Saturday, December 4

‘End of an Era’: Ohai residents recall life and friendships in a once bustling mining town

For more than a hundred years, Ohai has been a coal city.

The small western Southland settlement grew up around large coal deposits discovered in the 1910s, but the coal mine is closing today.

Ohai Bruce Allan's Coal Miner

Bruce Allan, known as Carter to the locals, says that today was a sad day for the city.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

On a cold and windy day, there is a puff of coal in the air, as many of the city’s residents rely on it not only to heat their water, but also to heat it.

At its peak, more people worked underground in the coal mines that surrounded the settlement than what today call Ohai home.

Bruce Allan, known to locals as Carter, a nickname he earned in his underground days, said it was a sad day for the city.

“It’s the end of an era. Just a couple of years ago, Walter Guttery, a friend of mine, a rugby player, and a schoolmate, published the book. But I should have waited a little longer and could have put an end to it.” .

Ohai Coal Mine Blasting Sign

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Allan spent four decades underground, and began working in the mines when he was 15 years old on the surface in the early 1960s.

He had seen Ohai in times of boom and bust, and still fondly remembers when it was a city of over 1000 people.

“When he was still in high school, Linton [mine] he had 400 men, plus Wairaki, who probably had something similar. The city had more than 1200 people.

“We had a bakery in Ohai, a bakery in Nightcaps, five grocery stores, two shoemakers, whatever. We had a bank at the post office.”

Ohai convenience store, dairy

Ohai convenience store.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

But the bakeries, the grocery stores, the gas station, the bank, and even the pub were gone.

The mechanization of underground work ushered in the end, Allan said.

In the 1980s, rounds of layoffs reduced the city to a shell of what it was before.

“Looking back, no coal, no job, you don’t have a city. It was sad to see layoffs, friends fell out the door,” he said.

Ohai Ray Waghorn's Coal Miner

Ray Waghorn.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Between the house Allan occupied and the next one that his neighbor, and former co-worker Ray Waghorn called home, was an empty section.

It was a visible sign of the city’s decline from its prime.

Waghorn said he was concerned about the future of the city, and if he had one.

“About 11 houses have left this street since we have been here, taken out of the city, transported in trucks due to the closure of the city.”

Ohai Garage

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

There was still a lot of charcoal in the ground, and Waghorn believed it to be quality charcoal and there was no reason not to use it.

“It seems that a city built with coal is now a city without coal, which is like a pub without beer,” he said with a laugh.

Many of the houses were built with charcoal stoves for cooking, heating and heating water.

Many of them still depended on coal for public services.

Ohai Coal Excavator

Coal mine excavator.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Waghorn just installed a nearly $ 10,000 fire to burn charcoal to heat his house and water.

While it was a multi-burner, it was too old to consider cutting down trees for firewood, he said.

On nearby David Street, Sharyn Ofsoske said she moved to the city from the North Island in recent years to enjoy a mortgage-free retirement.

An increasing proportion of the city’s residents were in the same boat.

But his century-old home still relied on a charcoal burner for hot water.

“I have a destroyer in the kitchen that heats the water. I don’t have electric hot water there … so I don’t know what I’m going to do once the mine closes.”

Sharyn Ofsoske moved to Ohai from the North Island to enjoy a mortgage-free retirement.

Sharyn Ofsoske.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

He was renovating his house and could connect an electric water heater in the future.

Meanwhile, he could also lead nearby Nightcaps in search of coal.

But he feared that some of the city’s most vulnerable residents might be left out in the cold.

Kelly Day, Wallace Takitimu Community Board Member

Kelly Day.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Kelly Day, a member of the Wallace Takitimu Community Board, said coal was important to the city, but it wasn’t everything.

She kept hope for its future due to the resistance of those who called it home.

“As I see it, the mine is not everything in Ohai. It is a part of Ohai, the coal is absolutely delicious, it is the hottest in New Zealand. But in the future … we have a lot of people passing through Ohai Lately, from all walks of life, from the top of the North Island to the bottom, and why do they come here? Well, the mountains, the view, the people, the local side. “

Soon a store would open in the city, showing that there was confidence in the area and Day said that every day he saw construction on the houses and other signs of a bright future.

Ohai Coal Town

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ohai Coal Mine Headquarters

Ohai Coal Headquarters.
Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ohai Train Tracks

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ohai rugby field

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ohai - empty section of land

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ohai charcoal bags

Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *