by Edith Williamson