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OPUNAKE (kindly reproduced from POLICING IN THE MOUNTAIN SHADOW by Margaret Carr)


The Opunake Police Station was inherited by the Police Force when the police and military branches were separated. Also inherited was Constable John Twomey who had been stationed there since 1883. He stayed at Opunake until 1897, when his place was taken by Charles Cooper. Cooper had spent 13 years in the Armed Constabulary and New Zealand Constabulary Forces and in the Police Force had served at Auckland, Wellington, Pahiatua, Palmerston North, Woodville and Masterton. In November 1898 he was sent to open the Aramoho station at Wanganui.

Following him, Constable Thomas Hickman arrived from Pungarehu. About 1902 the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand said:

"The Opunake Police Station adjoins the Courthouse and consists of a constable’s residence of six rooms, a lockup of two cells, and stables. Mr. Thomas Hickman, Constable-in-charge, also acts as clerk of the court."

During his time in Opunake, Hickman was not afraid to take on the establishment. In August 1907 he charged a number of prominent citizens with unlawful assembly after a Mr. Hill was tarred and feathered. Hill had allegedly been paying too much attention to a wife in the town. A group of men seized him, dragged him down the road, tarred his head, face and hair, set fire to it, then threw him in a stream. Every time he tried to crawl out he was pushed back in until he was rescued by Hickman.

The arrested eight ended up in the Supreme Court at New Plymouth, but sympathy seems to have been with them. Against the judge’s instructions, a grand jury headed by Mr. Newton King found the men not guilty.

The men celebrated by going to a nearby photographic studio and having a group photograph taken with their supporter, Mr. Walter Dudley, who was chairman of the Opunake Town Board. They later presented Mr. Dudley with a cane topped with a silver tar pot.

As for Hill, he ended up in jail. In an incident in Hawera, again involving someone else’s wife, he was horsewhipped by the irate husband. In November 1907 he was charged in relation to a nasty telegram he sent the husband, convicted and sentenced to four months with hard labour.

On Hickman’s retirement in April 1911, George Clark Clouston arrived. When he retired he had been running the Opunake police district for 27 years — then became mayor and ran the town for another seven.

He was born in the Orkney Islands in 1874 and served in the Leith Police Force for two years, his conduct giving "entire satisfaction" according to his testimonial. He had worked as a farm worker and with the herring fishing fleet from the age of 14 until he joined the police at 20. And, after migrating to New Zealand in 1896 he worked at various jobs before joining the New Zealand police in 1899. Clouston was stationed at Wanganui for seven years and Normanby from February 1907.

In April 1911 came his transfer to Opunake. For the first 17 years of his time in the town, Clouston was also the clerk of the Magistrate’s Court, and the collector of agricultural statistics.

On his retirement in November 1938, numerous functions were held to mark the occasion, including three civic tributes, a mock court and a special function to honour Mrs. Maude Clouston. A Scots publication, recording the events, wrote:

"A native of Stenness and brother of Mr. James Clouston, Whitehall, Mr. Clouston is 65 years of age. Educated under the late Mr. Magnus Spence, Mr. Clouston worked at farming, and at the herring fishing from Stronness for a few seasons. In his early twenties he joined the Police Force in Leith, and after serving two years there migrated to New Zealand forty years ago. Joining the police there, he served faithfully and well as the following references amply prove, retiring with honour and dignity, carrying with him the goodwill of the entire community and a wallet containing no less than £154."

At one retirement function, which proved too big for St Patrick’s Hall, the mayor, Mr. A. J. Brennan, pointed out that over 50 years Opunake had had only three policemen on permanent duty there. Constable Clouston’s tact and ability had been largely responsible for his district being free of crime, while his "eminent fairness" in dealing with all classes of the community had been a particular feature of his service. One speaker said Clouston seemed too young to retire, "if the reported incident of a recent sprint from the cliff-top to apprehend an offender was correct".

A speaker on behalf of the district’s Maori community also paid tribute to the constable’s tact. Clouston had not treated the Maori any different from the Pakeha, and he had the virtue of appearing sightless when necessary.

Mr. Brennan told one gathering that many citizens had grown up with Constable Clouston as the local policeman. In their childhood, Clouston had been the bogeyman, ready to answer the summons of parents to wreak retribution for wrong-doing. As youths, they bad seen him as the representative of authority, stern and severe, ready to check any outbreak of irresponsible hooliganism. In later years the constable had

assumed the position of counsellor and adviser, ever willing to consider the problems placed before him and to direct the solution.

The illuminated scroll presented to the constable was signed by the magistrate, the mayor, the chairman of the county council and the heads of the Opunake Electric Power Board, racing club, seaside improvement society, RSA, federal band, rugby club, golf club, tennis club, bowling club, surf and lifesaving club, cricket club, athletic club and farmers union.

Two years later in 1940, George Clouston defeated Mr. Brennan, 208 votes to 174, and became the second mayor of Opunake. During his service to the public he twice officiated at Vice-Regal visits, the first in 1921 when he was the constable, and the second as mayor in the middle of World War II, when Opunake celebrated its diamond jubilee.

He retired as mayor in 1947, and in 1950, aged 76, was still a borough councilor. Fo,i George Clouston was also the District Coroner from 1942 until 1948. He died aged 95, 30 years after retiring.

Clouston’s place at the police station was taken by Constable Hugh Shields. The former Irish bricklayer expressed some trepidation in taking over Opunake after Clouston’s long service there, but in the end stayed on for 16 years himself before retiring in 1954.

Even his successor, Alexander Stewart Ward, served six years in the town. Ward was another who had travelled extensively in the course of his police work. After joining the police in Wellington in 1928 he was stationed at Palmerston North, Marton, Ohura, Kaeo, Whangarei and after Opunake went on to Wanganui East and Ashhurst.

Constable James Douglas Hugh Boyd from Matamata succeeded Ward.

A new police station was built in the 1960s and when Rahotu was closed in 1980, two constables were stationed there. It had been thought that most of the workers required to build and run the Maui A production platform and the Oaonui on-shore station would live in Opunake. But this proved false. Opunake grew hardly at all.

Two fires marked the police history of Opunake in the 1980s.

In October 1982 the Opunake High School lost its hall, administration block and several classrooms in the biggest fire in Taranaki for some years. The damage was so extensive a cause was never established, although it was believed to be arson. CIB members spent days sifting through ash and charred timber, in the hope of finding some clue.

Then the police station office itself was badly burnt and a number of records destroyed in 1983.

As a two man station after the closure of Rahotu, the Opunake staff changed quite regularly.

Pat Paton replaced Doug Mills at Okato in 1984, and Constable Wayne King was posted to Opunake. When Terry Corbett moved on in 1988 (also to Okato), Opunake was left as a one-person station, with Constable Malcolm Greig in charge.

Recommended reading:

"The History Of A Small Town Police Station", Norrie Keenan

"Policing In The Mountain Shadow", Margaret Carr