The official opening of the Bill O’Donnell Pioneer Sawmill at Bushtown, in Waimate, took place on Thursday 21 February.Bushtown could be said to be Waimate’s answer to Shantytown on the West Coast and once completed, it promises to be a wonderful attraction for locals and tourists. There are many thousands of native trees and shrubs planted throughout the site. The most important feature of the site is the Bushtown sawmill, which was originally located at Ōwaka in the Catlins. It was then purchased by Bill O’Donnell, who operated it on his property. When the concept of Bushtown was suggested, a committee was formed and the sawmill owner was approached to see if he would consider parting with it. It was sold to Bushtown for the grand sum of $100. After a great deal of hard work the sawmill was assembled, contained in a replica pioneer sawmill building and reinstated to full working condition. It was formally opened on 21 February. Committee members of the Waihao whānau were invited to the opening.

A Bushtown sawmiller winches the log (right) towards the sawblade, to officially cut the first log.

The mihi was conducted by Te Wera King on behalf of Waihao and speeches were given by chairman of Bushtown Heritage Park, Alan Laurie, Waimate Mayor, John Coles, and the Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who officially opened the sawmill complex with Lady Janine Mateparae. It was great to see a strong spirit of unity between the people of Waihao and Glenavy and to see a large number of Waihao whānau present – Cis Te Maiharoa-Dodds, Dave Thomas, Alex and Ian Brunton, Graeme Thomas, Jennifer Thomas and her partner Angus McLean, Aerini Boyd and her son Tom, Graeme Lane and Te Wera King, whose support for all things Māori in relationship to Waihao are indispensable. The Governor General commented that this is the second time Te Wera has crossed his tracks, as he had acted in the same capacity at another gathering a few days previously. It was also noted that the last time a Governor General had visited Waimate was when Sir Paul Reeves visited some years ago, and that both were Māori.

Guests included Waihao rūnanga members, centre foreground, Aunty Cis Te Maiharoa-Dodds, chairman Graeme Lane, and Uncle Dave Thomas.

After the function, the Governor-General and his wife, Lady Janine, met with (from left), Aunty Cis Te Maiharoa-Dodds, Jennifer Thomas, Uncle Dave Thomas, and Graeme Thomas.

After the speeches the mill was formally opened with the original traction engine firing up to supply the power. Guests wore period costume, which, along with pleasant weather, made for an enjoyable day. After the opening of the mill, the Governor General planted a tōtara tree before officiating at the dedication of the Doug Bailey Bridge.