Updating the stories of a river community

Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Another corner of Otago has been added to the library of updated local histories - this time the Taieri - and well done too, writes Jim Sullivan.

Win Parkes, Kath Hislop and the Taieri Mouth Amenities Society
AM Publishing


Updating a local history is always a challenge as, almost inevitably, the end product is a game of two halves.

The reprinted original with fascinating stories from the early days and the second part wrestling with how to handle recent events (in this case the happenings of the past 40 years). The Taieri Mouth Amenities Society have made a fine fist of producing a relatively seamless volume.

The original book appeared in George Griffiths' Otago Heritage Books series of local histories and the quality of those histories is beyond dispute. 

The reprint has allowed for a new layout and an upgrading of the illustrations, the captions for which are detailed and informative, but in places the publishers might have been tidier in making them more distinct from the main text.

It is the stories that matter most and the coverage of the whaling days, Maori settlement, the coming of the Europeans with their farms, businesses and the early commercial fishing industry are now available again.

Naturally, the bridging of the Taieri River is examined in full and family historians will delight in the details of the pioneer lives. While Taieri Mouth is the focus, the history of the river upstream to Henley will be a highlight for many readers. The ships that braved the bar and travelled up river were the lifeline in the days before roads and once the railway reached Titri (the map supplied could have covered this larger area with advantage) the carting of cargo and passengers down to Taieri Mouth provides anecdotes aplenty.

The scenic trip through the 8km Taieri Gorge was a magnet for the tourists of 100 years ago. Indeed, one of the best illustrations in the book comes from the Hocken Collections and shows the Moturata and the Waiwera with the three lifeboats they towed outside the long-gone White House Hotel at Henley in about 1900. Would that such trips through the gorge were still on the tourist trail. Happily, pictures and stories of the families who settled or holidayed in the gorge are plentiful.

Back at Taieri Mouth, the growth of the community and its commercial activities paint a picture quite removed from the holiday or commuting settlement of today.

The second part of the book has relied on a committee approach (with valuable input from Elizabeth Cowie) which ensures that few facets of modern Taieri Mouth life have gone unrecorded.

The cribbies and their lifestyle have been brought alive through oral history and family photographs, often about fondly-remembered events that have died off, like the great bonfire each New Year's Eve.

The recent story has the added attraction of colour photography and today's Taieri Mouth, with much about natural history and environmental matters, is well-served with outstanding pictures, many from Stephen Jaquiery and his team at the Otago Daily Times.

Of course, any family with Taieri Mouth connections will want a copy of this book but the real proof of its value is that even those of us who have passed through only once or twice can read every chapter with delight.

Another corner of Otago has been added to the library of updated local histories that reminds us that the stories do not stop. Win Parkes and the late Kath Hislop wrote the original history and their efforts have been soundly built on by the team at the Taieri Mouth Amenities Society.

Stand by for a surge in population as readers discover yet another rather magical place on Dunedin's outskirts.

Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.

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