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No. 54 (March 1966)
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MR BILL KOHI
Of Otorohanga

Mr William Kohi — Bill Kohi, as he is warmly known to friends and associates everywhere—is a man who has led an exceptionally active, hardworking life, and who has done much to assist his fellow men.

One of his special interests is the wellbeing of his colleagues in the revered Hokowhitu-a-Tu Association — the veterans of the famed Pioneer Battalion of World War I, whose members came from every marae in the land at duty's call. For six years, as secretary-treasurer of the association, Bill has organised their annual reunions, which are noted for their warm, reminiscent, happy comradeship.

He has also been an active executive of the Otorohanga Returned Services Association for many years, and for fifteen years he has been vice-president. For this faithful service Bill received a special framed citation from the New Zealand Returned Services Association.

Service in First World War

When World War I broke out, Bill enlisted straight away. He says, ‘I was only nineteen at the time, so while I was waiting for my 21st birthday to turn up, I sat and passed my exams for a commissioned officer. This required a further six months’ service in New Zealand to complete. I was a platoon sergeant then and had just attained my majority.

‘My mates were ready to leave for overseas and I just couldn't bear to be left behind.’

So Bill applied for and was granted permission to accompany his mates. From then on he was with the Battalion, which took part in all the major battles in France.

With his out-going personality and his helpfulness to others, Bill was an obvious choice for the budgeting counselling scheme when this was started some years back in Otorohanga. As vice-president of the committee he has worked closely with the president, Mr P. Phillipps, and the secretary-treasurer, Mr Murray Hunt; all are foundation members of the scheme, and have helped to establish other

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Mr Bill Kohi

budgeting counselling schemes in Hamilton. Taumarunui, Rotorua. Te Awamutu and Te Kuiti.

In Otorohanga 21 families are at present enrolled.

‘We have no failures with families, that stick,’ Bill says happily. ‘But,’ he adds, Those families which pull out, do fail. Inevitably they sink further into debt.’

‘I remember one hard nut,’ Bill chuckles. ‘I nearly deflated myself persuading him to sell his money-eating vehicle. Somehow I talked him into walking and not jumping a taxi unless it was the last extremity. Today that man is coming up on top.’

Success Depends Upon Co-operation

Bill takes a great interest in the Te Awamutu budgeting scheme, where there are more Pakehas than Maoris enrolled in the scheme.

‘The success of the budgeting scheme,’ he sums it up, ‘depends primarily on the co-operation of the families concerned and on the willingness of responsible sponsors to come forward and help.’

A Rotarian and a Maori warden, Bill has also shown a great interest in education, and for 13 years was chairman of the school committee at Honikiwi school.

As chairman of the Waitomo Maori pastor-

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ate committee he organised the All Aotearoa Hui Topu at Ngaruawahia. Under his chairmanship the pastorate has set its sights on the erection of a new Maori vicarage in the centre of its area, Te Kuiti.

Early Memories of Gum-Digging

Born in 1895 at Waahi Pa, Bill is the second son of Kohi Takaro of Ngati Te Ata of Waikato, and Erana Kershaw of Ngati Ruanui of Taranaki. He has early memories of the fun, and the hard work, of the periodical gum-digging expeditions on which his parents took him and his six brothers and sisters. He well remembers the two packhorses on which his parents used to transport all their equipment and camping gear. They would pitch their camp in the marshy gumlands at the back of Puketapu below Waahi Pa, and often, as an added comfort for their week's stay, they would put up a nikau parau (shelter). This done, Takoro and Erana would leave the older children to cook the family meal in a camp oven while they speared and dug around in the vicinity for the kauri gum nuggets that added to their livelihood.

‘At night,’ Bill recalls, ‘we used to help Mum and Dad to clean, scrape and sort the gum, which was sold later to the storekeeper at Huntly, who was also the gum buyer.’ He added, laughing, ‘I remember one particular night when we kids made a big thick bed of fern beside a hole full of hot embers. We had two blankets, one for under us and one on top. After playing around for a while we drifted off to sleep under the starry sky. Somehow during the night we rolled, bed and all, over our open-air heater. We woke up with a start, stampeding out of bed — our prized blankets were scorched and burning!

First Down the Mines

‘After this my father secured a permanent job with the Mines Department and our lot greatly improved. He sent us to the Maori school and later to the Huntly school. For a number of reasons, mostly lack of finance, this was all the formal education I received, much as I desired more.

‘I remember that my father was the first Maori to go underground on that mining job. No self-respecting Waikato then would venture into the bowels of Hine Nui i te Po. Father did, and apart from improving our family's situation, he bought himself a coveted pair of duck trousers. This blew up his chest in joyous conceit and set his bare feet underneath them prancing, as he showed off the cut of his fancy pants to his gaping mates. After this the old tapu was laid aside as other Maoris increasingly ventured into the mines to seek their livelihood.

‘From school I went to work till World War One intervened with my period of overseas service. After my discharge from the army in 1919 I worked as a fitter at Rotowaro. My earnest desire was to save enough money to buy a piece of land and this wish I cherished deep within me.’

From Rotowaro Bill went to Wairoa to skipper the Wairoa harbour board's tug; later he worked on the Waikokopu breakwater.

‘It was at this time,’ Bill said, his eyes softening, ‘that I married my wife, who was Ngaurupa Paki of Huntly.’

He and his wife decided to take on one of the cook-houses for the construction workers on the Napier-Gisborne railway line, which was then being built. This proved most successful. Later he gained valuable experience managing a cattle farm at Drury. Then they moved to Taranaki where Bill leased two properties. Bill recalls, ‘My wife milked the cows on one farm while I contracted for harvesting and drain digging. Our children were coming along. This made us work all the harder.

Many Years of Hard Work

‘In 1929 I left Taranaki and bought a property of 360 acres at Honikiwi near Otorohanga. It almost broke our backs let alone our hearts, what with the ragwort infestation and cobalt sickness. We near starved to hold on … but we did it!

Then World War II broke out and I left my wife and family to hold the home fort while I went to Auckland as a musketry instructor. When war eventually turned again to peace, I sold that farm. We bought a gorse and blackberry infested place in historic Kopua, the fount of Christianity for Ngati Maniapoto on the banks of the Waipa river. The house into which we moved was rat-infested and without power. My family declared I was mad. The land was flat and good. Our roadway in at first was across a lagoon on a rickety canoe, which went down one night with all my family in their finery returning from a dance.

‘It was a pleasure to demolish that house later, when the land was cleared, and build my family an all-electric one with every convenience. For all the gorse and blackberry,’ Bill

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chuckled, ‘We won through comfortably even though that canoe was never raised again. It had served its purpose anyway.

‘When we gave up that farm a few years back we had no wish to sit and idle away the rest of our lives, so here I am in the taxi business with my son.

‘You know,’ Bill said, smiling as he looked across at his wife pouring tea, ‘My wife has helped me all the way. No man is a success in any venture without the help of a good woman and the guidance of God.’