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How the phone got to Piha

Posted by SCe Comments Off on How the phone got to Piha

In 1928 a determined Horace Mobbs and his two sons, Fred and Alan, pulled a lone telephone wire through the bush from Anawhata to the Karekare exchange. Piha and Anawhata were at last on-line to Auckland via Henderson.

It was slow work pushing their way through dense bush and securing insulators to the most accessible trees. Beginning at Mrs Colwill’s house on the Anawhata stream, it followed the Anawhata Road, down the original Whites Point track to Piha, along the beachfront, past the Surf Rider Hotel [the old Boarding House] and up Glen Esk Valley to the Mill. The line was then strung up the Kitchen Track where the kauri timber railway ran, across the top paddock of the Ussher farm to Te Ahuahu Road. Still following the railway line, it descended into the Karekare Valley to the telephone bureau at Farleys boarding house.

Twelve houses were now on a party line. Each wall box set cost £1. A local call was free; to Henderson or Glen Eden it was 3d, to Auckland 6d.

The Mobbs family were keepers of the line, often called out to restore the connection after a westerly blow had brought a tree down on the line.

By 1931 Mobbs and Ted Le Grice (owner of the Piha Boarding House) were pressing the New Zealand Post and Telegraph for a bureau at Piha, arguing that it would halve the upkeep of the line.

Mr Le Grice offered a room for the exchange and someone to run it from 9am to 4 pm, excluding Saturday or Sunday. For calls after these hours there would be an opening fee of 1/-.

The P&T struck a hard bargain the line would have to be provided by the community and erected to the new P&T specifications. Undaunted, Mobbs and Le Grice tackled the huge task. Second-hand jarra poles and insulators were purchased.

The task of preparing holes for the poles was arduous, especially in areas of shale rock. No diggers or pole borers to lighten the job. Every hole had to be dug by hand with crowbar and spade and the spoil hauled up by billy.

When the Mobbs father and sons dug the holes, Mr Le Grice drove his old ford to the Glen Eden railway station, returning over the clay roads with a pole strapped to each of his running boards. This was to be repeated dozens of times before the last pole arrived safely.

Getting the poles down the hillside and into vertical position was no mean feat; often timberjacks had to be used to manoeuvre them.

In those days the road down to Piha took a straight plunge from a hundred yards past the lookout, passing close by the historic tree-on-a-rock. The new telephone line followed this route.

During the war years when petrol was rationed to 2 gallons a month, the telephone line was worth its weight in gold to the small Piha community. With only one vehicle able to make the fortnightly journey to town, every trip was carefully planned and members of the party line rang up for their requests. Always a small amount of petrol was set aside for emergencies.

In 1941 the Mobbs family, helped by Bunny Hunt, once again pulled a wire through the bush from Anawhata, a replacement for the deteriorating original  line. After the War, the New Zealand Post and Telegraph finally took over the upkeep of the line.

But for the generosity and sheer hard work of earlier residents, Piha might have waited many years longer for this much-needed service.

From the Piha Community News, February 1991

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