Pureora & Bennydale by Elizabeth Thomson
Pureora village was dismal, the houses, built of wood during the native timber sawmilling heyday, now derelict and abandoned. Skeletal remains of the mill and a sprawling dump of sawdust marked the entrance to the village. The road wound through the remaining buildings exiting in the other direction into the enveloping bush. Fortunately the length of road through the village was tar sealed but from the tar seal to the main highway between Taupo and Te Kuiti, it was metalled.
When we moved there in 1986 three remaining houses were able to be occupied – one to be ours. In many ways it was adequate, though it had a fence but no gate; but there was no real danger if the children ran onto the road. About one truck a day would pass and the air was so quiet, the vehicle’s noise provided warning of its approach.
There was a paddock adjacent the house. Despite enquiring we had no idea who owned it so put a couple of pigs on it to fatten up. In the spring my husband brought home an orphan duckling and my eleven year old daughter looked after it for a day or so before releasing it. It slept in bed with her!
A sort of get-together party occurred shortly after we arrived – the sort you dressed down for. People seemed to emerge out of the bush and surrounding area to stand around smoking dope and blowing puffs into any grizzling children’s faces. The food was exceptional – all home-made and included wild roast pork from the area. It was held in the fading, long disused former canteen /dining room – like everything else, made of wood and corrugated iron.
The village also had a fire station once important in the busier days though now there weren’t enough people in the area to man it if there was a fire. The station had a pool table, and locals could go along and have a game on it.
In the village, the Department of Conservation still kept a small visitors’ centre open which was run by an interesting local character. He had been in the area long enough to know all the answers to any passerby’s questions. There were brochures to be given out and information for trampers about the tracks around Pureora Mountain. The tramping groups most likely to get into trouble and need rescuing were school groups led by over-confident and under-experienced teachers.
Pureora forest beside the village had had a chequered history that included native timber logging, areas replanted in eucalyptus, protection from logging and arguments over ownership. While we were there a well-known activist climbed by rope into the top branches of one of the huge native trees and set up camp to protest about the endangered habitat for the kokako. He almost became a tourist attraction and one of his well-publicised visitors was David Bellamy, the conservationist from England.
Despite the native trees being protected, I saw logging trucks pass loaded with rimu and totara.
The nearest town was Bennydale - a killer of dreams located halfway between Taupo and Te Kuiti in the middle of farm land near Pureora National Park. From Pureora my two children went by dusty, clattery bus to the Bennydale Area School.
Dreams had already been shattered before we arrived in the 1980s – those of the mill owner who had felled and sawn native timber, but then had his use of the remaining native trees prohibited. Also those of the farmers who had enjoyed agricultural subsidies then found, without them, their livelihoods were jeopardized on the marginal, steep hills.
Sheep farming had continued in the area around Pureora village and our children had the opportunity of watching docking then being offered cooked sheep’s tails to eat.
The population of Bennydale, although once thriving with a pub, hotel and grocery, now, in the 1980s had only a dairy and we were amazed when that was sold and a new family bravely took it over.
The family had several handsome teenage sons who went to the area school with my children, and the dairy became a popular place for teenagers to hang out before and after school. Unfortunately the locals didn’t spend enough money there to make it viable, plus the teenage sons ate all the profits in the form of cream-filled buns and ice creams. So that family’s dream went down the drain when they had to close and leave the area.
Then a couple arrived from Great Britain and were sent to relieve the staff shortage at the school. The husband had a PhD. in English and his wife was a beautiful, blonde, multilingual German. They had immigrated to New Zealand and the Education Department, in its wisdom, sent them to remote, challenging Bennydale. They must have thought it was the end of the Earth because it was so small and quiet.
They were provided with a staff house, and the husband bravely and in trepidation began teaching at the school. They had brought a computer with them and we were invited to their house to see it. It was the first one I had ever seen and I was taught the names of the parts – the mouse and the wires behind it were called spaghetti. Within a short time they left to find somewhere in New Zealand that had a larger population and was a bit more stimulating and interesting.
After the next Department of Conservation restructuring we had to leave Pureora, but we were just another family quietly slipping away to leave the increasingly derelict village to its slumbers lying like a dog on the porch, opening one eye occasionally to see who might be passing by.
‘Pureora & Bennydale’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.