A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

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

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”.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Poverty Flat

The only visual reminder of a once flourishing business

Workers accommodation and cook shop 

This area east of the Cave Township is said to have been known to the locals as ‘Poverty Flat.’  The dilapidated building on the southern side of the Te Ngawai River is the only visual reminder of a flourishing business that operated from here at one time.
The Cave Lime Works, as it was commonly known, yet officially recognised as the ‘Timaru Lime Works’, was built during the early 1900s.
It began in a small way by carting raw limestone across the river by horse and dray from the base of the towering limestone cliffs to a small crushing plant.
The operation remained on a small scale until around 1935 when the then management was taken over by Mr Lahaney.  Improvements began to take shape in the form of bucket conveyor system whereby continuously transporting raw material from the cliff face into the crushing plant. 
Because of these improvements, the Works increased its volumes and the need for more labour was required.  Management built men’s quarters and a small cookhouse to accommodate those single employees at the plant.
Even though this piece of history was rather dilapidated at the time of my visit I could still see most of what would have been considered comfortable during those years of operation.
This block appeared designed to accommodate six workers; each small room measured about two by two and a half metres and at one time had a pot-belly solid fuel heater in one corner of the small room.
Located at the northern end of the building the small kitchen was accessible to each room by a narrow veranda.  The remains of a rusted coal range were still visible and the rusting remains of a solid fuel boiler, probably used in its day to heat water for showers and so on.
I can recall as a youngster during the 1940’s helping my dad when he drove a transport truck picking up those bags of lime from the works.  Those were the days of when the bulk spreader was only in its infancy.
Again in 1950 when I travelled the Fairlie Flyer to high school in Timaru each day the train would stop to pick up wagons loaded with lime waiting on the rail siding, specially constructed for that purpose.

Unfortunately for Cave, this lime works, a major contributor to the population of the township closed down during the latter part of the 1950’s. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

My Austin Seven

My Austin Seven

                I noticed in the Herald a few weeks ago, a couple of old codgers sitting in their pride and joy, a 1929 Austin Seven motor car.  According to the article, they had restored that little car, to its former glory. 
                For me, memories flooded back sixty or more years, to the time when I owned a little Austin Seven.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was a 1935 model.  I sketched my little car mostly from memory
                In 1952, at the age of fifteen and as an apprentice, I was learning to drive.  My boss at the time, allowed me to take the work truck down the lane, past the timber racks, and into the garage at the end of each day.  I don’t know how he would have reacted if I had taken out the back wall of the garage, or demolished one of the doors. 
                The following morning, I was encouraged to reverse the truck out of the garage and help load it for the rest of the day.  A little chore that carried on for several weeks. 
                One morning, out of the blue, I was informed it was my turn to drive my workmates onto the job, several miles into the country.  It was the boss’s view I would gain valuable experience for sitting my licence.  (But that’s a story for another time.)
                I told my father I was learning to drive the work truck.  A grunt was the only reply I got.
                When I suggested I take the family Model A for a bit of practice and gain a few skills.  That blew the cobwebs out of his ears.  He trusted me, so he said, yet somehow, his trust never extended far enough for me to get behind the steering wheel of his Model A.  I suspect he had visions of his car being wrapped around a lamp post in the course of practising.  That sort of scenario was highly unlikely; for, the speedometer never registered more than 35 miles an hour.   
                A bit later on, the old man scared the crap out of me, threatening me with a lingering death, if I so much as tried to talk my mother into letting me take the old car for a bit of a spin, while he was away.  
                It took several weeks before he relented, but by that time, I had concluded it just wasn’t worth the hassle. For quite honestly it took the work of a genius, to start that car.
                By the time the spark control was adjusted and I fiddled around with the hand throttle, both on the steering column, one needed to find the starter on the floor with their foot.  And last of all, unless I held one’s mouth at the correct angle, the motor never kicked, so half the blasted morning was gone.  
                Then out of the blue, wonders will never cease, I was allowed to take the old car out on a run. 
                After going through the usual flight plan, my last option, after the old girl not starting, was to use the crank handle.
                If I was lucky, a couple of swings on that handle and the car would burst into life.  Otherwise, with another swing on the handle, after advancing the spark a couple of notches and checking the throttle the motor would give a kick, nearly breaking my wrist and flinging me on my back.  It was about then I spent the next 15 minutes cursing and sinking the boot into the bumper bar.
                Totally exhausted from my little tantrum, I fired one last broadside.  “C’mon you lousy bitch, you don’t start this time, it’s over the efin bank into the riverbed. See how you like that, eh?”
                It’s amazing how much better one feels after buggering up a good pair of shoes by kicking the hell out of all four tyres.  You achieve nothing, but man, it feels so good.  That is until mother rushes out, she’s just remembered, Dad said before he went away, the petrol tank is empty . . . . .!
                By the time I was seventeen, I had had enough of swinging that crank handle and so on.  I had saved up enough ready cash, to buy my first car, an Austin Seven.  If I remember correctly, it cost me around one hundred quid.
                God, it was a snazzy little thing, had a motor in it about the size of two pounds of butter.  With a block of wood, a six-inch crescent, a screwdriver and absolutely no mechanical knowledge whatsoever, there was nothing I couldn’t fix on that little car. 
                Even though that wee thing was not much larger than a matchbox, I was over the moon. 
                It wasn’t the most comfortable for courting, the damn gear lever was in the wrong place for a kickoff and there was no room in the backseat.
                I do remember one hilarious act though, where I had arranged to take a girl to a party in the city, never realizing her address was via a steep slope, a few miles out of town.  
                There were a few sharp little bends on that slope and oodles of corrugations to negotiate along that gravel road. 
                Halfway down the slope, on our way to town, we were doing fine, until my girl passenger; accidentally knocked the gear stick out of gear.  At that point, the little car took off like a rocket. 
                The gearbox was screaming as I stamped on the clutch, trying to sort the gears out. 
                We flew round the bend at the bottom.   On two wheels, and after a 360-degree spin, the car came to a halt.   I shuddered to think how many teeth were left lying in the bottom of the gearbox.   
                As for the girl, she screamed all the way down and refused to utter a single word for the rest of the journey.     On arrival at our party, she flung the door open and vamoosed. 
                It’s been more than 60 years since that little escapade.  Consequently, I never laid eyes on that girl again.  For all I know, she may have emigrated.

                Over the next few months I fitted a chrome plated fishtail exhaust to my little car, a full set of mud flaps with little red glass reflectors, new chrome plated side mirrors and an attachment fitted to the radiator cap, redirecting the airflow and insects away from the windscreen.
                As the weather warmed up, I decided the car needed a paint touch up.  I was intent on having a two-tone paint job, forest green bodywork, black mudguards, along with white wall tires.  I later had visions of my car looking like a dung beetle, so I decided against the white wall tyres.
                I didn’t fancy using a paintbrush, so I used mother’s vacuum cleaner, which came with its own spray gun attachment.   If I recall correctly it was called an ‘Electrolux’.  All that was required was to transfer the hose from the sucking end of that machine, relocate it to the other end, where all the blow power was, and, Bob’s your uncle.  
                On the back lawn behind the coal shed, after I meticulously masked everything on the car and gave it a thorough sanding, I was ready for my first assault at the spray painting game.  All I had to do now was fill the spray reservoir and hold my finger over the little air-hole in the top of the attachment, and __ ___ hey-presto, a fine spray of paint should materialize.    
                Beginning along the driver’s side, I began working my first coat of forest green.    Completing the first coat, I stepped back to survey my handiwork.
                Oh man, what a blinkin’ mess.  As fast as I was spraying the paint on, it was slipping down behind me, in hideous watery looking streaks.  My scientific technique and skill at mixing paint definitely needed a bit more practice.    
                Carefully rectifying the paint consistency with a bit less turps, a bit more of this, and bit less of that, I was ready to start again, just as soon as I had cleaned up my previous mess and re-sanded everything.  
                Eventually, over the next few days, the whole thing was completed.  That new paintwork looked clean and shiny.  I was rather pleased with myself. 
                There may have been an infinitesimal fault with my work. ___ Alright, alright! ___ There may have been a few more than one.  Like, where a dozen sandflies landed but never left, a couple of randy blowfly’s had a party on the roof.  A couple of pine needles dropped in on the afternoon breeze.   Yet, when I stood back far enough, I couldn’t see any of that. 
                One thing I did notice though, the paintwork was a mass in little pimples, a result of a non-adjustable air flow, so I was told by one who claimed to know about these things.  I guess it was what professionals may call them, ‘orange peel effect’. Looked rather classy, I thought.

                Standing back admiring my handiwork, my dad appeared at my side on his way to give the chooks their afternoon feed. He had stopped to pass comment. 
                Standing there, legs apart, he was plugging Bears Dark tobacco into his stinky old pipe with his thumb and viewing my handiwork.
                With a sly grin, he said.  “Happy?”    
                “Of course I am. Why?”
                “Oh.  Just wondered?”  He said touching a match to his pipe.   
                “Say,” he remarked from behind a cloud of smoke and a smart-arse grin.  “Is that a special blend of paint you’ve used there? It’s the first time I‘ve seen that.  Just new the market, is it?  It looks like orange peel, doesn’t it?”
                “Yeah, I know.  Actually, it’s specially made for racing cars.”  Keeping a straight face, I knew very well my old man was trying to pull my leg.  “They say it’s supposed to handle the slipstream better?” 
                “Well,” said my father.  “Certainly looks like something slipped. Wouldn’t it have looked better-painted orange?”     
                Turning on his heel, he started calling the chooks for their afternoon feed, and then he began to whistle.    Bloody hell!  It sounded like the old rooster was having another asthma attack and was constipated again.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Fairlie Flyer

Remember the Fairlie Flyer?  I don’t suppose most of you will remember those days when the passenger and goods train ran from Timaru to Fairlie, in Mainland New Zealand.
It was around 1884 work begun on a railway that would eventually wind its way through many village settlements.  Places like Levels, Waitawa, Pleasant Point, Sutherlands, Cave, Ma Waro, Albury, Cricklewood, Winscome, and finally Fairlie. It was many years later the line reached its goal, at the gateway of the vast Mackenzie Plains.  By 1968 however, a Government Minister of Railways decided the line was no longer profitable and closed it down.

In 1950/51 I recall riding the train to High School in Timaru, from Albury each day, along with a number other high school students, who probably have fond memories of riding that train, nicknamed the Fairlie Flyer.  We boarded that train every morning and night as we attended school.  Compared to today it was fun I suppose, yet it eventually got a bit boring unless we got into a little mischief.  I guess there were about a dozen or more kids embarking on their first lesson of the day.  Tell yarns and try to make out with the few girls who made the trip each day, or smoke.  Camel cigarettes were the flavour of the day then, they tasted like camel dropping as well, yet we thought we were cool.  We could buy a packet of ten for sixpence at the little shop on the Timaru station platform.   Sadly, all those days are gone and we old codgers are left with our memories.  Realistically, that’s about all we can handle these days, anyway.
When the line closed there was a great old get-together, attended by all those connected with the line over the years.  There was even a song written about the line which some of the older readers may recall.  ‘Ballard of the Fairlie Flyer’.  I seem to recall a band by the name of the ‘Picasso Trio’ performing that on National Radio.
I’d sing it for you y’no, but it's best you tie up your dog first.  I have been told I have a sweet voice, but others know better, so we’ll leave it shall we, and just tell it as a piece of poetry.  Okay?

Listen and I’ll tell you
A railway tale that’s true,
Of how the ‘Fairlie Flyer
Ran down to Timaru,
I’ll tell you of the shearers
Fairlie Railway Station
And the tons of wool that came,
Along the line each season
From the great Mackenzie Plain.

There are stories in the country
The locals love to tell,
Of guards like Martin Fahey
Who served the district well,
For Martin loved the Flyer
And folks remember too,
How he even did their shopping
Down the line in Timaru.

I’ll tell you how the children            Went off to school each day,
And climbed aboard the ‘Flyer’
And stops along the way,
And oh the many memories
Those boys and girls recall,
To them the Fairlie Flyer
Was the greatest train of all.

Down the line to Albury
Where shunting’s done no more,
And at Mrs. Gibson’s tavern
There’s a welcome on the door,
They tell of far-off summers
That will never come again,
When the goods shed at Albury
Was filled with golden grain.

At Cave, the station’s silent
But the goods shed still resound,
When the local boys are training
As the tug-o-war comes round,
When the last train passes
They’ll give a hearty cheer,
While over at the local
Ted pours another beer.

From Sherwood Downs to Clayton
Burke’s Pass and Kimbell too,
The boys that drive the transport
Are the links with Timaru,
And now the line is closing
The country folk agree,
That stories of the Fairlie train
Will go down in history.

Hope you enjoy a bit of wander down memory lane.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Nell's walk in Esk Valley

Nell’s Walk in Esk Valley

St Mary’s Church at Esk Valley is I believe, the fruits of a dream Ellen Meyer had during the 1870’s.
It was however, a sight she would never ever see.
Her husband, Charles Meyer, who at that time owned Blue Cliffs Station, used to walk with Ellen in the evenings, down the ridge they used to call ‘Nell’s Walk’, high above the valley floor.
Ellen Meyer would look down that valley toward the sea and remark, “It's so beautiful here, I hope someday to look down this valley and see a little church, just as I would back home in England.”

Unable to bear children, Ellen seized the opportunity of an operation which offered some hope that she and Charles, twenty years her senior, would become parents.
Although the operation was reported to have been successful, Ellen had a relapse and died in January 1878, at the age of twenty-six.
Devastated, Charles relinquished ownership of Blue Cliffs Station and prepared to leave for England.
Before departing, however, he gave his attorney instructions to put aside one thousand pounds of his estate and build a little church to his wife’s memory.
The position he chose was in the valley Ellen Meyer loved so much and within sight of the Blue Cliffs Homestead.  After experiencing some difficulties, the builders completed the church in1880.
Architecturally by B.W. Mountford of Christchurch, this small church was built of limestone, which is said to have been delivered by horse and dray from a quarry located in the Albury district.
It was later consecrated in May of that year by Bishop Harper.

Another of Charles Meyer’s bequests was a six thousand pound grant, from which interest payments were to pay the stipend of a vicar for the district of Blue Cliffs.
They say the first vicar to preach in St Mary’s, was the Reverend Laurence Carsley Brady, who came recommended by Bishop Harper.  Rev Brady had apparently served in the Auckland Diocese before his appointment to the south.
At thirty-five years of age and unmarried, he was described as very active.  A native of Ireland I believe, he was an excellent horseman and the lack of roads in the area did not bother him at all.
Blue Cliff’s District, later to become known as Otaio-Blue Cliffs, at that time extended from the Pareora River to Hook and from the Hunter Hills to the sea.

The late Mrs Woodhouse, told of how for several years there was no one to play the organ at St Mary’s, “I’m no musician” she said, “but I’ll take up the challenge.”
Practising on a small selection of tunes, “I struggled through.”  She said,  “I had a pact with the vicar though when he lowered his hymn book, I knew there was one more verse to play.  However, for some reason should communications break down” she continued, “the sympathetic congregation could be relied upon to join in the customary, ‘Amen’ or else suffer the agony of singing the final verse a second time?”

As far as I can gather, a Bible belonging to Charles Meyer is still used at services held in St Mary’s, even today, but only on very special occasions.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Russian Jack

Russian Jack

Along New Zealand country roads during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the swagger was a familiar sight.  Forced into a life on the road by circumstances beyond his control, however, many enjoyed a freedom that their vocation bought.  Some genuinely looked for work on farms and so on.  Most were grateful for the offer of work, in exchange for a bed in a farmer’s shed or stables, plus a scrumptious meal.   
Tramps or swaggers, during those lean years, were an important part of farm life, particularly during the harvesting season through summer and into autumn.  During those early days of the horse and dray era, this wandering workforce could be relied on to turn up during those busy periods.  A dry bed and a meal in exchange for some manual labour, the swagman and the cocky were usually well satisfied.

In 1912, a British ship by the name of ‘Star of Canada’ was plying New Zealand waters, when, caught in a southerly storm, and was wrecked off the Gisborne coast. 
One survivor of that disaster was a man by the name of Barrett Crumen, who has been fondly remembered as ‘Russian Jack.’
Born in Latvia during1878, in the small village of Alexandra, he joined the merchant marine in 1912 at the age of 24.

After his near death adventure, he spent some time in New Zealand waters working on small coastal ships, before he is said to have set off on a trek to Wellington, however, he never made it.  The reason ___ he became addicted.  Addicted to the open spaces around Manawatu and Wairarapa, where at Awhea Station, he rested awhile, before being offered work as a scrub cutter and a shed hand, remaining there for a good number of years. 
They say he was well known for his impressive appetite and his keenness for tobacco, along with his most prized possession, an old briar pipe. 

During the winter months on the road, he was known to have stuffed paper inside his clothes in an effort to keep warm and is said to have plugged his ears with wads of brown paper soaked in mutton fat, which was believed to have been a deterrent against bugs.  
I can’t imagine it, but he is known to have rubbed mutton fat onto his chest, believing it would ward off infection or whatever ailed him at the time.  Hell’s teeth, he must have smelt a trifle high, like a dead sheep, after a while.
Those were tough times, sleeping under bridges, in culverts or under the shelter of tree branches for shelter. He is said to have carried the largest swag of any of those gents on the road.
Russian Jack is believed to have spent close to 53 years on the road.  He would have gone on forever if he had had his way, but his feet let him down.  In 1965, he was admitted to the Pahiatua Hospital suffering from frostbitten feet.  Although it was not long before he was admitted to the Greytown Hospital for the final time, he passed away in September 1968, aged 90 years.
I believe he is buried in the Greytown Cemetery.  His internment was all paid for with funds from a pension he had never ever claimed.