Page 3 – The town of Waiuta

Joseph Divis' photos of Waiuta - click on thumbnails to see full images.

A town is born

Before mining could get underway, it was necessary to provide accommodation for the workers. By 1908 the company had laid out a town and built a boarding house, a group of single men's huts and a number of four-roomed houses for families.

Naming Waiuta

The name of Waiuta does not reflect any local Maori features. Like many other settlements started in the early 1900s, the name was provided by the Post Office when the postal service started. Under the Designation of Districts Act (1894), the names of new settlements had to be unique, and preference was to be given to Maori names, even if they had no connection to the local area.

As more houses were built, Waiuta started to look less like a mining camp. It always had the appearance, though, of a frontier town dominated by wood and corrugated iron. Because there was uncertainty about how long the mine would last, miners were initially unwilling to own their own houses, and preferred to rent. By the 1920s, when the mine was well established, people started to build their own houses and a number of shops were opened.

A growing settlement

Waiuta's population peaked in the 1930s. The 1936 census recorded 601 people (including only three Maori). The company recruited experienced hard-rock miners from many countries, including Australia, Italy and Yugoslavia, making Waiuta more ethnically varied than most parts of New Zealand. After the First World War the company recruited 40 Cornish miners (known as ‘Cousin Jacks') and their families.

In keeping with the times, there was a distinct class division between staff (who were paid salaries) and the workers (who were paid wages or paid for their output). The staff had better houses and some privileges, but Joseph Divis' photographs suggest that everyone mixed together socially.

Larger buildings

The Empire Hotel, near the entrance to the town, was an important social centre. A miners' hall was completed in 1910, and provided a meeting place for large groups: union gatherings, dances, films, weddings and other social gatherings. There was a single school which gradually expanded over the years. By 1933 it had 113 pupils and a staff of three.

The last major building to be completed was the cottage hospital in 1916. Before the days of socialised healthcare, the hospital and its medical staff were funded  by a levy on the miners' wages.

Sport and recreation

Despite its relatively small population, the residents of Waiuta supported many sports teams. Rugby league was the main game, and the Waiuta team consistently did well in local competitions. In early years it was difficult to play outdoor sports because of the soggy state of the ground, but a major community effort saw a recreation ground built. Later facilities included ‘public' and ‘staff' tennis courts, a bowling green and a swimming pool.

How to cite this page

'The town of Waiuta', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/waiuta/town, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012