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No. 42 (March 1963)
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Pioneers Of The Pumice

At the foot of the craggy Horohoro bluffs, 10 miles south-west of Rotorua, there nestles the homesteads and meeting-houses, the haybarns and cowsheds of the first Maori land settlement scheme to pioneer the pumice country.

The Horohoro Bluffs rise abruptly as a giddy, 500 foot high escarpment to form the rugged bushclad plateau that runs back to the Mamaku Range. At the foot of these bluffs the land is gently contoured, but in the twenties the hummocky plains were deep in fern and stunted manuka. Horohoro's three ancient settlements, summer homes of the kumara-planting Ngati-Tuara, were deserted, overgrown, and tumbledown. The tribal meeting-house ‘Kearoa’, built in 1888, was shifted in 1922 to Rotorua, whence most of the tribe had gone after a gum-digging exodus earlier in the century.

Scrub and Pumice

Wilderness it was, and wilderness it would have remained for at least another generation had it not been for the vision of Sir Apirana Ngata, farseeing Minister of Native Affairs in the late 1920's. Sir Apirana Ngata began burning the midnight oil in long discussions with Arawa leaders in 1927. Their plan: to turn Horohoro into a Maori settlement scheme.

Plans started to crystallize in 1930, when the first group of settlers moved on to the 10,000-acre Horohoro block. The scheme was a daring one. In those days cobalt was unheard of, and stock died like flies in the ‘bush-sick’ pumice country. Few people believed that untrained Maori farmers could ever ‘make a go’ of the Horohoro country.

Sir Apirana Ngata was as wise as Solomon. The scheme was planned for the benefit of Horohoro's original Maori owners, the Ngati-Tuara, but Sir Apirana knew that the Ngati-Tuara had never shown any agricultural leanings. To encourage them along the right road he included in the team of picked settlers a party of 14 Kahungunu importees from Wairoa. The Wairoa people had for generations been farm workers and farm owners, and Sir Apirana brought them in to act as a match to light the flame of agriculture among the Arawas and their sub-tribes of Rotorua.

The plan worked. Men of two tribes, whose ancestors possibly once fought each other with meres, were soon flighting a new type of duel with plough and haymower, slasher and axe. Success was measured in acres cleared per man, and not in adversaries slain.

Times were tough at first. The depression was beginning, and money was short. Most of the settlers were starving before they were selected for the scheme, and they weren't much better off after selection. They were paid at subsistence-level rates. They lived in tents while they toiled on communal projects, clearing land, fencing, building the frugal ‘Ngata-type’ houses.

They ploughed with single furrow ploughs pulled by a pair of horses—some of them broken in from the brumbies that roamed the surrounding plains. Their first school was a tent, in which the pupils froze in the frosty blasts of winter. When the scrub was cleared, Horohoro became a treeless, windswept plain, almost as bleak as Siberia.

A Tough Struggle

Horohoro's pioneers lacked many of the things that the modern generation takes for granted. They had no trace elements, no tractors, no electric power, no knowledge of how to ‘bring in’ the pumice. Most of them had been educated only to primary school level.

Their pioneering was a grim, hard, trial-and-error struggle. They made mistakes, and some of them lost heart and pulled out of the scheme. Others came as replacements, and some of them failed also, but the battle was eventually won. The hard, barren land turned greener year by year.

Horohoro today is an Eden, and the pioneers have left a rich legacy for the new generation. The things the pioneers lacked most—education and trees—they provided in double measure. Horohoro is studded with shelter belts and plantations and forests, with hedges and orchards. Horohoro boasts one of the best endowed Maori schools in New Zealand.

The leaders of the Ngati-Tuara and the Ngati-

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Kahungunu settlers built a new agricultural community, but they preserved the best of their ancient culture. The new Horohoro sprang up around two tribal meeting-houses—the Ngati-Tuara's ‘Kearoa’, brought back and re-erected on a new central site, and the Kahungunu's ‘Rongomaipapa’, built nearby.

Historic Talisman

The chairman of the first school committee, the late Raharuhi Puraru, O.B.E., gave Horohoro Maori School something of which no other school in the country can boast—an historic talisman almost as old as history.

Long before the Pakeha came to New Zealand a well-worn Maori trail led from the Waikato round the southern end of Horohoro Bluffs to Rotorua and the coast. At a point where the trail passed round the bluffs a pyramid-shaped rock protruded from the hillside. It was a sacred stone, known to the Ngati-Tuaras as ‘Te Turi O Hinengawari’—the knee of Hinengawari. The tribal stories state that Hinengawari was a great Arawa priestess who invested the stone with supernatural powers to protect her people. She ordered the people to pay homage to the stone by laying green branches before it when ever they passed. When strangers passed by and failed to pay homage, the supernatural powers of the stone came into play, causing a sudden change in the weather. Locals were thus warned of the presence of potential enemies.

Construction of the Rotorua-Atiamuri Road caused the old walking trail to fall into disuse, and a generation began to grow up which knew nothing of the powers of the famous tribal talisman. Mr Raharuhi Pururu decided to shift the stone to a place where it would not be forgotten. He brought the stone down from its centuries-old resting place, and in a special ceremony on November 30, 1937, the stone was placed behind a carved totara fence at the entrance to Horohoro school, and consecrated by a Maori Anglican minister.

Horohoro schoolchildren still regard the maintenance of the carved enclosure and the weeding of the stone's surrounds as one of their most important responsibilities. Many of them pay homage to the ‘knee’ before important examinations or inter-school sports fixtures. The stone is said to bring good luck—provided you really believe in Hinengawari's magical powers.

Led by Raharuhi Pururu, Horohoro's early school committees and parents toiled unstintingly to make their school as good as any in the land. With tractors and scoops they gouged out 7000 cubic yards of earth to landscape a sloping hillside into gardens and football fields. They planted shelter belts of pines, laid out gardens of shrubs. They built a model meeting-house, and gave their best carver, the late Taimona, to carve its magnificent

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Horohoro county, looking from the bluffs towards Mount Haparangi, on which the settlers ‘wrote’ Sir Apirana Ngata's initials in pine trees.

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panels and instruct the school's senior pupils in the ancient art. The meeting-house today is used as the school's library and cinema.

The settlers gave land for a school farm, run at first as a dairy farm, and switched over later to sheep. For years the school wool clip has been ploughed back into educational amenities such as a movie projector, a radio, library books and other equipment.

Still ‘Pioneers’ Today

In the sphere of agriculture, Horohoro has been a valuable testing ground for pumice farming. The huge land settlement schemes of today drew benefit from Horohoro's past.

Since 1930, Horohoro has produced four winners of the coveted Maori farming award, the Ahu-Whenua Cup, presented by the former Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, to help uplift Maori agriculture. One of the cup winners, Mr Foley Eru, is still farming at Horohoro. He was a member of the original band of Ngati-Tuara pioneers, and he and his wife can tell some harrowing tales of what it was like roughing it back in 1930.

Even today, the Horohoro country is still being pioneered. Five new settlers were brought in only this year to take up new blocks of land adjoining the original 10,000 acres. All of them are young Maoris who won their blocks in a Maori Affairs ballot. They were selected purely on their merits as farmers. Tribal backgrounds counted for nothing, and though some would have difficulty tracing their descent to any particular tribe, the Horohoro district settlers turned on a most hospitable welcome dance to the newcomers.

Typical of the 1962-style ‘pioneers’ is Tom Collier, 26-year-old sharemilker from Galatea, who has won a 169-acre block within a mile of Horohoro settlement. Tom and his wife Honey are flat out to ‘make a go’ of a long-awaited chance to get a farm of their own. They paid down the required deposit of £100 from money saved during three years sharemilking, when they ran pigs and even a cockerel fattening enterprise to bolster savings.

Tom moved on to a farm complete with modern house and cowshed, fences and stock, but there is plenty of work ahead of him.

Although Horohoro settlers have not erected a statue on the marae to commemorate Sir Apirana Ngata, who made their pioneering possible, they have preserved his name in a fitting manner. Two roads have been named after him—the Apirana North Road, and the Apirana South Road, and there is also a third memorial high on the slopes of nearby Mount Haparangi. Sir Apirana's initials, ‘A.T.N.’, were planted in living pine trees during a Maori afforestation programme of the thirties.

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Pioneers have left a rich legacy for the modern generation. These pupils of Horohoro Maori School enjoy amenities of one of the best endowed schools in the country.

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Mr and Mrs Foley Eru, two of the first pioneers of the Horohoro farm resettlement scheme. They went there in 1930.