We continue with our series on the early days of the meat industry in the Waikato, as recalled by Bill Waring. If you missed it, Chapter 1 is here.
The breeding sows and porkers roamed mostly free on the family farm in Taupiri, feeding on the acorns under the oak trees.
They were also fed soup from wood-fired coppers in which were cooked the meat by-products from the abattoir. That brew was trucked on a mini-rail system from the cooking sheds further down to the extended piggery that went further on, well sheltered under the many oak trees.
All in all it was very much typical of country retail meat operations of the time, in which total usage was made of all that could be processed. Local staff, Pakeha and Maori, were engaged both in the business and on the farm. A Maori family by the name of Martin worked on the farm and lived in two adjacent cabins that had been transported from the Taupiri Sawmill originally situated on the banks of the Mangawara Stream. This sawmill was owned by Messes Bollard and Bailey and was reputed to have used the first circular saw in the North Island. The main building of the sawmill was destroyed by fire around 1912; it was never reopened.
While the wages were in keeping with the rate of that time, the Martins always considered that with the less popular meat ‘off-cuts’ freely available and a constant supply of eels that gathered at the blood outflow drain that emptied into the Komakorau Stream that flowed just below the bank where the slaughterhouse stood, they ate well. The eels were so numerous at this point in the stream that they could be tossed out of the water and onto the bank just using hay forks. This concentration of eels made sure that that no harmful effluent flowed far out into the main stream. Never short of firewood with the old mature trees about, firing was never a problem.
My first experience in the business was during 1932/33 at the age of eight, helping during the school holiday periods with the rural meat deliveries, sitting on the back of a 1928 Dodge one-ton truck and handing the parcels of meat to the delivery man.
It was also during this period that I learned the true meaning of poverty. Included in these deliveries was meat sold to people living in relief camps where men were engaged manually draining the large areas of peat swamps in the Orini – Whitikahu area.
These men, some with families, were housed in three-roomed relief huts made of wood and canvas with a corrugated iron roof. In the winter these cabins appeared like islands in a sea of mud. The canvas on the sides of the cabins grew green mould that gradually spread as each cabin aged. I have heard a saying that nobody minds eating at the pie cart until they have eaten at the Ritz, but some of the people in those camps would have eaten at the Ritz, before hard times befell them.
Times slowly improved over the next few years, but not without many commercial near-disasters. The country grocer, baker, and butcher became very much the credit carriers that saved many an indebted farmer from having to walk off the farm. Farmers hoped and expected that the trades people would be able to assist during the ‘winter’ period when there were no cream cheques coming forward.
My father, Bill Waring was only able to save his own farm and business by proving to the Returned Soldiers Loans Committee the amounts that were owed to him by other farming returned veterans. Should he and other tradesmen have to call in their credits, the loans committee’s problems would compound with farmers forced to walk. In the main people were honest: yes, possibly they had to be.
Most of our retail sales were credit. This meant that these transactions would need to be transferred from daybook entries to accounts, but there was no office staff, and all entry transfers were done at home after the evening meal. Fortunately in the earlier days there was not the distraction of TV. One could still listen to the current serials running on the YA radio stations while entering the day’s sales to debtors accounts. These accounts would be sent out for payment on the 19th of each month. The idea was that the accounts would arrive in the farmers’ letterboxes at the same time as notification of the Dairy Company’s monthly payout.