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A bit of local history.

By Malcolm Campbell.

The Coromandel Peninsula, Hauraki Plains, Catchment of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers have been subject to regular, and at times, serious flooding. Some of these floods caused severe damage and loss of life. Depressions from the tropics dumped deluges over the land. Two notable storms hit the North Island in 1936 and again in 1938. In 1936, flooding hit the Coromandel Peninsula severely. It is notable that the Esk Valley near Napier received a hammering in this same period very similar to the effects of the recent Gabrielle Storm.

Although there had been substantial drainage work carried out on the Hauraki Plains in the early 1900’s, severe flooding in 1936 and 1938 roused calls for action to alleviate the damage being caused to urban and rural properties. Some preliminary discussions were held, but the Second World War broke out and there was no further progress made in developing any form of flood defences or protection.

Following the end of the War in 1947, The Hauraki Catchment Board (HCB) was set up with the intention of expressly developing flood control systems on the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers. Later the HCB extended their operations to the Piako and Waitoa Rivers further to the west. There was some irony at the timing of the establishment of the HCB in 1947 as one of the most severe droughts in recent times occurred in 1945-46 as personnel were returning from some arid territory in North Africa to more arid territory in New Zealand. The drought persisted from November 1945 until March 1946.

The headquarters of the HCB was established in Te Aroha, the building now occupied by an accountancy firm. The strength of the Catchment Board lay in the fact that it was composed of local people with local knowledge, dealing with, at times, damaging local problems. Without naming them, well known respected people were elected to the Board. Naturally not everyone was in agreement with some of the works programmes, but by the way it was established, virtually everyone knew a member or could readily contact a member with their concerns or more directly, go to the office with any concerns or ideas that the individual had.

At this time local government was comprised of County Councils and Borough Councils. County Councillors were elected by rural people and paid their rates accordingly. The situation was similar in the boroughs where urban dwellers elected their Council. Again, it was local people electing people that they had a good chance of knowing personally or the means of contacting those people. More to come. (The population has increased but the degree to which the number of staff in councils has increased outweighs the increase in population as has the many levels or processes before someone is able to talk directly to another in local government.)

There is a …breakdown between all forms of government and people. If no one in government went to work tomorrow, it would create inconveniences, but, and a big but, if the working people in industry did not work tomorrow, the buses, trains, the ships, the tankers, the vegetables, the fuel, the shops, the planes, everything would be unavailable. It would be all switched off and in John Key’s words, ‘gone by lunchtime’, in fact, long before lunchtime.”

Caption: Malcolm Campbell.

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