Topic: Testimony about Cambridge by Simon Overall

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry (Explicit, rape themes).

Archived version here.

I experience a certain effect, mood-altering, when I drive south toward Cambridge. There is a grandeur of green; prosperous farms and farmlets, some of them with impressive two storey homes, unusual in the New Zealand countryside. There is the success and prestige of the racing studs, one visited by Queen Elizabeth. On the southern side, a successful stallion, Vice Regal, was at stud.

Cambridge, the name itself, an English name, evokes history and continuity. In a modest way the architecture of our Cambridge replicates the original. Approaching through the town’s outskirts the brick water tower suggests substance. Then another edifice meets the eye, St Peter's Church, hub of the Anglican (the English) faith, crowned by a copper steeple. In the next block is the Town Hall, of impressive construction with masonry walls. There is a regal presence of lions atop the War Memorial. The steepled clock chimes a message of continuity every quarter hour.

One is at the threshold of the retail town, modern and marvellous. Transactions are of service, congeniality and humanity. There is an inherent nobility in man - to achieve community, but also to proclaim community with buildings evoking majesty and culture. The very pavements celebrate success and substance. Set in a kind of granite leadlight are the visages of successful bloodstock sires and runners. Many of the former retail shops now sell antiques, purveying the past but also continuity.

I came to this environment newly married in my twenties. I was a worker without savings and few skills. I worked on properties as a fencer and labourer. These included farms, farmlets and horticulture, a racing stable and horse studs. The studs had an ambience of success and substance. The stud masters were men who through acumen and application were at the top of their field.

My associations with the captains of the racing industry were fleeting. More often 1 rubbed shoulders with the employees in the stables and about the properties. They, too, could form a collection of traits from part of the human spectrum.

One had access to drugs used to tranquillise horses. He used it on some of the young women who are often employed in the industry, mixing it with their Milo. They would awake to an uncomfortable feeling in their vagina. He doped them, had sex with them, and they were left to wander what had happened to them.

I saw him on his appearance in court in Hamilton. He was not tall, but a fit man in his late forties or thereabouts. He had a tanned lean musculature, something I have seen on men in the racing industry. Cambridge could not be all captains; there had to be ordinary men, too, and some of them were inordinately nasty. The rapist was an exemplar of those of a lower consciousness in the social order.

A sublime place can conceal terrible elements. Jesus Green in the original Cambridge is where two clergymen were burned at the stake.

In my youth I had been a psychiatric patient for a protracted period. Now a working man I was seeking a niche of occupation and acceptance - to find good cheer amongst peers. Often I succeeded. There must have been a real or subliminal synergy with most everyone I worked with.

The exceptions stick in the mind.

The first contretemps was at the Hautapu dairy factory where I was stacking 25 kg bags of milk powder. This relentless labour continued for twelve hours. It was exhausting. Though I could cope with it, but I could continue with it, getting through the exhausting shift and returning to the same for six days in a row.

Amongst some of my workmates their diction was featured by one epithet, a term for a part of the female anatomy. Something could be dismissed as ‘a c*nt of a day’ or ‘a c*nt of an experience. It was some kind of linguistic placeholder. A guy doing some section development involving a greenhouse said, “It was one of them polythene c*nts.”

In this job I was physically inadequate but also psychologically misplaced. There was a garrulousness or mindset that did not fit with theirs. In the factory salmonella contamination was a topical issue.

To this I said, “In the third world babies die through such gastric upsets…”

It was a mind content inappropriate to theirs. The workmen were earthy and I was of cognitive complexity.

I lasted six weeks before leaving because of the antagonistic reaction of another worker. His name was Angus. That I was struggling physically was not unnoticed. This fostered reaction rather than tolerance. He once burst out in a tirade of four letter words and epithets.

I went to the managers to say, “This is what is happening and this is the abuse that is being directed at me."

They called him in for interrogation then came back with an inquiry. Was I doing work elsewhere when not at the factory? There had once been an 8-hour day enforced in labour laws. Their work regime of twelve hours was a mountain climb, but they sought other reasons for my fatigue.

The factory, Angus and I soon parted company. On one occasion he was yelling abuse across some distance and with a peroration, “Ya c*nt!”

A more intense and derisory use of the term came from Chris Cook. His father was the fencing contractor at the Cambridge Stud. I worked for the father and was tormented by the son. He threatened me, not infrequently, with the sack. He was eighteen years old.

Cambridge Stud was developed by Patrick Hogan. His discipline, acumen and fortunate purchase of a successful sire, Sir Tristram, brought him much reward. Because his progeny won more races than others, the services of the stallion commanded a high price.

Funded by $30,000 dollar ejaculations, the stud was the site of much development. Patrick bought neighbouring properties and re-fenced them to a design he had developed to minimise mishaps to the bloodstock. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended to strip away the old and install the new. The expense was high and the job was long.

Just as there were leaders in the bloodstock industry but also a rapist, at the Cambridge stud there was intuition on the part of the proprietor, but a callousness at the other pole. My reputation from the dairy factory preceded me. They couldn't countenance how someone would leave employment because of the insults of another. My exhaustion accompanied me also.

There began a denigration of me, occasional in time but cumulative in my mind. Unlike the factory I could not leave because my wife was pregnant with our first baby. My worst occasion was one morning when this youth, unconstrained because of his father's absence, repeated several insults.

“You're a weakling, Simon. You should have been born a woman. You're going to get the sack.”

With each insult my behaviour became more self conscious. Johnny Cash had popularised a song that was the theme of a movie shown on television that week. The refrain was, ‘I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and life keeps draggin' on.’

I sang this volubly with ostentatious vigour, as one might whistle in the dark. Alas my tormenter was within earshot. He scorned me horribly.

"Shut up, you mick. You’re the only drag around here."

I had attempted to constrain his callousness with calculated responses of my own. This served to exacerbate his aggression exponentially, provoking a plague of repetitive cursing, a repeating overture of, “You fucken wanker. You fucken wanker."

There was an unearthly veracity in his contempt. Hatred deep in his bones. I hardly knew him or impacted on his life, but his aggression gave his phrase a hideous timbre and snarl.

Later in life I regularly encountered a Rotweiler dog on one job. They shared the same ferocity of aggression. One bayed, the other yelled.

"You fucken wanker. You fucken wanker."

One had four legs, the other two, but there was a commonality in the visage of baying mammalian aggression.

There must be a social ecology peculiar to different climes. In Cambridge there was a moral spectrum, in the town and in the racing industry. There were captains and a residue. Later in life I lived in the Bay of Plenty and had the same pattern of labour. The properties were not horse studs, but kiwifruit orchards. There was a social division there also - established and successful farmers and hired labour. I did not experience aggression from either.

Cambridge is a place of physical splendour but of people attractiveness, in the trades and services and in every shop. In every New Zealand town one gets civility and value for money. There is a people-attractiveness about it. Were there a lot of thugs in Cambridge? I became victimized by a few, a minority of mindset, dwarfed by the community of decency which is New Zealand.

The experience deformed my soul.

 ---

This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/2L4P-9A4Q

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion