A well-known Eurekan. Well he grew up here and thought he’d be a farmer. But WWII took him overseas, and when he came back the authorities had other ideas for him. He came back and built the second hall in 1968, but Tom Muir’s real exploits were created in Hamilton.
Now 94, Tom is living a high-up life in one of the penthouse apartments on top of The Cascades, which itself is sited on top of one of the highest hills in Hamilton. His wife Shirley was, until recently, a fellow apartment dweller, but now needs more care and has moved down a floor or two to the resthome area.
Tom has long been a mine of information about the early development of Eureka, the creation of his father’s farm there, and how his farming aspirations were dashed, and turned him into becoming a builder of significant edifices and many houses in Hamilton and surrounding towns. And his continued interest in local history, plus squirrel-like tendencies with paper records have supplied the Waikato Museum with a treasure trove of documents.
Tom’s father Jack moved to Eureka from the King Country in 1919, having survived 3 years in France with a unit hauling explosives up to the front lines. His brother Joe had been farming here since 1914 and had married Violet Hunter. Jack ‘took on’ a 50ha block of scrub and peat which ran from the ‘sandy drain’ on Schollum Road down to the railway line. Joe farmed the adjoining block until he moved to set up the Shell Petrol Station in Thames Street Morrinsville around 1920.
Initially there were no boundary fences and Jack split bluegum posts at nearby Hunters Bush – 3 per chain (22 yards) for 80 chains (1 mile), a total of 240 posts. At first he built himself a whare, where he was joined by his fiancée, later wife Muriel. To quote Tom’s speech at his 90th birthday party “On her engagement Mum took a train from Auckland to Hamilton, and stayed at the Amadale Hotel in Alma Street. She then took a train to Eureka Station, from where she walked for 600 metres on a stony road to the Big Drain, where she turned left and walked another mile to Dad’s whare at Lot 2.”
By November 1923, when Tom was born, Jack had built all the farm buildings, including a house, using Pinus radiata from Casey’s Hill near the Hunter Road junction. Muriel’s share included providing oak furniture for the house. Electricity arrived after Tom was born.
The Muir children all attended Eureka School, Tom starting in 1929, Valerie in 1930, Wesley in 1933 and Gladys in 1935.
After leaving school Tom worked on the farm until WWII saw him registered as a Naval Reserve in December 1941. He was shipped to England and spent the rest of the war overseas.
When he returned to New Zealand and was demobbed in 1946, he hoped that he had sufficient farming experience to be given a rehab loan for land. However, the powers that be were allocating on the basis of how much fighting men had done in the desert, and Tom was turned down, having been in the Navy. Instead he was offered a place on a course doing carpentry around 1947. He obviously found his niche in building, because by 1950 he was not only certified, but had also done extra courses which had allowed him first to become a Leading Hand, and then as an Assistant Instructor on the construction of State houses. He was given membership of the Master Builders Association in 1955.
One of his major works with his own company was building the first part of Wintec, including all the services – a job he was proud of as it was finished ‘on time and under budget’ in 1968. He completed over 120 large contracts in Hamilton, remodelled a fair section of Victoria Street, and also put up the first commercial building on Te Rapa Straight, on the site where Bunnings is now.
But to return to Eureka, when the first hall at the crossroads of SH26 and Hunter/Eureka Roads was taken down after 54 years, Tom built the second one, which still faithfully serves clubs and events which are held in Eureka.