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Awatuna, New Zealand

About

Christoph Korte and his family were amongst the early settlers in Awatuna, South Taranaki. This page provides some information on the history of Awatuna. Information on this page comes from a booklet produced for the 1993 school centennial (Awatuna School & District Centennial 1893-1993), newspaper articles on Papers Past and The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1908).

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Awatuna 1950s

Awatuna in 1950s, Mountain to north,
Auroa and Eltham Road intersection.
Dairy Factory north east of intersection, store north west of intersection, and Dairy Factory Trading Store south west of intersection.

Location

Awatuna is a small settlement in South Taranaki, New Zealand, on the Eltham-Opunake road, south of Mount Egmont/Taranaki on the Waimate plain. The settlement developed from the late 1880s. It developed as a dairy factory settlement.

The Waimate plain was once one of New Zealand’s most densely populated rural areas in New Zealand. There were small communities, often centered on the dairy factory or school, at nearly every intersection of the grid of roads in the area. Awatuna was one of these settlements.

Today Awatuna has almost disappeared with the dairy factory, store and school closed. The Awatuna Hall and associated Awatuna and Districts Playcentre are the remaining facilities still functioning. The early settlers farms have been amalgamated into larger modern highly productive dairy farms.

Map showing Awatuna

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Township History

Awatuna Store

Awatuna East about 1908, with Mt Taranaki in background.
The premises of William King Howitt, storekeeper, baker and post office are visible centre left. Auroa road is on the right.
Source National Library of NZ

Before European settlement, the Awatuna district was covered in forest with giant Rimu, Rata, Totara, Pukatea and Tawa trees and a lush undergrowth of ferns, vines, creepers and supplejacks. Settlement of the district occurred in the 1890's when land was offered for sale or lease by the Government. Settlers cleared the bush and established farms.

Awatuna initially developed around the Oeo Road where a timber mill was built by Parkes and Brooker. Settlers sold timber off their properties to the mill. As the district farms developed a store and Post office were built beside the timber mill. Nearby there was a blacksmith's shop, a coach building workshop and sale-yards. The Awatuna School was built in 1886 but not used until 1893. The Awatuna Hall was built across the Eltham-Opunake road from the school in 1895. There was a butchery business on the Oeo Road that delivered meat around the district.

In 1894 the Awatuna Dairy Company built a factory near the intersection of the east-west Eltham-Opunake road and north-south Auroa road. The factory resulted in Awatuna East developing around the intersection because it was inconvenient for farmers delivering to the factory to travel the mile to the store and post office at Awatuna. A branch store and post office was established at Awatuna East in 1900.

The timber mill shifted to Te Kiri and with farmers preferring the Awatuna East store and post office, the original businesses closed down. The blacksmith shop at Awatuna closed down because of competition from the blacksmith at Awatuna East. Awatuna East survived and was eventually renamed Awatuna about 1915.

In 1908 the Awatuna settlement had a dairy factory producing butter and cheese, a sawmill employing about 20 men, a blacksmith's shop, a sole teacher school, a hall and a general store which conducted the business of the post and telegraphic office, and the telephone bureau.

The population of the district declined sharply after 1950 due to dairy farms becoming larger with less labour, the amalgamation of dairy companies after the introduction of tankers to collect milk from farms.

Today Awatuna consists of scattered houses, a hall that has an attached playcentre for pre-school education, a closed school, a closed general store and a closed dairy factory building. The Hall and School are located one km west of Auroa Road.

Awatuna School

Awatuna School

Awatuna School, second classroom added 1910

Picture of Awatuna School

New School in 1993, opened 1956

The Awatuna School had an unusual beginning in that it was built in 1886, several years before it was opened on 10 April 1893. The school initially consisted of a one room school building and teacher's residence of four rooms on the 3 acre school reserve site.

When the school opened in 1893 there were 20 pupils enrolled, 12 boys and 8 girls. The first pupils included my grandfather Frederick Korte and his brother Christopher Korte and sister Martha Korte. Four of the first pupils were children of Julius Bulst, a family closely associated with the Korte family for many years. The school grounds were initially covered in logs and stumps so the headmaster often had the boys rolling logs together and burning them.

Family members who attended the school included: Frederick Korte, Christopher Korte, Martha Korte, Freda Korte and her Brandt children, Frank Gatenby, Alice Gatenby.

By 1897 the roll had grown to 64 pupils which grossly overcrowded the single classroom. A new classroom was constructed in 1910. In 1956 a new school building was opened and a new school residence was completed in 1959. In 1972 a relocatable classroom was added to the school and the school had three teachers. The closure of the Awatuna and Taungatara dairy factories in 1973 resulted in a drop in the school roll and the relocatable classroom was removed in 1982.

The school roll declined and in 1990 and 1993 there were only 40 and 17 pupils enrolled respectively. Awatuna School closed on 3 August 1995.

Dairy Factory

Awatuna Factory 1905

Farmers delivering milk to Awatuna Co-Operative Dairy Factory in 1905.
Photo from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19050824-12-7

Awatuna Factory

The Awatuna Co-Operative Dairy Factory built in 1930.
Source Puke Ariki

The Awatuna Co-Operative Dairy Company, owned by the local suppliers, built a cheese factory that started operations in 1894. Mr Cox was the first manager of the factory. The factory initially had two 1000 gallon vats for receiving milk and a cheese room capable of holding 30 tons of cheese. The factory also manufactured butter, obtaining butter making plant in 1896. Butter and cheese were transported to the railway at Eltham, from whence it was sent to its destination. In 1894/95 97,200 pounds (44 t) of cheese was exported to London.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1908) gave the following description of the factory. John Callaghan had been factory manager since 1905.

The Awatuna Dairy Factory is thoroughly up-to-date, and has also a cheese-making plant. It contains an engine room, a butter room, a cheese-making room with five vats, two chilling rooms, a curing room, a salt room and a packing room. The machinery includes a fourteen horse-power boiler, a twelve, horse power Tangye engine, a two-ton Humble freezer and heater, and three Alpha de Laval separators, etc. The factory has two creameries, and the staff consists of a factory manager, two assistants, and two creamery managers.

The present (closed) Awatuna factory building was constructed in 1930 because the original factory was too small and the plant was worn out. By the late 1930s the number of co-operatives and their branches – about 120 – was at its greatest extent in Taranaki. From then on, amalgamations began to whittle away the smaller factories as roads and transport improved.

In 1962 The company introduced its first tanker for collection of milk. By 1969 all the milk was being collected by tanker. In 1973 the company ceased manufacture and began supplying the Rennet Company in Eltham who required a guaranteed milk supply for their specialist cheese manufacture. Milk was collected by Taranaki Dairy Company and milk not required by the Rennet Company was used by Taranaki Dairy Company. All the Awatuna Co-Op Dairy Company assets were sold except the Awatuna store that continued to operate. In 1989 the company amalgamated with Kiwi Dairies from Hawera.

The Dairy Company built a Trading Store to provide farm supplies opposite the local general store on the corner of the Eltham and Auroa Roads. After the company amalgamated with Kiwi Dairies the store continued to trade but has now closed and been demolished.

Hall

Hall

Awatuna Hall

The Awatuna Hall is located one km west of Auroa Road on the Eltham Road, opposite the school. District settlers raised funds to build the hall and it was opened in 1895. It is the oldest building in the district still used for its original purpose. From time to time the hall has had improvements made to maintain its functionality, with residents either undertaking the work or raising money to enable the work. In the 1950s the supper room was extended and a new floor laid in the supper room. Electric heaters were installed to replace a wood fire.

The Hall has been used extensively as a venue for all types of events, including school concerts, temporary classrooms, flower shows, dances, badminton, table tennis, indoor bowls. In 1969/70 the Awatuna and Districts Playcentre began using the supper room of the Hall as their venue.

Sawmill

Awatuna Sawmill

Parkes & Brookers Sawmill, Awatuna about 1910, with Mt Taranaki in background.
Photographer David Duncan, Opunake
Source National Library of NZ

 

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1908) gave the following description of the Awatuna sawmill. The business was established in 1883.

The mill of Messrs Parkes and Brooker is situated about two miles from Awatuna East. It has been established for twenty-three years, and has been working in various parts of the Awatuna district. The firm owns over 280 acres of good timber land, and has also cutting rights over considerable areas in the district. The plant is complete and up-to-date, and includes a thirty horse-power boiler, a fourteen horse-power Murray engine, a breaking down bench with vertical saw, a breast bench, and an American planing machine. About twenty persons are employed, and the daily output is 5000 feet. In connection with the establishment there is a yard at Opunake, where supplies of timber are kept. Carting is done with the firm's own teams.

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