First Impressions of Mangatangi. 1915
On a winter’s morning in 1915 my father, Mr. George S Johnston, set off from Auckland with a wagon drawn by two horses to make the then two-day journey to Mangatangi. His destination was the newly acquired property of the late Mr. S Hutchinson, previously owned by Mr. R Bentley and more recently belonging to Montana Ltd.
A month later, in July, he set off from the farm to Pokeno, again by wagon with two horses, to meet my mother and myself. We had arrived there at mid-day by the train from Auckland. By the time the wagon was loaded with our luggage and sundry farm materials, our departure was somewhat delayed and it was well on in the afternoon when we drove out through Mangatawhiri. There I saw my first herd of cows being taken home to be milked. A few miles further on, we came to metals end and took to an unformed road over what was known as the Gumhills.
The next landmark was the Mangatangi Maori Settlement, then located on the banks of the river. By the time we reached this spot, it had grown dark and the river had yet to be forded. What an ordeal! Where the Mangatangi Bridge now stands the road took a sharp turn left, along the base of the cliff. My mother, who was a town person, was somewhat startled when my father asked her to strike a match to see how close we were to the edge of the road. Owing to floods, the river crossing was frequently changed. At this time it was not far upstream from the present bridge.
Being town bred, the horses, by now tired and unused to such roads and rushing water, were decidedly nervous but gamely went into the water. The crossing completed, they climbed the rough track on the other side. Through the crossing we were greatly encouraged by the voice of a kindly neighbour, one Mr. Tom Bell, who having seen my father depart in the early morning and knowing that he was unfamiliar with the road, had ridden over and waited to guide us through the river. “Never was the sound of a human voice so welcome”, I have heard my mother say. To by-pass a bad piece of road, Mr. Bell guided us through property coming out where Mr. S Taylor’s woolshed now stands and across the track onto the land on which my home for the next two or three years was situated.
Of course, we could not walk in and turn on a light switch. There was a kerosene lamp to light, a fire to make, horses to unharness and feed, then food and sleep. Next morning there was rain and wintry conditions which pertained for some time, but when I achieved a pony of my own to ride these conditions didn’t deter me at all. I enjoyed two glorious months of freedom with no school till October when the roads had dried out somewhat and my father enrolled me at the Mangatawhiri School which I attended five days a week, fording both the Mangatangi and Mangatawhiri rivers to get there.
For company I had at times several Maori children from the local Pa which was then large and contained many acres of potatoes, kumara and maize being grown.
At this time there were only eight families living in Mangatangi ---- Messrs. Vining, Waller, Thompson, Stubbs, Maddigan, Shanks, Bell, and us. There was only one motorcar in the district at this time, a beautiful cream Minerva with green leather upholstery and owned by Mr. Stubbs.
As the Post and Telegraph was located in our house, my mother became the Post Mistress. Friday being mail day made that afternoon a social event with hot scones and a cup of tea being the accepted thing. My father used to ride to Mangatawhiri Post Office which was run by Mr. J Keith, to collect the incoming mailbag and leave the one from Mangatangi. The only telephone was at the Post Office and calls went out through Mercer.
During our stay on this farm, a building of the “lean-to” type was erected not far from our house to be used as a holiday bach by the Hutchison family. Mr. H Appleby carted the timber for this on his “flat-top” drawn by four horses. This building became Mangatangi’s first school in 1919.
Much was to happen before this came about. The Mangatangi Land Company was formed and employed fencers to ring fence the various sections that were to be put up for sale. The posts, battens and strainers came out of the bush on the Cumming’s and Mango’s properties. “Company” houses were built and some of these with additions and alterations are still in use today. Each block had a few acres put under the plough. This was done with a Samson Sieve Grip tractor; the first tractor to come into the district. Gradually the land sections sold but for a while people came and went rather rapidly, each however giving something of themselves to the district.
The building of a wooden bridge over the Mangatangi River in 1922 was marked progress. The builder was Mr. de Thiery whose son on one occasion gave me much amusement by trying to teach his horse to swim in a deep pool in the river.
Many were the ups and downs of the early settlers but those who weathered the bad times have seen this once “no-mans” land develop into a highly developed countryside.
The first school on the present site soon became the social centre where church, ratepayer’s meetings and dances were held.
Mrs. Janet Holder. l969.