Cliff Pett is setting the record straight on the true history of Paeroa's giant L&P bottle as an alternative story has rocketed in popularity.

The giant bottle that draws thousands of visitors a year was not made from the remnants of a rocket devised for a Christmas promotion in 1967 by the Paeroa Businessmen's Association, says Pett, 81.

"Any reference to the rocket should be removed as it had nothing to do with the building and design of the bottle whatsoever."

Pett was among those who built the bottle at the entrance to town.

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He has approached Hauraki District Council and Positively Paeroa to have signs at the bottle amended and references to the rocket removed from online history recorded on the town.

"I'm the last person who's still alive and there's no one else around to give the true history," he says.

"This is the true story, and told to me by Trevor Watt. In 1968 or early 1969 a group of Paeroa businessmen, including Colin Mudford and Trevor Watt, were holding a meeting at Colin Mudford's house to throw around ideas of how to better promote the town.

LEMON IN PAEROA: Cliff Pett built the L&P bottle in Paeroa and says it was never constructed from the remants of a model rocket. PHOTO/Alison Smith.
LEMON IN PAEROA: Cliff Pett built the L&P bottle in Paeroa and says it was never constructed from the remants of a model rocket. PHOTO/Alison Smith.

"It was a hot day and they'd been drinking L&P. Trevor saw the bottle on the table and they decided perhaps they could build a large bottle to promote the town. Alan Bott arrived and they asked his thoughts, and he thought it was great.

"The men approached the borough council and mayor Graeme Lee. All the councillors and mayor thought it was a great idea. Innes Tartan [ then the owners of the Paeroa mineral water spring] were approached and agreed to this.

"The contract was let to Lee Bros Builders and Ernie Lee was to supervise the works. As I was a foreman at Lee Bros I was given the task to build the bottle."

It was late in 1969.

"We laid a concrete slab six inches thick with half inch rods tied both ways, which made it like mesh.

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"After the concrete was poured we laid four concrete rings on top of each other which were built at the local concrete yard in Puke Rd. Each concrete ring was 3ft high. On the top of the fourth concrete ring, the neck of the bottle was constructed of vertical steel rods and wrapped in half inch chicken netting, and then plaster was applied to complete this stage.

"This piece of the construction was done by Bruce Sayer, a local plasterer. At the base of the neck, a door was fitted to allow access into the bottle.

"After about 12 months, holes appeared in the neck of the bottle and this was repaired. At the same time, the cap of the bottle was formed by Te Aroha's Jim McGall, a real Irish tradesman.

"At no time was this bottle made out of the rocket, which was at the time in the centre of town and only half the size. The Paeroa Jaycees had erected this to play music at Christmas."

Pett says he and others who worked on the bottle thought it would probably be a temporary attraction.

"We didn't know how it was going to last - and here it is 51 years later."

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Pett grew up drinking the mineral water from the main street of town, where it was pumped from its source in a paddock on the outskirts of town by a former sewage station.

Pett thinks that access to the mineral water in town could be explored as a tourist drawcard.

"I remember the ex mayor Graeme Lee knew when they stopped making [L&P] with the mineral water, he knew the difference."

As for the taste of the "Paeroa" in Lemon and Paeroa? "It was vile," Pett says.