Early Maori spoke of Tirau as a wonderful place to catch the kereru (native pigeon).
The birds used the many cabbage trees in the area as overnight resting places, and large parties of Maori came and gathered them at night.
Unfortunately many cabbage trees have since disappeared, but they remain a symbol of the town.
The area must have been very popular in pre-European times, as many of the local hills have been extensively terraced.
From the late 1860s blocks of land were purchased and gradually developed for cattle grazing.
In 1881 the township was auctioned in 97 half acre allotments. The sections ranged in price from £6.12 to £99 in the township, and from £6 to £10 for suburban and rural sections.
The original plans show Tirau was intended to be in the style of an English town with a cathedral.
A second sale was held on March 27th 1912 when the Bank of New Zealand offered a further subdivision of sections to the north of Station Road.
On October 1st 1881 the Post & Telegraph Office was opened, officially known as Okoroire.
In 1890 the name was changed to Oxford (after the English university town). However, due to confusion with an Oxford in Canterbury, the name was changed to Oxford North and then in 1895 it took the name of a prominent hill in the area – Tirau (the place of many cabbage trees).
In 1881 the Express (horse and coach), carrying Her Majesty’s mail, delivered mail to and from the Oxford Royal Hotel twice- a-week.
By 1885 the Armed Constabulary had formed a road to Rotorua. Along this, a four-horse coach made the Cambridge to Rotorua run three times-a-week with an overnight stop at the Oxford Royal Hotel.
The railway, which had reached Morrinsville by 1884, was extended to Tirau and opened on March 8th 1886.
Then, a fortnight later, the Tirau to Putaruru section opened. By 1894 the Rotorua line was completed and the mail coach service ceased.
The Oxford Royal Hotel was built around 1877-1881 and used as a staging post for travellers between Rotorua, Cambridge, Lichfield and later Taupo.
When Mr Francis Rose took over the Oxford Hotel about 1885 a small store was operating out of the back of the hotel’s tap room. In 1886, when Mt Tarawera (near Rotorua) erupted, many people found refuge at the hotel.
In 1904, Mr Rose founded the Rose Bros Store with his three sons on the site of the present Oxford Court Antiques, and leased the hotel until selling it in 1919.
In 1887 Auckland Agricultural Company (formerly McLean & Co) donated five acres, while residents raised 20 pounds to build a small one room and porch school for 213 pounds. The classroom and porch still remain as part of the school to this day.
A dairy factory was built in 1938 by the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company. The Tirau butter factory was heralded as the most modern and sophisticated of its time.
The first season’s output of 3446 tons steadily increased over time, and a large casein plant was built next to it in 1982. 1,600,000 litres of skim milk is processed into casein, lactalbumin and ethanol each day.
The original Tirau Swimming Pool was built by the Tirau Dairy Factory and locals, at a site below the factory. It had 14 thousand gallons of warm water per hour flowing through it from the factory’s condensers.
It wasn’t until 1963-1964 that a filtration plant with town supply water was installed. In 1980 the community replaced it with the present pools alongside the school boundary.