The rise and fall of Tungacres at Te Arai

By: Bev Ross

In 1930, a new-found wonder filled the newspapers as they wrote about the benefits of tung oil. Tung trees originated from China and the oil from their nuts became the ‘lifeblood’ of the paint and varnish industries. Later discoveries showed they benefitted the running of cars.        

Natural Products (NZ) Ltd acquired 2221 acres of land at Te Arai, near Mangawhai to produce tung oil. It became known as Tungacres.
Its advertised for readers to buy ‘Surety Tung Oil Bonds’ on easy terms or cash. Bonds began at £25, but after 1933, when the company registered as a public company with an authorised capital of £20,000, bonds were available for £30 each.

Mr Hawley and his tung trees.

Following land preparations, which involved turning the soil and getting rid of stumps left behind after the logging of kauri and rimu, lupins were grown to provide nitro-generation and aeration of the soil. The first planting of 10,000 tung tree seedlings was completed in August 1931. They were planted 23 feet apart and after five months were four feet high. At maturity, they would reach 30 to 40 feet in height. A very attractive tree with large green leaves.

In 1932, Cyril Hawley applied for and was granted the position of manager at Tungacres. He was an electrician who had been left bankrupt because of the Napier earthquake, from where he hailed. He was also knowledgeable about horticulture, which was a determining factor in his success.

The Tung Oil Scheme was originally a Government programme to provide work for unemployed men during the difficult years of the Depression.  Men walked from Auckland, with a swag on their backs in the hope of attaining work. Cyril never turned a man away, even if he could only give him one day’s work. A working man’s pay was 10 shillings per week.

A bunk house was built on the side of the Mangawhai/Tomarata Road by the men. It was made with corrugated iron and painted red. It was built on a virtual swamp and tractors were forever becoming bogged there. Bullocks had to pull them out. The bullocks’ names were Spiffy and Mo, after a couple of vaudeville actors.     

About 750 acres were planted with tung trees by 1935, but for some reason Mr Cyril Hawley and family left the district in November 1935. He had no control over the financial situation within the company. We have photos of a wonderful healthy groves of tung trees growing in profusion. But in June 1936, the Chief Judge in Equity, having heard evidence relating to the company’s financial position, its tung trees and its defaults under the Trust Deed, ordered its compulsory liquidation. His Honour said the company had succeeded in losing practically the whole of its paid up capital.

So, the project came to an end and, without care, the trees failed. By 1938, 90 per cent of them were dead. A sad end to the hopes of many that lived during those difficult years.  But Te Arai did bounce back with dairy and sheep farming and the area subsequently prospered.


Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum
www.mangawhai-museum.org.nz

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