70 years of Ōmokoroa’s farming families

Maureen Bruning, Val Hale and Chris Wright. Photo: John Borren.

Fish leaping into boats, transporting cream by horse and cart, haymaking in the 40s, fancy dress parties, socials and dances - it all comes to life in a newly-published book on the history of Ōmokoroa.

One thing is clear on reading Omokoroa Farming Families 1900 to 1970: the Western Bay suburb was, and still is, a caring community of generous civic-minded people.

The rich tapestry of the lives of the farming families has been beautifully portrayed thanks to a team effort, support from the Ōmokoroa Centre Trust and contributions of photos, recollections and many interviews.

Researched, collated, compiled and edited by Maureen and Norm Bruning, Valerie and Jerry Hale and Christine Wright for the Ōmokoroa History Group, the 336-page book is brimming with colour photos and packed with memories, information and thoughts about farming life on the peninsula.

Originally, Ōmokoroa covered the area from the Waipapa River to the Te Puna River, including both the Ōmokoroa and Huharua peninsulas separated by the Mangawhai estuary right back to the Old Highway, which still exists.

Place names changed, with Huharua peninsula having different names at different times. It is now commonly known as Plummer’s Point.

The book follows on from an earlier title on Ōmokoroa written by Jenny Woods and updated by Colin Pettigrew. The foreword, by Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber, also recommends reading the 2010 Waitangi Tribunal report titled Tauranga Moana 1886 – 2006 Volume 1, to gain further insight into the area’s history - particularly pre-European.

Dedicated to Jocelyn Hicks, who alongside Colin was co-founder of the Ōmokoroa History Group in 2008, this book on farming families was initiated by Jocelyn who sadly passed away in November 2020.

“Jenny’s book covered the first European settlers to Ōmokoroa,” says Maureen. “Jocelyn’s thought was to capture the stories of the settlers who came after that to work the land.”

A piece written by Jocelyn on Ōmokoroa dairy farming history in 2010 has been used as the preface.

“Jocelyn was passionate about recording Ōmokoroa’s farming and social history.”

At the book’s core are farming stories from 23 contributions. The front cover photograph, by Alf Rendell, shows the peninsula in 1956, while the back cover is an aerial photo of Ōmokoroa from 2017.

Chapters cover cream carriers from konaki to tanker, World War One and Two servicemen, haymaking in the 1940s, country women, school histories and the life of a country teacher, country stores, the postal service, butchers – every aspect of life seems to be included.

The railway line built in 1928, and the main highway built in the early 50s, had a huge impact on the community, and just about everyone mentions fishing and the abundance of fish.

Colourful glimpses into the lives of early families show a lively, vibrant and growing community of people who enjoyed a lot of fun, including the mock debutante ball where farmers dressed up in wigs, jewellery and gowns.

There were also drama groups and the coming together of volunteers to build halls, a school and storage rooms. Generosity is at the heart of this community, from the gifting of land to helping each other with haymaking or when illness struck.

Colin Pettigrew’s extensive photographic archives, as well as Tauranga City Library photos and historical archives, have been well utilised. Information and data has also been sourced from school history books, jubilee books and previous historians.

Written in chronological order, from farming families in the 1890s right up to the 1970s when many farms were being converted into orchards or subdivisions, the chapters are accompanied by a timeline that extends from 1877 to 2021, which shows there is only one dairy farm remaining.

There is also a map of both peninsulas, with approximate farm locations showing where people farmed which will be of interest to today’s property owners.

“People will be able to discover upon whose previous farm their new home now sits,” says Maureen.

What’s ahead for the Ōmokoroa History Group? Chris says the next book will look at Ōmokoroa beach and bach life.

It is well worth $45, so to purchase a copy of Ōmokoroa Farming Families 1900 to 1970 from the Ōmokoroa History Group, email: chris.warwick@omox.co.nz, bruning.farm@gmail.com or sjvjhale@gmail.com

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