The 40th anniversary of a turning point in New Zealand conservation.
A light train falls as Department of Conservation (DoC) technical-support officer Richard Nester and I reach Siberia, on the Rimutaka Rail Trail between Upper Hutt and Featherston. The pick-and-shovel workers who built this line in the 1870s used to call the spot Horseshoe Gully, probably because of the 144 degrees the track here swung through over the course of 100 m. But the ferocious winds that can tear through the area soon prompted use of the ultimate chill-associated name. The only fatal train accident during the Rimutaka Incline’s 77-year history (1878–1955) occurred at this location. Three children lost their lives, and a fourth died later of injuries, when a gust of wind blew two railcars off the track on September 11, 1880. Siberia is also the one section of the rail trail that has unquestionably been reclaimed by nature. A massive wash-out in 1967 obliterated the high, curving embankment that the trains once chugged across. Now mountain-bikers and hikers cautiously pick their way across an ever-shifting gully before regaining the line of the track. In the New Zealand Geographic Place Names Database (at www.linz. govt.nz), there are 16 places around the country with the word Siberia in their names—and this harsh spot on the Rimutaka Incline isn’t one of them. Otago, on the other hand, lays claim to six. From Siberia Stream in South Auckland to Siberia Hut in the Leatham Conservation Area, in Marlborough, and on to Siberia Saddle in Westland and Siberia Ford in Canterbury, New Zealand maps are peppered with a word that is most probably bastardised Mongolian for “the calm land”. Of course, a calm land wasn’t usually what bestowers of the epithet usually had in mind. In the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary, Siberia is described as “A. a vast region in Russia . . . an extremely cold, inhospitable, or remote place. B. a place of exile or imprisonment.” For those of us who were alive during the Cold War, the name evokes both things simultaneously. Celebrated novelists such as Solzhenitsyn and, more than a century earlier, Dostoevsky detailed the cruel realities of the Siberian penal colonies. Their writings helped define how the rest of the world viewed the place. Miners appear to have been responsible for naming many New Zealand Siberias. In at least some of the spots concerned, the name might have been coined as both a physical description and a verbal talisman. As Michael King states in The Penguin History of New Zealand regarding the discovery of gold in the 1860s: “Every province in the country was keen to find ample deposits of ‘payable’ gold within its own boundaries after hearing of the effects of such bonanzas in Siberia, California and Victoria, Australia, in the 1850s.” Officially, gold was first discovered in New Zealand in the Coromandel. Fittingly, the name Siberia cropped up not long after, at the site of the first quartz-crushing battery for New Zealand Crown Mines in Waitawheta Gorge, Karangahake. No doubt there was a reason they chose Siberia over California. On the West Coast of the South Island, the most remote outpost of the Rewanui coal-mining settlement had the distinction of being called Siberia. In the early days the Rewanui mines, the harsh, isolated existence of the miners and their families led miner turned Labour leader and MP Harry Holland to pen Rewanui: A Sonnet. In his poem, Holland describes Rewanui as a “Vale of Ill”. By the time Labour came to power in 1935, Holland had died, but Paddy Webb MP, the incoming Minister of Mines and another ex-miner, argued that living at Rewanui was an unreasonable burden for workers and their families to endure. Shortly afterwards, most Rewanui residents were relocated to Runanga. Reading Les Wright’s engaging history of Rewanui, Siberia to the Sea: Memories of Rewanui Settlement, the Liverpool Coal Mines and the Rewanui Incline, one senses that in ridding the mining industry of many of the undesirable practices of the day, reformers ensured a bit of good was lost along with the bad. For some, the hardships they faced, far from being intolerable, seemed to provide true solace, even though, as Wright states, “To the average New Zealander, a place like Rewanui rated somewhere between a penal colony and the end of the earth.” Since the miners liked to live as close as possible to the mine section they worked, those on Rewanui’s Siberia section faced an additional exile, for Siberia was tucked up high in the shadows of the Paparoa Range. In a quite different vein, S.R. White, in the New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics (2002, vol. 45, pp. 271–287), defines for the first time the Siberian Fault Zone (SFZ), a 40 km northern extension of the Moonlight Tectonic Zone. The fault is traceable from the head of the Wilkin River towards Haast Pass, in the south-west of the South Island. Earlier studies recognise the fault but consider it part of the Moonlight Fault. White’s observations suggest the two are distinct. His suggested name comes from Siberia Stream, which lies about midway along the fault, and Siberia Valley, in which the stream flows. Arguably the most well-known Siberia in New Zealand, Siberia Valley is flanked by Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful, in Mount Aspiring National Park. Local legend has it that valley and mountains were named by an early explorer who had difficulty getting out of the area and was in no mood to appreciate the stunning scenery. There’s a popular tramp through the valley, and Southern Alps Air offers the “Siberia Experience”, which involves being flown into the valley and dropped off to hike through the beech forests, then rendezvousing with a jet-boat on the Wilkin. In February 2005, I had the rare pleasure of sitting in a room full of railway enthusiasts and experts to learn about the Fell-locomotive railway system that used to operate over the Rimutakas. At one point, discussion turned to the naming of Siberia, on the Incline. Retired engineering expert Ron Grant smiled and said, “Every government department has their Siberia.” There was a pause in the conversation as everyone in the room nodded in quiet assent. Ron went on to say that, in his day, those engaged in public-works projects on the West Coast often felt as if they were working in Siberia. He chuckled, but I heard pride behind the statement. The scope of the projects, the physical hardship and the isolation—these were challenges he had surmounted. After that occasion, I started to notice that Siberia was a ubiquitous part of the New Zealand lexicon. At least two MPs in recent months have been referred to in the news as having been “sent to Siberia” following falls from political grace. The premise of the television comedy Serial Killers, which was cancelled in 2004, was the banishment of fictional soap-opera writers to a shed called Siberia. And, in Lynley Hood’s biography Sylvia!, writer and educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner is several times quoted as describing periods of her life in her home country as “solitary confinement in Siberia”. The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English notes that several of the bleaker corners of Parliament’s buildings (usually areas to which opposition backbenchers were consigned) have been referred to as Siberia over the years. Of course, not all the public service Siberias were named Siberia. Journalist Tom O’Connor, now living in Timaru, recalls that when his father, who worked for the old New Zealand Post Office in Aria in the King Country—not exactly the centre of the universe itself—got offside with his boss, he was banished to Piopio, and how another post-office employee who fell into disfavour was transferred from Foxton to Haast. O’Connor thinks that for those who used to man lighthouses, Stephens Island, in Cook Strait, was a Siberia. But the original Siberia is not just a bleak place of exile. As birders know, it is at the far end of the flight path followed by myriad arctic waders that migrate to and from Australia and New Zealand every year. Curlews, sandpipers, turnstones, knots and many other species navigate this 25,000 km East Asia–Australasia flyway with unerring accuracy. Unfortunately, the wetlands that the birds depend upon for feeding en route are becoming every bit as scarce as the gold fields of old at either end. On this side of the world, however, it is still possible to marvel at the thousands upon thousands of waders as they arrive in spring and depart each autumn. Not only does their miraculous achievement excite something of the hard-tack hope that the word Siberia evokes, it also represents a bridge to a country that seems a world away. Back on the Rimutaka Rail Trail, Richard and I measure the Siberia Tunnel for a DOC interpretation project. Torch on, boots wet, hands cold, I try to imagine what it was like to work the line, to travel through Siberia every day. My simulacrum version is based on books and stories, the tales men and women tell when worry and exhaustion have worn away and only wisdom remains. Still, I ponder the stories told in the privately produced Memories of Cross Creek, compiled by Phil Clent, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of life lived on society’s edge. As Graham Murrell, a Fell-engine fitter on the Incline for over seven years, recalls of his first and only Fell-engine cab trip through Siberia Tunnel: “I could barely breathe, my ears felt as if they were on fire and my fingernails felt as if they were being burnt with a hot poker . . . When we were finally through and in the cool night air our bodies felt as if they would burst and we broke out in a ball of perspiration. My clothes were wet through.” Bounded by the Ural Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the great Siberia to the north is a land of extremes. All but its south-western corner lies in Russia, accounting for over half of that country’s territory. Nomadic groups laid claim to different parts until the Mongols conquered it in the 13th century. Starting in the 16th century, Russian traders began to move in, followed by Cossacks and eventually the Russian imperial army. Still, until the Trans-Siberian railway was built between 1891 and 1905, Siberia remained largely unexplored and sparsely inhabited. As the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science notes: “development of Siberia, since its joining Russia in late XVI century has always been associated with exploitation of its natural resources: first fur, then lands, noble metals, now mostly raw materials and power resources”. The ecological price for all this resource extraction has been high. Many of Russia’s most heavily polluted cities lie in Siberia, even though less than 15 per cent of the country’s population resides there. Nevertheless, large tracts of Siberia remain wild and relatively unspoilt. Three great rivers, the Ob, the Yenisei and the Lena, flow across it, and, in Lake Baikal, which contains 20 per cent of the planet’s fresh water, it boasts the world’s cleanest and deepest lake. A major part of its vastness is the West Siberian Plain, 2.7 million km2 in area, and it is home to about half of the world’s boreal forests. The Kamchatka peninsula, meanwhile, comparable in size to Japan, is home to the densest grizzly-bear population in the world. For all the readiness with which New Zealanders have seized upon the name, the place itself lies beyond most people’s imaginative grasp.
Bang in the middle of the Maniototo Plain is a place called Wedderburn. Little more than a sweep of highway on a wide-open Central Otago landscape, Wedderburn barely makes it on to most road maps, yet here is a community willing to spend $20,000 and many hours of voluntary labour to move a decaying railway goods shed from a redundant coal pit 10 km along State Highway 87 to its original site—all on the strength of a painting. July on the Maniototo (above) is one of Dunedin artist Grahame Sydney’s early and more iconic works. It depicts the Wedderburn goods shed standing stark and empty against a snow-covered landscape, and typifies the hundreds of disused railway sheds that pepper rural New Zealand. Reminders of the glory days of New Zealand rail, when trains monopolised rural transport, these sheds have come to symbolise the waning fortunes of the rural areas they once served. However, while Sydney describes Wedderburn as “one of those curious places where literally its entire life has past,” it seems the people who make up the tiny community would beg to differ. Determined to utilise the two things Wedderburn has in its favour—its location midway along the increasingly popular Otago Rail Trail, a 150 km walk- and cycleway, and its iconic goods shed—the nine people who make up the community board have agreed to spend the money earned from the Wedderburn Tavern’s gaming machines to restore the shed, in every detail, to its likeness in the Sydney painting. Spearheading the project is board chairman Stuart Duncan, a fourth-generation sheep and beef farmer and fifth-generation Maniototo-ite. Duncan spent his early twenties as a city-dweller, both in New Zealand and overseas. Returning to take over the family farm in 1992 was like discovering the district for the first time. He liked what he found. “I came back from England and realised I had everything right here—that this was heaven,” he says. The only thing the place lacked was people. To help remedy that deficiency, Duncan and his wife, Lorraine, developed a lodge on their farm: a red brick-and-tile farmhouse providing backpacker-style accommodation for travellers wishing to stop a while and breathe the vital Maniototo air. They also created a nine-hole golf course next door. It was the first golf course in the world to be opened in the new millennium, hardy locals teeing off into the midnight mist on January 1, 2000, and is perhaps unique in awarding bonus points for hitting rabbits. The idea of moving the goods shed—which had become the public face of Wedderburn, thanks to the Sydney painting—back to its original position was first mooted in 2000. Seeing value in the idea as a way of making people stay in Wedderburn for more than a cold beer at the pub, the community bought back the building from a defunct mining operation which had acquired it when the railway line closed in 1990. To beautify the area surrounding the shed, trees have been planted representing every family that has lived in the district in the past 50 years. The shed itself will be restored as closely as possible to the Sydney image, including the marker posts that lean haphazardly against the walls, and possibly the timber platform that once stood inside. Within the restored building, memorabilia will give visitors an insight into the history of the area—a history which dates back to the early 1880s. It was then that Wedderburn began its life as a staging post for the Dunstan coach, later becoming a stopover for swag-carrying prospectors and travellers on their way to the Central Otago goldfields. The town flourished as the number of pastoral farms in the area grew, and when a government tree nursery opened in nearby White Sow Valley in 1883, more families came into the district. A school opened in 1886. Wedderburn’s population peaked in the 1890s as the Central Otago railway line inched its way over the Taieri Plain and across the Maniototo. On June 1, 1900, the Wedderburn station was officially opened. At 539 m, it was the highest in the South Island. The railway provided a sorely needed reliable transport system for the Wedderburn district, and the goods shed provided temporary shelter and storage for rabbits, sheep, lambs, wool, cream and grain en route to the port of Dunedin. However, during the 20th century rail’s star declined in the face of competition from road transport, and the Central Otago line was kept alive only by government protection. Then, in 1977, the maximum distance for which road transport could compete with rail was raised from 64 to 150 km, and in the mid 1980s even this protection was removed, effectively sounding the death knell for rural rail services not just in Otago but throughout the country. Despite a campaign by the people of Wedderburn to keep the diminished service alive, the Central Otago railway was finally shut down in 1990, a year after Wedderburn School had shut its gate for the last time. The passenger waiting room began a new life as the headquarters of the Garibaldi Curling Club, while the goods shed was sold as a coal store. The loss of the railway is still lamented by many, including Grahame Sydney. “I have always been distressed by the fact the railway line was not only closed down, but bodily removed,” he says. “I hated it then, and I hate it even more now.” Had the line been retained, he believes it would have provided a unique and spectacular tourist journey from Dunedin across the Maniototo and into the new wine-growing district of Clyde. Its removal, he says, typifies the brutality and short-term vision of that period in New Zealand history. While no one in Wedderburn is expecting busloads of tourists to suddenly materialise in search of the restored goods shed, the project is indicative of a community prepared to pull together to celebrate its past as it looks to the future. There is renewed optimism in the Maniototo air, and a hope that the old goods shed will once again reverberate with the sound of activity.
Not long ago, I discovered a wild hop vine growing at Mahoe, just a few kilometres east of my Taumarunui home. Hops don't flower unless they can climb up something, and this plant was entwined on the stay wire of an electrical transformer pole. It was a beautiful specimen, and it took me back to childhood days in provincial Nelson—then and now the New Zealand headquarters of hops. Originally, the labour intensive crop was grown on small holdings, like the one my parents owned. The hops were harvested by hand pickers, who earned their pocket money and enjoyed a social occasion at the same time. As with any crop, there is work to be done in every season. In early spring, the vines are pruned back and strung. Binder twine is taken from the overhead wires, looped under a hook set among the roots of the plant and then tied again to the wire about three metres above the ground, forming a V. As the plant shoots away, the strongest two or three vines are trained up each string. Hops grow up in a clockwise direction, the opposite way to beans. If they are trained the wrong way they will simply fall down. The growth of the vines is amazing. Anything from a few centimetres to half a metre in one night is possible. When the vine reaches the top of the string it folds over forming a bushy head. The flowers begin to come out in January and February. They are pale green and develop into a conical shape with overlapping "petals," with a seed forming at the base of each "petal." They grow in bunches and have a very strong perfume—unique and unforgettable. There are male and female plants, and both are required for a good crop of hops. The male is usually a very strong, heavy-looking, darker vine placed sparingly throughout the garden. The female is the beautiful and useful one—the one that produces the hops. At the end of February or beginning of March the hops are ready to pick. The weight on the wires becomes enormous, and during a heavy rain or strong wind, if a stay wire gives way the whole garden can collapse onto the ground. There ensues a frantic attempt to lift as much of the garden as possible and get as much picked before the crop is totally ruined. In my day, pickers used to arrive by car or bus or any other means. Some just turned up to the door asking for a job. They were accommodated in baches on the farm—comfortable, but no luxuries. Hop bins were made out of sacking, with wooden cross legs at each end like an old-fashioned baby's basinette. The strings of hops were cut down using a long pole with a sickle-like head. They were taken to the pickers immediately, as it was easier to pick them before the plant began to wilt. The pickers stripped off the hops into their bin with as few leaves as possible. The leaves were not wanted. Gloves were often worn, as the stems had stiff hairs on them which acted like a rasp. Hands could become very raw and sore. Hops contain a resin which caked the pickers' hands and clothes. The aroma became very strong as the season progressed. At lunchtime and knockoff time the hops were measured out and the pickers paid per bushell. From the garden, the hops were taken in big sacks to the kiln where they were spread over a loft floor to dry. A fire was lit below, and a steady "dry" maintained for 12 hours. The hops were turned at about two-hourly intervals, so it was a long night's work. After cooling, the dried hop were baled up ready for sale, the same as wool is baled in a press. Hop picking was a huge event in the calendar, lasting for up to a month. In the early days the schools used to close, as it was all hands on deck for the local families. The population of the small rural areas of the Moutere, Riwaka and Motueka districts increased in size from hundreds to thousands of residents for that short time. Changing times affected the hop farmers. Pickers became harder to get, small gardens began to vanish and the big gardens became bigger. Economy and mechanisation became the name of the game. Huge machines now replace the hand pickers. The staff numbers have been reduced to a fraction. The hype, the excitement and the drama of harvest has gone. A machine, sitting in a big shed, is fed the strings at one end and spits out the hops at the other. They are still dried as before and baled up and sent away. There is still the same smell, but the atmosphere has gone. No longer are there pickers in the garden. No more chatter, singing, debates and high spirits. Someone always got dumped in a bin full of hops before the season was over. No more calls of "String!" echoing around the garden as more was needed by the picker. No more smokos and lunches eaten in some shady spot beside the garden. Another piece of our history has faded into oblivion leaving only nostalgia for those who had experienced it. I have great memories of the season of the hops. I did my share of all phases of the production, and I still miss the smell and the deafening sound of the cicadas in the evening ... As I looked at the hop on the transformer wire I wondered what story it had to tell. I assumed it was a remnant from early sawmilling days. Was it used to make yeast for bread? Or was it there for making beer? This was a dry area in those early days, so we can only imagine the possibilities. Until recent years, hops also grew wild at Pukawa, on the western shore of Lake Taupo, at the old Mission House site. They were introduced by Rev. Thomas Grace for making the yeast for the mission's bread. Unfortunately, the last plant now seems to have disappeared. I wonder if there are any other solitary vines around, relics of pioneering days.
Te anau, on the eastern edge of Fiordland National Park, is well known today. It has a population of around 3000 and boasts more than a score of hotels, motels, motor lodges, hostels, camping grounds and holiday parks. But in 1950, when I was appointed postmaster there, I had to look at an atlas: the place was barely on the map, although I did know Te Anau had been a Union Steam Ship Company vessel around the turn of the century. Typical for the times, the order to take up my new job came suddenly. I was working as a Post & Telegraph Department radio operator at Musick Point in Auckland, communicating in Morse code with ships and the TEAL flying boats crossing the Tasman. I had never so much as sold a stamp or weighed a parcel, but was needed to evaluate the viability of a radiotelephone circuit between Te Anau and Milford Sound so the tourist hotel could be connected to the national telephone system. Another P&TD telegraphist staffed the Milford post office, sending and receiving telegrams by Morse code via Awarua Radio, the large marine communications station between Invercargill and Bluff. All this was before transistor radios, computers or television. It was in the days of pounds, shillings and pence, when postage stamps bore the head of King George V, cars were Austins, Hillmans and Vauxhalls, New Zealand bank notes had no value abroad, and National Airways Corporation flew DC3s. Petrol rationing, a legacy of World War II, had only just ended, on June 1, 1950, and a month later I was on my way south. I had sold my BSA 250 cc motorcycle, and left Auckland for Wellington on the 7.15 P.M. steam-hauled express. Next day I wandered the streets of the capital before departing on the nightly steamer to Lyttelton. At dawn, another express steam train left from Christchurch. All day it raced down the South Island, and at 8 P.M. I disembarked at Gore. It was Saturday night, and the bus for Te Anau didn't depart until Monday. I spent two cold winter's nights in a private hotel in the home of Cremoata, now more famous for its brown trout and Gold Guitar country-music awards. A New Zealand Railways Road Services Bedford took me to the farming centre of Lumsden, where I changed to a bus with an Eglinton Valley sign. It rattled over the unsealed road, arriving at Te Anau in the late afternoon. Snow-covered mountains surrounded the lake. I shivered. This was the edge of the known world. I had been told a lost Maori tribe wandered the area—a myth to tantalise and intrigue visitors. Te Anau was very different back then. A stuccoed hotel run by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts stood on the lakefront with accommodation for 52 guests. There was also a trout hatchery, a Public Works Department camp, a sole-teacher school, a camping ground and about a dozen houses. In the general store Mrs Baker sold Silver Fern tobacco, Army Club cigarettes and bars of Taniwha washing soap. Her sons were wild-bearded men in dungarees, thick shirts, heavy boots and socks, and World War II army greatcoats—the uniform of the outdoorsman of the times. The post-office building, still under construction opposite the store, stood on ground partly cleared of scrub twice a man's height. At a cost of 6000 pounds, it was being hammered together, apparently by unskilled labour, out of PWD huts trucked down from the still unfinished Homer Tunnel. The interior paintwork had streaked because the ceiling had been installed before the roof had been put on, and the structure was waterlogged. In the public space was a telephone booth for toll calls, four partitioned spaces where customers could fill in forms, and a polished wooden counter. Behind this was a coal-fuelled stove. 10-line manual telephone exchange with brass plugs and cotton-covered cords had been dumped on a packing case. The connecting wires were strung through the door in an untidy bunch. A single copper party line connected Te Anau to Lumsden via Manapouri, The Key and Mossburn. Originally installed in 1906, it still had magneto signalling and carbon microphones powered by two large No. 6 dry-cell batteries. Users had to crank the magneto handle to make contact, and ringing off meant exactly that: a twirl of the handle to signify the conversation was finished and cords could be disconnected. On wet days, and in snow, poor line insulation meant shouting into the mouthpiece was normal when talking to Invercargill or Dunedin. To communicate with distant Wellington was almost impossible. Telegrams were easier—one shilling for eight words. I telephoned them to the Lumsden exchange, and they were then routed on a Morse-code circuit to Invercargill and beyond. There were local connections to the store, the ranger, the hotel and, during summer, the Cascade Creek Hostel. There was also a private PWD line up the Eglinton Valley road to Marian Camp, close to the Homer Tunnel portal. The new post office superseded the limited service the hotel had previously operated, with savings bank and all the other extras a post office provided in those days. A P&TD officer was supposed to be equally capable of flicking out telegrams in Morse code, tying a mail bag, selling stamps, paying out social-security pensions and manipulating telephone-exchange cords. I was also expected to lay 90 square yards of heavy brown government lino and to fill the new foam fire extinguishers. I opened cartons of forms for every possible P&T transaction: money order forms, telegram forms, toll cards. I sold postal notes and British postal orders. I accepted cash for the savings bank and paid out withdrawals after phoning Invercargill to check the ledger balance. I was also required to requisition for health stamps. Few people were interested in buying these surcharged items, so to achieve my quota I had to buy them, solemnly reporting weekly sales to myself. I lived beyond my means in a room at the tourist hotel at a cost of two pounds 10 shillings a week, where I was brought the customary before-breakfast cup of tea. Standard fare was mulligatawny soup, roast mutton and apple pie, with coffee served in demitasse cups in the lounge in front of a roaring fire by a white-jacketed steward. The other few patrons in the winter of 1950 were American or Australian tourists, far off the beaten track, plus the odd honeymoon couple. One night an American proudly showed me his plastic-soled shoes—the first in the world, so he said. My soles were leather: "plastic" wasn't a word in common use. The telephone-exchange plugs were bakelite and brass, mail bags were heavy canvas and the string to tie them was natural manila. The post-office pen-holders were wooden. Te Anau in winter was lonely and cold, a raw place where the rain puddles froze solid. At night there were lights in the hotel, but only candles and lanterns in the few houses and a kerosene storm lantern on the petrol pump outside the store. The blue gum trees along the lakefront rustled forlornly in the wind. When the postmaster's flat, attached to the post office, had been built and furnished, I moved in and had to pay 10 shillings a week rent and one-andthreepence a week for the use of the government-provided furniture. Some of this—the torn curtains and battered chairs—had been surplus to requirements at the Halfmoon Bay post office on Stewart Island. I was allowed to charge a 2s 6d re-opening fee of anyone who wished to make a toll call after hours. One night a fisherman knocked on my door at midnight clutching a trout wrapped in fern, which he wanted to post to Invercargill before going back up the valley. I told him it wouldn't last in a mail bag and offered to put it on the bus. The hotel's public bar closed at 6 P.M. exactly, in compliance with the licensing laws, and although the Lumsden constable rarely visited Te Anau, under no circumstances would the manager sell sly grog, either to the men who worked on the roads, the occasional deer hunter or fisherman who passed through, men in from the few cribs scattered through the bush, or hotel staff. Barney Gilligan, a local man, owned a Packard Straight 8 car, which often raced to Mossburn, 40 miles away, at five pounds a trip, taking men to drink beer sold by a more obliging publican. Films were screened in the hotel dining room on Saturday nights with a 16 mm projector, although never the latest—The Rains Came, with Tyrone Power and Myra Loy, or Abbott and Costello in The Time Of Their Lives. The schoolteacher operated a library—some 300 books changed quarterly by the Country Library Service. I issued radio licences at 30s each, but reception was bad, the nearest broadcasting stations being in Invercargill and Dunedin. The voice-radio circuit, on a medium frequency of 3 megacycles (before megacycles became megaHertz), was tested several times a day. Dipole wire aerials had been erected on Australian hardwood poles. The two receivers came from American-built bombers used in the war. The Collier and Beale transmitter, built in Wellington, was also of wartime vintage and as big as a double-door refrigerator—all black metal, waving meters and glowing glass valves. Impenetrable static frequently compelled us to revert to Morse. Te Anau to Milford was a difficult distance to bridge by radio, not being far enough for the higher, more reliable short-wave frequencies, and in the end it proved impossible to establish a commercial telephone circuit. Most phone connections within New Zealand, from Northland to Bluff, were made with solid-wire circuits on wooden poles. Such innovations as mountaintop repeaters and radio-bearer circuits on microwave frequencies still lay in the future. By the time they made their appearance, my six-month stint as postmaster in one of the country's more distant telephonic outposts had long come to an end and I had returned to civilisation to take up work once more as a radio operator.
John Crook is a farmer who has spent all his 73 years on the family farm at Maungatautari Mountain in the Waikato. Here he reflects on the trials and tribulations of raising hogs.
Mark Scott discovers the attractions of sheepdog trails and jam-making.
It was a laugh when we started. Mike and I really didn't know what we were doing. When you're going for flounders you've got to set the net pretty low, and every now and again you get five tons of muck instead of any fish, or you might find some fish but you've got to hose them out. Neither of us could mend the net, not in a hurry anyhow. We blundered on like this for three months. One night, it was about 11 o'clock, we were still out in the bay there, with the lights on, hosing mud out of a trawl. When you've got a heap of mud in a trawl, you can't get the whole net in because of the weight, so you've got to put a strop round it, lift a bit up, empty that, then put another strop on, and get that bit out, and so on. It's called fleeting up, and you've got to do that about five times to get it all on board. It's a lot of work. We were struggling again. We saw some lights coming towards the boat. This boat pulls up. I love them at night. This was the romantic part of fishing: yellow oilskins on the crew, orange floats, painted boat, orange netting, kauri deck, absolutely dark, but where the wheelhouse is there's a port light on. It pulls up pretty close to us, a voice comes across from the wheelhouse: "I can't bear watching you two stupid bastards going broke any longer!" It was Jack Flowers. He was a great old bugger. Old Jack smoked like a chimney, like most of us. We used to call his boat "Nicotine." She was actually the Nicolene. "What the hell are you doing there?" he asked, and I replied, "We're trying to mend this net." "Have you had any tea?" "Urn, no." He said, "Look, I'll meet you behind the islands over there in half an hour. Come and have tea with us. In the meantime John here will give you a hand with the net." The next thing there's a huge puff of black smoke, the boat swings around and puts its stern within six inches of ours, and John, his crew, steps on to us as if he's walking down High Street. He just laughs at this hole we've been making with a whole lot of five-legged meshes. He gets his knife and cuts away our mess—about an hour's work—gets a knitting needle and it's all done in five minutes. We get in behind the islands and old Jack, out of a tiny little gas stove, brings out meat, gravy, three vegies and roast potatoes. I sat down at this meal and thought, I'll never keep up with these guys! They can build boats, slaughter a pig on the beach, cook a fabulous tea, work a radio, navigate as well as catch fish. It was really quite daunting. I'd been hearing rumours of the bonanza happening at the Chathams, but I was too naive and inexperienced to even consider it, so we bumbled on trawling for about a year and a half,going broke. Then Eric turned up. He had emigrated from Denmark with his wife. I had worked in Denmark and could speak a bit of Danish, so I made it my business to talk to him. He went over to the Chathams on a plane to do his own research. He came back and said, "Hey, Richard. They're making money like water over there. You must go." I was too chicken. I couldn't face the risk. But I knew he was right. Then the boat's engine flew to bits, which really forced my hand. I realised I'd completed primary school in the Bay, and if I was ever to hold my head up as a real fisherman, as opposed to a Nelson puddle-jumper, I was going to have to do something. I said to Mike, "I think we'll go to the Chathams. We need the money." Mike said, "What do you know about crayfishing?" "A lot. I've been lobster fishing in England, and that's exactly the same." When I'd bought the boat I'd got 20 cray pots thrown in. I said, "We'll go down to the Sounds and have a practice run with those old pots we've got." So we loaded up some bait and the pots and headed out. We found a spot. The sounder showed a few rocks on the bottom. I said to Mike, "Right. Get that pot ready and put some bait in it." I jiggled about, looking at the sounder, and I said, "Right, chuck it over!" Mike slung it over the side, the rope went whizzing after it, and over went the float. We were both watching. The float went glug, glug, glug and disappeared. We never saw it again. That was the first pot we'd ever set. I hadn't worked out how much rope we needed. Mike looked at me in disgust and said, "I thought you knew about this!" We spent five days down there and never caught a single cray. I said, "Well, now we know what we're doing we'll go to the Chathams." We spent a lot of money getting the boat in top order. We couldn't afford to break down over there, because there were no real repair facilities. When we first got over, everybody was waiting for the run to start, but we couldn't afford to wait, we had to get started. We put our pots out around the bottom end at a place called Cape L'Eveque. We were down there and had the radio on 2045, which was the frequency they used, and I heard, "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the Seaway, Seaway. The main engine has stopped, we've got a lot of water in the engine room. We can't start the auxiliaries to run the pumps and we're drifting on to the Mum Murus." I knew the Mum Murus were a nasty lot of reefs off Pitt Island, so they were about 12 miles away from us. I thought, "Oh, bugger, what do I do now?" I thought, "I'll keep quiet for a minute and see if anybody else answers." Then this voice comes on the air: "Tell us where your pots are before you sink, John!" I mean, that's fishing. The humour was just wonderful. We were all dependent on each other. We did two seasons at the Chathams. Sometimes, in quiet weather, we'd set a pot in the middle of a bay with rocks all around. We'd come down the next day and fmd the weather was much worse and the bay had turned into a lavatory pan. In the middle you could see our little orange buoy. I'd say, "Oh, we'll give that one a miss, Mike. We'll go on and do the others." On the way back, this pot would needle me. We didn't need the money, but leaving it would haunt me. I'd say to Mike, "We'll give it a go." I'd turn round and face the sea and I'd back down and a breaker would break just underneath us. Mike would be on the stern deck with the grappling hook. All he'd have to do was throw it across between the two floats, pull the rope in, and once he'd got it over the snatch block and two turns over the capstan, I could give her 180 horsepower and tow the whole lot out just as we were riding up on a big breaker. Of course, there'd be bugger all in the pot, but it was a real thrill. On one occasion we were in Port Hutt and ready to come back to New Zealand, but we couldn't come back on our own, because at that stage I didn't have a deep-sea ticket. There were a pack of cowboys on a boat called the Picton anchored in the same bay. It was a big wooden coaster and had been at the Chathams for six of the golden years. It had a crew of six, who were shareholders. They had so many parties they hardly bothered to go fishing. I heard they were going back to Wellington, so I rowed over in the dinghy. As I got closer, I could hear a party going on. I climbed on board and asked if the owner, Joe Gilroy, was there. They said, "Oh yeah, he's in the wheelhouse." He leaned out and I said, "I hear you're going back to New Zealand tomorrow. Can we come with you?" He said, "Yeah, yeah, that's okay, Richard. I'll let you know. It'll depend on the weather." The next morning I heard the forecast: blowing hard from the south-west. I said to Mike, "They won't be going today. We can lie in a bit." He said, "They are, you know!" We looked out the wheelhouse, and there was somebody cranking the anchor up. I'll never forget it. She came snorting by us and Joe leaned out the wheelhouse. He said, "Are you ready boys? Follow the bottles!" It's about 400 miles across. We got to Cape Palliser in a couple of days, and Joe called up on the radio, "Are you all right, boys? Can you find your way home?" I said, "Yes, Joe. I think we can. Thanks very much. What do I owe you?" He said, "We'll meet up for a drink sometime." I made sure I never met up with that lot again. They'd cost you a fortune. It's wonderful to have a dream. A dream is essential for your life. I was a romantic about fishing. To me it was about wonderful colour, freedom and family boats. It was only that that kept me going with what cynics might call a floating butcher shop and a bloody uncomfortable one at that. It's about the wavelengths of your life. Waves of great joy and sadness. You don't know the meaning of a haven until you've been frightened out at sea, or what a good meal is if you haven't been hungry. Fishing was like that. In the end I probably didn't make any more money than if I'd being doing something else, but it came in great gulps and then there was a disaster, and it went on like that. On the farm the worrying was an annual thing; with fishing I felt much more alive. To my mind there is no comparison. I know I was frightened of the sea; I still am. It's like a high cliff. You have to go and look over the edge. You're scared stiff of the drop but you can't help looking over I think that's how I felt about the sea. Having had some experience with it now I'm still frightened by it but in a different way. I know how to deal with it and what I should be doing. I've seen seas that were embarrassing to say the least for a 120-foot line boat, and while I was sitting in the wheelhouse wondering if I've done everything possible, I'm thinking, "There's only one word for this and that's magnificent!"
In April 1998, a group of 13 climbers re-enacted the first mountaineering trip undertaken by Europeans in New Zealand: the ascent of Mt Sparrman, a little-known peak in Fiordland, 225 years ago.
Mike Mullord used to sell fish around Marlborough out of a distinctive customised van. His reflections on the life of a fishmonger first appeared in Seafood New Zealand.
According to my dictionary, "fiord" (also "fjord") is a Norwegian word meaning a long, deep, narrow inlet of the sea with steep, often mountainous sides, originally eroded by glaciers. By this definition, Fiordland is aptly named: it was glacier formed; its long inlets run to the sea and are certainly precipitous. Why is it, then, that "fiord" appears on a map of the area only in the names of the arms of Lake Te Anau? Our true fiords are called sounds, which the dictionary defines as an inlet of the sea or a narrow channel of water, such as a strait. The South Island's other sounds, those of Marlborough, are valleys that have become drowned as the block of land on which they sit has tilted and lowered them into the Cook Strait. They are more accurately labelled sounds than the fiords of the south. Anomaly number one. Anomaly number two is that there is absolutely no consistency in the naming of the Fiordland sounds. Not all of them are even called sounds: some are "inlets," while a number of side branches are "arms." All very confusing. An old jingle, supposedly an aid to memorising the sounds in order from south to north, runs: Preserve your Chalk, it's Dusky at Breaksea And Dagg says it's Doubtful if Thompson went round. But Nancy and Charles go to Caswell for marble And George and Bligh to grand Milford Sound. The trouble with this rhyme is that you have to know the position of the sounds to be able to memorise the verse, rather than the other way round! The sounds are named after a variety of people and topographical features. Preservation Inlet, also called Port Preservation, probably echoes a prayer of relief by early seamen for a safe arrival. The weather in the south-west corner of our country can be of exceptional severity, but once inside the inlet, craft are in little danger from storms, being protected from the near-constant westerlies by the islands across the mouth. The name Preservation Harbour first appears on a sketch map made by an American whaler named Eber Bunker as early as 1809, but was probably in use before that date. Towards its head, the fiord is called Long Sound—selfexplanatory. Chalky Inlet, which almost shares the same mouth as Preservation, is named after the white island at its entrance, which no doubt reminded some early seamen of the white cliffs of Dover. It forks towards its head into Edwardson Sound and Cunaris Sound. Captain Edwardson of the 29-ton schooner Snapper visited Chalky in 1822 to investigate the setting up of a flax industry. He wasn't very successful in this enterprise, but he did establish friendly relationships with local Maori (and also introduced the pig to Southland). Jules de Blosseville, midshipman on a scientific expedition led by Louis Duperry which visited Port Jackson in 1824, obtained details of Chalky Sound from Edwardson. Duperry intended to visit the area, so de Blosseville drew a chart based on Edwardson's information and named the two arms of Chalky Inlet Bras [Ann] Edwardson and Bras Canaris. The latter was subsequently corrupted to Cunaris, but its origin is uncertain. Perhaps it refers to Konstantinos Kanaris, a hero of the Greek war of independence from Turkey well known for his use of fireships, and whose fame was likely to have spread to the French navy. Another explanation is the number of bellbirds, or "canaries," Edwardson would have heard there (and which can still be Beard today). Dusky Sound was named By James Cook in 1770 as he passed the entrance on the evening of March 14. He actually referred to it as Duskey Bay. A second entrance is now known as Acheron Passage, named by John Stokes after his ship when he was charting the coast in 1851, but was originally called New passage by Cook, as it was sew to him. (A chart drawn By Richard Pickersgill, third lieutenant on the Resolution, allows it as Resolution lPassage.) Wet Jacket Arm, off Acheron Passage, is another of Cook's names, the boat crew that explored it baying got thoroughly soaked for their trouble. Acheron Passage runs into Jreaksea Sound. Cook !regarded this as part of Dusky Sound and named it North Entrance, but the island at its mouth he called Breaksea Island. Early sealers applied the name Breaksea to the whole sound. This also riivides, into Vancouver and Broughton Arms, named after the captains of the two vessels that comprised George Vancouver's 1791 expedition. Moving north, we come ao relatively small Dagg Sound, named after Captain Dagg of the whaler Scorpion, which visited the area in January 1804. But if Dagg is minor, Doubtful Sound is major. Cook named it on his first voyage, doubtful as to whether he would be able to out once he had got in. The entrance is quite narrow and wouldn't have allowed him much room to manoeuvre, so he chose not to enter. Doubtful Sound is actually a maze of waterways. At the eastern end of Secretary Island it is joined by Thompson Sound and Bradshaw Sound. Beyond this point it is named Malaspina Sound (or Reach). From Malaspina run First Arm, Crooked Arm and Hall Arm, with Deep Cove being a well-known anchorage at its head. Thompson Sound was named by the Sydney sealer John Grono, who operated on the Fiordland coast in 1809 and again in 1822, after the owner of his vessel, Andrew Thompson. Stokes made the mistake of assuming it was named after a later British Colonial Secretary, Deas Thompson, and named Deas Cove, Secretary Island and Colonial Head in that belief. Bradshaw Sound is named after Richard Bradshaw, the mate of the Acheron. It becomes Gaer Arm further up, the derivation of which is unknown. Nancy Sound is another small inlet. It takes its name from one of Grono's commands, and a touch of whimsy is evident in the naming of its features. The sound is leg shaped, so where it turns at right angles to the north it becomes Foot Arm, which in turn contains Heel Cove and Toe Cove. Also marked are Leg Head and Bend Point. Charles Sound was probably named after another Sydney sealer, Charles McLaren. It forks into Emelius Arm and Gold Arm. These are probably named after ships, but there is no certainty about this. There are two possible derivations for the name Caswell Sound. The most interesting concerns Jim Caswell, a half-caste Maori who was one of a group of sealers wrecked near the entrance of the sound. He volunteered to seek help from the sealers at Deas Cove, in Thompson Sound, and is reported to have walked and swum the distance in 48 hours. This would have included crossing the mouth of both Charles and Nancy Sounds, an improbable feat, so if he did complete the journey, it is likely he had a boat. The more prosaic explanation is that the sound was named after a neighbour of Grono's in Australia. A fair run up the coast from Caswell is George Sound. There is some doubt as to who George was, but he was probably George Stevens, pilot of the Acheron. The name could also come from a ship, the King George, commanded by a Captain Chase, who earned a reputation for his harsh treatment of northern Maori. Bligh Sound is named only indirectly after Captain Bligh of Bounty fame. It appears to be another of Grono's ships, the Governor Bligh, which was the actual inspiration, this being the direct recipient of the name of the captain who became governor of the Port Jackson penal colony and a neighbour of Grono's on the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales. The point is probably pedantic, as the sheltered cove at the head of the sound is named Bounty Haven, and Mutiny Peak is in the vicinity, athough these were later additions to the map, made by Stokes. Sutherland Sound is the shortest of the Fiordland sounds and the only one with restricted access from the sea. Only very small boats can enter. A feature of fiords is that they are deeper just inside the entrance than at the entrance itself. The weight and grinding action of a glacier diminishes at its snout, which means a fiord shoals towards the mouth. This characteristic is particularly pronounced in Sutherland, making the sound more akin to a big lagoon with similarities to Lake McKerrow and the Hollyford Valley, which lie to the north of the sounds. It was named after Donald Sutherland, who first entered it by rowing down the coast from his home at Milford in 1883. Finally, there is "grand" Milford Sound, one of the half-dozen or so natural features of the country familiar from calendars and postcards to most of the populace. To sail in on a fine day, however, is still to be surprised at just how grand it is. The surrounding country is higher than further south, and near Dale Point the walls of the fiord are very close together. Grono was again responsible for the name: Milford Haven, as the sound was known for a time, was a town close to Grono birthplace in south Wales. Maori legend attributes the formation of the sounds to the god Tu Te Raki Whanoa, who began in unpractised fashion on the southern ones, which is why these are ragged and scattered with islands. As he progressed northwards, Tu Te Raid's workmanship steadily improved, and by the time he came to shape Milford he had perfected his technique. As with so many Maori accounts of the formation of natural features, this explanation is most apposite. Milford is one of the geographical wonders of the country.
Twelve years old, childhood was running out: the last of the barefoot summers.
The two bushmen hastily finished the new set of skids. By now the stock of logs at the mill would be almost exhausted. No doubt the millhands were clapping on the speed in an effort to overtake them. It had always been like this: whenever anything happened to hold the bushmen up, the mill output would rise from 5000 to 6000 or even 7000 board feet per day. Not that the bushmen intended to be overtaken. Far from it. The thought of the mill braggarts boasting over such an event wouldn't bear thinking of, but they both knew that it would be a near thing this time. The white pines stood so thick near the skids that it was difficult to pull a saw between them. The breaker-out had cleared a track up to the stand by the time they'd knocked the first tree down, and the bullocky could already be heard calling to his leaders as he made his way up the track. The trammie was at the skids with his tandem-yoked horses ready to load the logs on to the tram. He offered nothing in the way of encouragement. "You bush rats had better get your shirt-tails cracking," he said. "The last log was going on to the breaking-down bench when I left." "This one'll do three eighteens," said one of the bushmen, standing the measuring-stick up against a nearby tree. "We'll have to knock another down for a load." The other bushman said nothing. He very seldom did say anything. To him words were precious things, not to be flung lightly to the four winds where they might never be recovered. He preferred to let his mate do the talking. He reckoned he was better at it. They were an odd pair. One was short, thickset, heavily muscled, and bald. The other was tall and lean with a shock of sun-bleached hair that hung down over his ears, then curled round and began to grow up again as if seeking the sunlight like the trees in which they worked. Each month he went to town with the intention of getting his hair cut, but something always intervened to prevent it so that the following day his mate would knock it about a bit with an old pair of blunt scissors. But in spite of the differences between them, they seemed to think the same thoughts at the same time, particularly when they were on the crosscut. It was as if the thoughts of one travelled along the band of steel to occupy the mind of the other. This transfer of thought had gone on for so long now that neither saw anything unusual in it. The two bushmen walked along opposite sides of the log, each holding the handle of the crosscut. They set the saw teeth down on the axe-mark indicating the first eighteen feet. "Reckon she's straight?" asked the voluble one, squinting along the saw. The other didn't reply. He saw no need. Bushmen of their standing didn't cut crooked cuts. With long easy swinging strokes the saw ate into the soft wood. They stopped only once, to tap a wedge into the saw-cut to keep it open and then continued on until a soft little pop and a settling of the tree-trunk indicated they were through. The breaker-out threw his timberjack in alongside the log and jacked it clear, so that he could snipe the end and drive the sidedogs to take the hook of the single hauling chain that ran down between the pairs of bullocks. The bushmen were interested in none of this. The second and third logs were cut off before the first had reached the skids. By the time the second was on its way the front scarf was cut in the next tree and the bushmen were backing it up with the six-foot crosscut saw. This tree stood perfectly plumb on its stump and was not expected to break much wood. "How much wood are you holding?" asked the talkative one. "Coupla inches," answered his mate. "Better stick a wedge in her." The other took the broad-bladed backing-up wedge and drove it into the saw-cut with the maul. The tree shook visibly and took a decided lean. He struck another blow for luck and got the surprise of his life when a bee plummeted down from a knothole and stung him on the top of his bald head. He became vastly excited and sprang off his jigger board and dived into the undergrowth. From this haven he called urgently for help. "Get the sting out," he pleaded. "Mind you don't squeeze the poison in." His mate strolled over to where he was peering apprehensively through the foliage as if expecting further attacks. His mate had no fear of bees. He peered professionally at the sting before briefly sterilising the face of his axe by wiping it on the leg of his trousers. He then deftly scraped the sting clear with the razor-sharp blade. "Got yer fair in the centre of the think-tank," he said. It would appear that the axe had the same power of thought transference as the saw, because both men were struck with the same idea without a word being spoken. Broad smiles appeared on both weather-beaten faces. The silent one became almost loquacious. "Wedge her over while I get a plug of clay ready," he said. The other bushman didn't fancy this job much, but he liked the other even less, so he sneaked up to the tree, struck the wedge a tremendous blow and fled back to the undergrowth again. After several such efforts the tree gave a tremendous crack, and began its apparently leisurely journey towards the ground. A moment after it struck, with an earsplitting crash, his mate dived into the still-falling debris, and blocked the hive-entrance with his ball of clay. A few bees who had emerged on impact buzzed about frantically seeking entry, but the bushman cut a leafy branch and laid it over the plug. The bees obligingly crawled into the foliage and were lost from view. Others returning to the hive formed a small cloud high in the air where the knothole had been. The two bushmen set about with a will. They had two saw-cuts to put through before, as they put it, "those log-hauling louts" got back from their last trip to the skids with the butt log from the previous tree. When the log-haulers arrived, not only was the log ready but the bushmen were quite helpful. With their assistance it was broken out and on its way to the skids in record time. No mill-rats were going to gloat over their causing a break in production, they said. They watched it loaded on to the tram and chuckled gleefully when the trammie spread his butterfly cape over the clay plug and seated himself on it, before clucking to his horses to start them on their journey to the mill. After he'd gone the bullocky unyoked his team, and he and the breaker-out set off back. They were finished for the day. The bushmen cut a few more logs, but their hearts were no longer in their work. They were waiting for the knock-off whistle to blow; or rather, they were waiting to see if it did blow. Under normal circumstances its shriek would shatter the stillness exactly on the hour. Farmers out on the clearing would set their watches by it. It would be heard four times a day when the mill was cutting, and it was never wrong. The chap who blew it tended the mill boiler, and lived only for his fire, his head of steam, and his whistle. He was at his happiest when the steam was screaming out of the safety valve and the gauge needle touched 120 pounds. When the bed of embers glowed six inches deep along his fire bars and the water sight-glass showed the boiler to be a quarter full, he permitted his gaunt frame a little rest from the searing heat, and gazed with satisfaction at his watch hanging from a nail on a beam beside his neatly framed second-class ticket in steam. In an hour, a minute, or a moment, he'd be able to display his unique artistry on the lanyard of the whistle. Anybody could give the thing a tug and it would roar obligingly, but no other hand was able to bring in the weird dying note to the blast that went on and on, growing ever fainter, until a listener was unable to tell exactly the moment it ceased. This dying note was the cry of anguish from the spirits of those who had crossed the boilerman's path during the day and had been contemptuously consigned to the flames. Up in the bush, the two bushmen consulted their watches. Five o'clock came and went and no signal came from the mill. At a quarter past they grinned broadly. "Guess she worked," said the silent one. They gathered their tucker-bags and set off down the tram track. About halfway home they met the mill boss. "Oh," he said sarcastically, "here come Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone. Whose bright idea was it to send in the log with the beehive in it?" "What beehive?" they asked almost together. "Was there a beehive?" asked the talkative one. "We never saw no beehive, did we, Bert?" The other shook his head. "Funny we never saw it," he went on wonderingly, "because where there's a beehive there's always bees. 'Ave you noticed that? They come out in thousands when the tree hits the ground. P'raps they was all knocked out with the crash." The silent one stopped kicking idly at the sawdust ballast between the sleepers and took his pipe from his mouth, disclosing a tooth worn to half the length of its fellows through champing its way through innumerable pipe-stems. It was evident he was going to speak. "We might've been stung," he said plaintively. The boss was not a tolerant man. He cursed the two bushmen briefly and to the point before striding back down the track to his house—on his way making a big circle round the mill. When the two bushmen reached the mill, they found the place deserted except for one figure toiling wraithlike in a cloud of steam from an open valve. It was the stoker, assembling a steam hose to deal with the bees that had given up all hope of repairing their hive and were intent only on revenge. The log from which they were issuing at any movement, lay upon the breaking-down bench with the first flitch lying beside it. This first cut had opened up the hive, from which honey was dripping into the sawdust below. Bees swarmed throughout the mill and occasionally penetrated the stoker's smoke-screen, only to have their spirits condemned to the flames. The two bushmen thoughtfully watched his efforts for a while before setting out for the row of whares in which the workers lived. It was here that they met their first blue man; He was groping his way to the cookhouse, his face so swollen that his eyes were fast becoming mere slits. Somebody had daubed him generously with a blue-bag. The bushmen hurriedly washed and then they too followed him for their evening meal. It was a sombre repast. Diners plied knives and forks clumsily with their pudgy hands and peered closely at their plates in an effort to locate their portion. Some who had become completely sightless contented themselves with mugs of tea which, by dint of long practice, they were able to manage without the gift of sight. One thing they had in common: all were painted the same ghastly shade of blue. The bushmen alone were gay. They ate their way through their own rations with speed, and collected those of the more handicapped and ate them as well. The talkative one talked all the time, advancing theories as to how the bees got into the mill unnoticed, and even more ingenious theories on how to get them out again. The millhands said little, excepting those who still retained some sight, and these made pointed remarks about the bump on the bushman's bald head, which had already drawn his eyebrows up into an alert, startled expression. "This bump on me nut?" said the bushman happily. "Oh that—that's nothin'—I just got clobbered by a falling branch, that's all."
The oldest musterer drew the box he was sitting on a little closer to the fire. The flames emphasised the lines etched on his face by years of exposure to wind and snow, sun and rain. Outside the wind howled in the stunted birch trees and already the snow was banked halfway up the but window on the southern side. "This is what comes of startin' the autumn muster a fortnight late," he said. "Gotta go to the football, or go to the races. And here we are stuck out on the hill with muster only half over. Of course the snow's started early this year. Still, it was bound to happen. We been gettin' away with it for years now. I allus said: one of these days old Hughie's goin' to make a pounce and when he does there's goin' to be some long faces in the high country. Their bottom lips'll be frostbitten through draggin' in the snow.... "Reminds me of the first year I came down here from up north. I wanted to see what this high country musterin' was like. Just shows yer where a bit of curiosity will get you. Nineteen-eighteen I think it was. She broke early that year and we was snowrakin' for four months." "I've never been snow-raking," said the youngest musterer from his place in the corner. "Son, you don't know what you been missin'. If you want to get good and cold, that's the way to do it. When I first came down here I hadn't done none either. Not until I got a job up on Stormy Peaks, and then I got a bellyful. She was a steep bit of dirt, that. All welkin' country and straight up on end. The only flats were the bits that'd fallen over. Miles of rock and runnin' shingle. Up at the old Pyrites Hut you could look up the chimney and see the sheep grazing. "Old Mac Gregor was in charge—you wouldn't know him. Fur all over him except on his head. No, it'd be before your time. He's dead now anyway. When the station was taken back by the Forestry they bought him a bit of a house in Christchurch. "Didn't last long after that. Couldn't stand being hemmed in. Three good paces and he was at the far boundary. He wasn't that old neither. Be about the same age as I am now, when I first went there, but he hadn't weathered very well. Used to start breathin' fast on any climb above 6000 feet and was always talkin' about things that'd happened thirty or forty years before. Nobody wants to hear that sort of rubbish. It's like yesterday's newspaper, it's finished. "Course I always blamed the porridge for him being in such a poor state. He and his wife used to eat buckets of the stuff. Any hour of the day or night they'd be lapping up porridge. They even made a pudding out of the blasted stuff. "She was a grand old lady, that. Do anything for you. I stayed there fifteen years and didn't never once hear her say a bad word about nobody. Died on the place, she did. Helped carry her out in the dead of winter. Helluva trip. Snowed all the time. On the way back we had to lie down and roll over the drifts and if you think that's funny you try it some time. Come to think of it, it was probably the porridge that done her in. "Daughter come to look after the old man after that, but she wasn't a patch on the old lady. She must've had a disappointment somewhere along the line because she used to go around with a face like a rabbit trap, glarin' at the milk and turnin' it sour. We got just as much porridge as before but more lumpy. "Ian and I dumped a packhorse load of oatmeal in the river when we were packin' the stores in once, when the old lady was alive. We was very apologetic about it but she said it didn't really matter because luckily she'd ordered a bit extra. "Old MacGregor was a bit of a rough diamond but we got along all right with him. Especially Ian, he could play the pipes. The first toot on them would set Mac and the old lady buckin' and rearin'. It wasn't as if they weren't old enough to know better. Couldn't seem to help themselves, somehow. "Old Mac was a great counter of sheep. Made a speciality of it. I've seen sheep counted in all sorts of ways. I've seen blokes lettin' them run through the race and dittin' them off one by one and usually gettin' the wrong answer at the finish. Other blokes count them in three and add one at thirty-three to make a hundred. Some count them in ones and twos ready to shut the gate in their faces if they start comin' a bit fast. And then there's the bloke that counts them from pen to pen with all the odds and sods checkin' his tally. After about a dozen times round the yards, they generally reach agreement. "Old Mac didn't do none of these things. He just swung the twelve-foot gate wide open and took 'em as they came. He was good. He could count with both hands. Trouble was he knew he was good, and he talked about it, and that made him unpopular. He used to count them on the hill for practice, and if ever he met a mob on the road, he'd count them as they went past. Then he would tell the drover how many he had, and that'd make him more unpopular still. There were some pretty good counters about among the drovers those days, and after tallyin' them out in the morning they didn't like this old coot comin' along and givin"em the answer. To make it worse he was always right. "Nobody knew how many million sheep he'd counted in his time to get as good as he was. He seemed to know how many were in a bunch by the size of it. "But we didn't mind him skitin' so much because when his wife died we discovered a curious thing. He couldn't add up. Not on paper, that is. Whenever he had to do up his books he'd get one of the boys up to the house to add up for him. He'd always take their answer on paper same as he expected them to take his, on the hoof. His wife used to do it before she died. But that daughter of his couldn't add up neither. (A few additions in the form of a family might've done her a lot of good. I wouldn't've been the one to suggest it for all that.) "When the property was finally taken over, there was 4000 grown wethers to go away and Tom Geery and Dugald McTavish came up to lift. "Both of them could count sheep. They had to be able to, because they was countin' them every day. But they couldn't foot it with old Mac. They'd tried it before and they'd lost count every time. But this time it was goin' to be different. One of them had a quiet little headin' dog, one of the old Lillico breed. Good little dog it was too, but at three years old it turned stone deaf. Don't know why, unless it couldn't stand the language that shepherds use. You could still work it, but only with hand movements. Well anyhow, when it came time to count the sheep out on to the track, the tallyman climbed up on the fence, with his sheath knife and his tally stick at the ready. Old Mac opened the gate and Tom took up his position as check counter.'em. Tom and Dugald were hard men, both dead now. Tom blew out drinkin' methylated spirits or paint thinners or something down in Methven, and Dugald got himself drowned huntin' cattle over the Haast. "Dugald sat on the fence way back lookin' so innocent as to be suspicious."Well, the first hundred went out all right. The old bloke called out tally and the tallyman cut a notch on his stick. We never knew why Mac bothered with a tallyman because he never consulted him afterwards. He already had the hundreds tucked away in the corner of his brain that he kept specially clear for the purpose. From then on things speeded up. Dugald had waved the little headin' dog on to the back of the mob. "Those wethers were wild! Straight in off the hill and only six weeks off the shears. They started pilin' up on top of each other and pourin' through the gate about twelve deep. The old bloke was really countin' now. His arms was goin' like windmills and his beard was bobbin' up and down like the piston on one of these newfangled two-stroke engines. Tom had given up the pretence of countin' long ago. The tallies was comin' so fast that the tallyman nearly cut a notch in his finger by mistake. "Dugald waved the dog on again, and it started puttin' the nips in. They was really poundin' through the gate now, and old Mac was in his element, until an old wether jumped over the shadow cast by a gatepost. Soon they was all at it. That's where the old bloke found the goin' a bit tough, and he steps in to check them. Only time I ever saw him do it. It was a mistake. "As he was leanin' over to get a look on the far side, a wether jumps up under his feet and catches him under the chin with the back of its head. There was an awful crack, you could hear it all over the yards. Old Mac's eyes glazed a bit, but he still had enough fire in him to aim a kick at the sheep that did it. That was a mistake too, because he missed the sheep completely and another one jumped under his boot-heel, and put him on his back in an untidy heap and the rest of the mob ran over the top of him. He did try to get up a few times but always a wether would spring on him and put him down again. "Finally he stayed down. "He was still down when the last of the mob was gone. We dragged him over to the fence and stacked him up against it. He'd had a rough trot under those sheep; they'd tramped great clumps of fur off him everywhere. "He come round after a bit and spat out a mixture of blood and manure. 'Four thousand and seventeen,' he says. 'Ye'd better keep a leadin' dog on thim for a couple of days. They're a wee mite lively.' "When Tom and Dugald counted them into the holdin' paddock that night, there were just four thousand and seventeen. They both made it the same tally." The oldest musterer rose from his box. "Think I'll hit the hay," he said. He kicked off his unlaced boots and climbed into his sleeping bag on its mattress of tussock. "Haw, haw," laughed the youngest musterer, breaking the long silence at the fireside. "He knew how many there was beforehand. That's how he got them right." "He didn't know," said the oldest musterer. "Nobody did. Straight in off the hill they was." "Well, how the hell could he count them when they was running over the top of him?" "Counted their feet and divided by four," said the oldest musterer, drawing the sleeping-bag flap over his head.
It was, of course, a great event in the social history of the Far South of the West Coast, where weddings are by no means everyday happenings. The wedding was to take place about halfway down between the last of the bridges and the end of habitation. So, as the great day approached, one cavalcade of riders, men and women, travelled up the pack-tracks and beaches from the south, while a similar group rode down from "the end of the wheel-track road" in the north. I was with the northern contingent. We were about twenty strong, and a very cheerful party too, strung out along the pack-track, or gathered into more sociable groups where riverbed or beaches gave us room to bunch together for a bit. Every now and then the musicians among us would burst into song (to the great consternation of the birds in the bush) and the rest of us would join in the choruses, at the top of our voices, every man in his own key. The miles, which can seem mighty long when you travel alone, slipped by very pleasantly. We had timed our journey carefully so as to arrive at the scene of the wedding the evening before the ceremony. But then, as so often happened in the days before the bridges, the West Coast weather took a hand. "The sea went round to the north," as the curious expression of the Coasters has it. It makes sense because as you travel along that narrow strip of land between the great ranges of the Southern Alps and the wild steep beaches of the turbulent Tasman, the sound of the breakers is always in your ears. Naturally you hear the distant roar most clearly down the wind, so that when the wind changes from, say, south-west to north-west, instead of hearing the breakers to the south, you hear them roaring in the north. So "the sea has gone round to the north," and it is the nor'-wester driving in, warm and moist from the sea, and coming into collision with the snowy Alps that gives Westland its phenomenal rainfall So, when the North starts roaring, the traveller does some quick thinking about any rivers that may flow between him and his destination, and takes appropriate action. The whole cavalcade seemed to be saying at once: "The sea's gone round to the north"—and the rain would be pouring down any time now, in buckets.... We had lots of wild little creeks ahead of us, and three rivers, two of them not very difficult, but the last and largest notorious for the speed with which it rose and its danger when in flood. So the cavalcade began to crack on the pace. And then the storm hit us. Great rolling black clouds raced in from the sea and the rain came down in a grey wall of water that limited visibility to about fifty yards. It was coming down in streaks about as thick as your thumb. When we pounded across a shingle creekbed, the fall of the water was raising a spray about a foot high where the great drops splashed on the stones. I remember being annoyed (and not for the first time) because the splash of the rain on the shoulders of my oilskin was wetting my ears under the overhang of my sou'wester. "Do you think we can beat the flood to the ford of the big river?" shouted somebody. "I very much doubt it," answered one of the old hands, "but we'll give it a go." So on we moved at a spanking trot, as that's the best pace to cover the miles and the rough going quickly. I was deeply interested by the quiet but effective way two or three of the old hands organised our cavalcade. An experienced man was put in the lead, to negotiate any stream and river crossings. Then followed the slowest travellers, so that no one would be left behind—not that anyone was particularly slow. Everyone rides good horses on a journey. The rest of the old hands were distributed along the line, to give help or encouragement if needed: and a thoroughly competent man brought up the rear. It seemed as if it was all arranged without anybody saying anything, though I caught an odd word or nod from one old hand to another. There was no talking or singing now—for one thing it couldn't have been heard—as we belted along through the bush, the pack-track sometimes rough and rocky, sometimes muddy, with long pools of surface water. The interval between riders was just enough to make sure that the horse in front didn't throw mud in your eye. The sky was deeply overcast and, in the heavy bush, the track was in twilight. The creeks were foaming a bit but they gave us no trouble. Each rider, as he crossed, waited until the one behind him was safely over, and then went ahead at a walking pace until all were across, and then the shouted word came along the line: "Let her go," and we all broke into a trot again, determined to make that wedding, come heaven or high water. The first of the smaller rivers was just beginning to rise when we came to it, and the cavalcade waded straight through, on a ford picked by the leader. No trouble. But some of the women of the party were beginning to get a bit weary, good riders though they were, and we'd slow up to a walking pace now and then, and it was pretty welcome, too. The next river was up a bit, swirling along and very discoloured. So its crossing was treated with a little more care—the dinkum pioneer treatment our grandparents used when travelling a wild, untamed New Zealand. We formed up in groups of threes, the tallest horse in each group on the upstream side, to break the force of the current; the next horse, on the downstream side and slightly behind, with his head opposite the leader's shoulder: and the third horse again slightly behind, his head opposite the shoulder of the horse in the middle. So we crossed steadily, everyone carefully keeping station. The water came rushing strongly, hungrily, and reached up licking round the saddleflaps—quite deep enough to give everyone a good bootful and, of course, straight off the mountain ice. It was three or four miles on to the only two little bush houses on our side of the Big River, and we urged our tired horses to their best pace to cover the distance. One of the residents was standing in his doorway to greet us. "Any chance of getting across?" I called to him. "Not a hope in the world. She's as wild as a hawk—running a banker and rising about a foot a minute. You couldn't possibly put a boat on it if you had one." But I wasn't going to be stopped on hearsay, so I rode on the halfmile or so to the river itself, and a couple of the other men came with me. The river was tearing along, a quarter of a mile wide, carrying logs and stumps and great forest trees that thrashed about as their roots, often weighted with clay and rocks, struck some obstruction on the riverbed. No. Not a hope in the world of getting across there. But I was a bit jealous of a reputation I had for not being easily stopped—and especially on an occasion like a wedding. So I turned and rode up the bank of the river for a mile or so, looking for any place where there'd be a chance of getting across. I didn't find one, but I came to a place where the flood ran deep and silent through a perpendicular-sided cutting it had made in a gravel terrace. It was only about 150 yards from the top of one fifty-foot bank to the other. I had a good look at it, and made up my mind that, if I couldn't get my body across, I could at least get my voice across. And with that I turned and rode thoughtfully back to rejoin the rest of the party. The rain was easing off, and the first remark I heard was: "The sea's gone round to the south and it will be fine tomorrow." "How long will it be before the river goes down?" I asked one of the residents. "A week at least," he said, "with all that mild rain on the snow." There was just one telephone line that ran away down to the end of habitation—a good stout 8-gauge fencing-wire, often stapled from tree-trunk to tree-trunk beside the packtrack. All the little settlements were connected to it. So that evening I got into touch with a much-troubled bridegroom in the next settlement across the river. We discussed the situation. He had all the necessary papers ready on his side of the river—and what was the use of that? To his astonished delight, I told him that if he and his bride and their witnesses would come up to "the narrows" at the time fixed—ten the next morning—I and the party from the north would come up on our side, and, if I could hear their responses, I'd marry them across the river. There was much mirth in our northern camp when I told them what I proposed to do. As sometimes happens on the Coast, after "the sea has gone round to the south," the next morning was crisp and cloudless and calm. Punctual to the minute, my northern party ranged themselves round me. I'd put on my cassock and surplice and advanced to within a few feet of the cliff's edge. The bride and groom and their party ranged themselves on their side of the river according to the instructions I'd given over the phone the night before. I was delighted to find how easily my voice carried across in the clear still morning air. It was a beautiful setting for a very reverent, if somewhat unusual service. All went well until it came to the place where I asked the groom: "Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife?"—and so on—at which he was overcome with shyness, and just mumbled. "Can't hear what you say," I called. The bride gave him a dig in the ribs with her elbow and said, very audibly, "Speak up." And he did! When it came to her turn I asked her: "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband?" and she cupped her hands before her mouth and shouted "I will," with the utmost audibility. The northern contingent, I regret to say, let out a gust of laughter, and cheered lustily. But they were soon quiet again, and so that the nice buxom bride shouldn't feel put out of face: "Good girl," I called, "I heard that all right," and went on with the service. So I gave them my blessing across the river. That was a good many years ago: but, as far as I know, they've lived happily ever after. All the liquid refreshments for the wedding breakfast happened to be on our side of the flood, their transfer having been blocked by the sudden rise of the river on the previous day. All the glasses were with the southerners. But we raised our bottles in enthusiastic salute to the bride and groom—a gesture which was greeted with howls and yells of rage and frustration. Courteously, we offered to try and float a bottle or two across to them. But, of course, the only bottle that will float is an empty one...
It was a great invention. Everybody said so. Even the cowboy described it as neat. The boss had made it from an old motorbike engine, a small gear pump and the tank from an old "Wizard" lighting plant. Although it was somewhat ponderous, he'd managed to fix the whole concern on to a packsaddle which in turn was to be fixed on to the massive back of the old horse, Captain. In actual fact this portable weed-sprayer had been conceived and manufactured with Captain as the motive force that was to take it from place to place. Without him, it could never have seen the light of day. Captain was a wise old horse and had been with us for many years. In fact few could imagine the place without him. Nobody knew whether he was a full or three-quarter draught, or just some equine accident that placed him midway between the two. His head was a study of quaint, rather pleasing ugliness. One ear stood up and the other hung down and his nose was Roman to the extreme. During his long hours of meditation his nether lip hung down a full inch below his upper and a trickle of green saliva dripped constantly from it. His body however was a thing of beauty, with power in every line. On many occasions he'd been known to pull a dray loaded with a ton of spuds over the freshly-dug paddock, going down almost on to his belly to overcome the initial inertia while the skin on his rump puckered up in great wrinkles as he heaved the load into motion. Of the many and varied jobs on the station, Captain had done the lot. He had packed in the provisions and sledged out the injured. He had packed posts and battens from the bush where he had only to be shown the track once and thereafter could make it alone, cunningly edging his load round trees, and either stopping or leaving the track where he thought the trees were growing too close to accommodate the width of his load. He'd pulled motor cars from the bogs and on one occasion pulled a tractor up a slope which it was unable to climb unaided. On that occasion onlookers swore that for a brief moment an expression of hauteur spread over his ugly old face as he did so. So you can see how the new sprayer came to be built round the old horse, and how it subsequently proved to be useless without him. When the packsaddle was first put upon him and the contraption bolted into place, he displayed no particular interest. He'd borne varied and curious loads before. However, when the boss wound the cord round the flywheel and started the motor, his droopy ear became briefly erect for some moments before dropping back to its former position of disinterest. Except that he vibrated unavoidably in unison with the engine, he chose to ignore the whirring, snarling load altogether. When the boss took the spraying wand and gave the climbing rose that framed the stable door an experimental squirt, he took no notice whatever. Early next morning the spraying expedition started out. The cowboy led Captain, the handyman stood by to use the wand, and the shepherd led another packhorse loaded with two cream cans of replenishing spray. The boss also went along, partly to observe the efficiency of his brainchild, but chiefly because he was the only one who could cope with the vagaries of the motor. All through the morning, things went well. They sprayed weeds in the gullies, on the hillsides, and on the tops of the highest crags where no one had had the heart to carry a knapsack sprayer before. Twice the shepherd had to take the packhorse home for more spray. Everybody was in high spirits. It appeared as if they'd do in a day work that had taken a week with the old knapsack sprayers. The straps of these knapsack sprayers cut cruelly into a man's shoulders, and the glands leaked spray on your back every time the handle was pumped. At that time hormone sprays had not been introduced, and the manufacturers relied upon a product composed chiefly of kerosene with any odd corrosives thrown in that they happened to have on hand. The nozzles blocked constantly, and when you peered down the holes to try and locate the obstruction, a knapsack sprayer always seemed to be able to conjure up a little extra pressure from somewhere—enough to squirt a little jet of liquid into your eye. Even with the new sprayer, this fault was not entirely eliminated, and with the increased pressure from the engine, a lot more vapour-drift was evident. This sometimes enveloped the old horse, but although he emerged from it blinking frantically while big tears ran down his cheeks, he offered no complaint. It may, however, have been a contributing factor towards his stepping on the stake that ripped his leg open from fetlock to kneebone. Poor old Captain, game to the last. Everybody was concerned, the cowboy so much so that he unhesitatingly tore up his only shirt for a bandage. He and the shepherd took the packsaddle with the sprayer still attached, while the boss explored the wound for any fragments of wood before bandaging it. When they'd all done what they could, the men surveyed the gloomy prospect of going home for the knapsack sprayers to finish the small area still to be done. Finally the boss decided that they would put the sprayer on Nigger, the other packhorse and, as the boss put it, "see how he went." None of the others had dared make this suggestion because they already had a rough idea of how Nigger would go. Compared with old Captain's pure gold, this other horse was base metal indeed; and as for the sprayer, why, he hated the sight of it. The engine had to be stopped before he could be induced to come near enough for a transfer of spray. Nobody was surprised therefore when he had to be blindfolded before they could get the packhorse saddle in place. The boss made a personal inspection of the straps, and even managed to get the girth up another couple of holes after the shepherd declared it to be "hog-tight." The cowboy kicked footholds in the ground with his tremendous fern tight boots, and shortened his grip on the lead rope. The shepherd made a final examination of the straps and the boss pulled off the blindfold. The horse did nothing. He stood and shivered. When they led him about, he moved uneasily, but offered no violence: but, as the cowboy remarked, he was "showing a lot of white in his eye." Everybody was encouraged. Things weren't going too badly. Perhaps they had misjudged the beast. "I'll just give the motor a pull and see what happens," announced the boss. The cowboy dug himself fresh footholds and the shepherd looked over the gear once again while the boss wound the cord round the flywheel and gave it a gentle tug. Everybody expected fireworks when the motor burst into a full-throated roar. Sure enough, the effect on the horse was electric. With his first lunge, Nigger lifted the cowboy with an ease that made him realise the futility of digging footholds. And then he started to buck: he was no mean bucker either. He pulled every trick out of the bag, and a few more that nobody had ever thought of. He weaved and he corkscrewed. He pig-rooted and he swapped ends. He pinwheeled and he fishtailed. He reared and he pile drove, and all the time he was squealing in a frenzy of rage and frustration. On the top of this cyclone rode the motor, and the makers must surely have never designed it to run under such conditions. Yet run it sure did. Not perfectly, it's true, but it did run. Sometimes it backfired and shot great gouts of flame from the open exhaust, and sometimes it died away to the merest whisper only to roar into life again as conditions became momentarily favourable, but it never stopped completely. Meanwhile in the eye of the storm the cowboy was putting up a stern fight. He fended and sidestepped, he ran backwards and was pulled forwards. Sometimes he became airborne, only to crash land when his aerodynamics proved inadequate, but he never relaxed his grip on that lead rope. The muscles stood out like cords on his skinny arms as he fought a silent desperate fight. The boss and the shepherd fluttered uselessly on the edge of the tumult, relying on words rather than deeds to quell its violence. The boss could do no better than a high-pitched injunction to "stick to him, boy, stick to him!" The cowboy was having difficulty in sticking to anything. The shepherd, however, was a more imaginative man, and one with a cunning if somewhat brightly-tinted turn of phrase. He described the hereditary shortcomings of the horse since its ancestor, a five-toed creature, first crawled from the primeval mud. Unfortunately, many of these gems were lost in the general pandemonium. Finally the horse abandoned the idea of getting rid of its load and sought refuge in flight. For a time the cowboy stuck with him, progressing in what the shepherd afterwards described as "flamin' great leaps and bounds." Eventually the speed of the cowboy's top half, which was taking the tension, became too great for his feet, impeded as they were by his oversize boots—and he tipped out. He sledged a further 100 yards on his stomach, but finding this a punishing method of getting over the ground, very wisely let go. Freed of his weight, Nigger gathered speed at every stride and began to accomplish piecemeal what he had set out to do in the beginning. The first thing that came loose was the hose, which trailed out behind, spraying intermittently as the trigger hit the ground. Eventually it got caught up in something and was torn from the pump, which exhausted the tank in a solid stream of liquid, shot far out to the rear. ("Jet-assisted," said the cowboy who kept himself informed on the latest developments of thrust.) The engine was still running as Nigger thundered down the ridge, but it was apparent that most of its original sting was gone. Nobody was surprised when it extinguished itself with a mighty bang as the horse disappeared over the skyline. Thereafter only faint breaking-up noises were heard until eventually these died away. "Isn't it quiet?" said the shepherd. Later on, they followed Nigger's trail home, picking up pieces here and there, commenting briefly upon their original position on the machine, and then putting them in plain sight for easy recovery. When they got home the packhorse was in the paddock, naked, foam-flecked, and triumphant. The next day they finished the spraying, using the old knapsack sprayers which seemed by comparison to be pale bloodless things. The boss never did get around to rebuilding that machine. By the time the faithful old Captain had recovered, sprayers mounted on fourwheel-drive vehicles had made their appearance, and although the boss switched over to these, he always pointed to the chains of hose that had to be pulled out by hand, and spoke glowingly of the amazing mobility of his great packhorse spraying machine, the pieces of which still lie along the track where the men left them, alone in their glory.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
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