Miners’ working lives in general and at Te Aroha in particular
Hart, P. (2016). Miners’ working lives in general and at Te Aroha in particular. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 46). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10358
The prospects of obtaining prosperity tempted miners to work for years in harsh conditions and often for little reward. Miners had a good reputation for being hard workers and, especially in the early days before companies controlled the fields, for being rugged individualists, restlessly rushing to new discoveries and improvident whenever they had any money. Quartz miners, unlike alluvial ones, were more likely to be settled, living with their families in mining settlements. Many quartz miners did not follow this occupation for all of their lives. Examples are given of amateurs seeking riches but not really knowing how to mine profitably. In Hauraki, miners had to cope with heavy bush and rugged topography, with all the dangers this implied. Working underground required a range of skills, and was intrinsically dangerous, unhealthy, and exhausting. Accidents – especially when using explosives – could be fatal. Money to assist injured miners was raised by their mates in pre-social security days.. Miners had to cope with wet mines, acidic water, gas, and even heat, all of which could be mitigated but not avoided; to minimize the number of accidents, good timbering was insisted upon by mining inspectors. All miners had to endure monotonous work, enlivened by practical jokes. Miners reliant on their own efforts rather than being on a company payroll often struggled financially. Some tributed in mines owned by others, a system open to exploitation by both sides. Increasingly, owners preferred contractors to wage workers, and some of the more skilled workers preferred contracts, including taking up non-mining contracts when mining was in recession. Partnerships were common in small mines, but as some partners did not abide by the terms of the contract, did not keep adequate records, or adhere to mining regulations, resort to the warden’s court was common to settle disputes. Despite such conflicts, there was a solidarity amongst miners because of the conditions of their work. Mining was not for everyone, as some quickly discovered after experiencing the dangerous conditions. And as companies took over, much of the ‘romance’ of mining faded.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart