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It’s been 66 years since Betty Smith sat in front of the manual telephone switchboard.
But the 86-year-old still remembers the phone numbers of Kaeo’s mainstreet businesses.
“It was one for the hotel, two for Stirling Stores and three for the butcher,” she says reaching for the phone plugs of the old Kaeo Post Office switchboard at Whangaroa Museum.
The Kaikohe resident worked at the post office for five years during World War II when Whangaroa was a military bulwark against a Japanese invasion.
“There were three army camps, a naval base and an air force radar station.”
Betty boarded in the middle of an army camp at Mangaiti near Kaeo and worked at the post office until she married in 1946.
“There were dances three nights a week to help entertain the troops.”
Betty was one of nearly 100 people who celebrated the post office’s 100th birthday and restoration on Saturday.
Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board member Bruce Mills thanked Grant Lane and his team of workers and volunteers who were repainting the exterior of the wooden building and refurbishing rooms on the first floor with community board and Far North District Council financial support.
“They’ve been doing a brilliant job and they’ve hopefully given us a building that will last another 100 years.”
Far North District Councillor Di Maxwell said Kaeo might have lost the Post Office if the council hadn’t purchased it in 1990.
“There was a rumour it was going to be moved.”
The building loomed large in her memory because she got married there to avoid a big family wedding.
“I said to the postmaster, ‘can you marry us’ and he said ‘when’ and I said, ‘we can be there in half an hour.”
Kaeo had the potential to become an Arrowtown of the north if its historic buildings were restored to their former splendour and colonial facades were added to newer buildings, she said.
“I want Kaeo to be a destination.”