Taranaki Daily News

The pioneering spirit of the back country


In my last column I talked about ‘‘paper roads’’ and that I wanted to tell you about Aotuhia Station history.

I write this column as a tribute to the Murphy family and in particular Kathy and Dan, who recently lost their son along with his mate, Jason Payne, in a 4WD accident.

The Murphy family have farmed in the Kohuratahi/Tahora region for over a century now and are extremely well-known for their dog trial expertise along with their father Bernard Murphy having won many NZ titles.

Bill and Gus Murphy, also wellknown, were some of the early settlers to take up land in Aotuhia.

Let me step back in time to the

1890s when a new more liberal government came to power and came up with the catchphras­e ‘‘Land for the People’’.

With most of our Taranaki ring plain blocks becoming cleared of bush and farmed, the Government started looking at our hinterland­s with one of these regions being the very isolated Aotuhia region.

Initially Ma¯ ori had formed a walking track from North Taranaki through the Aotuhia region to the Whanganui River, which became known as ‘‘The Landing’’.

Then they would canoe down to Whanganui. It is recorded that in

1844-6 the Reverend Richard Taylor was guided through this track by local Ma¯ ori.

By 1906 the first pioneer settlers brought their meagre possession­s up the Whanganui River on Mr Hatrick’s river boat and were dropped off at ‘‘The Landing’’ to then walk 10 kilometres along the Ma¯ ori track to eventually arrive and find their section.

During the 1980s Derick Morris, a resident at Tangarakau, wrote and published a most interestin­g recollecti­on of all the 20 odd surveyed sections and those that farmed them.

Relentless­ly these pioneers hacked out their farms by felling and burning the bush, sowing grass and building fences and, of course, their homes.

There is a great story (presumably true) that Ben Neustrowsk­i felled a totara tree claimed to be 20 metres round, from which he split 500 posts but claimed he could have cut another

500! Totara is known for its longevity for posts and timber.

As the pioneers cleared the land, they needed stock to eat the new grasses so eventually some

300 dairy cows were driven in via newly cut tracks. Their milk was separated and the cream was somehow preserved and then sledged to the ‘‘Landing’’ where it was picked up once a week by Mr Hatrick’s boat. I’m sure the farmers would have been on some form of rosters for this exhausting task, which took most of a day.

Soon after this period these Aotuhia farmers lobbied the Whangamomo­na County Council, who borrowed 8000 pounds to upgrade this track to the ‘‘Landing’’ and naming it Tahunaroa Rd.

This road was extremely hazardous and Frank Callaghan, son of one of the early settlers, Ted, tells the story that while Ted was driving his team of horses on a particular­ly dangerous section of the road one horse slipped and pulled the other with him many metres below into the flooded Tangarakau River never to be seen again.

The last block was final settled during 1914 with the last of the bush cut during 1927.

Even a telephone line was installed down the Whanga Rd to the new Aotuhia Exchange.

During 1923 the community decided they would build their own Domain which they named ‘‘tui’ ’after the abundance of tui in the nearby bush.

By 1914 the railway had reached Whangamomo­na and with the Whanga Rd having been somewhat upgraded, the Aotuhia Settlers decided it was a better option to sledge their cream to the rail, which would then take it back to the Stratford Dairy Co.

Your mind boggles at the tenacity and courage of those pioneer farmers and how they struggled to survive under such harsh conditions. They also lost a number of their men during WWI. Then came the depression of the late 1920s to the early 1930s and finally the isolation and soil fertility wore them down and they started to walk away from their leases in an effort to make a new life elsewhere.

It was then that the Murphys came to the fore and took over the leasehold of Aotuhia Station, but their lease agreement made it quite clear the land was to be grazed only and no developmen­t was allowed.

It is an absolute tribute to the whole Murphy family who became the caretakers of one of Taranaki’s largest stations, redevelope­d by Lands and Survey during the early 1980s now farmed by the Downs family with 17500 stock units.

It gives me pleasure to recognise and compliment this amazing Murphy family.

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