Topic: The Bullocky's Daughter by Kay Marsh

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Kay Marsh's entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition - The Bullocky's Daughter

Archived version here. 

Kay's parents Katie Parker and George Watts

I was born in 1922 in a little board-and-ironclad house in Wimbledon, Hawke's Bay. My father acted as midwife. As I remember how useful his pocket knife was, I imagine that would have been the scalpel for cutting the cord.

Later the family shifted to Herbertville from where my father did contracting work with his bullock team, twelve oxen yoked in pairs. They were big strong beasts whose backs came to my father's shoulder. They carried all that needed transporting: wool, timber, firewood, fence-posts, wire and even a water tank, to and from the big sheep stations around the area. Even the school would use Dad's bullocks and dray to take the school children to the wide Herbertville beach for the annual picnic.

The team of bullocks was tame enough for us children to drive them to their paddock when they were unyoked after the day's work. If they were on a station where they would be needed to bring a load of wool to a holding shed, ready to be sent by ship to Napier, they were left to graze overnight.

Dad was the only ‘bullocky’ around who didn’t swear and even when breaking in a new bullock for the team he never said anything more offensive than ‘damn and blast.’ I saw two new bullocks being trained; one of them turned himself around in the yoke to the other way. He had to be unyoked in case his neck was broken turning him back and then yoked up again.

To yoke the team, the yokes were laid on the ground opposite where the bullocks would stand. Dad would shoulder a yoke, reach across the near bullock to place it on the neck of the one offside, loop the bow around its neck up through the holes in the yoke, thread a key through the slot in the top of the bow and tie it there with a leather thong. Then the near bullock would be yoked and so on down the row. As Dad made all his own gear it was beautifully finished; the curve in the yoke shaped with an adze, smoothed with a spokeshave and finished with a shard of broken glass – the glass no doubt supplied by a careless ball thrown by one of my brothers.

Bullock team (a hand coloured photo)My favourite bullock was one of those that had the pole of the dray between two of them. He was a big red and white bullock called Bonnie. Mum was standing next to him one time when she had made a big jug of lemon and barley water for Dad to have before he unyoked the team. She was holding it behind her back with both hands, and didn’t notice that Bonnie helped himself to a drink.

They bullocks were all quite tame as this story shows. We were on a picnic to collect pipis for the Porongahau Maori who were friends of my parents. Eileen, the baby, was put down to sleep on a bed made in the sand hills while all the family were across the beach gathering the shellfish. We were sent back to check on her and found her missing from the bed. She had crawled down to the bullocks who were standing waiting nearby and her crawl marks wove in and out through the bullocks' feet. She was unharmed.

When Dad had wool bales to bring down from the Guerins' station he would ride his horse Dolly up to the woolshed early to collect and yoke the team, which had been driven up with a load of supplies the day before. My two brothers and I would finish our chores around home and follow him on foot, walking a shortcut up the hills, rather than going by the road. It was still a long walk and I used to hold on to George’s shoulder to keep up. We were warned by Dad not to frighten the sheep but that didn’t stop the boys from rolling rocks down the hill, which sent sheep scattering in all directions - but it wasn’t throwing stones, really.

On joining up with Dad, the boys would help him load the wool bales, which were hooked with a balehook and dragged or turned over and over till they were on the dray for Dad to position them in place for the trip to the woolshed in Herbertville. Molly Guerin, who was at the station to cook for the shearers, would give us lunch and while the boys went back to help Dad, I was left to help with the dishes!

Once the long trip down the road and out through the cutting in the sand hills was negotiated, there was a risk of getting bogged down in the soft sand, so speed had to be kept up with lots of whip cracking and yelling. After that the team could travel on the hard sand with the waves lapping around their feet. By this time I would really need a ride so I would climb up onto the ledge between the two layers of bales and Dad would take the strap off his dinner bag, buckle it around my waist and tie it to the rope holding the load together. He invented the first seat belts.

Kay's parents on a two-handed sawThe seat belt was a necessity after I had once fallen from the dray. There had been a high spring tide, with water right up to the sand banks, and pipi shells were washed up in heaps. We were on a picnic to get a load of them for Pipbanks' drive, so Dad had put floorboards on the dray with sides to make a box that would hold the shells.

As we passed the paddock where the bullocks were grazed, Dad cut us each a fluffy toetoe stem. George’s was longer than mine and he was able to reach the puddles the tide had left and get it wet. I leaned over the high side to do the same when the dray wheel went over a rock and tipped me out in front of the wheel. Dad saw me fall, realized the wheel was going over me and speeded up the team. Luckily I landed in a puddle of water and soft sand but it put an end to the picnic. I spent a couple of days on the couch wishing I could go out to play. Instead I ended up in hospital so they could get my kidneys to work again. Hot poultices must have done the trick even if they were hard to bear.

My brother Len was Dad’s auxiliary driver and Dad made him a smaller-sized whip, plaiting the leather for the whip in 6-ply and finishing with a pale, lemon-coloured flax cracker, which he could make sound out so that often it was all that was needed to make the team do as he wanted.

When the flood tides brought down fallen tree trunks and they were washed up on the beach, Dad would split them into firewood lengths or post and battens ready to sell to the runholders for their fencing. Then he had the job of sledging them up hill and down dale, laying them out along the line where the fence was to be built. The firewood was sold by the cord for open fires and cooking stoves as no one had electricity in the country villages. Candles and kerosene lamps were used for light. I often had to clean the glass of the lamp when it became smoky.

Kathleen with brothers Len and GeorgeMy mother was English. She was five foot one inch tall and had an eighteen inch waist.  Her long black hair reached past her waist and was put up in a bun. She met my father when he was sent from Gallipoli where he had been wounded during battle to the Stafford hospital where she was nursing, When Dad was able to dress and leave the hospital he followed her home, carrying a bunch of flowers. She was so shocked that she threw the flowers at him and shut the door. Finally they became friends and he asked her to marry him.

When I think of the huge change in lifestyle my mother made, coming to New Zealand and having to learn so many new skills, it amazes me. She grew up in an English town with no contact with animals, while Dad had a dog, a horse, two cows and calves and the twelve bullocks. Mum kept thirty hens and reared chickens. She also rode Dolly the horse when she had to.

When the Depression came, work was hard to find. Dad sold the bullock team to a logging firm and took the job of driver, hauling the cut logs out of the bush. He eventually gave up the job as he couldn’t bear to see his bullocks being starved and overworked.

The bullocky's era was over.


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The Bullocky's Daughter by Kay Marsh