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The way it was . . . Bill Washington with an early image of the Makikihi business his parents later owned. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Wanted – people with memories of Makikihi as it was up to the 1960s.

This is a request from Timaru businessman Bill Washington (82), who in his spare time when not working has been compiling a history of the small town and surrounding area.

He said other rural districts had their histories but not a lot had been written about Makikikhi and he was not aware of any history.

“I haven’t been able to track down anything about Makikihi netball or a team that played in the Timaru competition.

“Makikihi was very strong at rugby and had a team that won the Skinner Cup [in 1944]. There was a rifle club and tennis used to be so popular that you had to book the courts to play.”

While gaining information and material from a variety of sources, Mr Washington has little information on the sporting history of the area.

His interest in the project comes from the fact he and his late brother John grew up in Makikihi, where parents Jack and Jean ran the main local general goods store that sold everything from horse whips to timber. In those pre-supermarket days, locals had no need to travel through to Timaru or Waimate to shop.

He remembered the town as being a great place to grow up in and the local school having a wonderful teacher, Archie Gourley.

“Everyone knew each other; you never had to lock a door.

Factory site . . . The Makikihi Fries factory as seen from the Makikihi bridge. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

“There was no television in those days and being country kids, we went spearing eels, catching trout and fishing at the beach.”

The family business employed six people and had a van travelling the district’s roads five days a week delivering groceries and general provisions.

The van would return with fresh eggs and home-made butter from the customers.

During his boyhood, the last of the swaggers passed through the town. A local farming family, the Slatterys, were related to New Zealand’s most famous swagger, Shiner Slattery.

“They would stop at the farms for a few nights chopping wood for free board.”

Many characters lived in the town.

“Do they exist today?” Mr Washington said.

Three or four of these men, some former traction engine drivers and one a dwarf, lived in huts near the riverbed.

“We were dead scared of them; they were real characters.”

After leaving school, Mr Washington worked in the family shop until completing a year’s military service.

When he returned, his father had retired and sold up. Mr Washington went to work at the Pareora freezing works, determined to save money.

From there, aged 26, he bought his first drilling rig, not knowing anything about the industry.

Today, Washingtons Exploration Ltd has rigs in New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

As for his book, Mr Washington said he had received great help from several people and over three years gathered stacks of photographs, clippings and books.

Among this material is information on some of the well-known families in the area: the Quinns, who ran a brickworks, and the Meehans, grain merchants who earlier ran the store Mr Washington’s father owned.

But there are gaps and he hopes people will come forward with more information so he can complete the book next year.

Anyone with information on early Makikihi up to the 1960s can contact him at bill@washington.co.nz or 688-2638.