Bottles, barrels and boozers: Ohingaiti's secrets revealed in book

Author and former resident Irene Collins investigates one of Rangitikei's forgotten villages.
STUFF

Author and former resident Irene Collins investigates one of Rangitikei's forgotten villages.

Ohingaiti's history with sly grog has been revealed as a former resident brings to light some of the town's longest kept secrets.

In her book Ohingaiti 1850-2016, author Irene Collins investigates one of Rangitikei's forgotten villages – from the moment European explorer Percy Smith set foot in 1858, through to the boom years in the 1890s, and its ultimate demise in 2002, when the town's school closed.

It's hard to see now, but in its former years Ohingaiti was bustling.

Irene Collins' book.
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Irene Collins' book.

As the installation of the railway moved north from Ohingaiti, the town rapidly developed – 1892 was the town's year of prosperity. Buildings were erected for immediate use and in anticipation of the population influx.

The town had high hopes of burgeoning into an important district centre, however, history was to pass it by and, today, Ohingaiti is smaller than it was a year or two after being established.

The granting of liquor licenses were opposed for two years by the Government in the 1890s, during which time several sly grog shops opened to sell alcohol illicitly.

The Rangitikei River winds its way through fertile pastoral fields near Ohingaiti.
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The Rangitikei River winds its way through fertile pastoral fields near Ohingaiti.

And residents went to great length to get it. In the book, Collins tells the story of one "misfortunate gentlemen" who visited the neighbouring town of Hunterville to retrieve a barrel of whiskey.

On his travels home, his horse got bogged down on the muddy track and he was forced to offload the barrel, hiding it in a nearby paddock, to avoid being caught. Having managed to hitch a ride back to Ohingaiti. he returned the next day to find his barrel of whiskey had vanished.

The risk of police raids also gave rise to elaborate systems to hide illicit goods.

Two officers from Whanganui made the trip to Ohingaiti in an attempt to catch sellers off guard. The duo stopped at Hunterville on the way, ultimately raising red flags, and word not long after got back to those further north.

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The officers arrived in Ohingaiti the next morning, claiming they were sick and in need of a "pick-me-up". But all whiskey had departed the township and no amount of pleading could persuade residents to violate the Licensing Act.

Collins, who lived in the town for 50 years, hoped the book would help residents in the town understand the history that had come before them.

"There is now so little of that busy village and surrounding area left that I wanted to record all that I have heard," she said.

"And the farmers keep on with their busy lives, the same way they always have, with no thoughts about the boom year of this place and the people before them."

 - Stuff

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