Before early settlers in and around Mangawhai could get organised into cultivating their new land allotments, timber wolves were scouting about buying timber from newcomers. The main attraction was kauri and rimu. The massive size of kauri in the early logging days meant financial rewards for those who could export the timber to Auckland. As kauri is a ‘floater’, logs were formed into herringbone-style rafts, then towed by scow, or later by steamer, down to mills at Auckland. Some rafts reached up to half-a-mile long.
It did not take the new settlers long to set up timber mills all about the district, but it was a dangerous business with consequences for some. The mill near Bob Brown’s house, on Brown Road, was equipped with a water wheel and was run by Ted Browne, who had bought timber rights over much of the area. Whenever the mill needed repairs, workers blocked the creek off at its head, forming a dam. One day the dam was breached, bringing logs straight through to the water wheel and the mill, wiping them all out.
After that, two more mills were built at the head of the Hakaru Creek, in the Mill Gully past Pebblebrooke Road. One was Cashmore’s Mill and one was the Tara Mill, owned by Russell Ross. Several accidents happened at these mills. The worst was at Tara when Tassie Morrison was killed by a wire, which broke free of a winch while being worked. The flying wire beheaded the unfortunate man, and the winch operator was so traumatised that he took off into the bush and was never seen again. Ross sold Tara soon after to the Cashmore brothers.
Sometime later, a large slip came down the hill, blocking the creek. Water dammed up, and when the dam broke tree heads and logs wiped out the mills. In later years, the boiler from one of the mills was dragged down by Ken Leslie’s bulldozer to make a culvert for the crossing over the creek to Roly Brown’s cowshed.
Another much-respected mill owner was written about in 1864 in the Daily Southern Cross: “On the North Oruawharo [Hakaru], Mr Penman, an enterprising settler, has a sawmill worked by water power in full operation. The machinery is his own workmanship and reflects great credit on his ability and perseverance. It answers admirably that both mill and hand-sawn timber have become articles of export from Mangawai.”
John Penman was killed in 1879 while he worked alone on a piece of timber that flicked back, knocking him unconscious into the water, where he drowned. His 13-year-old son found him. The boy ran for 40 minutes to get help from Te Arai, but to no avail. That boy, James, later became renowned for his fine workmanship in the building of schools, churches, and halls in Auckland.
A man was beheaded at Hakaru Creek during the early years of milling.