A Maori chief ruled an area the size of Belgium, smugglers brought in French brandy and Jamaican rum, and the women were revolting.

That is a picture of Whangarei's early hinterland, shared by Don Goodall at Friday's launch of True Tales - Mountains and Memories.

The most recent book in the stream of True Tales publications was presented at the Maungatapere Hall, with Mr Goodall offering a potted history of the area.

While the venue was Maungatapere's hall - "128 years old in five days' time" - the book contained 140 stories about settlements including Maunu, Whatitiri, Kara, Kokupu, Poroti and Kaigoose. It was edited by Mac Stevenson.

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Mr Goodall's introduction began with ancient Maori habitation, and the long-used paths between the Kaipara and Whangarei harbours via Maungatapere, Pukehuia, Omana, Mangapai and Takahiwai, to Whangarei Harbour.

Or, from Maungatapere down the Wheki Valley to Tangiteroria and by canoe to the Kaipara.

The trails carried smugglers too, bringing cargo along the back trails to Maungatapere.

From there the goods that had escaped up to 100 per cent taxes, including guns and ammo, were dispersed to willing customers throughout Northland.

Rangatira Te Tirarau Kukupa controlled an area the size of Belgium. Enter Sydney-based entrepreneur Thomas Elmsely who bought 25,000ha from Te Tirarau in 1839, and brought in partners Henry and Charles Walton as pioneer farmers.

The community grew until bullock trails ran alongside the old Maori paths.

Mr Goodall said stories in the book paid tribute to the strong-minded pioneer women of the district who "revolted" and ensured a school was built for local children.

Each community had at its centre a hall. In 1889, the people of Maungatapere planned and built theirs, using local labour and timber, completed in three months.

Mr Goodall pointed out that those forebears showed great foresight; it was proven years later the hall was big enough for a full-sized badminton court.

It was 69ft long, 30ft wide and 16ft high ("in the old language") - and Doug Stephens was the only player in the district who could hit the rafters, although many tried.

Touching on another side of rural community culture, indoor bowls was played on the hall's still-perfectly flat wooden floor until the 1950s, Mr Goodall boasted.

After the story-telling caught up with modern times, the audience, whose own lives, family myths or forebears' stories, were captured in True Tales of Mountains and Memories sang Amazing Grace, accompanied by Richard Hall.

As is only fitting in a country hall, they all then had a very nice cup of tea with cake, sandwiches and sausage rolls.