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No. 10 (April 1955)
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The Mill. (sparrow industrial pictures ltd.)

The Story of Kawerau

This year the world will be watching with much interest the opening at Kawerau of New Zealand's greatest industrial enterprise. In a small valley near the Tarawera river mouth some £15 millon have been spent in building a giant pulp and paper mill, as well as the country's largest sawmill. Even greater has been the country's effort in growing the 260,000 acres of forest that supply the mill, building railroads, houses and a harbour, establishing a power and geothermal steam supply and other facilities.

The Maori people have a great stake and a deep interest in the past as well as the future of Kawerau. A tribal boundary between the Arawa and Mataatua canoe areas, the Tarawera river is particularly rich in history, reaching back as far as the arrival on the scene of the mountain Putauaki (Mount Edgecumbe) which casts its sombre shadow over Kawerau in the mornings.

Long ago Putauaki lived with his wife Tarawera, a mountain upstream. After years of married happiness, Putauaki began to feel restless. His roving eye caught sight of Whakaari (White Island), an enchanting little lady who enticed him and signalled to him with her puffs of smoke. She teased him so much that one night, driven crazy with love for her, Putauaki deserted his wife and went to Whakaari. Cautiously he tiptoed away, but his daughter heard him and followed him. She asked where he was going, but feeling ashamed of his plans he did not answer her. All night, the child tugged at him.

This made travelling dreadfully slow—so

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The site of Kawerau township as it was in 1952. (n.z. forest service photograph)

slow, that the sun caught him where he now stands. In the full light of day he could not go on and advertise his intentions to the world. He looked back and saw his wife weeping for him. This made him more ashamed. He could not go forward and he could not go back; so he sayed where he still is, with his child. Tarawera still weeps for him and her tears form the Tarawera river. The child is the foothill to Putauaki.

Tuwharetoa spent most of his life at Kawerau and also died there. His shrouded body was entombed in a hollow totara at Te Atuareretahi, a few miles from Kawerau. As the tree grew in later years, the gap closed up. The tree is still growing and can be found by some of the local people, but they are not at all eager to point it out.

The Maori wars, the Tarawera eruption and intermarriage with other tribes help to explain the smallness of the present Maori population of Kawerau. Mrs Monica Hardman, office worker with Fletcher-Merritt-Raymond, who are building the mill, told Te Ao Hou that there are about 150 at the pa, and about three quarters of these get their living from mill construction work.

The Kawerau people took the government side during the Hauhau wars. Their land was included in the blanket order confiscating a large area of Maori land in the Bay of Plenty, but under this order loyal hapu were still allowed to keep their land. The Kawerau people accordingly had their land given back to them after long negotiations.

Most of it was later included in the Putauaki Maori Land Development Scheme, consisting of some 10,000 acres, partly now in full production. Unfortunately, it was found not to be particularly good farm land. Although it gives a splendid first strike of grass, drainage through the pumice soil is too easy to allow grass to do well for long. Just at present, the scheme carries about 2,000 sheep and 250 head of cattle on a grassed area of 1,000 acres.

Steam Gave the Answer

Until September, 1952, the feeding, mustering and shearing of stock grazing about the Tarawera river was the most urgent matter in Kawerau. At that time a government geologist made the discovery that was to transform the settlement to the most up-to-date, highest-pressure industrial centre in New Zealand.

In itself there was nothing sensational about discovering geothermal steam. The Maoris had always known of it; it may well have been because of the geothermal steam that Tuwharetoa settled on that spot and it was the site of such populous pas. To people living in the stone age, an abundant supply of hot water available without effort was a priceless possession. Right through the ages, the Maoris of Kawerau have bathed in the pools which are now to supply Tasman's geothermal steam.

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It was left to modern science to discover that a reservoir of steam confined under the earth can produce a long-lasting supply of electric power, drive machines and heat huge industrial boilers. In New Zealand large scale experiments are still continuing to produce such power at Wairakei; but at Lardarello, in Italy, geothermal steam has been successfully used for the last thirty years for power generation and for the extraction of chemicals.

At Lardarello, the steam was easier to harness than it will be at Wairakei or at Kawerau, but nowhere can the sensation have been greater than at Kawerau, because of the very fortunate time of the discovery. In June, 1952, the giant Tasman Pulp and Paper Company had been registered. The all-important question of the site of the mill had not yet quite been decided, although it had been studied off and on for twenty-five years. Ngaruawahia, Mount Maunganui and various other places had been rejected and Murupara, although for various reasons not quite ideal, had been tentatively chosen by the company. The discovery of steam at Kawerau, offering prospects of savings in coal of up to 50,000 tons per year, made it easy to come to a decision. Apart from its steam, Kawerau offers an abundant water-supply—life-blood of a paper-mill—and a flat plain good for industrial building.

A Desert made Fertile

Tasman's story began in 1925 on the Kaingaroa plains, a 350,000 acre pumic plateau, in 1925 still a desert sparsely covered with tussock. An English visitor, Mr William Adamson, suggested that if New Zealand only had the courage to plant the whole of these plains with pine trees, it could sustain not only sawmills but a pulp and paper industry big enough to compete in world markets.

The idea was taken up by Mr Alex Entrican, then departmental engineer in Forest Products and the then Director of Forestry, Mr L. M. Ellis. Most of the stands totalling 260,000 acres were planted between 1927 and 1931—the period of the slump. At present, the Kaingaroa plains boast a greater concentration of wood growth than there is in any other similar area in the world. There may be other forests as dense, but none so quick-growing. It can produce a constant yearly output of 23 million cubic feet.

Planting was followed by a long period of study, during which the Forestry Service found out by tests that the New Zealand pine could make pulp and newsprint as good as is made in Canada or Scandinavia—not quite as white, but making up for this in greater strength. Government experts also worked out an unsurpassed method—later adopted by Tasman—of making the very best use of the trees. In 1951, the government was ready with its plans and preparations and offered the timber output of Kaingaroa for sale to a private company by tender. The only tenderer was the Fletcher organization. In June, 1952, the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company was registered with a capital of £6 million and the right to issue debentures. At this stage, the only shareholders were the government and the Fletcher organization, although others came in later.

The Mill is Built

As a mill site, Tasman chose 483 acres of flat land next to the Tarawera river—part of the Putauaki Maori Land Development Scheme. The owners sold this land to Tasman for £50 per acre, over double the government valuation. To satisfy the people, owners were offered Crown land in exchange for what was sold, so that nobody would be left landless against his will. Only one owner actually asked for such an exchange, however.

The mill, constructed by Fletcher-Merritt-Raymond, measures 280,000 square foot floor space and has cost over £14 million. It is the fourth largest newsprint mill in the world and its paper machine delivering newsprint at the rate of 2,000 feet per minute, is the fastest in the world. Working round the clock, it will produce 75,000 tons of newsprint per year.

Newsprint is however only one side of the story. The Kawerau plant comprises in addition to a sawmill, a groundwood pulp mill and a chemical pulp mill. The sawmill, the biggest in New Zealand, will produce 72 million

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Kaingaroa Forest today. (r.n.z.a.f. photograph)

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board feet per year. The groundwood pulp mill will grind logs into pulp with huge carborundum stones driven by 1200 h.p. motors. The making of groundwood pulp, the main material of newsprint, has been described in an article in Te Ao Hou on the Whakatane Board Mill (issue 1).

You cannot, however, make newsprint out of this ‘groundwood pulp’ alone. If paper is to hang together and have strength, it needs longer fibres than you can get by grinding, and these are made chemically. To make chemical pulp, wood is chipped with knives into half inch to one inch long chips. These chips are cooked under heat and pressure with sodium sulphate. After cooking, chemical pulp consists of loose fibres, longer, stronger and more pliable than groundwood pulp. 51,000 tons per year are produced of which 16,000 tons goes into Tasman's newsprint and the rest is sold.

The interesting point about the three mills is that each specializes on a different part of the tree. The sawmill gets the valuable ‘straight butt logs’ which have the most heartwood and are easily made into timber. Oddly enough the top logs, which make inferior timber, are actually the best for the groundwood pulp; being free from heartwood, they are easily ground. The rough ‘butt logs’, the smallish logs, the slabs from the mill—in fact any pieces not particularly good for timber or groundwood pulp—are sent to the chippers, to make chemical pulp.

The bark of all the trees is sent to the boilers as fuel. From the sawmill bark-free slabbings and edgings go to the chemical pulp plant for chipping. Sawdust and other sawmill and pulpmill waste likewise are used for fuel.

Never before have trees been used in industry quite so economically. By joining the three mills together, raw material, capital and running costs are cut in a startling way. At the same time, by making so many products at once, Tasman is unusually well protected against the whims of the market.

The knowledge of experts from all over the world went into the planning of this mill. It is impressive to read the long list of consultants from England, the United States, Canada and Scandinavia who at one time or another studied the paper-making qualities of the wood or the prospective yield of the forest or the economics of the whole project. We have had specialists on plant design, plant construction and even the management of the enterprise when it starts production. Since Tasman was created, there have nowhere in New Zealand been more high-powered foreign experts to the square yard than there were at Kawerau.

Obviously, Tasman will enrich the country considerably as trainload after trainload of profitable produce rolls forth each day from a place where hardly anything was produced before. To make this possible, the government not only did most of the basic planning, but also made available to Tasman in shares and advances £11 million and invested in public works another £11.4 million. The new industry needed better roads through Kaingaroa forest, a railway from Murupara to Edgecumbe, much rolling stock, the harbour at Mount Maunganui, 50 houses at Kaingaroa, 220 at Murupara and 450 at Kawerau and numerous other works. Private capital subscribed for the Tasman venture has so far totalled £5 million.

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Mrs Monica Hardman, resident of Kawerau works at the mill office. (sparrow industrial pictures ltd.)

New Life for the People

What part will the Maori people play in the future of Kawerau? Out of the 1200 to 1400 construction workers several hundred are Maoris. Some live in the camp and 200 come to Kawerau every day in buses from Te Teko, Ruatoki and other settlements. For many, the regular well-paid work in their own district is a new experience. A warden told Te Ao Hou that the people's way of life has greatly improved as a result of the new opportunities and the old social problems are now much less marked. Many of the workers are saving for motor-cars.

A Maori club, called-Kumea Te Ora, with 50 members is active in Kawerau. Half are Maoris. The club, organised by Fletcher-Merritt-Raymond's recreation officer, Mr Frank Cooke, organizes all kinds of entertainments, raises money and has the distinction of being the only club in Kawerau that can hold dances

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—they have secret sources of dancing partners who are a great rarity.

The chairman is August Honata, from Opotiki, whose talents as a showman were developed as a member of the Torere Youth Club.

Will the workers stay when the mill opens and will all this community activity be kept alive? On that question, it is possible to be reasonably hopeful. Tasman's personnel officer, Mr Stoneham, has visited the Maori settlements to discuss employment at the mill for people within travelling distance.

Te Ao Hou asked the company's general manager, Mr Maurice L. Hobday, what the prospects of the Maori people will be. Mr Hobday expressed particular interest in giving the local people whose land he had bought the fullest opportunity to get permanent and well-paid employment for themselves and their children.

He also hoped that Maoris from other parts of New Zealand would look to Tasman for work in its newsprint—paper, pulp and timber mills. ‘Above all I hope,’ said Mr Hobday, ‘that many young Maori men will show themselves keen to learn the highly skilled craft of paper-making.

‘For five generations my family have been paper-makers, and my son intends to become a paper-maker. I am proud that I shall be responsible for training New Zealanders in the craft and I should be happy to think that there will be Maori families in which there will be the tradition of son following father as a skilled paper-maker.’

This should give food for thought, together with the fact that about 450 State houses and 50 company houses are available for people from all over New Zealand who get jobs with Tasman and have families. These jobs and homes will be offered to tradesmen of all sorts—skilled sawmill workers will be specially sought after—as well as young men to be thoroughly trained by Canadian experts in pulp and paper making. For paper-makers educational standard is not so important; the Company wants bright workers of good physical build whose history shows that they are stable and reliable.

Payment will be fairly high, particularly because of the round-the-clock shift system which that for an average 42-hour week a worker gets an average 53 ¼ payment hours as well as shift allowances. There is also to be a pension scheme, a company doctor, an industrial nurse and an accident prevention officer. The Company is interested in helping the town in establishing a full and healthy community life and has, to this end, appointed a welfare officer.

Maori participation in life at Kawerau may, considering all this, be quite considerable and it looks as if living conditions will be most favourable. Many young people, particularly from the Bay of Plenty and East Coast districts, may decide to settle in Kawerau rather than Auckland, and this, particularly for married couples, may be the better way of life in many cases.

E. Schwimmer