The concept was put to a public meeting in April 2002 and gained considerable
support. A Committee was formed and in operation by October 2002 with
sufficient support from the community to form an incorporated society by
January 2003. Land was allocated by the District Council and a 1st stage
business plan developed by mid 2003.
SAWMILLS AND FIRES
The primary focus of this initiative was to recognize the Bush as the primary
resource of the area and the contribution Bush related activity has made to the
development of the Waimate District and the Canterbury Region. This will be
achieved through the construction of an historic steam driven sawmill, a diesel
powered sawmill, a pit saw and Auditorium Information Centre.
The Sawmills will be fully operational and working on site.
The Bushtown project is an integrated part of a range of developments within
the town that includes The Museum, the Arcadia Building, Our Parks (Victoria &
Knottingly), White Horse (monument) and Second Hand Businesses!
Our primary activity will be focused on providing learning and enjoyment
through an interactive facility for school groups, the local community, our
volunteer membership and visitors.
The range of displays provides a window to the last 150 years that celebrates
all sectors of our community working together.
Waimate Bush! Waimate Bush!
Thy thousand sheltered arms
To me, when wandering from afar,
Wave welcome to thy charms;
My cot of boards and shingle roof
Amidst a flax clump stood.
`Twas there I spent some fleeting years
Near border of the wood.
Oft seated on a fallen tree
In deep recess of shade
The simple airs of native land
In flutal notes I played.
— George Henry Graham
In 1849, Charles Obins Torlesse estimated that there would be a 3000 acres (1214 ha) block of forest at Waimatemate. In 1869, some 20 years later, C. Davie, Chief Surveyor, furnished a report on what timber areas still remained in South Canterbury. Included in the report is:- Waimatemate, 3700 acres (1500 ha), 2663 acres (1078 ha) being freehold. Timber trees consisted chiefly of Podocarpus totara (Totara), P. dacrydioides (Kahikatea or White Pine), P. spicatus (Matai or Black Pine), Manuka and Nothofagus (Beech). Freehold valued at £10 an acre, the rest £2 an acre.
In 1864 the greater part of Waimate lived in the bush, some in comfortable cottages, others in temporary huts. This was referred to as "Bushtown," the nucleus of modern Waimate.
The first steam saw-mill was that of James Bruce in 1867 near Garland's bridge, in the very heart of the bush. Mr Bruce was the first Waimate County chairman in 1877-78. In 1872 the tender of James Bruce was accepted for 20,000 totara and black pine sleepers for the railways. The price was 3s 6d a sleeper.
The next saw-mill was that of Alpheus Hayes, a Canadian who came to New Zealand in 1871 and found employment on building the Rangitata bridge. He made several journeys to Waimate Bush to select material for the bridge, and seeing the possibilities of the timber trade, settled in Waimate at the end of that year opening a mill just above Bruce's. He succeeded well until the bush fire of 1878. After the fire he extended his tramway further into the bush to open up 400 acres of good timber, principally totara and black and white pine. He kept the saw-milling business going till the early nineties, when he sold out and took up farming.
At the end of 1877, there were five saw-mills working at Waimate, but Bruce's and Hayes' were the most important. Hayes' mill employed over 100 men in 1878. By the mid-seventies vast improvements had been made not only in the process of saw-milling, but also in methods of transportation of logs to the mills and carrying the finished product to its ultimate destination. Wooden tramways now rolled from different parts of the bush to the mills, and the logs were rolled on to the trollies drawn by bullocks. Roading had improved, and bullock wagons remained in use until the opening of the railway in 1877. The railway provided a great stimulus to the timber trade. A big tramway was constructed to connect the sawmills to the railway station. This line ran from Hayes' and Bruce's mills direct through the bush emerging at Shearman Street just about where the Methodist church now stands.
By this time there were five steam mills operating in the bush providing work for most of the towns inhabitants. It was then not unusual site to see rakes of twenty to thirty trucks of timber leaving daily from the newly opened station. But that all changed with the bush fire of 1878.