Timaru Herald 28 June 1984

Local family has long association with Waimate timber industry

The name Hawkins has been associated with timber milling, chaff cutting and threshing for many years in Waimate. Mr Walter Hawkins and his sons included these activities within a variety of income sources for their livelihoods. Walter's grandson, Mr Colin Hawkins, is still cutting timber for farms around the district.
Richard Hawkins brought his family of nine children, including Walter, to Dunedin from England on the Sussex in 1874. When Walter married Eliza Doel he was travelling the countryside with a merry-go-round driven by a three-wheel engine, his sole surviving son, Mr Ernie Hawkins said last week.
"The Doel family was active in brick-making using a kiln on Timaru Road" he said. "They created a large pit on the site where they excavated clay for the bricks and the kiln's fate was to eventually be dismantled and used to fill that pit in 1922."
"Under the leadership of the mayor, Mr George Dash, there were a number of clean-ups of Waimate yards carried out and much of the rubbish was also tipped into this pit. Grandfather Doel made the bricks for the Centrewood buildings and Walter also worked with bricks. He carted 51,900 bricks from the Cottee's kiln for 11 pounds 13 shillings and sevenpence."
Mr Hawkins has kept a published tribute to his Welsh grandmother, Mrs Doel, which describes how 600 people attended her funeral in 1884, virtually the town's population.
"When my grandmother died grandfather Doel re-married and left to live in the North Island. His expertise in brickmaking served him well later in Australia."
"Walter took over the Doel's property when he married Eliza. Among the many chaff cutting jobs he had was a contract to cut 3600 bags for the Studholme estate in 1900. "The Hawkins were the last family to continue with a steam-driven engine for chaff cutting as we had become attached to this method. The four other cutting plants operating in the area switched to motorised chaff-cutting."
Several of Walter's brothers, sons and nephew helped him out with his timber business using a mobile saw bench to cut timber on site, Mr Hawkins said.
"Meanwhile my mother milked several cows on the Timaru Road property and the family including four boys and a girl started up a milk-round in the town. Our strawberry and raspberry crops also proved to be a useful source of income."
"Walter supplied his traction engine to shift houses around the town including the old Post Office in Mill Road. In later years Harold and I bought the shifting equipment from Mr Harry Saunders as another business.
"In fact the house I'm living in now is one we shifted from Waihao Downs to Waimate. We also shifted a large boarding house in upper High Street by dividing it into four houses which remain today."
All of Walter's sons continued with the businesses begun by their father and sawed their own timber for their houses, Mr Hawkins said.
"My father bought one of the chaff cutting businesses in Waimate in 1919. I joined him with it when I was 15 years old along with my brothers Walter junior, Harold and Baden.
"We used to travel around the district towing huts behind a traction engine and staying overnight in the fields using this accommodation.
"The hours were long working from daybreak to dusk and we would get home for the weekends only."
Six men and a cook made up the chaff cutting gang with five of them on the cutter and one on the traction engine, Mr Hawkins said.
"Two men forked sheaves from the stacks and turned it to one man acting as feeder into the rollers which pressed it. Another two men stood at the spouts filling two bags each minute and they also sewed them up before stacking them.
"I've seen 50 bags of good quality chaff cut in 17 minutes. The men could only cut 50 bags before they had to stop and change the cutter knives.
"It was a drawn-out business as the traction engine travelled at only six miles an hour and a lot of time was lost getting from one place to another.
Walter died in 1924 and we brothers continued with the business without changing to a motorised chaff cutter until 1939."
In that year Harold took over his mother's threshing mill business and Walter junior had moved onto a farm in 1927, Mr Hawkins said.
"Baden and I continued with the chaff-cutting business and my mother bought out the only other competing chaff cutting plant in the area. By 1927 I had married Olive Johns and our daughter, Mrs Kura Pinnell, has four children and we have four great-grandchildren.
"In 1922 a bag of chaff cost sevenpence and it went up to sevenpence half-penny a bag as late as 1945. We were employing seven men so it is no wonder that we never made much money."
1943 was the best chaff cutting year for the Hawkins brothers with 120,000 bags cut and much of it sent to the chaff-deficient North Island, Mr Hawkins said.
"Business was brisk between February and November each year and in December and January we concentrated our efforts on the mobile saw bench and other odd jobs. In April 1945 Baden and I sold the business to Harold.
"The number of bags was dropping each year after 1943 and we could see it was a dying trade. Horses began to be replaced more and more by tractors so the demand for their chaff feed dwindled."
Ernie and Baden continued with their raspberry and strawberry growing on two separate properties with Baden's on Oxford Street. Some of the land Mr Hawkins used was leased from the Catholic Church and he also worked as a carpenter for other builders, he said.
"I retired from most of the work in 1970 and Olive and I look forward to our 57th wedding anniversary in October this year.
The Hawkins family sawmilling at Pinewood Farm near Waimate in 1908. Walter Hawkins is the second man from the right, his brother, Tom, is sitting behind him and his oldest son, Walter junior, is second from the left. Other family members in the picture are; Jess[left], Dick [fourth from the left], Alf [fifth from the left] and Jack on the right.