Paul Straka was a single man of 33 when he emigrated from Bohemia to Puhoi in 1863. Being one of the younger immigrants, he took a leading part in clearing bush to enable the settlers to begin to be self-supporting. He built a 10-ton punt to transport their firewood and shingles to the mouth of the river to be taken from there to the Auckland market. The second batch of immigrants were transported up the river in Paul’s punt.
In 1864, Paul married Maria Podlesak, who had been granted adjoining land, giving the couple a total of 123 acres of hilly bush-clad land. Paul was the first to build a pit-sawn timber home about the time his first daughter was born in 1866.
Paul was school committee chairman from 1873 to 1884, a trustee of the first Roads Board, a signatory for the liquor license for the Puhoi Hotel, and he donated the two main statues and the first organ to the Puhoi Church. The statues were imported from Italy.
Paul and Maria had a family of three daughters and four sons. They worked hard to bring their land into pasture. The first cattle sale was held on their land as it was close to the track known as the “Great North Road”.
Paul bought 100 acres of bush on the Tahekeroa Road. Sons Paul, 14, and Charles, 12, left school to begin felling the kauri. They were joined by their younger brothers when they were old enough. They, and other men employed by Paul, camped in the bush all week. With the money made from felling kauri, each son was able to purchase a considerable parcel of land for themselves.
Charles bought land in Puhoi and, using bullock team and plough, developed some of the best hilly grazing country and one of the best fenced farms in the north. He travelled the North Island to buy sheep and cattle and bred pedigree shorthorn cattle and Romney Marsh sheep. He was a regular prize winner at A&P Shows. He bought the first shearing machine in the district.
One of the next generation of Strakas was looking at the Jaguar stand at an A&P show. He ordered a car and the Jaguar agent took his name. Some time later the agent called to say the car was ready. The young Straka took his measuring tape and went to the showroom. He carefully measured the new car. He said, “It’s no good, I can’t take it.” “What?” said the salesman, “You ordered it, you’ll have to take it!” “No,” said Mr Straka, “I can get more sheep in my old Morris at home.”
Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society