Topic: Tawhana Times by Tony Walsh

Topic type:

A Tony Walsh entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here. 

‘South Auckland Education Board’ it said on the envelope, and thus encouraged I slid my finger under the flap and drew out the enclosure. A quick excited scan showed a formal appointment to my first posting as a certificated teacher.

With mixed feelings I found Waimana on an AA map.  Waimana, Bay of Plenty, a predominantly Māori district and far from home for this green city-bred youth,  physically flabby, but well-brought up, as they would have said in those times.

Talk of sex at home was a no-no. Alcohol was the devil’s brew. Coarse language was from another planet. I had an awful lot to learn.

On the staff at my new school was Greta Tuite, an attractive Maori woman, married. Greta liked tall stories – but not the sort I’d been used to hearing at home. She soon dried some of the wet from behind my ears.

Through Greta I met her husband Ned, who had a big influence on  the reshaping of this callow youth. Ned was Irish, Irish as the pigs that Kelly raised. You’d hardly have called him handsome.  His usual attire was a black woollen bush singlet and a pair of khaki shorts suspended by a thin leather belt, from which hung a pouched Green River skinning knife. His feet were shod in a pair of hobnailed leather boots often worn without socks. He it was who introduced me to New Zealand’s bush-clad ranges and to pig hunting.

 

On Friday afternoon at Waimana school the last bus had left and the school was deserted. I slipped into the staff toilet and changed into my oldest clothes, shoved my feet into a pair of sandshoes, grabbed my weekend knapsack and was off out to the gate where a grey Bedford truck with stock sides was waiting.

I was off on my first hunting trip.

Ned introduced me to our hunting mates. There was Jumbo, a bluff round rolypoly Māori with a happy-go-lucky nature. Eddie was a Londoner and no oil painting. Eddie’s complexion was red and he had a temper to match it. And there was Kiwi, a small bay part-Arab stallion standing patiently on the deck. I joined Kiwi on the back. There was no room for me in the cab.

26 miles later found us at Tauwharemanuka and the end of that dusty road. We disembarked. A split-sack pikau filled with gear was thrown onto Kiwi. Setting his pattern for the weekend Eddie didn’t wait to be asked; he mounted and we followed along the ancient Māori trail to Tawhana. Three quarters of an hour later we splashed through the Otane stream and out into the Tawhana clearing. Tawhana means the rainbow but for me it was to become the pot of gold at the end of it.

In times past it was the mythical home of the Hapu OneOne,  the original people for Tuhoe.  After the advent of the pakeha, cows were milked there and the cream taken to the cheese factory at Waimana.

By the 1950s this became uneconomic. Tawhana was deserted. The meeting house remained, surrounded by three tumbledown whare. A pataka leaned crazily to one side, and unpruned apple, peach and cherry trees stood in a grove on a flat across the river.

The meeting house was to be our base for the weekend and here Eddie dismounted. We slid back the door of the wharenui and the rats scampered for the one piece of cover – an old kapok mattress. Ned stamped on the mattress with his hobnails, threw the carcasses outside and claimed his bed for the night. The rest of us had the hard floor.

‘The boy’ - myself - was sent for water and a billy was soon boiling over the fire. A quick bite later Ned and I were off  for a hunt over the river. Behind the poplars under the apple trees a stag was grazing, the first deer I’d ever seen. From the grassy bench above the flat Ned’s shot echoed and the stag fell. I remember well how I felt as the eyes filmed over and became milky.

 We gutted the deer and hung him in the shade by the riverbank from an overhanging branch and returned to the meeting house as the sun went down.

Jumbo was the cook and a good tuck in we had that night. The air was crisp, the stars were bright, a morepork called and I heard my first shrill whistle from the kiwi.

 

Morning. Frost. Breakfast. Off up the Tauranga river gorge. Rushing waters. Boulders in the slippery river bed. Eddie in the saddle; Ned, Jumbo and I walking and our dogs, Rum, Tan and Spotty scouting up ahead.

The river was icy, the crossings numerous, the gorge seemingly endless and the guys kept at it. I was knackered, but no way was I going to let on.

Without warning the ridges rolled back from the river and the terrain became easier. Rum and Tan left us up a steep side and within minutes a crescendo of barking erupted.

Ned’s paces widened as he called on me to follow, with Jumbo not far behind me. We scrambled through supplejack. Bush lawyer vines tore at my face as I desperately puffed to keep up. Finally we broke out onto a small terrace and under a rata stood my first Urewera boar, a real long-nosed Captain Cooker backed in under the roots and facing off the dogs.

“There you are, he’s all yours,” said Ned handing me the rifle. 

Now I’d never handled  a gun before and how those sights seemed to waver as I lined them up. I squeezed the trigger. There was a loud report and down he fell. I’d done it!

Ned rolled him over and handed me his knife and showed me how to stick him. He was dead. My heart pounded. I was elated. The adrenalin was running. I was hooked on pig hunting.

Eddie was still down in the river sitting astride Kiwi. We caught glimpses of him through the shrubbery.  No one was going to take his taxi away from him!

Ned and Jumbo had other ideas. Taking the boar’s legs they swung him back and forth before launching him into space yelling, “Look out, Eddie. He got away. He’s coming down your way.”

There was a rattle as a bullet filled the breech, a splash as the pig landed. A  shot resounded as a bullet left the muzzle. A curse followed as the pig floated to the surface and then silence.

A sullen face greeted us as we emerged from the bush. Eddie’s red-faced  temper was much in evidence. Ned and Jumbo singed the pig, while I was deputised to make the brew, but never a word was heard from Eddie. He did dismount though, and fumbled through the offal to find the liver and kidneys. His face livid he threw these onto the embers under the billy, turning them from time to time with a green stick. This intrigued me but his sullen features deterred me from asking what he was up to. I soon found out.  Raking them from the ashes he blew off the dust and commenced eating them.

The pig was hung from a tree swaddled in a jersey to keep out the blowflies. With a mug of billy tea in my hand, all was bliss. My first kill!

But, oh, how my legs ached and all too soon the call came to move on.

Holding tightly onto Kiwi’s reins Eddie rolled over a boulder with his boot and under it deposited the remains of his liver for the return trip. Without looking at us he remounted his horse.

 Back and forth we  crossed the meandering stream through those wondrous bushy terraces. The pigs were numerous, the dogs were keen and by late afternoon I’d learned to catch and stick my own pig.

 Time to turn for home, back to Tawhana. We three  hikers each had a smaller pig to carry across the shoulders. Singed, they were like sandpaper to the back of your neck. Eddie, still glued to the saddle, had a pig behind and before.

Off downstream it was easier walking going with the current and in seemingly no time we were back at the site of our first kill. Eddie dismounted, rolled back his boulder, took out his liver, and completed his meal. We loaded him and Kiwi down with our first boar and resumed our trek to the wharenui.

As we emerged from the gorge the meeting house loomed ahead in the late afternoon sun, every much as welcome a sight as any five-star motel.

 The catch was unloaded from Kiwi but strange pigs they now appeared  to our eyes. Eddie’s three pigs were minus ears and tails. Eddie’s appetite had got the better of him on the way downstream!

Ned had the last say. He had the explanation for my mystified look.

“Eddie never starved at Dunkirk; he was never hungry in the British Army - and he’s certainly never going to be hungry here.”

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.

 

----

This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/5LR5-SSH7

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion