A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

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

Monday, 3 October 2011

Old haunt stirs many memories

It was an acquaintance who reminded me that my autograph, dated 27/9/54 was scrawled above the fireplace in this old hut, in the heart of the Mackenzie Country.  My goodness, over fifty years has past since I slept in this old hut amongst the high country tussocks, and it has not changed one little bit in all those years.
Yeah, I was about 17 years of age at the time and working as a carpenter's apprentice, I was as skinny as a milk straw and a fit as a buck rat.  Two of us had been sent out to do some work on a high country farmers wool shed at the time, just across the gravel road from this old hut.  The other bloke went by the nickname of the 'Black Duke', he was a great chap, much older than myself, but how in the devil he got name like that I have no idea.  The crowd we were working for at the time seemed to come up with a nickname for some us, I sort of missed out on that one. 
It was during the middle of summer when we were there and those summers in the Mackenzie can get hot.  One bloke I knew at the time, and who worked on the Public Works, he told me he quite often cooked a feed of bacon, eggs and sausages for his lunch, on the side of the road.
          "But there's a fire ban in the summer, I said to him.
          "Who said anything about a fire," he smiled.  "I used to cook it all in the sun on my shovel."
          "Yeah right," I said to him.  "And when you've finished pulling that one, have a go at the other leg will ya, it's got a squeaky knee joint." 

Anyway, getting back to the hut, built on the bank of the Irishman Stream, it measured about 2.4 metres by 1.8 metres.  It may have only been sheathed with corrugated iron on the outside and lined with solid timber on the inside, but it was reasonably comfortable.  There were a couple of bunks, quite easy on the bones, a small table and an open fireplace, all the comforts of home.  I can't remember how long we stayed in the hut, must have been about a week I suppose.
The hut was built by the Mackenzie County Council in 1910, and tied down with No8 wire, to save it from being obliterated by the fierce now-west wind that that sweep down these valleys.
Obviously modern transport eventually made this building more or less redundant in more recent years, but 100 years ago things were a lot different, particularly during those harsh Mackenzie winters.
Run holders of those times, returning home from a trip into Timaru, a journey of around 100 miles on horseback, more than once some of those pioneers were stranded in this hut during the whiteout of a winter snowstorm. 
It was a little later that Mr Burnett, of Mt Cook Station, built the fireplace and erected the chimney.  This added a little comfort to those who may have been caught out in a storm.
It must have been around the 30s that a telephone line was installed and connected to the outlying stations. In this instant, directions on how to use Morse code was located in a framed sign beside the phone. 
That brought back childhood memories of a similar phone system in our village during latter part of the Second World War.  Yes, we annoyed the devil out of the exchange operator, by ringing SOS and a few others I can't quite recall, every now and again, we should  have had our bums kicked I suppose.

When I sketched this old hut, there was still hanging above the fireplace, the neatly painted sign, in original condition, it read:  "This hut is for your protection, so we trust you will protect it.  Would you please shut the door, a little firewood left inside would be a kind act."

Noel Guthrie

1 comment:

  1. Nice story, I really got the picture you painted with words