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Phornium tenax or native flax was growing wild abundantly all over this country. It wasn't long before the early settlers realised it's commercial possibilities and began a flax milling industry providing fibre first of all for rope makers in Britain and Australia and later a small cordage industry producing ropes and twines for the local market as well. Flaxmills went up all over the country with almost every stream powerful enough to turn a mill being harnessed. At the height of the flax trade there were over 40 mills built in the Franklin district and one of the earliest was in Waitangi Falls Road just above the waterfall that was a popular picnic spot in Waiuku's early days and is still a popular tourist spot today.
The Waitangi Mill was later coverted to a flour mill during the time when wheat became a major crop and finished its days as a sawmill. Production of the flax fibre on a large scale did not really get going until the late 1860's when a machine was invented to beat the green leaf between a revolving metal drum and a fixed metal bar.
Metal beaters on the surface of the drum struck the leaf at great speed, stripping away the non-fibrous material and releasing the strands of fibre. One machine or stripper, could produce about 250 kilograms of fibre per day whereas one maori worker using a mussel shell was only able to produce one kilogram of the fibre in the same time, though the hand-stripped product was much finer.
Flax mills were set up on the edges of flax swamps and each machine required about 20 acres of drying paddocks, providing employment for 20 - 25 men. The industry continued strongly until the depression in the 1930's but was saved by the establishment of a woolpack factory being built in Foxton in 1934. The government protected this industry from imported competition by imposing restrictions on the importation of jute woolpacks and began subsidising the homegrown product.
Government protection was removed during the 1970's when the product was replaced with cheaper synthetics and the last flax mill ceased operation in 1985.
Today the area at the Waitangi shows little sign of its previous history. The waterfall and the fresh water stream are frequented by swimmers in the summer, as is the beach nearby.
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Goudy Bookletter 1911