A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Tales of Cricklewood

Cricklewood School

This time I have chosen to give you a small segment of my latest book, Humour Down Under, to be published shortly.  It relates to part of a story, Tales of Cricklewood, set in the early 1900s.
I hope you will get a bit of a giggle reading it. 

Being a country Primary School in a farming community, morning talks by the five-year-old students were encouraged at Cricklewood.  Quite often stories revolved around embarrassing events that may or may not have actually occurred at home or on the farm.  Many were figments of a young pupil’s vivid imagination.  I can recall one such story it went something like the following:-

A young trainee teacher, a city girl, was in her first year teaching at Cricklewood.  She continued with the tradition, of each infant being encouraged to present a morning talk at the beginning of each day if they desired.  
One particular morning, as usual, she asked if any of her class had anything they wanted to talk about. 

Young John raised his hand.
“Please Miss, my father said his dog had worms, the vet came and gave it a pill, the dog passed a worm over six inches long.” 
The teacher raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Goodness.”

Little Fred, had only just started school a few weeks beforehand.  He had his arm up, almost to the point of shaking his hand off; he was not going to be outdone.  
“Yes Fred”, said the teacher.  “Have you got a story?”
 “Please Miss, my father said one of his dogs had worms, the vet came and gave it a pill.  It passed a worm ten inches long.
You should have seen it,” he said proudly.
“Yes. Yes. Fred, it must have been a large one, I don’t think we needed to see it, thank you,” she muttered, with a feeling of revulsion. 

Timothy caught her eye, a timid fair-haired boy sitting down the back with his hand half raised.
“Did you have something Timothy”, she asked. 
“Yes Miss,” he said, fidgeting with his inkwell.  “My father said his dog had worms.  He told me he rubbed turpentine on its bottom and the old dog passed two Fords and a Chrysler!!

Teacher’s hand flew to her mouth, she couldn’t help it.  Rolling her eyes, she turned her back on the class, unable to control her mirth at Timothy’s story.
“Timothy! . . . She said, turning back to the class and trying to keep a straight face,
“that is not true, is it?"
“True Dinkum Miss,” Timothy said, with a cheeky smile.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Timaru’s first publican’s licence to an early whaler

Baby slept in a gin case.

The first house, a daub cottage built on the beach at Caroline Bay, Timaru, was erected by George Rhodes, just south of George Street.
My Sketch tries to recall an impression of that early home.

George Rhodes married Elizabeth Wood in 1854 at Lyttelton.  She had come from England in 1850, on one of the first four ships.
Later George and Elizabeth travelled across the plains from Lyttelton to Timaru with Sarah McQueen, a family friend, also from England
Elizabeth’s first child, William was born in that daub cottage during 1865, where he slept in a cradle lovingly fashioned out of a gin case.  (The gin had all gone, in case anyone was wondering).

Henry Sewell on his journey south early in 1856, was one of many travellers to camp in this vacant cottage after the Rhodes family had moved out to Levels, a sheep station north-west of the Bay.
About 1857 they say, George Rhodes gave the cottage to Sam Williams, an adventurous young American whaler, who had been given the good-natured nickname ‘Yankee Sam’.
Sam was born around1817, his birthplace unknown.  As an infant, he lived in Canada and later as a boy travelled to the United States.  He is thought to have drifted to Australia with a number of other enterprising youths.

By 1840 he left Australia to lead a whaling party out of the port of Sydney.  Later Sam turned up at Island Bay, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, where he began whaling for the Rhodes brothers in 1848.
In 1851, Sam left New Zealand, heading back to Australia again this time to the gold fields of Ballarat, where they say he married Anne Manry sometime around 1854.  The goldfields didn’t hold much luck for Sam and he returned to New Zealand in 1856.
Once more he took up employment with the Rhodes Brothers.  This time he worked on Levels Station.  Finally, he moved his family into the cottage on the beach in 1857.

It was in this same year Archdeacon Henry William Harper remembered riding through South Canterbury on his first journey south from Christchurch.  He recalled Sam and his family in a cottage near the beach.  Archdeacon Harper could remember the old whaler showing him some of the remaining try-pots left abandoned on the beach.  He wrote in his diary.  “I spent a pleasant hour with Sam, listening to many colourful yarns of the old days”.
Permanent settlers, aside from the large runholders, were slowly getting established in South Canterbury, exposing a need for accommodation in Timaru.
Sam and his wife converted the little daub cottage into a general store and offered shelter to travellers. 
After the addition of a lean-to, the Provincial Government, in 1858 presented Sam with the first publican’s licence ever held in Timaru.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Regardless of his dubious credentials

Regardless of his dubious credentials

The cook's galley

The stacker glanced at the enamel plate piled high with boiled mutton and potatoes sliding along the wooden tabletop.  “I’m so hungry I could eat a parboiled rock,” he grumbled.
“You don’t say,” quipped the straw walloper, struggling to retrieve his fork from a piece of mutton on his tin plate.  “Tell me, what’s the difference between a parboiled rock and this lump of mutton?  We’ve certainly got ourselves a b…d of a cook”.
“If you ask me,” put in the water Joey, “I wouldn’t call that b…d a cook!”

I don’t suppose there are too many men left these days, who worked on the threshing mills during the 1930s and 40s in New Zealand.  Those that are still around will no doubt recall conversations drifting along those lines at the meal table, in many a threshing mill galley.  Some may even recall the cooks’ reply, most of which will be totally unprintable.
One reply which does spring to mind, however, it was a favourite of one cook who refused to be drawn, no matter how rough the praise.  Taking a slight bow, he would smile to the grim faces lining either side of the long table in the galley and say, “Gentlemen!  Gentlemen!  I do humbly apologize for the lack of variety in your tucker,” his voice oozing sarcasm, “but as you are aware, I am at the mercy of a lot of lousy devils who emphatically appose gracious living!”

According to some of those men who worked the mills, cooks as a whole, were a grumpy lot.  Yet as a kid, I never did see that side of the mill cook.  To me, he was a happy old bloke and loved a chit chat with youngsters. 
Vividly I recall the novelty of sitting in the galley, amongst the rest of the mill hands, chewing on a tough underdone mutton chop.  Or, perhaps straining my jaw on a girdle scone, loaded with melted butter and apricot jam.  Perhaps that’s why I have blocked arteries now! 
Anyway, whatever those mill-hands thought of the cook, justified or otherwise, there is little doubt in my mind, some of those cooks deserved a medal.
Undoubtedly there were a few scoundrels, just as there are in all walks of life.  Yet try to imagine if you will, a galley measuring just over two metres wide and less than five metres long, barely the size of a modern townhouse kitchen.  Here the cook reigned supreme and woe betides any individual who encroached on his space without permission.  In this small space, he worked his magic during the day and where he slept at night.

The galley that I remember, and I suppose most were of similar design, was unlined inside.  In most cases, it was constructed of thin vertical board and battens timber walls, with an oiled canvas roof, curved and battened against the weather.  Supported on four steel wheels, the galley, like the stinky and the mill, it was hauled from job to job behind the traction engine. 
A stinky, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, was about the same size as the galley and where several men slept at night.  Can you imagine those men smelling of stale sweat and never having had a bath for weeks on end?  It could get pretty ripe in there.

A small platform at the entrance of the galley, just large enough to hold half a dozen small sacks of coal to fire the little stove.  The centre of the galley was taken up with a long wooden table, where the men sat for their meals, crammed together on a long bench seat.
The small black iron stove, approximately half the size of a modern domestic coal range stood at one end, supported on four stubby legs, its tin flue extended through the roof.  In the height of the grain-threshing season and in the hands of a cook, with sometimes quite dubious qualifications, that stove provided the means to cook meals for a number of men, with healthy appetites.
Almost opposite the stove and in the corner was the cook's bunk, its light timber base roughly fitted to one wall, and a strip of canvas stretched taught from either end.  Here two sacks, stuffed with grain husks lay to form a mattress of sorts.  As a kid, I thought these were a dream to sleep in, provided you didn’t mind the rattle of husks each time you moved.  A ‘Sleepy Head’ model, ahead of its time.
Old Bill Searle, an old chap who lived up the Mt Nessing Road at Albury, used to reckon the cooks’ mattress harboured fleas the size of fox terriers and with a bite to match.  He may have exaggerated just a little, don’t you think?  Although it was a fact; some of those cooks were dirty rascals, their bunks smelt of stale booze and unwashed body odour.  Yet the majority were unscrupulously clean and tidy.

Beneath the cook's bunk, among those other essentials, like whiskey and gin, the cook stored potatoes, apples, eggs and other foodstuffs.  The staple diet conjured up by most cooks was as you’ve  guessed already was mutton chops and eggs for breakfast, cold mutton and bread or scones for lunch, and boiled mutton and boiled spuds with an occasional vegetable pinched from some unsuspecting farmer’s garden, for the evening meal.
Not in all cases, but in a great many, the mill worker paid the cook for his service, plus the cost of the food.  The mill boss usually deducted this from the worker's wages at the end of the season.
I don’t imagine many of us would like to return to those colourful, yet romantic days of the threshing mills, when they wandered from farm to farm along the country roads. 
Life has perhaps become just a smidgen too luxurious by comparison, don’t you think?
Yet there is something nostalgic about the fumes of burning wood and coal, the hiss of steam, the smell of oil and grease, not to mention the pungent aroma wafting from the cooks’ galley, regardless of how dubious his credentials.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Silently I was crapping myself.

A traffic police car of the 1940s

I can recall vividly, the day I earned my drivers licence in the winter of 1952, as a fifteen-year-old.   Man, it was cold that morning.  There had been a real bobby dazzler of a frost in Fairlie and by mid-morning, it was threatening to snow.
I had been practising my driving skills, thanks to my employer letting me park the work truck in the garage at the end of each day and reverse it out again each morning.  After a few weeks, he shoved me in the driver’s seat, to take my workmates onto the job, several miles out into the country.
This carried on for several weeks until the boss said it was about time I got my bum into gear and obtained my licence.

In those days, the traffic cop arrived in the village; I think it was every Thursday morning, to show the flag for the traffic department.  Funny how everyone remembered their road rules on the day the cop came to town.  All drivers, without exception, passed along the village roads at quite a sedate pace.  Like good drivers, all showed their hand signals through the open driver’s window, even on those freezing days throughout the winter months.  On those other days, most had a memory malfunction.

On those cold days of the cops visit, he could be found warming his posterior in front of the fire in the council offices and probably cursed when a prospective customer arrived.
As I said before, the day was cold and the boss thought it was a good day for me to go for my licence, as things were a little quiet.  In those days, one never had to make an appointment weeks in advance you just had to turn up.

That Thursday morning I backed the little 15cwt ex-army Chev truck out of the yard onto the main street and headed south about 100 yards. 
The Council Office was beside the old Aorangi Town Hall and a little bookshop run by a delightful lady, whose name I can’t recall.  My employer’s yard was along the same street as the Council Office.    
Parking outside the office, I was shaking like a leaf and threatening to turn tail and scarper.   
Climbing the entrance steps, pushing my way through the entry doors; my attention was taken by a traffic cop leaning against the wall in the corridor, talking casually to one of the council staff. 
He seemed a friendly sort of geezer, of average height and build, yet the most remarkable thing about him, was his smile, along with his attitude.  As I soon found out, he had a knack for putting a person at ease immediately.
“You’re early,” he said to me.   “Are you sure you want to go out in this miserable weather today.  Don’t want to leave it for a warmer day, do you?” 
 Silently crapping myself, I just smiled.

Seeing the look on my face, “to tell you the truth lad,” he said to me, “I was only joking, so let’s get on with it, eh.”
We wandered out into the cold.  “Where’s your car?”  The cop asks. 
“Right there,” I said, pointing to the little work truck.
“God Almighty!” the cop exclaimed, “you mean I got to suffer being taken for a ride in this jalopy.”
“Afraid so,”  I said, becoming more settled with the cops attitude.
“Never mind lad,” he laughed.  “It’ll cost you in the end.”

Climbing aboard, the cop pulled his big thick coat around his body, grunting as he got in and pulling his hat down over part of his ears.  I was wondering if he was expecting to end up at the South Pole.
Turning the key to ‘on’, I put my foot on the starter button.  I pushed the gear stick into first, before winding down my window.  With my hand out, I indicated my intention to move into the traffic flow.  I needn’t have bothered, for, other than a single small car half a mile to the south and going the other way, there was no movement on the road, so there was little likelihood of an accident.  My thoughts drifted to the boss putting it around that I was going for my driver’s licence, so keep off the street.  It’s just the sort gag he would pull.
“Turn into Allandale Road,” the cop said to me, “and wind that friggin window up, it’s bloody freezing in here.” 
“You could speed it up a bit son.  I would like to get back home before winters over.”
I began winding down the window again.
“For God's sake, leave that window alone.”
“How am I going to indicate with the window up,” I whined.
“Don’t let that worry you son, I’ll tell you if something’s coming.  Good lad” said the cop as we successfully negotiated the corner into Allandale Road.
“Now,” he said to me.  “Head for Manaton’s Cutting, I want you to do a three-point turn at the top and then I want you to head for home, it’s absolutely freezing in here.  Tell your boss to get a heater.” 
The road was all clear on our return journey back to the Council Office.

Pulling into the kerb in front of the office, I put the truck out of gear and turned the motor off.
The cop leaned over, pulling a little receipt book out of his back pocket. 
“Got ten bob, boy.” He smiled at me.
I nodded, pulling a crumpled ten shilling note out of my pocket.
Tearing a page out of his little book he handed it to me, saying “there’s your licence, the official one will be in the post when I get back to town.  I suppose that’ll be the best part of a week’s wage won’t it, lad.”  He was close. Another bob per week and he’d have been bang on the money.

The memory of that traffic policeman will always remain with me, but then, they were different times and he was a legend of his time.  I’m pretty sure he drove a black and white coupe; I think it was either a Chevrolet or a Ford.  
That man, or should I say, gentleman, went by the name of Duncan Cameron.   

Friday, 15 December 2017

Cave Arms Hotel

Cave Arms Hotel

How many readers remember this old pub?  It certainly doesn’t seem like twenty-five or thirty years since this old Cave Arms Hotel (as it was known) was demolished.   
This was not the first hotel to be built at Cave, however; the first was located about one kilometre east of the township, on land owned by Adam McIntosh.  It was opened in 1869 or thereabouts by James Walley, who I believe had owned the hotel at Burkes Pass. 
This venture of Walley’s never succeeded and the hotel was eventually closed.  Later it was reopened by Donald McLennan and seemed to have quite a chequered career from then on.  It has been recorded that Judge Ward noted the place was, by universal consent, disreputable.  The pub was in the news once more during the 1890’s, it was unfortunately destroyed by fire.
During 1878, John Wildermuth from Washdyke was granted a transfer licence and he chose a site to erect this second hotel unwittingly where it would eventually stand opposite the Cave Railway Station.

Various licensees passed through the Cave Hotel over the next few years.  W. C. Morgan, Griffith Roberts and Richard Kidwell.
During 1883 it was sold to Lachlan McCormack, a Waitohi farmer, who leased the business to George Finch.  George was born near London Bridge and educated in Kent, England.  Here he had been a blacksmith’s apprentice before he chose to immigrate to New Zealand arriving aboard the vessel ‘Isles of the South’ in 1872.  When he became proprietor of the Cave Arms Hotel, it was his first association with the township and a position he held for the next thirty or more years.
With the Railway Station close at hand, the pub stables were a convenient place to leave the horse and gig for those travelling public boarding the morning train.

Disaster struck in 1885 however, the pub was completely destroyed by fire where George is reputed to have lost all his personal possessions.
George Finch passed away in early 1915, his brother-in-law, Tom Dixon, known as ‘Jum’, took up the lease in March of that same year.
Les Hanna, Tom’s son-in-law took up the reins in 1920 and was reputed to have enjoyed a good life for the next five years.

William McDonald was next to take up the reins, then Frederick Seal, known to the locals as the Walrus and then Bob Thistleton followed in quick succession until 1929, when George Hodgson arrived on the scene.
Ben Winter is said to have tried his luck behind the bar in 1930, but he soon decided it was much easier on the other side.
Mary Gibson, a name I came to know well, was taught the bar trade at the Cave Arms when she took over in 1931.  I believe during the war years Tom Wilson, Glen Barclay and Dane McColl all had their turn behind the bar.

In 1945, Edgar (Ted) Finnie tried his luck, but Ted was canny, he tried it for a period of three years, having the right to purchase should he like it.  That was the beginning of a twenty-two-year experience for Ted.
In a 1901 census, this old Cave Arms pub was described as having well-furnished bedrooms for eight guests the well-ventilated dining room had a seating capacity for twenty-five guests.  There were several sitting rooms and as well as having ample stabling and loose boxes for guests horses there was well-grassed paddocks adjacent.

It was during 1968 Ted decided to construct a new hotel alongside, yet it was to be another twenty years before this old landmark in Cave was finally demolished and completely removing it from the village scene.

Incidentally, during the early part of the century, beer kegs were delivered to the Cave by rail, usually in the guards-van.  The train would stop so that the guards-van drew alongside the loading platform.  With plenty of eager volunteers, each beer barrel was rolled out onto a couple of planks and with willing hands, each barrel was rolled across the road and into the beer cellar under the pub.
It must have been during the 1950s and 60s when ‘Tug-o-War contests were regular sporting events between groups of young and not so young men from around the districts.

The Cave Arms Hotel was located just across the road from the Railway Good shed, where the event was held on a Friday or Saturday evening.   With a smile, Ted rubbed his hands together once more as the takings grew.   Time to order another couple of barrels, he thinks.  

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Reminds me of home.

Reminded me of home

Reminded me of home as a kid

For me, this small farmhouse is one that I fell in love with as soon as I saw it twenty years ago.  Perhaps because the construction and design are very similar to the little house in Albury where I was born and lived for a greater part of my early life.  In hindsight, those were most probably the best years of my life.

The day I stopped by this old home there was not a breath of wind, it was so quiet and peaceful and I was able to wander around the outside of the building as well as having a peek inside.
There was an empty space where the old coal range used to be at one end of the pokey little kitchen, which I imagine doubled as a dining room and sitting room.
The low ceiling reminded me of that kitchen at home where the sink was at the lowest point to the ceiling.  If one was more than six foot tall you were in trouble and to wash the dishes you were required to stand with your knees bent to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling.

Mrs Sewell lived here for a number of years in her married life; this old home holds some cherished memories for her, also memories of hardships the family experienced living without electricity and where water had to be carried by hand from its nearest source.  She spoke of the plum tree at the corner of the house where her daughter played for countless hours on end. 

While sketching this old cottage, entirely constructed of timber, it wasn’t difficult for me to let my thoughts drift into the past, in fact, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if a horse and gig had turned in the gateway.
I think some of us are very privileged to travel through life and be given the opportunity to look back and to perhaps laugh or shed a tear.  It appears this old timber weatherboard home was part of the Shepherds Bush Run back in the 1870’s or 80’s and after World War One, much of this land was cut into roughly forty hectare blocks, called Settlement Blocks for those Returned Servicemen, who wished to live off the land and perhaps have the opportunity to begin life all over again.

I wonder if this quaint old building will ever have a similar chance to start life over again.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Shenanigans of a country school teacher

Alford Forest School

Thomas McRae, during the early 1870’s, was a manager of Winterslow Sheep Station and is said to have had a great interest in the process of learning. 
He was determined that the youth of Alford Forest and Springburn districts should not go without an education.  Initiated by Thomas, the first gathering of residents to discuss education in the district was held in the Winterslow Station woolshed during 1875. 
Because of his activity and motivation, he was unanimously elected as chairman of the group and a committee, comprising of men of more action than words was elected by the local residents.  Among them; - Messrs Morgan, Boulton, Keller, Rowe, Duncan and of course, Thomas McRae.
Guided by Mr McKnight, Minister of Education at the time, this committee passed the following resolution:-

“That this committee is of the opinion that two schools should be built, one on the north side of Taylors Creek and one on the south side.  The headmaster, to teach alternately in either school, while his home would be built on the north side of the creek”.

That historic resolution back in 1875 saw the emergence of Alford Forest and Springburn Schools the very next year.  For on February 9th 1876, a tender for the construction of two schools and a master’s residence was let to Mr Cooper, for a contract price of seven hundred and forty-one pound. 
Alford Forest, referred to as the main school, was completed and opened during October 1876.  Here, Mr Manning became the first master with a class of twenty-two. 
It appears the Springburn School, or Swamp Side School as it was sometimes referred, mainly because of the incessant dampness of the area, was opened a year later in 1877.

Five years later in 1882, Springburn School became independent of the Alford Forest School.  Both schools served the community for a number of years; however, I believe the Alford Forest School was unfortunately destroyed by fire during the early 1930’s.
Although the school was replaced in 1937, the rural population drifting toward the towns or other parts of the country, eventually Alford Forest, with a roll of just four pupils were forced to close in 1947.
I guess one of the hazards facing a teacher in those early days was catching and harnessing a pupils pony for their journey home.  However, a few colourful moments of some teachers at Alford Forest leads me to think, I may well have been a kid at the wrong time and attended the wrong school.
One teacher was keen on hunting, particularly deerstalking.  A neighbour knew this and one morning around playtime he advised the teacher he had seen some deer down on Grieves Flat near Taylor’s Creek, earlier that morning.  The teacher, who will remain completely nameless, promptly closed the school for the day, declaring it a holiday and went deerstalking.

Again at Alford Forest, another schoolmaster is said to have jumped out of bed each morning when the school bell rang.  He would don his robe dash over to the school give the kids a lesson before dashing home to bed for a while longer.  Some suggest it was not always his own bed he returned to either?
Perhaps it was these shenanigans and questionable examples set by some of the teachers, which led to a committee chairman’s embarrassing speech at a farewell function for one of the headmasters of the school.
Part of his speech as follows; -

“It is,” said the committee chairman on the night, “with mixed feelings of pleasure and regret, we are here to farewell our schoolmaster tonight.  It is with pleasure he is going and regrets that he hadn’t gone long ago”.