Irish Roots
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Campbell Family Stories

These are stories about the family and Awarua that have been passed down through the generations. They are believed to be accurate but have probably been embellished over the years! Last update 26/12/09

Early marriage

John Campbell emigrated from Londonderry Ireland in 1841. He was accompanied by his wife and four children. Unfortunately Mrs Campbell died on the voyage so John had to establish himself in the new colony while raising a young family. He resolved to return home to find a new wife willing to help him raise the children in a new land. On the coach journey to catch his ship he told his story to a woman he had never met before and her response was "I'll marry you". The journey was aborted, the marriage took place and the couple apparently lived happily for many years.
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Buying Land

John farmed land in what is now the Wellington suburb of Karori and after the 1855 earthquake he engaged the services of an agent to acquire land in the Wairarapa for his two sons John jnr and Hugh. The agent duly reported that he had found good farmland in the Upper Opaki area "without a stone you could throw at a crow". The land was duly acquired and the sons took up their holdings but soon discovered that while the agent's description was technically accurate it was because the stones were all too big! The first documented date of the Campbells in the area is a map of the valley held by the Alexander Turnbull library dated 1861. It shows a block of land on the Eastern side of the Waipoua river running South from what is now the Kiriwakapa road.
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Coping with the stones

The stones on the flats of Awarua, Ratanui and Rameslie have been a curse for all the subsequent generations farming the land, there are still many heaps of them on the properties and still more were used as foundation for the main road to Masterton when it was formed. Whenever a paddock is cultivated today mores stones still surface and have to be dealt with. The technique for removing the stones was to pick them by hand into a dray pulled by horses, on arrival at the dump site the dray would be reversed and the stones tipped out. Many of the stones were dumped over the banks on the property formed by river erosion and a log would be placed at the edge of the bank for the dray wheels to rest against. On one occasion the wheels missed the log, and dray, horse and driver went over the bank with the stones. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt and the work carried on. Many of the stones were removed by gangs of men employed by Hugh's son John (Blackjack) in the 1930s, he employed 30 men for six months doing nothing else but cart stones.

A dray load of stones being dumped near the road on Awarua.
The stone heap in 2003. The trees were planted among the stones after they were dumped

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The stone wall

At the end of each days stone picking Ray would bring a dray load home to the Awarua homestead and Reta would then stack them into the stone wall along the front of the garden. The wall was only just completed when the 1942 earthquake struck and caused much of it to collapse. Undaunted, Reta set about rebuilding it and just completed it in time for a major aftershock six months later to flatten it again! This time she left it for several years before stacking the stones once more. The wall still shows the effects the multiple rebuilding.

Part of Reta's wall

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Ploughing the native grass

Much of the flat area of the district was covered by totara forest but the paddocks immediately in front of the homestead were relatively open with native grasses and bracken. This clear area was the first to be cultivated and resown in improved pasture but the turf was so matted and tough that if the plough hit a stone and bounced up it would start the furrow "unraveling" and falling back into place. To prevent this effect traveling the length of the paddock a man would walk behind the plough with a spade and chop the newly turned furrow at regular intervals.
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Fencing styles

The first fences were constructed of split totara rails morticed into posts. The rails were split from logs handsawn into ten foot lengths and the ends trimmed to fit in the mortice with an axe. Three slots were drilled and chiseled into the posts and the rails inserted as the posts were erected. The entire fence had no nails, wire or staples and must have been very labour intensive to construct.
Remnants of a split rail fence. The wire is a later addition.

Later wire fences were made using "black" six gauge wire and the first paddock it was used on is the one directly in front of the homestead, this paddock is still known as the "Wire paddock".

As the supply of Totara posts dried up about the time of the second World War alternatives were sought. Concrete posts were popular for time but they were heavy and prone to breakages from shock loads, then techniques for treating Radiata pine were developed but it took Ray some years to trust the technology. Simple battery powered elctric fences were around but in 1960 they were developed for permanent subdivision. The first subdivision done with electric fence is now know as the Electric Paddock on top of the hill called "The Burn". This was a five wire fence supported by iron standards with the botoom wire earthed.

The units were still battery powered but recharged with special wind powered generators. Although these windmills were intended to survive strong winds they often suffered damage in gales or if mounted out of the wind did not keep the battery charged. About 1965 Ray and Ian recovered the pelton wheel used to charge radio batteries during the war (Charging a battery) and mounted it in a creek bed on the side of the North face where the old bush tram line used to run. This worked well until a dry summer caused the creek to dry up and power was lost. By then mains powered units were becoming available so a unit was mounted in the pump shed and a lead out wire led along the top of post and batten fences to reach the subdivison.

The second generation mains units employed a new technology that resisted shorting and deliverd more power to the fence. This enabled the development of the "Grass fence", two wires about 30cm high and 50cm apart. This caused grass to grow between the wires creating a visual barrier that stock were reluctant to cross. The Grass fence was the cheapest form of of subdivision and although not entirely stock proof enabled good grazing control of big areas. The biggest drawback was the long grass between the wires crated an ideal environment for grass grub and porina, both nasty pasture pests.

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Hollow log kennels

When the bush was burnt it would sometimes happen that the inside "dead" part of a growing tree would be burnt out leaving the green growing part around the outside. The result would be a hollow log. These logs were a danger to sheep for many years because they could trapped inside them. However a good use was made of the totara logs hollowed in this way as dog kennels. A section was sawed off the log, an end of timber or iron nailed to one end and the dog had a comfortable and warm home.
Dog kennels made from hollow logs.

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Boundary problems

After the land wars in the 19th century land was made available to the people who fought for the government. There were two 70 acre blocks of land in this category between the properties of Hugh and John Campbell and as the offer was not taken up the brothers applied for the rights to it. Some where in the process the desired blocks became reversed with the result that each property had a 70acre section jutting into the other. The brothers were too stubborn to swap their sections and it was not until Massey University took over the running of Riverside in 1978 that the problem was sorted out and a sensible boundary arrived at..
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Bush fires

Fire was an essential tool for settlers clearing the land for farming but there were downside's. In late December 1886 there were extensive fires in the Opaki district fanned by strong winds. Although much of the land was cleared of bush by then there were still many logs scattered around and the fire often traveled from log to log as winds carried the sparks. In January 1897 John Campbell of Riverside accused his brother Hugh of Ratanui of starting a fire which spread over 370 acres of Riverside. In a much publicised court case John sued Hugh for 500 pounds damages caused by the fire. It was not proved that Hugh was directly responsible for the fire in question and the case was lost but the jury censured Hugh for not giving adequate warning to neighbours when conducting burn off operations. It seems John's claim of 500 pound damages may have been inflated because several witness's stated that much of Riverside had in fact been improved by the fire! John later sued the Wairarapa Daily Times (later the Wairarapa Times Age) of incorrectly reporting the trial but the outcome of that court case is unknown.
Burning the last of the logs prior to cultivation. Photo taken in the Lookout paddock about 1964. The black smoke came from resin in the old rimu stumps.
Totara tree showing damage caused by fire around 1900. Photo taken in 2004

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Paddock names

Many of the names given to paddocks lose their meanings as the years go by but following are some of the original names on Awarua and how they were derived:
  • The Burn was the last paddock to be deliberately burnt to clear the land for sowing. It is the first hill to the West of the river.
    The hill face on the left was the site of the last burn on Awarua. The bush on the right is part of the block preserved by Emily Campbell Photo taken 2004
  • Fern Hill grew such dense bracken that a herd of cattle introduced at the bottom would not be seen till they emerged at the top. Fern Hill was immediately to the West of The Burn
  • Blownups gets it name from the fact that early in the 20th century a severe wind storm uprooted all the trees creating a very broken surface. It is South of Fern Hill
    The hump and hollow effect in Blownups left by the uprooting. Photo taken 2004
  • 70 acres refers to the size of the paddock jutting into Riverside that is described in the Boundaries section
  • Longspur had a long ridge running down toward the Kiriwhakapapa river.
  • Whare Flat had a small cottage on it that was probably used as an outstation
  • The Totaras referred to the flats to west of the river and grew a very good stand of Totara bush
  • Wire Paddock is immediately in front of the homestead and was the first paddock to be fenced with wire fences
  • Razorback is the steep hill at the back of the farm

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Natural cover

At the time of settlement not all of the property was in standing bush. The land east of the river was largely native grass and bracken, the flats to the west of the river were in bush dominated by totara and matai while the hills were largely covered in birch, rimu and rata forest. One early settler tells of hunting rabbits among the bracken of the flats and coming across larges "hunks" of totara logs among the fern. He recalls local Maori talking about a large fire in pre European times that destroyed many of the trees on the flats so it seems that it may have all been bush covered at some time. The district is a very good one for growing totara and there are still some wonderful examples in the surviving bush. The property has never had a major problem with scrub or manuka although there are some small patches surviving.
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Mary Agnes' bush

In 1870 a survey map shows Mary Agnes Campbell (nee Tankersley)owning 70 acres of land on the West side of the Waipoua river and straddling the Kiriwakapapa stream. The land was part of Ratanui but Mary Agnes would not let the block be milled or cleared and so it is still in evidence today as remants of bush on Awarua and Ratanui. Although the bush was not felled it was subject to grazing and fire damage so has declined over the years. On her death Mary Agnes left the land to her daughter in law, Emily Blatchford, who maintained the tradition of preservation until 1945 when Ratanui and Awarua were separated and the land was incorporated into the two farms. The best of Mary Agnes' bush is now fenced and protected by QE II convenant.
Aerial view of Mary Agnes' bush taken in 1943.
The bush in 2009

Harvesting timber

Sandy Mcleod of Dunvegan on the Eastern side of the valley ran a steam powered saw mill and for some time it was located on Awarua where the present woolshed stands. A blacksmiths forge was located at the top of the road leading to the river and in the 1940s scraps of melted glass and other fragments could be easily found there. In 1998 heavy rain uncovered a cache of horseshoes for draught horses on the site of the old smithy. Tramlines were progressively laid up to five miles long to extract logs from the surrounding bush. At one stage there was a pile of sawdust level with the bank the mill was sited on extending as far as the river, roughly six thousand cubic metres of sawdust.
McLeods mill did not process any totara on Awarua because it did not decay readily and was considered a valuable resource for the future. Totara logs were extracted and milled as the timber was needed up to 1970 when the supply of dead trees was exhausted. In 1965 Ray felled and milled five large totaras that had been killed by fire in 1910. The timber from these trees built a house in Taupo and a retirement house at 3 Titoki street in Masterton.
A totara log ready for milling. It is wrapped in wire and it is believed this was used to roll it into position for transport. c1928
Getting the log across the river was no problem!
Loading the logs for Rays house. Picture taken about 1964
In 1953 when Ian left school and started work on Awarua the old crossut saw was about worn out. The question was to replace it or buy one of the "new fangled" chain saws. Ian was all for the chainsaw but Ray bought a new crosscut. However the first maire log the new saw was put to broke several of the teeth so Ray went back and bought the farms first chainsaw, much to Ian's relief!
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The Plough

In the late 1920's a firm in Petone imported the first tractor drawn plough, it came in kitset form and the firm was unable to assemble it. John Campbell Jnr (Jack) bought the kitset for 20 pounds and the three sons spent a winter working out how it went together. It was a three furrow plough with an ingenious chain hoist that lifted it clear of the ground by engaging a gear on the land wheel. It was used until about 1970 when it was replaced with a 3 point linkage model.

The plough used cast iron shares (the points that penetrate the ground) that fitted over tongues on the frame and were held in place by the forward motion.When working in swampy ground the tractor would sometimes lose traction and the rig would come to halt. Without forward movement the plough could not be lifted clear of the ground. The first step to extricate it would be to disconnect the plough, drive the tractor to firmer ground and tow the plough out with a long chain. If this failed then the plough would be towed out backward but this could cause the shares to slip off the tongues and meant digging in the mud to retrieve them.
The plough in use next to the main road. Note the boulders sitting on the frame to stop it bouncing out of the stony ground. c1930

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Ripper made from the frame of the plough about 1977. Photo taken in 2004


In the early part of the 20th century hay would be cut with a horse drawn mower, turned and stooked by hand. Later the stooks would be gathered by buckrakes to a central point and pressed into bales by a stationary press driven by traction engine. The whole process was quite drawn out and subject to weather problems, particularly in Mt Bruce!
Mowing hay on Ratanui in the 1920s
Taking a break
Pressing previously gathered and stacked hay
Lunchtime in the hay paddock. Note the stooks and the pichforks.

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Crossing the river

The larger part of Awarua lies on the Western side of the Waipoua river while the houses, woolshed and yards etc are all on the Eastern side. While the Waipoua is not a large river it is still difficult to ford at times and getting sheep across was quite a hurdle.
Bringing a mob of sheep across the river
In 1938 the river in Masterton was diverted and a suspension bridge that crossed between the park and hospital became redundant. Jack Campbell purchased the bridge, cut it into sections and transported it to Awarua. While it was waiting to be erected the sections were scattered by a large gale but although rather battered they were salvageable and the bridge was erected on Awarua just before the outbreak of World War II. The 1942 earthquake caused one of the cables to jump off its fitting on the tower but the bridge continued to be used until 1972.
The suspension bridge in use about 1965
Because the first bridge was only a metre wide it was still quite a job getting sheep across so in 1971 Ian Campbell built a second wider suspension bridge that could take light vehicles and all classes of stock. This bridge made the operation of the farm much easier, for the first time sheep could be moved over the river at will. The second bridge was suspended from 18km of high tensile fencing wire and was built to specifications drawn up by Norman Major. The design was successful but the bridge required a fairly high level of maintenance.
The second bridge after having new cables fitted in 1997
In 1998 the largest flood ever experienced in the Waipoua washed out the Western embankment and the bridge collapsed into the river. The replacement is a steel and concrete structure that can carry full highway loading.
The third bridge built in 1999

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The spring

Along the terrace parallel to the Waipoua river are a series of small springs. Individually they are too small to be of much use but in the 1930s a ditch was was dug along the trrace to trap many of them and provide a good supply of cool clear spring water. The resulting flow is very steady and does not discolour or change with the seasons. The water is slightly acidic and over time reacts with copper in pipes and fittings to slowly erode them and cause a green discolouration on the enamelled surfaces of bathroom fittings.
Aerial photo of the homestead and surrounding paddocks taken in 1943

The water race

Much of Awarua has natural springs and creeks sufficient for the livestock in the early days but the flats in front of the homestead are an exception. A race was constructed to divert the water from the terrace spring to where it was needed. Along the way two hollows had to be crossed and this was done by building up the sides of the race the edges of the hollow and then carrying the water across by means of a series of 4" black iron pipes. The system worked well in spite of very little fall but required a lot of maintenance. Over the years the pipes rusted and small holes would appear producing a mini fountain, these were wonderful place to get a refreshing drink of spring water on a hot summers day. Repairs to pipe were made by wrapping a piece of inner tube around and binding with wire. The race was replaced by a piped supply in the mid 1950s. The first plastic pipes were purchased in lengths which were then glued together. The pipes were laid along the course of the old race ready for burying but during the night a horse walked the length of the race cracking the frost brittle pipe in many places, fortunately repairs were fairly easy.

The race started at the top edge of what is now the water reserve and proceeded past the woolshed and along the edge of the drive to the mid drive cattle stop. It is the reason for the triangular shape of the plantation along the drive.

The water race started in the manuka at the right of this photo. The pipe carrying it across the creek by the woolshed is just visible on the left.

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Water for the house

Part of the flow from the springs along the terrace was diverted to drive an hydraulic ram pump to provide water for the homestead. The principle of the ram is that water is allowed to rush down a pipe and then suddenly cut off. The kinetic energy of the moving water then forces some of it into an air filled hamber that is connected to a water tank higher than the original source. On Awarua the tank was mounted on a stand about three metres high at the highest point on the bank behind the house. From here a series of connected iron pipes provided water to the house. The ram ran continuously so the surplus water would just overflow the tank and cascade to the ground, in frosty weather this produced some wonderful icicles. The iron pipes were much more difficult to install than the modern polythyne piping but one can imagine the huge benefit of a good water supply on tap.
The ram used was of similar design to this one.

At times crawlies or freshwater crayfish would make their way down the inlet pipe to the ram and jam the valve that shut off the water, so it was not an uncommon task to clean the valve out and restart the ram.

The same source of water is still used for both domestic and livestock needs but the spring is now trapped and piped to a holding tank lower down where it is fed into a piped network by an electric powered pump. The spring still requires periodic cleaning out although much of the water can now be allowed to escape as only a fraction of it is needed.

The site of the old tank stand. The split totara post in the foreground is one the posts that supported the stand and is nearly 4 metres long. The tank was pre cast in concrete and raised onto the platform by rolling it up plank ramp with the tractor, a tricky operation!

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Battery charging

Electricity did arrive on Awarua until November 1949 so Ray owned a console radio powered by a 6 volt car battery. This was a constant problem to keep charged and so he constructed a water powered generator with water diverted from the stock water race to a generator over the bank behind the woolshed. The turbine was a pelton wheel and the generator was purloined from an old car engine. There was not really sufficient fall for efficient use of a pelton wheel but it did provide enough power to listen to the news during the war.