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Volume 1 (2008)

PARAWAI BOOMS


by David Wilton

Introduction


The Parawai Booms were built in 1871, to halt kauri logs being driven down the Kauaeranga River from the timber-rich areas higher in the Kauaeranga Valley. They were used until about 1922.

From Thames, proceed south along Parawai Rd to the Thames race course, where Parawai Rd becomes Kauaeranga Valley Rd. Go over the hill (known locally as Booms Hill) and the site is in the river on the south side of the hill. Access to the riverbank may involve crossing private property, and relevant permission should be obtained. However, it should be possible to get into the river bed approximately 500m upstream of the site, where the road is adjacent to the river, and follow the river bed down. The cut-off timber piles of the booms will be readily apparent. See map at Figure 1 below. The GPS waypoint for the site is: NZMS 260, Sheet T12, Thames, 1:50,0000, Easting 2738161 Northing 6446047.

The remains of the timber piles of the booms are mostly covered by water & appear to be in sound condition, commensurate with their age of >130 years. There are no foreseeable risks, apart from possible river flood work or other remedial action on the part of the local council.


Figure 1: TUMONZ map of area showing GPS waypoint
Click to enlarge the photograph.


History

Captain James Cook was the first European to note the rich timber resources of the Coromandel area. On 20th November 1769, Cook, accompanied by biologist Joseph Banks and several crew members, sailed up the Waihou River in a small boat, to the area now called Netherton. Cook observed: "we found a tree that girted 19 feet 8 inches, six feet above the ground, and having a quadrant with me, I found its length from the root to the first branch to be 89 feet; it was as straight as an arrow and tapered very little in proportion to its length We saw many others of the same sort." (Reed and Reed 1951 p.70).
The trees observed by Cook were almost certainly kahikatea, which later proved to be a little soft and prone to rot. Cook apparently didn't notice any kauri, the tree that later was to provide a major industry for the area, and for NZ.

During the period between Cook's visit in 1769 and the opening of the Thames goldfield in 1867, increasing numbers of ships visited the area, seeking timber to transport back to England (Phillips 2000 p.81). It is claimed that kauri timber from the Coromandel was used in building the British fleet that fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. However, it was the opening of the Thames goldfield in 1867 that produced a huge local demand for timber. As the Thames goldfield waned in the 1870s, others emerged around the region, including the Ohinemuri and Te Aroha areas. There was a reasonably steady demand for timber through till the late 1920s, when logging tapered off. By then, effectively, the Kauaeranga area had been logged out.

The first major contract to mill kauri in the Thames area was let to C.J. Stone, the so-called Auckland millionaire, in 1871. Stone and his brother Robert had a 99-year lease and access to vast tracts of the Kauaeranga Valley area. The Stone brothers built a saw mill at Shortland, near the Thames wharf, and a huge set of chain booms across the river at the tidal limit of the Kauaeranga, near what is now the Thames racecourse. Both these projects took place in 1871 (Hayward 1978). The cost of building the Parawai booms was 3,000, a huge sum then) (Isdale 1977 p.3).


Figure 2: Parawai Booms (date unknown, but after 1875).
The "key" pile (indicated) is in approx. the middle of the river & consists
of five piles in parallel, presumably to give maximum strength at that
point. This would have been the point from where logs were towed down-river
at high tide, and the booms must have been able to be opened at
that point. Logs laid horizontally behind the piles are visible towards
the top end of the structure. The Thames water race (built 1875) can be
seen contouring around the hill at the top left.


The principal means of getting the huge kauri logs out of the bush was to fell them into, or close to, a stream or river, and float or 'drive' them out using water stored in dams. Booms were basically a giant screen across the river that halted the logs but let the water pass through. On the high tide, logs were towed from the Parawai booms to the Shortland Mill for cutting, or to the Shortland wharf, where they were joined together into rafts and towed to Auckland.

Despite the steady overall demand for kauri timber, the industry wasn't always booming economically. There were regular periods of fiscal depression, in a young colony, where demand for timber dropped off; and periods when droughts meant the dams didn't fill, and no logs arrived at the mill for processing. At these times, workers were laid off, and that was before the days of the Welfare State, unemployment benefits etc.

In 1885, C.J. Stone died and the enterprise began to slump. The cutting rights were purchased by the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) - established by a consortium of Melbourne-based businessmen. In 1888, the KTC took over the cutting rights to the Kauaeranga area, and the Shortland mill.

According to Hayward (1978 p.6) logs were driven down the Kauaeranga River to the Parawai Booms until 1908. By then, farming was well established in the lower Kauaeranga Valley and farmers were understandably irate about their land and facilities being affected by log drives. Also, continual battering by logs had weakened the road bridge over the Kauaeranga, originally built near the race course: February 1917 saw Thames take stock after bad flooding. The bridge over the Kauaeranga was swept away. Battering by kauri logs was a key factor, and the Thames County Council wanted the Kauri Timber Company to reconstruct the bridge. (Isdale 1977 p.44). It is not recorded whether the KTC complied or not. However, the bridge was rebuilt, only to be swept away for a final time on 17th May 1925 (Isdale 1977 p.48). (It was rebuilt shortly afterwards, at its present site on SH25.)


Figure 3: Parawai Booms (photo by Toss
Hammond c. 1897). Estimated 3500 logs present.
Chains used to bind the structure are visible.
Click to enlarge the photograph.


To get the remaining kauri out of the Kauaeranga area, a tramway was constructed from the Billygoat stream junction with the main river, down to Thames, which made the Parawai Booms redundant. According to Isdale (1977 p.43): 'On June 19 1913 there appeared an announcement [in the local newspaper(s)] that an important undertaking was to be carried out by the Kauri Timber Company. It was proposed to take timber out by way of the Thames [Waihou] River. It would require extensive works by way of road-making, with bridge-building and laying a railway up the Kauaeranga Valley. A rough estimate of cost was 30,000. By November 1913, tenders for construction of the tramway were being advertised by the KTC' (Isdale 1977 p.44). Construction of the main Kauaeranga tramway commenced in 1914, but it was not completed till 1920 - there was a pause in logging operations during World War 1, when the country was preoccupied with producing material for the war.

Isdale notes that the Parawai Booms were still in use as late as 1922: 'On June 6 [1921] it was described how a large raft of 200-odd logs was towed down the Kauaeranga from the Parawai Booms, by three launches.' (Isdale 1977 p.46). And: 'It would seem that arrangements to replace the booms by the tramway extension [to the Waihou River] had not yet been completed by July 28 1922. A raft of logs several chains in length was towed out of the Kauaeranga River by Mr Kirby's launches.' (Isdale 1977 p.47).

The use of dams and booms to get logs out of the bush relied on a combination of full dams (which could take months or even years to fill under drought conditions) and natural flood conditions on the river. The severity of these was hard to predict, and there were at least two incidents (1873 and 1882) where the Parawai Booms broke under the force of water and logs, and logs went out to sea. Local boatmen were paid on a per-log basis to retrieve them and get them back to the wharf. There were reports of runaway logs damaging boats on the Waihou River in 1882 (Hayward 1978).

Survey

Photos show the booms were constructed of several layers of timber piles that were bolted and chained together, with large logs placed horizontally behind the rows of piles to give extra strength. The remains of piles, which were apparently sawn off approx 0.3m above the river bed when the booms were decommissioned, are still visible. In places, remains of the horizontal logs are also still visible (below the water and partly buried by shingle). Some metal fittings were also found (loose in the water, to where they were returned after being photographed). A brief attempt was made to find any remains of the structure across the flat land on the true left bank, but this is now private farmland, and no remains were visible from the river bank.

There is an old log (approx 1.5m diameter, 5m long) on the true right bank of the river, about 5m above normal water level and approx 100m upstream from the booms. One side of this has been roughly trimmed flat, probably by axe (it is understood this was common in the early 1900s, to prevent logs rolling when moved on tramways or boats). Samples were taken & submitted to the University of Auckland Tree Ring lab, and to Dr Rod Wallace of the Anthropology Dept. The log was identified as rata, but there was no way of determining how long ago it had been felled.

It is possible that the log was driven to the Parawai booms during the period they were in use (1871- c.1920), or left in the bush and brought down in a more recent flood. According to Peter McKinnon (long-time resident of the Kauaeranga Valley) recent major flood events, such as the 2002 "weather bomb" brought numerous old logs out of the bush and took them out to sea. Some were apparently washed up as far away as Ruamahanga Bay.


Figure 4: Remains of piles close to true left bank.
Click to enlarge the photograph.




Figure 5: View looking along the line of
piles in the river - the angle of the
structure (approx 30 degrees off
perpendicular to the current) is noticeable.
Click to enlarge the photograph.




Figure 6: Remains of five piles in line
- corresponds to the "key" pile of Figure 2.
Click to enlarge the photograph.




Figure 7: Large iron staple found in water.
Click to enlarge the photograph.




Figure 8: Iron bolt found in water.
Click to enlarge the photograph.




Figure 9: Large rata log on true right bank,
approx 100m upstream from Parawai booms
Click to enlarge the photograph.



References

Hayward, B. W. (1978). Kauaeranga Kauri, Lodestar Press, Auckland.

Isdale, A. M. (1977). Collected Notes: The Kauaeranga River, Thames.

Phillips, C. (2000). Waihou Journeys: The Archaeology of 400 Years of Maori Settlement. Auckland University Press, Auckland.

Reed, A. H. and Reed, A. W. (Eds.) (1951). Captain Cook in NZ: the Journals of Captain James Cook. A.H. and A.W Reed, Wellington.



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