Topic: Kehua by Tony Walsh

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A Tony entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition

Archived version here. 

The track from Tauwharemanuka to Tawhana had deteriorated to a three foot wide trail full of deep holes and overhung with bush. On a dark night it was hazardous to say the least as it climbed steadily to a crest, the offside falling steeply, almost precipitously to the river below. There was one consolation for coming out in the darkness – the side of the track was a galaxy of glow-worms.                    

On rare occasions we did encounter other parties in Tawhana. One of these times was in June 1961 when Ned learned that a crew of local hunters intended a weekend in our territory!  Wanting to be first on the flats to pick off the easy ones Ned picked me up immediately after school on the Friday evening.  I jogged the track behind Ned on Kiwi and after offloading our gear at the wharenui we set off for a stalk as dusk gathered in. We were rewarded with a fine young stag feeding under the apple trees.

Back at the meeting house as the cool winter’s evening drew in we soon had a billy boiling and a stew ready in front of the meeting house porch.

Night closed in. A solitary morepork called but as yet there was no sign of the expected interlopers. We ate then banked up the fire, hung our tucker bags on a length of number eight wire strung between the two posts away from the rats and fell into our sleeping bags.

Around midnight we awoke to the sound of stamping hooves outside and sliding back the door found Barry Stevenson, who had a tale to tell that went something like this…


Even in 1961 the pubs still closed at 6pm. Barry and his three mates had met up at the Taneatua Hotel for a noggin for the road before they left for their weekend in the bush away from their wives.

Primed somewhat they drove to Waimana with various bottles tucked away to keep out the winter chill.

At Steve Hughes’ home they set out to load their four horses on to the stock truck and it was here that trouble set in. Instead of facing all four towards the cab they decided to place the broncos crossways alternately head to tail. Unfortunately one of them was a mare, in season, and next to her they tethered a stallion, his head to her tail! All hell broke loose. His hooves made matchwood of the stock-crate sides behind him as he fought to mount her.

A rapid disembarkment followed. Temporary repairs were affected to the stock sides and the horses reloaded, this time with the stallion well away from the mare. Then with another bottle for the road the four friends set sail for Tauwharemanuka.

The night was crisp; a clear moon lit the pasture at the end of the road. The horses were offloaded, girths were tightened, pikau bags loaded, a nip or two taken to ward off the cold, legs thrown across the saddles and in Indian File, Jack Piritiaki leading, all four followed the track to Tawhana.

It was a merry band there in the Urewera forest. Jack dropped his reins to allow the horse to find her own way. His throat well-lubricated he strummed his guitar and crooned the latest pop song his three friends behind him joining in melodiously.

All went well with the happy foursome until suddenly there was a crash from the lead. Jack’s voice broke off amidst a rumbling of shingle. Silence descended.

“Jack,” called a shaken Gordon. “You all right?"

No response.

Three guys sobered up very rapidly. A torch was found from a pikau and shone over the edge. They called and called to no avail. The trail ahead of them was clear, no horse and no Jack.

Cautiously Barry climbed down the steep shingly slope to the river where he found Jack’s horse standing on the stones trembling in shock. He tethered the horse and began climbing again to rejoin his friends shining his torch around nervously as he went. Half way up the steep face he came across Jack, arms tightly wrapped around a tree, his eyes shut, ashen faced, saying nothing. Prising him loose, feeling mighty relieved, Barry helped Jack down to the river. Apart from a wrenched knee Jack was miraculously unhurt.

And to cap it all off the half dozen bottles in a knapsack on his back were still intact and the lemon gin in his front pocket was unbroken.


Jack on the horse, Barry leading it through the numerous river crossings to the Tauranga’s confluence with the Otane, they came together again with Gordon and Steve. It was here that Barry remounted his own horse and came ahead to warn us that they were on their way and to build up the fire.

Before long we had the fire rekindled, the tea billy was singing and the left over stew was reheated as the three refugees arrived. A few yarns later, bellies full, fortified against the winter night, smothered yawns said bedtime.

Barry, Steve and Gordon carried their gear into the wharenui and made up their beds, but Jack was having nothing of the house. To his mind the kehua were after him this night. Midwinter it was when Jack took his horse and tied it securely to a stake he drove in the ground. Within the circle that the horse would graze overnight Jack laid his oilskin raincoat on the ground. With his saddle for a pillow, Jack settled himself on the oilskin, covering himself with his sleeping bag and the horse blanket. Whistling to his dog he called him to come and sleep on top.

In the early morning we awoke to find one of those magical, still Tawhana winter’s mornings. The early sun sparkled on a frozen cobweb on the porch of the wharenui. A white hoar frost covered the ground. And there lay Jack still asleep, his dog on top of him yawning and stretching as we came out to greet the day.


About the author:

Tony Walsh has been married for 44 years with five children and seven grandchildren. Most of his working life was spent as a teacher and a school principal, during which he spent a great deal of time hunting and trout fishing in the wild. Since his retirement and as his legs got slower, he now fly fishes the rivers, tying his own flies. He published The Black Singlet Brigade with XLibris in 2013, an essential read for any bush adventurer, actual or vicarious. Tony presently edits the local Trout Fishing Club monthly magazine. Now retired, he lives, writes and resides by a trout stream. He describes this as Heaven on earth.



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