A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

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

Monday, 18 June 2018

Spare a Dime Mister

Spare a Dime Mister

My character, depicted around the time of the great depression during the 1930s, seems to be saying, “Spare a dime mister.”
Fortunately these days we see little of those who, for whatever reason, lived on the streets or continually trudged the rural byways.
While I do not have first-hand knowledge of those difficult years, some readers may well have.  As a boy, I can remember some of the colourful characters that made their way through the Mackenzie during the early 1940s.
Stories related to me, while they may have told of pain and heartbreak, they told of a colourful era, where men and women, through no fault of their own, were forced into a life on the road.
Familiar names, such as Paddy the Pig, Russian Jack, Polly and Bram, John the Baptist, Tim Lyons, Happy Jack, Harry Parry, Bone Ring Man, Concertina Charlie, Freddie Ambrose, Jimmy the One, and The Shiner, to name just a few.  All had a story to tell of life on the road. 
While most may have been of doubtful authenticity, an element of truth lies in all their tales. 
Polly and Bram for instance, originally from England, had the most sorrowful tale to tell.  Bram, as he became known, was the son of a cotton mill magnate.  He fell for Polly, a pretty little girl with flaxen hair and a complexion of peaches and cream, who worked at the cotton mill.
This relationship was a complete mismatch, according to Bram’s family; the young lady did not fit into the family’s social structure.  To make matters worse and to the dismay of Brams aristocratic family, Bram took Polly to Gretna Green, where they were duly married.
As a result, they were promptly shipped off to New Zealand, where they could never cast a shadow over the families respectability.
Forced into a life of exile, that deeply devoted couple wandered the countryside, living off the funds regularly paid in their absence.  Because of their plight, that couple became a legend in their own lifetime.
A story goes they ended up drinking their regular funds and eventually selling their most personal possessions.  Although their hair silvered with time, they never lost their good looks or their neat and trim appearance.
Bram died first, but as we know with many devoted couples, they were not separated for long; Polly soon followed.

John the Baptist, he was described as a little swagman with a love of music, never failing to produce the mouth organ from his pocket, wherever he went. 
Accompanied by his little dog ‘Cobber’, some say John would play his harmonica, ‘till the cows come home’.

Tim Lyons is said to have graduated as a lawyer.  Apparently, he was a large man who lived in a hut on the Waimakariri riverbed.   In his well-tended garden around a neglected hovel, his hobby was growing parsnips. When harvested, that crop of parsnips became ‘parsnip wine’. 
Tim was known to have worked on various farms in the area, cutting fences, grubbing thistles and gorse.  The call of that parsnip wine was strong and a halt called to proceedings, on many occasions, until his vision returned.
Penniless, Tim died in that hut at the age of 79.  Just goes to show that growing your own vegetables prolongs life.  Yeah...Right.

Ned Slattery is said to have derived his name ‘The Shiner’ from Father Cahill in the town of Lawrence.  The Shiner’s exploits have been thumbed through over the years; a con man if ever there was one.  The Shiner could turn the most unlikely story, without flinching, into such plausible detail.
Father Cahill, so the story goes, caught up with Ned in a pub in Lawrence.  
Ned had, the day before, conned a widow out of some money for whiskey, vowing to return and chop the wood; of course, he never did return to the woodpile.
“I’ll chop it tomorrow,” said Ned when Father Cahill accosted him.
“You are a shiner, a shiner, shiner, but I’ll take the shine out of you,” the preacher shouted, as a well-aimed kick landed on the seat of Ned’s pants.

To me, the best of Ned’s ‘cons,’ was when he swindled a publican out of some whisky.
“Where’s your money?” demanded the publican, as the Shiner breasted up to the bar.
“I’ve no money,” the Shiner declared, “but I’ve got plenty of stamps”.
Eventually, the Shiner wheedled a whiskey out of the publican; “a few stamps could be useful,” he declared.

The Shiner downed that whisky before there was any change of heart.  When asked for payment, he stamped his foot on the floor.  “One, two, three," the Shinner said with a smile, "how many stamps do you want?"  

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Opawa famous for its hospitality

Opawa famous for its hospitality

Chamberlain  School

    Approximately 10 kilometres west of the Albury Township, near the headwaters of the Little Opawa River, lies what used to be the ‘Chamberlain Settlement’.
This settlement emerged out of the Opawa Sheep Station and at the time, Opawa was said to have been famous for its hospitality.  John Rutherford, who owned the Station, was one of the most popular men in South Canterbury.

A flock of emus that John was breeding at that time became popular with the local youngsters.  Of course, these kids did not only go to Opawa to see the emus, John had a large orchard consisting of plum, apple, peach and pear trees and made sure that all children never went home empty handed.

In 1902, Opawa Station, already depleted somewhat from its original size, was sold to the Government for forty-two thousand pounds.  The hill country was divided into three grazing Runs varying in size from forty to four hundred hectares each.
The homestead block contained two hundred and fifty hectares and was retained by John Rutherford.  It and the rest were contained in what became known as the Chamberlain Settlement Block.

The name Chamberlain originated in recognition of Sir Joseph Chamberlain, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the British parliament, who from what I can gather was a close friend of Richard Seddon, our own Prime Minister at the time.
Until his death, John Rutherford, as a self-appointed ‘laird’ of the district, took a keen interest in the people who had settled on the Chamberlain subdivision.  Twenty-three settlers came into the district, most of whom brought with them a family, who in due course would need an education.
Each year John is said to have sponsored a picnic at his homestead for all the people in the settlement and generously gave a five-pound note to all those babies born during the year.
During 1904, a one-roomed school building was erected on Blainslie Road, near the centre of the Chamberlain Settlement and from those memories handed down over the years; I gleaned some of the school's histories.
Until 1908, teachers at the school boarded with parents of the district when a schoolhouse was erected, then during 1915, an additional classroom was added to the school.
Recollections were of windows so high, that the sun seldom touched the floor in the winter and of inkwells which were fitted into the long bench type desks and where students sat on long backless forms.
A water tank stood by the corner of the building on a wooden stand and a badly beaten old tin mug tied to the tank by a length of string was used to quench one’s thirst.

Most children walked to school, but for a year or so one family of five school-age children travelled to school in a dog cart, designed and built by their dad.  Four families, Morrison’s, Stirling’s, Willets, and Williams were all represented by the eleven first day pupils at Chamberlain in 1904.

By about 1915, there were between forty and fifty children attending class.  However by 1938, due to a declining role, Chamberlain was forced into closing its doors for the final time and amalgamate with the Albury School.

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.