Many years ago, long wide planks of faultless, superb timber were cut from the mighty kauri tree trunks. The timber was used for many purposes: ship building (including masts and spars of sailing ships), houses, furniture, bridges, fences, dams, patterns (used for metal casting), vats and tanks, barrels, large rollers (in the textile industry), railway sleepers, mine-props, carving, wood turning and many other uses. Swamp kauri refers to kauri timber which has been recovered from under the ground. This kauri comes from forests which were buried by natural cataclysmic events. Carbon dating indicates that logs were buried up to 50,000 years ago. Leaves and cones are often preserved with the logs but quickly deteriorate when exposed. Natural stains produce rich dark brown and greenish hues emphasising the grain. Older kauri is on display in the museum, including a 30 million year old Australian kauri from the Yallourn coalfield in Victoria.
Kauri gum is a resin which bleeds from the kauri tree where bark is damaged or a branch broken – the resin bleeds to seal the wound, preventing rot or water getting into the tree. Gum can build up into a hard lump. As the tree grows and bark is shed, gum is forced off to fall to the ground, a process that has been happening for millions of years. Many years ago, there were vast quantities of gum in the ground. New Zealand’s fossil kauri gum is coal dated as 43 million years old. More recent gum from 10,000 to 30,000 years old is known as kauri copal (or resinite). Gum was collected from the ground by picking up the exposed pieces. As they disappeared, diggers probed in the ground with spears, then dug it up with spades. Trees were also a source of gum – collectors would chip pieces of old hard gum from the branches and heads of trees where it had collected for many years. They also cut the trees to bleed fresh gum, collecting it later after it developed into a hard lump. Gum was used by Maori for cooking and lighting because it burns very easily. It was also used as a pigment to make the dark colour in tattoos and as a chewing gum.
Life as a pioneer
Matakohe and nearby districts were inhabited by European settlers in 1862 by Albertlanders, an organised group of English emigrants who settled around Port Albert in the Kaipara Harbour. New settlers to the northern part of New Zealand arrived in Auckland by ship. To get to Matakohe the settlers sailed across the Waitemata Harbour to Riverhead, travelled overland by foot or bullock cart to Helensville, then sailed across the Kaipara Harbour to eventually reach Matakohe via Port Albert and Pahi. On arrival, their first task was to erect a dwelling on their block. A clearing was made in the dense impenetrable bush and the settlers built simple structures of light manuka stakes and nikau palm fronds, followed by more substantial homes built with split palings, pit sawn timber and later sawn timber from steam driven sawmills. The first industry was rope making, using native flax fibre. This was soon surpassed by kauri timber and gum. The bush was laboriously cleared using axes, saws and fire. Gradually, farming was established, now the basis of the economy.