Old factory was hive of history
This story is dedicated to David Nathan Swap by his close friend and associate Bill Burr.
The old factory on Rawhiti Ave may no longer be standing but it still holds its own as a part of Matamata’s history.
When old-timer Bill Burr saw the building was being torn down, he came to the Chronicle to share a few stories.
His friend David Swap – the late uncle of David and Lewis Swap and brother-inlaw of Sadie Swap – constructed the original building in the early 1950s.
Mr Swap had been a fighter pilot with the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm in World War II and had returned to Matamata after the war.
He followed his father into the building industry and established his own business D N Swap Building Ltd.
In April 1950, he bought the plot on Rawhiti Ave, then known as the stock route, and built his workshop.
‘‘There were several empty building lots [in the town centre] back then,’’ said Mr Burr.
‘‘There were two houses where RD1 is now. The town hall had just been removed and looked like a bomb site from Hiroshima and the post office was just a tiny building. ‘‘Matamata needed an injection. ‘‘Dave built those premises for his joiner shop and he gave Matamata the kickstart it needed.
‘‘He had contracts for new schools in Taupo, Tauranga and Te Aroha and for a new bank in Tokoroa.
‘‘He was employing all the immigrants, all of the people arriving in the transit camp. ‘‘He did a lot for the town.’’ Mr Burr was working as a plumber in Thames when he first met Mr Swap in 1954.
‘‘He had a contract for Thames Hotel and we had the contract for the plumbing,’’ said Mr Burr.
‘‘I went down one day and Dave standing on the footpath.
‘‘When he approached you, he always had a slouched hat and a wry smile, like he had known you all your life. ‘‘We immediately clicked. ‘‘I don’t know why he picked on me but he said, ‘Bill, what about coming to Matamata. I’ll set you up in business’.
‘‘Three weeks later, we were mata.’’
Mr Burr started his company William L Burr Ltd in the back of the workshop at Rawhiti Ave and the pair worked together for the next 18 months or so. (William L Burr Ltd would later become PlumbCo.)
Mr Swap and his father had the contract to build the new town hall – the Matamata Memorial Centre – and together they completed it by 1956.
That same year, the premises on Rawhiti Ave was sold to a chap named Merv Ellery, and Mr Swap moved to Australia, where he died a few years later.
Mr Ellery leased the building to Des and Rata Carson, who had just moved to Matamata from Rotorua.
They started the clothing manufacturing business Carson Clothing Co Ltd and took over ownership of the property in 1960.
The company produced clothing to be sold across New Zealand and at one stage, had 110 girls and nine men working for them.
They expanded the factory as they
in Mata- needed to and eventually filled most of the site.
In the 1980s they sold the business to Tracey’s Manufacturing and their son Pat Carson stayed on as manager.
The business later closed down and in the 1990s the building was sold to Milton James of Matamata Timber and Hardware.
It had been unoccupied ever since, and was demolished due to health and safety reasons.
Mr James intends to use the plot as a timber yard.
David Nathan Swap
In uniform: David Swap served in the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arms in World War II.