Among the friends of colonists at home in Britain, among those who talk most and know least of this land of the blest, I specify three classes. First, there are the people who talk of "roughing it" with an air of rapturous enjoyment, and a Micawber-like roll of the voice, as if that were really something good, something both pleasant and praiseworthy in itself. Again, there are those who shudder at the bare idea, and who conceive it, perhaps, to be a good deal worse than it really is. Lastly, there are some who are quite vacuous in the matter, either because the term conveys no meaning to their minds, or because Nature has made them indifferent to personal comfort and discomfort.
Now, in the first place, roughing it is not a nice process. There is nothing at all delightful or charming about it. Plainly, it is suffering. Suffering of numberless discomforts and privations, slight in themselves as a rule, though not invariably so, but certainly a serious matter in the aggregate. Nor is there anything grand or glorious in the prospect of roughing it. Merely in itself it does not add to a man's good in any particular way. It has to be got through in order that certain ends may be achieved. That is about the sum of it.
On the other hand, there is nothing to daunt healthy young fellows in the prospect of roughing it. Only those who are delicate, or who are of sensitive nature, need turn back from the possibility of it. And it must be remembered that, to succeed eventually in any path of life whatsoever, some sort of hardship, toil, and self-sacrifice must be undergone.
Of course, you cannot carry the drawing-room with you into the bush. That side of life, with much of the refinement belonging to it, is swept completely out of your reach. And what is of more importance still, your existence is apt to grow somewhat unintellectual. Yet these are matters that are already remedying themselves. As comfort and competence are gradually achieved, and as society becomes large, so do the higher results of civilization follow. And as pioneering progresses into the more advanced stages of improvement, so do the opportunities and possibilities for mental work and culture become more generally and readily appreciable.
To us, when we first came out from England, the life here seemed utterly delightful, because it was so fresh and novel. We were quite captivated with it. Our existence was a perpetual holiday and picnic, to which the various difficulties and discomforts that cropped up only seemed to add more zest. But we soon got over that. We soon began to find that it did not rain rosewater here. A rude picnic prolonged day after day, year after year, soon lost its enchantment, and merged into something very like suffering. We began to yearn after those flesh-pots of Egypt which we had left behind us; and there were times when we have regretted that we ever emigrated at all.
Now we have settled down to a calm and placid contentment with our lot. We begin to see what results are possible to us, and there are signs that our chrysalis condition is finite after all, and that some reward for our toil will be ours ere long. The days of our worst poverty and difficulty lie behind us, and better things are in store.
We have been thankful for one thing. Our society in this district is limited; but it comprises persons of some small amount of cultivation and intelligence. We appreciate this at its fullest, for most of us have, at one time or other, had to work in other parts of the colony, where our only associates were of the rudest and dullest mental organization. We are kindred spirits, and are happy in our way, making light of difficulties, laughing at hardships and privations, and mocking at poverty and toil. By this means we believe that we enjoy to the utmost all the good that there is in this life of ours, and that we measurably lessen the struggles and troubles that have to be gone through.
And now to revert more particularly to our home life in the shanty.
The insect world is a great feature in Northern New Zealand, both as to variety, which is extensive, and as to quantity, which is illimitable. Within our shanty there are certain species which make themselves felt, smelt, or otherwise apparent to our annoyance, without taking into consideration the hosts that, as far as we are concerned, are innocuous.
St. Patrick is reported to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland; and, according to O'Gaygun, he afterwards journeyed over here, and performed the same service in these islands. The deed was done, says my informant, in order that this Canaan of the South Sea might be made ready for descendants of Hibernian kings, when the proper time should come; and that time, he continues, was when loyal and true sons of Erin should be seeking afar for a home, where the Land League would cease from troubling; and the landlord be at rest!
Well, we have no snakes, thanks to St. Patrick, but if that gentleman had only continued and completed his work, so far as to have excluded certain insect pests as well, we could have felt more beholden to him. We have them both out of doors and indoors, but it is with the invaders of our sanctuary that I have at present to deal.
First, there is the mosquito. We have them here of all sorts and sizes. Sometimes they come by twos and threes, and sometimes they come in swarms. They are a deadly nuisance anyway, and a most obnoxious addition to the inhabitants of our shanty. The peculiar delight of a mosquito is to arrive just at the moment when you are falling off to sleep, properly fatigued with your day's work. You hear a long, threatening boom, which finally ends with a sharp jerk, like buzz-z-z-z-z-z-zup. Then you wait in anxious expectancy for what you well know will come next. It does come, a sharp prick on some part where you least expected it. You slap angrily at the place, and hurt yourself, but not the mosquito. O no! he is gone before you can satisfy your just vengeance, and he leaves a mark of his visit that will worry you for days after.
Wise people envelope themselves in gauze mosquito-bars, but we are not wise, and we do not. Conceive the fury of O'Gaygun at such an innovation, such pampering, effeminacy, luxury! Who would venture to introduce a mosquito-bar into a community of which he is member? What might not be expected from this most conservative of pioneers? Even Old Colonial says it is better that we should "harden ourselves to it." But occasionally, in the stilly watches of the night, I hear a hasty remark from his corner of the shanty, which leads me to believe that, with all the years of his mosquito experience, he is not wholly hardened yet.
Then there is the sandfly, another enemy of our peace. This creature is not so bad as the first, though. It is true his sting is sharp, and always draws a drop of blood, but there is no after irritation. Sometimes, when sandflies abound about us, we make them contribute to our amusement in moments of leisure. Bets are made, or a pool is formed, and we stretch out our closed fists together and wait. By-and-by a sandfly settles on the back of some one's hand, and proceeds to browse. Once his proboscis is buried in the skin, the hand is opened, and he is caught, for he cannot withdraw his weapon from the now contracted skin. Then the capturer pockets the stakes, and executes the bloodsucker. Such is one of our simple pastimes.
Another insect foe of ours is one not wholly unknown in other parts of the world. It is the nimble flea. St. Patrick is not to blame for leaving this reptile here. He is not indigenous. He was unknown to the Maoris until the coming of the Pakeha; but he has naturalized himself most thoroughly now. The "little stranger," as the natives playfully term him, is to be found in abundance in every Maori whare. Excluded with the greatest difficulty from the best appointed houses in the colony, in the humbler residences of the bush, and in our shanty, for example, his name is Legion. Why this should be so, we have never troubled our heads to inquire; we simply accept the fact as it is. Possibly our floor, that, in spite of a daily brooming and a weekly sluicing, is ever well carpeted with dust and mud, is one source of these pests. And, now I think of it, there is a nightly scuffling underneath the boards, which leads to the conclusion that pigs, dogs, and fowls, are harbouring among the piles beneath.
Every night, before turning in, we are accustomed to shake whole regiments of fleas out of our blankets. Not infrequently we sprinkle the blankets with kerosene oil; and, sometimes, in hot weather find it necessary to anoint our bodies all over with the same thing. That keeps off the crawling plagues until we have time to get to sleep, and then we do not care for them. But I think we really have got hardened to the fleas. We feel the annoyance of them but little now.
One of the chums, a harmless, peaceable fellow yclept "The Fiend"—I know not for what particular reason—has lately invented a new game for our evening's diversion. He calls it flea-loo. After supper it is our usual custom to sit on the edge of the floor, where it abuts upon the fireplace. That part of our domicile, it will be remembered, is paved with a sort of gravel of loose stones, and, sooth to say, with a good deal of debris of every sort and kind. The stove stands in the middle. As we sit there, the sensations in our legs remind us that fleas like warmth too, and that the gravelly bottom of the chimney-place is a favourite assembly-room of theirs. But they are of aspiring nature, and this fact was known to the Fiend. Under his advice, each man plants a stick upright in the gravel before him. Then we make a pool and await the result. The fleas soon come out, and begin to crawl up the sticks; and, by-and-by, some individual of the race reaches the top of the stick. The owner of that stick takes the pool. Here is another gentle and Arcadian sport.
And now, with considerable trepidation, and with something verging upon veritable awe, I approach a subject that I feel myself scarcely competent to handle. Fraught with the deepest interest to every new-chum, and a matter of no light concern to even the oldest colonist, it is one that demands an abler and more facile pen than mine to do full justice to it. Some one has boldly asserted that, throughout the infinite treasure-house of Nature, every separate and single thing has its particular and well-defined purpose. Without attempting to dispute a proposition so emphatically and dogmatically brought forward, it will be sufficient for me to say that men have asked in shuddering horror, and must still continue to ask, what part in the economy of creation is the sphere of duty or usefulness of that malignant thing we call the KAURI-BUG.
We do not know whether this insect is known to naturalists or not. That is a slight matter, and not particularly pertinent to the question of its interest for us. We believe, however, that no naturalist has yet been found of sufficiently ardent temperament, and of sufficiently hardy nerves, to attempt to classify or examine this most infamous of bugs.
Appearances are deceptive very often; they are so in this instance. Nothing could look more innocent and inoffensive than the kauri-bug, yet few insects rival it in crime. It is an oval shape, anything under and up to the size of a crown piece. It is flat, black, hard, and shiny, and resembles a cross between the English black-beetle and the woodlouse or slater. It stinks. That is all it does, but it is enough. Look at it, and it is harmless enough. But tread on it, touch it, disturb it never so slightly, and instantly the whole surrounding atmosphere is permeated with a stench more infernally and awfully horrible than anything else this side of the Styx!
The kauri-bug inhabits dead-wood of various kinds, but chiefly does it love that of the tree from which it derives its name. It invades houses built with open joints like ours in regiments and battalions, bringing all its family and luggage with it. The best class of houses are here built in a fashion styled bug-proof, but even they cannot wholly exclude this fearful thing. It comes in hidden in the firewood, and once in the house it stops there, since no one is courageous enough to turn it out. It appears to be indifferent as to whether the house is new or old, well-built or ruinous. If the structure is of kauri timber the kauri-bug will be there, and it will put up with any other wood if kauri timber is not available. It is one of the peculiar products indigenous to Northern New Zealand, and it is the least attractive of all.
Dandy Jack, who has been in North America, is my authority for stating that the celebrated odour of the skunk is mild and refreshing, compared to the unutterable loathsomeness of that of the kauri-bug. I can well believe it. How well I remember one of my first nights in the bush! It appears that one of these diabolical insects had got into my blankets. I rolled over and crushed it in my sleep. Inured as I had been by circumstances to bad smells, this conquered me. I awoke perspiring from a frightful nightmare. I rushed from my bed, from the room, from the house, to escape the hideous effluvium; and—well, darkness veiled the rest!
Nature has in this insect achieved the very acme and culmination of repulsive villainy. Fortunately she has mitigated it in two ways. The stench is volatile and soon disappears; while settler's noses get used to it in a measure. Were it not for these merciful provisions, colonization in this land would be an utter impossibility for people who had olfactory nerves at all. The kauri-bug would have driven us back to England long ago.
As an instance of an earnest but mistaken striving after the true colonial fertility of invention and readiness of resource, I put on record the following. The Fiend once evolved from the obscurest depths of his inner consciousness a truly fearful and alarming plan. In this gentleman's somewhat feeble intellect there floats a sort of hazy reverence for a mysterious force denominated by him "kimustry." And to this occult power he appears to ascribe a magical potency, that recalls memories of the "Arabian Nights."
We conclude that, at some time or other, the Fiend had been told, or had read, that a certain delightful perfume, eau de millefleurs I think it is called, was derived by chemical agency from sewage, or some equally malodorous matter. He appears to have formed the idea that any disgusting stink could be turned, by "kimustry," into a delicious perfume; and, further, that the more horrible the original stink might be, the more ravishingly delightful would be the perfume to be derived from it.
One night, when the parliament of our shanty was assembled in full conclave, the Fiend enunciated his views. Seriously and circumstantially he put forward his proposition. This was that we were to form ourselves into a joint-stock company; that we were to cultivate and make collections of kauri-bugs; that we were to find a "kimust" who could "do the trick," and employ him; and that we were to introduce to the world, and grow rich by, the sale of a sort of celestialized essence of kauri-bugs. In proof of good faith, the Fiend produced a box full of kauri-bugs that he had collected for experiment, and handed them among the midst of us.
Conceive our horror and consternation at this unnatural and appalling proposal. Springing instantly to his feet, O'Gaygun demanded that the Fiend be forthwith taken out and hung from the nearest tree. But the Fiend saved his life by immediately withdrawing his proposition and his bugs, humbly suing for mercy. It was then thought that our duty to humanity would necessitate our sending the unhappy Fiend for incarceration in the Whau Lunatic Asylum, where they were in want of "subjects," as Old Colonial significantly remarked. That point is still under debate. Meanwhile, the Fiend still lives, but is kept under strict surveillance.
There is another of our insect enemies which must have special mention, and that is the Maori blow-fly. We have flies of many sorts, house-flies and blue-bottles among them. The latter, the blue-bottles, get very big, and have an increased propensity for multiplying themselves, and that in their usual unpleasant manner. But over all the blue-bottles' old-fashioned systems the Maori blow-fly soars supreme. It is a colonizer with a vengeance. It does not go to the trouble of laying eggs or nits; it carries its family about ready hatched. The blow-fly is always ready, at a moment's notice, to deposit an incredible number of lively, hungry maggots upon any desirable surface.
The difficulty of keeping fresh or cooked meat, and various other provisions, will be readily appreciated. The blow-fly will cause its disagreeable offspring to take part in every meal. Maggots are showered down on your very plate. A string of them may be deposited on the mouthful on your fork. The blow-fly is not particular. If you have a wound, cover it up, or the maggots will speedily be in it. The eyes of cattle and sheep are often full of them. If blankets or clothes are hung up to air in the sun, they will soon be white with living organisms; though, for want of moisture, they cannot live more than a few minutes in such a situation, luckily. There is little or nothing we can do against these foes. We get used to them, and try to forget their existence. We keep them out where possible. We salt our food, which they do not like. But we are unable to keep them down, or fight with them. Even argument with a blow-fly is inadmissible.
We have spiders as big as walnuts, with great hairy legs two or three inches long. We would rather encourage them, as they help to keep down the flies, and they do no harm, though not pretty to look at. There is said to be a poisonous spider in the country, but no one in the North seems to know anything about it. We regard it as a myth. Other insects we have in profusion, but none that affect us like those I have specially spoken of.
After all, we have no great cause for complaint. Some trivial annoyance is the worst we have to suffer in this way. We have no scorpions, snakes, poisonous centipedes, or any other vile thing of that sort. I have told the worst of our indoor plagues. Rats and mice we have, of course, as they swarm in the bush; but our dogs, and a cat or two, keep the shanty fairly clear of them.
Our commissariat is plentiful and varied enough. With slight exception we are our own providers, living almost entirely on our own produce, as farmers should. Sometimes the pressure of work leads to carelessness in catering and cooking, and we are consequently reduced to short commons, for which there is no sort of need. In the worst times of poverty we should not starve. The river is always full of fish; and things must be more than bad if one could not get credit for a sack of flour or potatoes with the Mayor, or with some other storekeeper on the rivers. And, after the first year, the garden ought to produce enough vegetables, potatoes, kumera, taro, pumpkins, and maize, to keep the family going, even if everything else failed them.
Pig-meat, in its various forms, is our staple article of food. We breed and fatten a large number of pigs on the clearings round the shanty. These we butcher in batches of six or eight, as required, and turn into salt pork, bacon, and ham. We have occasionally sent a cask or two of pork, some flitches or hams, to market; but as a rule we consume our pigs on the farm. Pig-meat is most reliable as a staple. One does not tire of it so utterly as one does of either mutton or beef, if one of these be the invariable daily food.
Beef we rarely see in our shanty. The steers we breed are too valuable to be used by ourselves; they have to go to market. Only occasionally we find it necessary to slaughter some unmanageable rusher, a cow, or bullock, and then we have beef, fresh and salted down. Mutton was just as scarce for several years, as we could not afford to kill out of our small flock; and mutton is not good to salt down. Now, we kill a sheep every week, sometimes a couple, as the township will take the surplus meat, and so it pays us.
We keep a great number of turkeys on the clearings, as also a less number of ducks and poultry, to diminish the crickets, caterpillars, and other insect foes. These birds are now practically wild, and give us something like sport to shoot them. There are hundreds of turkeys, as they thrive amazingly, consequently we often have them at table. Eggs, too, are plentiful enough, whenever any one takes the trouble to hunt up some nests.
As to wild game of any sort, we get little enough of that; for we cannot spare time to go after it. Sometimes we may shoot some of the splendid wild pigeons, some kakas, parrots, tuis, wild duck, teal, or the acclimatized pheasants. Wild pig is nauseous eating, so that is not sought after.
Every now and then we go in for fish. There are schnapper, rock-cod, mullet, mackerel, and herring, or species that answer to those, to be had for very little trouble. There are also soles, which we catch on the mud-banks and shallows at night, wading by torchlight, and spearing the dazzled fish as they lie. When we make a great haul we salt, dry, or smoke the capture for lasting use. The endless oyster-beds, and other shell-fish, we rarely touch, they are not worth the time and trouble, we consider.
Tea is the invariable beverage at every meal, and almost the only one, too. Milk is generally available in our shanty as a substitute, but somehow we stick to the tea. We drink quarts and quarts of it every day, boiling hot, and not too weak. Throughout New Zealand and all the Australian colonies this excessive tea-drinking is the universal practice. Even the aboriginal races have taken to it just as kindly. It is such a good thirst-quencher, every one says, so cooling in warm weather, and so warming in cold seasons.
We had an earnest medico on a visit to us lately. He inveighs strongly against tea-drinking, which he says is the curse of these countries. I think he would preach a crusade against it if he dared; for, of course, he would have to join issue with Good Templars, Sons of Temperance, and all the fanatical anti-alcoholists. These zealous reformers are so blindly infatuated with their hatred for alcohol, that tea seems to them its natural antithesis, and they vaunt it as if it were a celestial boon. And such people are a political power out here—worse luck!
The doctor declares—"Tea-drinking is one of the most serious mistakes of our age and race in these new countries. It produces, first of all, a low form of chronic dyspepsia, whose effect is immediately perceived in early decay of the teeth. It often seriously affects the great organs—the liver, kidneys, stomach, and heart—predisposing them to derangement, and aiding the progress of organic mischief in them, should that arise from other causes. It affects the nerves, causing irritability and debility in them. Nervous power becomes impaired, reacting with evil effect upon the ganglionic centres and the brain. Hence the mind must become insidiously affected also. I am quite sure that the character of our colonists is being modified by their practice of excessive tea-drinking, and I cannot believe that the change will be for the better. I believe that we may trace to tea, gloominess, misanthropy, loss of cheerfulness, a restless energy without fixity of purpose, a sour temper, a morbid and abnormal simplicity, leading to intellectual retrogression instead of progress, and to a tendency to yield to superstitious fancies, with loss of control over reason and its advancement. What will be the future of these young tea-drowned nations?"
Fortunately, we only understood a fraction of this tirade, yet we trembled and shivered ever afterwards as we drank our tea. Then the doctor showed us how to make sugar-beer, treacle-beer, cabbage-tree-root-beer, honey-beer, peach-cider, corn-cider, and various other drinks of a more or less unlicensed kind. So now we have usually something else to quaff besides tea. Peaches we have in any quantity; and the cider they make is capital stuff. Honey abounds in every hollow tree; and the mead or metheglin we compound is a fine drink.
Flour and meal we have to buy. By-and-by there will be a flour-mill at the township, for already some of the more forward settlers near are growing wheat. Maize we do not use ourselves, except as a green vegetable. Some people grind it and use the meal for cakes, but we principally turn it into pig-meat or fowl-flesh.
Our garden department, though not always so well managed as it might be, yet adds largely to our food supply. The principal crops are potatoes, kumera (sweet potatoes), and pumpkins; good substantial food that will keep, and, should we have a surplus, will sell. We don't bother with green vegetables; they don't pay, we think, and boiled green maize-cobs suffice us for that class of thing. But, in such seasons as it has occurred to any one to go in for more extensive gardening, we rejoice in a profusion of carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, taro, beet-root, and sundry other things.
Fruit can hardly be looked on as a food; it is merely an ornamental accessory to it, in our opinion. We are great fruit-consumers, but we look on such trifles as only refreshers for odd moments, and not as having anything to do with the serious business of eating. We have pretty well all the fruits that are seen in English gardens, and besides them we have quantities of various sorts of melons and peaches, also specimens of oranges, lemons, shaddocks, grapes, loquats, quinces, pomegranates, guavas, Cape gooseberries, figs, almonds, and some others. We have even bananas, which are a success in most seasons. The marvellous profusion and richness of our fruit-crops, leads to the belief that industries connected with fruit-growing will eventually be found to succeed best in the North.
Of course, long practice in cooking has made us tolerably proficient in the simpler processes of the art. Several of us are very fair all-round cooks, but Old Colonial is supreme in this, as in most things. He is a veritable Soyer of the bush. When he chooses to exert his skill he can turn out the most wonderful dishes. Where he learnt, and how he learnt, no one can tell; but he seems to be a perfect master of cookery in every shape and form.
In spite of the peculiarities of our table-service, we fare sumptuously often enough, much more so than many people who would disdain to feed without linen and dishes and plates, forks, spoons, and other things that we hold in slight regard. Old Colonial's name has gone abroad through the country. When any one of our neighbours goes in for the luxury of a wife, Old Colonial is not infrequently called in to educate her in culinary matters. He is a past master in endless wrinkles, dodges, makeshifts, and substitutes of all sorts; and has, besides, an unbounded faculty of invention that is highly satisfactory to our little commonwealth.
One hot and blazing Christmas-tide we invited all the married people, who lived within anything like reasonable distance, to visit our shanty—Bachelor's Hall, as the ladies termed it. Such an entirely novel and unusual event as the visit of some of the gentler sex to our shanty was an occasion of no light moment. Old Colonial determined to banquet our visitors in the superbest possible style, and vast preparations were at once undertaken.
Two days before the expected arrival, all hands set to work in the arduous and unavailing endeavour to render the shanty approximately clean and respectable. Such a turn out as that was! Such an unlooked for bringing to light of things that must be nameless! We broomed and we scrubbed, we washed and we sluiced, we even tinkered and mended, we cleaned and we swore, and made our lives temporarily miserable; and yet, with all this, how grimy, and dirty, and mean, and wretched, that shanty of ours would continue to look!
Never had our household property been subjected to such a cleaning up as that was. Gradually some order was introduced into the chaos, and at last we began to think we should convey a favourable impression after all. But our chief concern was in the matter of table equipage.
One of us was sent over to the township, with orders to beg, borrow, or steal, all the crockery and table-cutlery in the place. Another was dispatched on horseback through the bush somewhere else, and on the same errand, that something like proper table furniture might grace the feast. Then our wardrobe underwent inspection. Some one had to go over to the township and buy new shirts for all of us, with several pairs of trousers, and other things. O'Gaygun stormed and wept at this outrage; but our boss was firm for the proprieties, as he estimated them. The worst of it was, we had to contemplate frightful expenditure. And more, it was humiliating that our previous condition should be made known to the Mayor, who, with his wife, were to be among our guests. But, what matter? The Mayor is a good fellow, and a friend; and what can be too great a sacrifice to make for England, Home, and Beauty!—especially the last.
We all had our tasks. There was the path between the shanty and the landing-place to be put in proper condition; various muddy places in it to be covered with fascines; a certain watercourse we were in the habit of jumping to be newly-bridged, and so forth. Then there was the catering. Two of us were out with guns, shooting turkeys, pheasants, pigeons, fowls, and anything else that was eatable. Others were butchering the fairest and fattest pig in our drove, and doing the same by a lamb. Two were out on the river diligently fishing, or collecting oysters and cockles. Some, too, were employed in the garden, picking fruit, gathering vegetables, and so forth, and so on.
All day and all night the stove was redhot, while a supplementary fire blazed outside the shanty. Between them oscillated Old Colonial, pipe in mouth, hirsute and unkempt, grim, grimy, and naked to the waist. His two aids, the Saint and the Fiend, had a bad time of it. They were his scullions, marmitons, turnspits, or whatever you like to call it. They had to keep up the supplies of firewood, to prepare the fowls and fish, and generally to do all the dirty work; and the way that Old Colonial "bossed" them round was an edifying sight to see.
The preparations were stupendous. Victuals enough had been laid in to feed a regiment, and the variety of them was endless. But Old Colonial, once having given way to the mania of extravagance, was determined to lay under contribution every conceivable thing, and to turn out more dishes than even an American palace hotel would put on its bill of fare.
Finally, it was discovered that the shanty was far too small a place for our banquet. So, on the appointed morning we were up at sunrise, and, from then till noon, we laboured at the construction of a bower; while Old Colonial was busy with his hot meats and confections. The bower was an open shed, running all along the shadiest side of the shanty and beyond. It was a rude erection of rough poles, latticed and thatched—Maori fashion—with fern-fronds and flax. Under it was the table, supplemented by another of loose boards on such supports as we could fabricate; and round it planks resting on kegs and boxes made sufficient seats.
Hardly were our preparations finished when the first boat was descried, coming through the mangroves from the river down below, and a parasol was visible in the stern. Then there was a hasty stampede down to the gully to wash; an agonized scuttle into the new shirts; and a hot and anxious assumption of restful calm. And so we welcomed the guests as they came.
What a feast that was, and how it astonished everybody! And such a party as our shanty had never witnessed before! For curiosity brought half a dozen ladies—all there were in the district—and fully a score of masculine friends honoured our establishment with their presence.
It is not to be supposed, of course, that all our neighbours inhabit rude shanties like ours. Some are further forward, or had more capital at the start; and men do not bring wives into the bush until they can manage to furnish forth a decently comfortable house for them. Our married friends live in respectable comfort. Still, the ladies, living in the bush, get to know its more primitive ways, though they may not experience them themselves. So, our domestic arrangements, though made the occasion for a great deal of banter and fun, were neither unexpected nor novel to our lady visitors. But the banquet that was provided for them made them open their eyes indeed. It was something altogether new to the bush. Such a miracle of catering! such marvellous unheard of cookery! It surpassed anything any one of them had ever seen before, anywhere.
The table was covered with white linen, borrowed at the township, and all the equipage we could muster was displayed upon it. Plates, forks, spoons, and knives, there were in plenty; but we had not been able to collect enough dishes and bowls for the profusion of viands Old Colonial had provided. Some parts of the service were therefore peculiar, and caused much addition to the merriment. There was always such incongruity between the excellence of the comestible and the barbaric quaintness of the receptacle that happened to contain it. Soups in billies, turkeys in milk-pans, salads in gourd-rinds, custards in cow-bells, jellies in sardine-boxes, plum-pudding in a kerosene case, vegetables, fruits, and cakes in kits of plaited flax; anything and everything was utilized that possibly could be.
High enthroned upon a pile of potato sacks, Old Colonial presided over the feast he had created; while, as vice, sat O'Gaygun, his barbaric conservatism laid aside for the nonce in favour of grace and gallantry. What glorious fun we had! What a flow of wit beneath the august influence of ladies' smiles! And we were cool in our ferny bower, out of the strong hot sunshine. And in the intervals of eating and drinking, we could look about us on the splendid perspective of bush and river, across the clearings, where the air shimmered in the heat, where the crickets whistled and hummed, and where the cattle were lazily lying among the stumps. It was a magnificent picnic, so everybody declared. There never was anything to match it in all New Zealand!
I can fancy, that in days to come, when the full tide of civilization has overtaken this fair country, some of those ladies will be sitting in boudoirs and drawing-rooms talking to their children; and they will tell them of the early pioneering days. And one of their best-remembered stories will be that of the Christmas-time, when they were banqueted by Old Colonial and his chums at our shanty in the bush.
To a certain extent we are of musical tastes, and, though our time for practice is limited to an occasional half-hour of an evening, we consider ourselves no mean instrumentalists, and sometimes give public performances, as will appear hereafter. We have two flutes, a clarionet, a cornet, and a French horn, often supplemented by two violins and a concertina. Old Colonial does not play, neither does O'Gaygun. They fiercely decline to add to what they term the beastly uproar.
If we have a failing, it is to be found in an inability to hang together in our play, and an incapacity for comprehending the said fact. Set either instrumentalist by himself, and he will manage to stumble through a tune; but put the whole orchestra together, and the result usually falls short of what should be harmony. The hornist is our feeblest musician. He has not yet succeeded in eliciting more than two notes and a half out of his instrument, and these he lets off in spasmodic puffs, governed by a curious notion of the proper places for them to fit into the general performance. The flutes are a little unsteady and unreliable; the clarionet always squeaks in pathetic parts; and the cornet imagines that loudness is the chief thing to be desired.
There was a newly-married couple recently established a few miles away up the river. Of course, they were received in the district with great acclamation, when they first came up here, after being tied up in Auckland. Bonfires blazed on the ranges, guns were fired, and a procession of boats escorted theirs home. As a strictly bachelor community, we felt some hesitation about going to call and congratulate the couple. This was owing to our own shyness and uncouthness, you understand, not to any disfavour with which we looked upon matrimony as an abstract thing. For we were previously unacquainted with the bride. However, some demon prompted us to give them a midnight serenade.
By dint of tremendous practice, we had mastered, as we thought, those three famous melodies, "Home, Sweet Home," "Juanita," and "God Save the Queen." The orchestra was equal to them, anyhow, we considered. Neither of our two unmusical associates cared to be left out of the proposed excursion, so a drum was manufactured for Old Colonial, by stretching a sheepskin over the open ends of a cask; O'Gaygun was found incompetent to play on any other instrument but the ancient comb and piece of paper of his happy youth. Then we started, rowing up the river, and anchoring silently off the beach opposite our victim's residence, one night soon after their arrival.
The moon was at the full, throwing sombre shadows down from the woods upon the gleaming water, and making the splendid scenery of the river mysterious and romantic. The husband and wife were out on their verandah, enjoying the calm beauty of the night, and sentimentalizing, as newly-married couples will.
Suddenly, from the river below them, rises the melancholy and discordant clamour of our performance. Quickly, the voices of the night awake in earnest protest against it. Roosting shags and waterfowl fly screaming away. In the swamp a bittern booms; and strange wailing cries come from the depths of the bush. On the farm dogs bark energetically, cattle bellow, horses neigh, sheep bleat, pigs grunt, ducks quack, and turkeys gobble. Frightful is the din that goes echoing among the woods. And then the outraged bridegroom gets out his gun, and commences rapid file-firing in our direction.
But nothing daunts us, or makes us flinch from our fell purpose. Perspiring from every pore, we labour manfully on to the bitter end. Cornet and clarionet strive for the mastery, the flutes tootle along in the rear, the violins screech and squeal, the horn brays with force and fury, and Old Colonial pounds at his drum as if he were driving piles. Not until the last notes of "God Save the Queen" have been duly murdered do we cease; then, breathless and exhausted, we row down river on our homeward way, rejoicing in the performance of a meritorious deed.
[Footnote 5: A species of Blatta, or cockroach, called by entomologists Polyzosteria Novae Zealandiae.]
OUR PIONEER FARM.
Of course, all farms are not the same, even in the North. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of similarity in the work that has to be got through at the outset. The modifications in it are various, consisting in the character of the land, the amount of capital available, the labour employed, and so forth. But, generally speaking, most settlers must go through pretty much what we did before they get the wilderness reclaimed into an orderly farm.
People who commence with plenty of capital have naturally a great advantage. They can employ more labourers, and get the first operations over more quickly. But, more than that, they are not hampered by the necessity of making a living as they go along. They can afford to wait until the farm is in thorough working order before they expect any returns from it.
Not many of this class have settled in the North. When a man has large capital, his chief idea is sheep or cattle. And he is not impressed with the notion of making a home, but with the desire to make a great pot. So, if he comes to New Zealand, he goes South as a general thing, and leases a vast run of natural pasturage. In ten or twenty years he has made his pile, and gives up farming altogether. Then he either goes home, or settles down in one of our cities.
We were circumstanced very differently from that. When we made up our minds to work for ourselves, instead of acting as labourers to others, we were not blessed with much capital. Our joint purse contained just enough, as we calculated, and it did not contain more. But our notion was to make ourselves a comfortable home, primarily, though, of course, we had our golden dreams as well.
The bulk of the land in the North Island belongs to the Maori tribes, who sell tracts of it to Government or private individuals occasionally. In the South Island all the waste land is the property of the Crown—a nice little estate of about the size of England and Wales. Most of the Kaipara district belonged to the Ngatewhatua tribe when we came on the scene; and the early settlers bought their stations from them.
We had our korero with the chiefs, and arranged to purchase a block, or section of a block rather, on the Pahi. We selected our location—from such a creek to such a creek, and back from the river as far as such and such a range. We offered ten shillings an acre for it, the then market-price. The chief said, "Kapai!" and so that was settled.
Then we got up the Government surveyor for the district, and to it we went with billhook and axe, theodolite and chain, fixing the boundaries and dimensions of our slice of forest. Said the surveyor, after plotting and planning and making a map, "There you are! Two thousand and twenty-one acres, two roods and a half!" "Right," said we; and proceeded to the next business.
A Land Court was held by the Crown official at Helensville. Thither proceed the Ngatewhatua chiefs, with the surveys and maps of the section we had chosen. They make out their claim to the land, according to established usage, and receive a Crown grant as a legal title. This is then properly transferred to us, in lieu of our cheque. Various documents are signed and registered, and we stand the proud possessors of so much soil and timber; while the Maoris make tracks straight to the hotel and store, with much rejoicing.
Not that we paid in full at the time. Such a simple arrangement would not have suited our pockets, any more than it would have suited the Maori idea of a bargain. A part of the land was paid for and bought outright, the rest was to be paid off in certain terms of years, or sooner, if we liked. Meanwhile, we were to pay interest on the sums remaining due, which was actually a sort of rent for the balance of the estate. As a concession on their side, the Maoris gave us the right of running cattle free over the unpaid-for acres. And as there were no fences, of course, this really meant that we might run our cattle over the whole country side, which was practically what we paid the interest or rent for. Then we entered into possession, and built the shanty. But observe what we had to do in the forthcoming years. We had to get a living, first. We had to pay the annual sum agreed on as a sort of rent, second. We had to provide for the purchase of implements, sundry accessories, and stock, third. Lastly, we had to lay by to meet the future large payments for the land, which would make us proprietors of the whole of it, and, of course, annul the annual rent.
Perhaps it will be better understood now why we live in a shanty, and why the furniture of it is so unique in quality and restricted in quantity. How we have got on so well is a marvel, and shows what hard work will do in this country. A thousand pounds would have bought our station outright. But we had not a thousand pounds among us, or anything like it; and we had to reserve money to live on for the first year, to buy our axes and spades and milk-pans, and to buy the nucleus of our future herds and flocks and droves. We have done all we had to do, and now we are beginning to see that our joint work during all these years will eventually produce for us homes and comfort.
It is a hard and difficult thing to make money without capital to start with. It is as hard a thing to do in the colonies as it is at home, though people at home are apt to think differently. And it is always the early years of toil that are the worst.
Money is like an apple-tree. At first it grows but slowly, and there is no fruit. Then there come little scanty crops, increasing year by year, until at length the tree attains maturity. Then there are full crops, and you realize a handsome profit on your planting.
Our station—or, as you may choose to term it, our estate, selection, place, farm, location, homestead, or run—may be reckoned a choice bit of land.
The soil is not all of one character, it seldom is so on any one farm in this country, but it is all good class. Most of it is a rich black humus, resting on clay and mountain limestone. In configuration it is of the roughest, like the country generally, being an abrupt succession of ranges, gullies, and basins, in every variety of form and size.
When we took possession, nearly every inch of the property was covered with what is termed light bush. It might have been a slice out of the New Forest. The light bush is just as dense a wood of small trees, twenty to fifty feet in height, shrubs, creepers and undergrowth, as can well be conceived of. Where the thicket is thinner the trees are larger, and the smaller they are the denser the covert. If you wish to journey through this light bush, where there is no semblance of a track, it will take you perhaps two hours to make a single mile, so thick is it. To ride through it is, of course, impossible, unless a track has been cut.
Two or three miles back from the river—at our back, or behind us, as we say—the heavy bush begins. This is the primeval forest: endless miles of enormous timber-trees, girthing ten feet, twenty feet, thirty feet, forty feet, and even more, and of startling height. People cannot make farms out of that; at least, not all at once. The timber is slowly encroached upon to feed the saw-mills. Then the land so denuded can be done something with. The stumps can be fired and left to rot, which they do in about twelve or fifteen years, or they can be stubbed up with infinite labour, or blown out with dynamite, the quickest and least expensive way.
We have not much big timber on our section. Here and there are groves of larger trees amidst the jungle, and most of this sort we shall leave standing, for it is not good to totally clear a large farm. Patches of bush are wanted for shade, for cover, and to keep up the supply of moisture. Settlers before us, who have inconsiderately made a clean sweep of everything, have found out their error, and are now planting out groves.
But when you get a slice out of miles and miles of pathless woods, and have to hew your future farm out of them, you are apt to forget the more distant future, and go at everything before you with axe and fire. You want to see grass-paddocks and plough-lands. Time enough to think of planting again, or of saving bits of bush.
Our first operation was to clear some twenty acres or so, as a primary clearing, wherein our shanty might be built, and a little grass provided to keep the milch-cows near home. We had two or three weeks chopping, then, in the height of the dry season, managed a successful burn of the fallen stuff, letting the fire run among the standing bush where it would, and which it would not to any great extent, as the undergrowth always keeps fresh on such rich soil. Thus we had a small clearing ready to be sown with grass-seed directly the rains should come. And then we were occupied with the erection of the shanty, as already described.
After that we had our first stockyard to set up. It is a simple enclosure, measuring a chain or two square; but had to be made of great strength, in view of the contingency of unruly mobs of charging cattle. To procure material we went six or eight miles off, to a creek that ran through heavy bush. There we felled certain giant puriri trees, cut them into lengths, and split them up with wedges into posts and rails. Puriri timber is terribly tough stuff to work. It is harder than oak, and very heavy, too, so that transporting it is serious toil. We groaned over this job, and spoilt numerous axes; but we did it.
Terrible work it was getting this material on to the ground. After we had finished cutting, and had split out all the posts and rails we wanted, it was comparatively easy work to punt the stuff into our own water. But then the carrying up from the landing-place, a quarter-mile or so, to the spot selected for the stockyard, was a labour indeed. It took six of us to lift one of the posts, so solid were they, and so heavy the timber. Old Colonial said—
"We are giving over work, and taking to humping."
This is a bit of pleasantry that only those who have tried it can understand, for humping timber is one of the most undesirable occupations possible; as many a galled shoulder and aching back could testify.
Puriri timber is the strongest and most durable of any in the country. We knew that kauri would give us less work, but the result would not be so lasting or satisfactory. Therefore, we elected to go in for puriri.
The posts stand about eight feet above ground, and are sunk some three or four into it. Their average thickness will be from nine inches to a foot. They carry five rails almost as substantial as the posts, both being of roughly split timber. The rails are fixed into holes, bored and wedged in the posts. Slip-panels form an entrance. Such was our first stockyard—a substantial, thoroughly secure, and cattle-proof enclosure. And it is as good now as it was eight years ago. For a long time it served all our needs; but, subsequently, we have put up other yards, a milking-shed with bails, sheep-pens and hog-pens, all constructed of rough material, cut by ourselves in the bush.
Having now got our habitation and our stockyard completed, and it being well on in the wet season, with the newly-sown grass springing green over the charred surface of the clearing, obviously it was time to introduce stock. Our agent in Auckland bought for us a dozen good, young cows and a bull, which were despatched to us on a small schooner. She brought them up the river; and then they were dumped into the water, and swum ashore. The whole lot cost us about a hundred pounds, freight and other charges included, the cows being four or five pounds apiece, and the bull forty, he being a well-bred shorthorn from the Napier herd.
The cows were belled, and the whole little herd turned loose in the bush. But the cows were tame, some of them being in milk, and we had not much trouble in keeping them near home. The bull would not wander far from the cows, and we drove them up and yarded them, with a good feed of fresh koraka, every now and then. Besides the cattle we introduced some pigs, fowls, and a dog or two. Before long we were milking daily, and beginning to turn out butter and cheese; for the cows throve on the plenteous feed in the bush.
Although the wet season is not the usual time for felling bush, yet we went to work at that at once. We were anxious to get as much grass as we could the first year, so that we might get some sheep on it. For, though cattle find plenty of feed in the bush—leafage, and shoots of trees—sheep must be provided with grass, and there is no grass suitable for pasturage indigenous to Northern New Zealand. Accordingly, we worked steadily at bush-falling right along to the end of the succeeding summer; and when the next wet season came round again, we were able to contemplate a hundred and forty acres sown down with grass.
Axe-work was our principal daily toil, and it is a somewhat different thing as practised here, to what the English woodman has to do. A bushman's work is severe and energetic, altogether in contrast with the lazy stop-and-rest methods of too many labourers at home. It is a fierce but steady and continuous onslaught upon the woods. Everything must fall before the axe, and everything does fall. Once I was watching the prostration of a Worcestershire oak. It was a tree that might have had some twelve feet of girth. Three men and a boy were employed at it, armed with ropes and pulleys, wedges, saws, and all sorts of implements, besides axes; and it was two days and a half before they got the tree to earth. If a single bushman could not have knocked that tree over before dinner-time, he would not have been worth wages in this country; I am sure of that.
Of course, it is an understood thing that England cannot turn out an axe. If you want an axe that is really good for anything, you must go to America for it. Here, in the bush, all our tools come from the land of the Stars and Stripes. Why it should be so ask English cutlers. English tools and cutlery of all sorts cannot find a sale here; for bitter experience has taught us what inferior and unreliable goods they are. American things never fail us. We do not buy them because they are cheaper, but because they are better. They are exactly what we want, and of sterling quality.
Now, Sheffield can turn out the best hardware in the world, no one can deny that. Then, why do we not get some of it out here? Some settlers, who have furnished themselves in Sheffield itself, can show tools of finer make than the American ones. But all the cutlery that we see anything of in the stores, if it be English, is thoroughly worthless. Why will English traders continue to suppose that any rubbish is good enough for the colonies? We are afraid to buy English implements and tools out here; and every experienced colonist prefers to trust America. Our patriotism is humiliated, but we cannot afford to be cheated. Surely, trade interests must suffer in the long run, by the pertinacity with which English traders send inferior goods to the colonies.
In felling bush, or "falling" it, as we say here, advantage is taken of the lay of the land. To make the burn which is to follow a good one, the stuff must all lie in the same direction. The tops of the felled trees should point downhill as much as possible. The trees are gashed at about three feet from the ground. This saves the bushman's back, obviating the necessity of his stooping, and, moreover, allows him to get through more work. Also, in after years, when the stumps are rotten, they are more easily pulled out of the ground. By a simple disposition of the direction in which the gashes are cut, the bushman is able to bring down his tree to whichever side he wishes. A bill-hook, or slasher, supplements the axe, for the purpose of clearing all the undergrowth. Nothing is left standing above waist-height.
The usual time for bush-falling is the dry season, that is to say, from August till March, in which last month the burn is usually accomplished. By that time the fallen stuff has been pretty well dried in the summer sun, and will burn clean. Fires are started along the bottoms on days when the wind is favourable. Some experience is needful to ensure a good burn. Should the burn be a bad one, after work is much increased, and wages consequently spoilt.
After the burn comes the logging, that is, the collection into heaps of such debris as lies about unburnt, and the final burning of these heaps. During April and May the rains begin; and then grass seed is sown broadcast over the charred expanse. It soon sprouts up, and in a couple of months there will begin to be some pasturage. Before next season a good strong turf ought to have formed among the stumps. Every farmer has his own particular ideas as to the kinds of seed to use. We used a mixture of poa pratensis, timothy, and Dutch clover, and have abundant reason to be satisfied with the result.
When bush-falling is performed by hired labour, it usually goes by contract. The bushman agrees to fall, fire, and log a specified tract, at a fixed price per acre. Such bush as ours would go at thirty shillings to three pounds an acre, according to the size of the trees on the average. A bushman reckons to earn five shillings a day, taking one day with another, so he ought to knock down an acre of stuff in from five to ten days. Thirty or forty acres represent one man's work for the season.
A good deal of judgment is required in making these contracts. Where there is a great deal of supple-jack, or tawhera scrub, the work may get on as slowly as if the trees were comparatively large. And there is a good deal of luck in the burn, for if it be a bad one there may be weeks of logging afterwards. Sometimes, at the end of the season, a bushman may find that his contract has not paid him much more than the worth of his tucker during the time; or, on the other hand, he may find he has made ten shillings a day clear out.
New-chums often find a job of bush-falling is the first thing they can get hold of, and a bitter apprenticeship it is. Their aching backs and blistered hands convey a very real notion of what hard work and manual labour means. And this goes wearily on day after day, while, very likely, they find they are not earning a shilling a day, do all they may. The ordinary English agricultural labourer, transplanted here, does not seem to do better at this work at the start than the "young gentleman." His class take a lot of teaching, and anything new appears to be a tremendous difficulty to them. Moreover, they have to learn the meaning of an Antipodean ganger's frequent cry, "Double up, there! Double up!" And they do not like to work so hard that every now and then a stop must be made to wring out the dripping shirt. Worst of all, there is seldom any beer in the bush!
After we had got some grass clearings, the next thing to do was to fence them in. A very necessary thing that; first, to keep the sheep in—and, second, to keep the wild pigs out. Two most important reasons, besides other lesser ones.
Fencing of many kinds has been tried in the colony, the question of relative cost under different circumstances mainly influencing settlers in their choice. I need only mention four varieties as being general in the North. They are post-and-rail, wire, wattle, and stake.
The first is undoubtedly the best of any, but the labour of cutting, splitting, getting on the ground, and setting up is so great, that the cost of such a fence is very heavy. It may cost two to five pounds a chain, or more; but it should require no repairs for ten or twelve years, and is proof against cattle, sheep, or pigs. The materials, whether kauri, totara, or other timber, is much the same as that we used for our stockyard, only, of course, it is not needed anything like so strong. But it is the same sort of rough stuff, procured in the same way.
As to wire fences, they are useful enough for keeping sheep in, and come in well for inner fences, being sufficiently cheap and easily set up. But they will not keep out wild pigs, and cattle, accustomed to force their way through the thickets of the bush, mistake wire fences for mere supple-jack, and walk straight through them. Wattles interlaced on stakes make first-rate protection, but they can only be used with economy when the supply of them is close handy.
The fence most commonly seen on new farms, and that may fairly be termed the pioneer's mainstay, is a simple one of stakes. This is the kind we went in for, as we had the material for it in any quantity upon our own land.
The stakes are the trunks of young trees, either whole or split. They are about four inches diameter at the thickest end, and are set up at three or four inches apart. The stakes are connected by one or more battens nailed along them, or by wires. They are cut eight or nine feet in length, so as to allow of a good six feet above ground when set up. Red, black, and white birch are used, also red and white ti-tree, the last variety being most esteemed, as it is more durable. A stake-fence ought to be proof against both pigs and cattle, and is reckoned to be good for seven years; if of white ti-tree it will last ten or twelve years. It will cost, in labour, from eight shillings a chain and upwards, according to the distance the cut stakes have to be moved.
Our work in fencing was as follows. The first clearing we set about enclosing was on the side of a range, and included forty or fifty acres. If this were a square there would be some eighty chains or a mile of fencing required to enclose it. Practically, there were nearer a hundred chains of boundary. Each chain required from a hundred to a hundred and thirty stakes. This is about the number that one of us could cut in the day, and bring out of the adjoining bush on to the line. For we got our material in the standing bush close to the clearing, working along the edge of the woods, and seldom having to go further than five chains away from the edge of the clearing to find suitable trees.
Two or three men were engaged in pointing the stakes, and dumping and malleting them into the ground. Sometimes they would put up four or five chains in the day, sometimes only one; it depended on the nature of the ground. When the weather was wet, and the ground soft, the work was naturally lighter. After the stakes were set up we had to batten them together. We bought several boatloads of battens—rough outside boards split up, and the like—for next to nothing, at the Wairoa saw-mills, and got them down to our place. Then we had to hump them up to the ground; no light work, for a load had to be carried often nearly a mile uphill. We purchased a keg or two of nails, and finally fixed up the fence.
We were proud of our clearings when they were new, and we are proud of them still. But they would look strange sort of paddocks to an English farmer's eye. The ground is all hills and hollows, lying on the sides of ranges, or stretching across the gullies. Amidst the grass is a dazzling perspective of black and white stumps, looking like a crop of tombstones, seen endways; and round the whole careers, uphill and down dale, the rough, barbarous, uncouth-looking stake fence. Never mind! Off that gaunt and unseemly tract has come many a good bale of wool, many a fair keg of butter, or portly cheese. What have we to do with trim appearances?
In the course of fencing operations, the Little'un developed a wonderful aptitude for the manufacture of gates. Whether he had learnt the whole art of carpentry from his practice upon a certain chair, elsewhere described, I do not know; but his gates are a marvel of ingenuity, and really very capital contrivances. Only, he is so vain of his performance, that he wishes to put a gate about every hundred yards. A constant warfare is waged upon this point, between him and Old Colonial, who does not seem to approve of gates at all.
In subsequent years we have done something towards making live-fences. We have dug ditches and banks within some of the fences, planting them with thorn, acacia, Vermont damson, Osage orange, and other hedge material. We have now some very good and sightly hedges. Luckily, we never tried whins, or furze, as here called. This is a vile thing. It makes a splendid hedge, but it spreads across the clearing and ruins the grass; and it is the worst of weeds to eradicate.
Whins and thistles are the only bad things that Bonnie Scotland has sent out here. They, and sweetbriar, are given to spreading wherever they go. In some localities in the North there are clearings submerged under whins or sweetbriar, and there are forests of thistles, which march onward and devour all before them. Whins you cannot clear, unless by toil inadequate to the present value of land. But thistles can be effectually burnt, I believe. At any rate, they die out after a term of years, and, it is said, leave the land sweet and clean. So they are, perhaps, not an unmixed curse.
We think that thorn makes the best hedge. But there are objections to it. It is not easily or quickly reared, and it straggles on light soils; moreover, it is always needing attention. We have no time to spare for clipping and laying and all that sort of thing. Labour has to be severely economized on pioneer farms.
Of course, all the time these things were proceeding, we were simultaneously busied with other matters. Chiefly were we providing for our own immediate sustenance. The pigs were bred and well looked after, fattened, butchered, made into pork, or cured. Poultry was also carefully regarded, especially the turkeys, which are so valuable in keeping down crickets, and make such an important addition to the commissariat. Then there was the garden.
We have several gardens at present, as we follow the custom of enclosing any particularly choice bit of land, and using it for our next year's crop of potatoes, kumera, or maize. Some of these enclosures are afterwards turned into the general grass, or are converted into orchards, and so on.
The first garden we made was set apart for the purpose directly after the shanty was finished, and certain of our party were engaged exclusively upon it for the time being. It comprehended two or three acres on the shoulder of a low range, and was once the site of a Maori kainga, or village. Hence, the scrub that covered it was not of large growth, while the soil is exceptionally loose and rich, consisting of black mould largely intermixed with shells. This space we cleared and fenced in. Then we went to work with spade and pickaxe and mattock.
We cut drains through the garden, and laid it off into sections. These were planted with potatoes, kumera, melons, pumpkins, onions, and maize. Digging was, of course, a hard job, the ground being full of roots. We threw out these as we dug, or left them; it does not matter much, for as long as we just covered the seeds anyhow, the rest was of small concern. After a crop or two the ground gets into better condition, and what we put in thrives just as well among the stumps as not.
Round the sides of the garden we planted peach-stones, which have now developed into an avenue of fine trees. We also set cuttings of fig-trees, apples, pears, loquats, and oranges, obtained from some neighbour.
Thus, before we had been a year on the land, we had gone a good way towards providing the bulk of our food-supply for the future. We have since seldom had to buy anything but our flour, tea, sugar, salt and tobacco, so far as important and absolutely needful items are concerned.
And now that I have recorded the manner of our start, I may go on to speak of things as they are, seven or eight years later.
OUR PIONEER FARM.
We have a large farm, and a great deal of work to get through, but then there are eight or nine of us to share in the first and to do the latter; yet we find that we never have time to do all that we ought to do, and all that we want to do. Every year brings with it an increasing amount of labour, just to keep things going as they are, consequently the time for enlarging the farm becomes more and more limited. Thus it is, that though we cleared and grassed a hundred and forty acres in our first year, yet we have now only five or six hundred acres of grass in our eighth.
Hampered as we were by the lack of capital, and by the necessity of scraping and pinching to meet those payments spoken of, it is little wonder that we seem as poor and pauperized as we were at the commencement. But we are by no means really so. We are actually in very good circumstances. Our farm is immensely increased in value, and is now beginning to pay substantially. Another year will see the sum completed, which will close the purchase of the land. After that, we shall have means to make outlays of sundry kinds, be able to build a fine house, go in for marriage. Who knows what else?
The grass on our clearings is rich and abundant, and, owing to the nature of the soil, keeps fresh and green all through the dry season, when other districts are crying out against the drought. In spite of the standing stumps, the rough ground, and the mere surface-sowing, our grass will carry four sheep per acre all the year round; some of it more. It is not all fenced in—that would be too much to expect—but most of it is; and what is not gives the milch cows plenty of feed, and so keeps them from wandering off. The clearings are not all in one piece. They are divided off into paddocks, and there is a good deal of standing bush among them, some of which will eventually come down, and some of which will be left.
We have now seven or eight hundred head of sheep. We had to buy our original store flock on credit, but the increase and wool has enabled us to pay that off long since. Similarly, grass-seed, some stock, and other things were bought on credit, which has since been liquidated. What we have is our own. We have had years of incessant toil, the hardest possible work, with plenty of food, but little comfort and no holidays to speak of. Two or three years more of it, and then we shall be in a condition to really enjoy the prosperity we have laboured for.
Except at shearing and lambing seasons, our Lincolns and Leicesters give us but little trouble. We did try the merino breed, but they broke through the fence and ran away into the bush, where we occasionally see traces of them, and have once or twice caught one and turned it into mutton. Shearing is a great business, but we are all accomplished hands at it now, and our bales are larger every year as the flock increases. Wool is ready money here, being an article that can always be negotiated at once with the Auckland dealers. Our wool is reckoned of even better quality than that grown on the great sheepwalks of Canterbury and Otago.
During a great part of the year we are milking ten to twenty cows daily, and, in spite of the seeming inefficiency of our dairy arrangements, we send a goodly store of butter and cheese to the township, whence it goes to Auckland and elsewhere. We fatten pigs, too, on skim-milk, maize, pumpkins, and peaches grown by ourselves. A score or two are usually to be seen on the clearings round the shanty. We are able butchers and curers; and Old Colonial excels in the manufacture of brawn, sausages, collared head, and the like. Most of the pig-meat is consumed by ourselves. In one form or other it is our staple food. But occasionally we sell a barrel of pork, or some flitches and hams, to such local buyers as the bushmen employed at the saw-mills.
Dandy Jack talks of introducing Angora goats. I do not know exactly why, but he appears to think the project a good one. He has long ago given up mere coaching. In fact, people began to have doubts about entrusting themselves to his driving, though I hesitate to record such a disagreeable matter. He joined our society some years ago, though he is not always with us, gravitating invariably towards all the races, horse and cattle fairs of the country. But he has set up as a horse breeder and trainer, keeping his stud on our clearings, and thus adding another industry to the various others of our pioneer farm. This is a good thing for us, as Jack's horses come in very usefully sometimes, for carrying or dragging purposes.
Our largest source of income just at present is the herd. First there is the dairy business, which I have already spoken of. The milch cows keep on the clearings, or near to them, and soon get tame enough to come up when called. They are brought to the bails morning and evening, fastened up, and given a feed of koraka. All cattle are very fond of the leaves of the koraka-tree, and it is used to entice them with when that is required. Of course, it will be understood that, as there is no cold winter here, we do not require to house our cattle at any season, nor do we need to provide them with hay or root food. They find their own living all the year round, either in the bush or on the clearings, and the most we do is to give them maize-stalks when we have some.
The bulk of the herd, numbering now upwards of two hundred head, runs free in the bush. There is no native grass, as I have before mentioned, and the feed is tree leafage. This suits the cattle, and they fatten well upon it, though not turning out very large beasts. But the pasture-fed cattle of the South are not in prime condition for market during the dry-season. Our bush-raised beasts are, and this gives us a pull.
The best part of one man's time is always taken up with stock duty. To keep the cattle from becoming unmanageably wild, and from getting too far away, they must be constantly driven up to the yards, and accustomed to discipline. It is our practice to give every beast a night in the yard at least once in six weeks. And it is also essentially necessary to keep an eye on calving cows, for if the calf is not brought up at once, branded, and so forth, it will be sure to turn out wild and a rusher, and then it would have to be shot at once, to prevent its infecting other beasts.
Of course, we are all stockmen more or less; but Old Colonial and the Saint are the chief hands at this work. The latter gentleman did not receive his appellation, as might be supposed, from any relations which his character bore to it. He was intended for the Church at one time; but, perhaps, the Church is to be congratulated in that it did not receive him. There is nothing mild or milk-and-watery about our Saint, though he has his own peculiar moral code, and is strictly scrupulous in its observance.
The Saint is the most elaborate swearer I ever heard. That is, when he is driving cattle. At other times he most conscientiously refrains from everything but abstract rectitude of speech. He says that you cannot drive cattle without swearing; that they understand you so far, and never think you are in earnest till they hear an oath. Whip and dogs and roaring will not do without some good hearty swearing, too. The Saint says so, and he ought to know. He declares that he could never bring up cattle unless he swore at them. I think I have heard something similar from other drovers. Perhaps some naturalist will be good enough to explain this extraordinary characteristic of cattle.
The cattle associate themselves into mobs. Each such mob is headed by an old bell-cow, sometimes by two or three. Bulls, of which we have now two, are sometimes with one mob and sometimes with another. Individual beasts, belonging to neighbours of ours, are to be found running with certain mobs belonging to us, and the reverse is also the case. We have to look after the strange beasts with our own, and our neighbours do the same by us. At musters, or when drafting for market, we make the necessary exchanges. But we have only two neighbours on this side the river who run cattle in the bush; one lives six miles off, and the other fifteen.
We keep a stock-book, in which every beast is entered. Each cow receives a name when she becomes a mother, and her offspring are known by numbers. Steers are never named. They have only four years of it, being sent off to market at the end of that time. Then a line is drawn through the "Beauty's third," or "Rosebud's fourth," which has designated their individuality in the stock-book; and the price they have fetched is entered opposite. The various mobs are known by the names of the old cows that lead them. Thus, we speak of "White Star's mob," or "Redspot's mob."
It is the stockman's duty to know each individual beast, and also to know the members that compose each mob. He has to go out with the dogs almost every day to hunt up some mob or other. Our bush is much too dense to admit of riding, except along certain narrow tracks, partly natural and partly cut with the axe, which serve as bridle-roads, and keep open communication with distant settlements or settlers' places. So the member of our fraternity who happens to be stockman has to go cattle-hunting afoot.
Cattle-hunting, as we term this employment, has a certain charm and air of sporting about it; but it is by no means light work, especially in warm weather. The stockman has to travel through pathless woods all the time, and has an area of twenty to thirty miles round our place in which to search for his cattle. He takes some fixed route to start with, making for some distant locality, where experience has taught him such and such a mob are likely to be feeding. On his way he takes note of any cattle he may come across, marks the gullies they are in, and thus, having knowledge of the ways of cattle, is able to guess within a mile or two where those mobs are likely to be found when wanted.
Moreover, a good stockman gets to be experienced in tracking. He reads "sign" in every broken bough or trampled water-hole, and this guides him in finding the mob he wants. We know the bush around us pretty well by this time, about as well, in fact, as a cabman knows the streets of London. It is all mapped out in our minds, and we talk of various spots by name, either their Maori names, if they have such, or fancy titles we have given them.
Of course, the dogs are our main reliance, though, even without them, such able hands as Old Colonial and the Saint can get on well enough. But clever, well-trained cattle-dogs are a treasure beyond price in the bush; and this we know, taking great pains with our colleys. The cattle lie very close in the dense thickets of foliage, and hide themselves from sight. One may run slap into a beast before it will move. But the dogs traverse the gullies on the stockman's flanks, and start up any cattle that may be in them. Here is where the value of the dogs consists, for, if they are not well-trained, they may run after wild pigs, or rats, or kiwis, and give a lot of trouble.
Sometimes, after tracking the forest for many a weary mile, the stockman will have to return without finding the mob he wanted. Occasionally he will have to camp out, not because of losing himself—that seldom happens to us now—but because of the distance he is from home. So a stockman rarely goes out without three requisites about him—food, matches, and tobacco. Except in wet weather, camping out is no particular hardship to us. One can always make oneself comfortable enough in the bush, if one has those three articles, that are the bushman's "never-be-withouts."
When the cattle are found, belonging to a mob that the stockman thinks proper to drive home, comes some very heavy and exciting work. We call our beasts tame, and so they are in a sense; still, compared to the gentle creatures one sees on English meadows, they are scarcely to be so characterized.
At one time a mob will head for home, and go straight and quietly enough, needing only the dogs at their heels to keep them in the right direction. At another time the mob will scatter, and the members of it prove very unruly. They will charge and rush in every direction but the right one, and the very devil seems to be in the beasts. Scrambling up steep ranges, dashing down precipitous ravines, and always forcing a passage through dense undergrowth and jungle, plunging through marsh and bog, chasing to right and to left, it is a wonder how dogs and men get through the work they do. And often there are miles and miles of this before the welcome clearing comes in view.
What is the condition of a stockman after he has brought up his mob and yarded it for the night? He has walked and run and scrambled, perhaps, twenty or thirty miles during the day, and that not over a plain road, but through the rough and hilly forest. He is totally tired out and exhausted. He is dripping with sweat, caked with mud from head to foot, his shirt torn to rags, his skin scratched all over, and very likely some nasty bruises from tumbles. He has hardly energy enough left to wash himself. Supper does not revive him, though he stows away an appallingly large one. And then he stretches himself in his bunk and is happy. Only, when morning comes again, he awakes stiff and sore. But, no matter for that, inexorable duty claims him for the same toil. And so wags our daily life—hard, unremitting, unromantic labour, day after day, year after year. Still we say it is a glorious life, and we believe what we say. Anyhow, it is better than being chained to a desk, or growing purblind "poring over miserable books."
If you can only realize what cattle-hunting means, the shouting and roaring after them and the dogs, the loss of temper that fatigue induces, and the consequent aggravation when beasts are unruly, perhaps you will forgive the Saint for his "exuberant verbosity" in relation to cattle. Even a real saint might swear under the circumstances, and be held excused by his peers in the celestial hierarchy.
Our four-year-old steers do not show very large, considered from English farmers' points of view. Fifteen or sixteen hundred lbs. is about the maximum of our fat beasts. But the beef is of first-rate quality; and as bush-fed beasts are in good condition at the end of the dry season, when pasture-raised cattle are poor, we do as well by them as could be desired. The bush is always cool and fresh and moist, even when all the grass is withered and brown on the pastures; and this is one of the reasons why we prefer bush-land to open-land for pioneer farming.
There is a standing controversy waged among settlers, as to whether it is better to take up such land as ours or to go in for a tract of open fern-land. On open lands you can easily clear the ground, and, though it will not, as a rule, yield grass for mere surface-sowing, yet the plough can be put into it within a year or two. But the cost of fencing it is much higher; and the open-land farmer must wait longer for returns such as will keep him. He has no bush-feed for cattle as we have, and it is cattle that the pioneer relies on for his support at first. It is eight or twelve years before the bush-farmer gets a chance of ploughing; but then his cattle keep him going from the outset. Also, our burnt clearings will yield us good grass for surface-sowing, which will feed sheep until the stumps have rotted and the plough can be used. The sum of it is that open-lands will pay a man with good capital quicker, while bush-lands are the only possible thing for such poorer folk as ourselves.
We send steers to Auckland market two or three times a year. Once or twice we have driven them overland, a distance of eighty miles or so by the map. This is not so far, certainly; but then there are no proper roads, and most of the way lies through thick bush. There is a faint apology for a bridle-track through the forest, not very easy to find, which strikes the Great North Road about twenty miles from here. And this same Great North Road, in spite of a pretentious title, and also in spite of being marked in the maps with a heavy black line, as though it were a highway of the Watling Street description, is just a mere bridle-track, too, hardly discoverable at all for the greater portion of its length.
Two or three of us ride along these tracks with the cattle. One or two have to be most of the time on foot, while the third leads their horses. They are plunging through the otherwise impenetrable scrub after dogs and cattle, which last will not keep the line. The whole journey takes about a week. We camp down at night, and half the next day is taken up with hunting for some of the beasts that have strayed. Usually one or two are lost altogether before Auckland is reached.
This sort of thing hardly pays, unless a considerable number of beasts have to be sent at once; and then the steers have lost condition before they can be got to market. I have had some experience of this cattle-driving work; and of all the aggravating jobs I know, it certainly is the very worst.
We usually send up our fat steers in batches of a dozen or so at a time, and prefer now to have them conveyed by water. When we have arranged to do so, there is a grand muster of the herd. Mob after mob is brought up and enclosed in the fenced clearings, until we have collected together all we deem necessary.
Then comes the job of drafting out the steers selected for market. This is a work of difficulty. All hands are required to achieve it, and often several neighbours will come over to assist. A small paddock, or a stockyard, opens out of the larger one wherein the herd is assembled. The slip-panels between are guarded by four men. Others on horseback, armed with the formidable loud-cracking stock-whips, drive the cattle slowly towards the gate. Then comes the tug of war. Each man uses all his endeavours to drive the chosen steers through the gate, while the rest are excluded.
A regular battle is fought over every steer; for the guardians of the gate often fail in preventing other beasts from getting through as well, as they will not separate. Then the driving is renewed from the other side. The cattle get wild and furious, charging and rushing at everything and everybody, and the men on foot have to look out for themselves very warily. The racket and row make up an indescribable din.
As each four-year-old is finally drafted out, it is driven into a separate yard, until all are secured there. Then the bulk of the herd are turned loose into the bush again. By-and-by, perhaps a day or two later, comes the job of shipping the steers. In order to effect this they are transferred to a stockyard on the beach.
We have chartered a sea-going cutter, and she lies off in the river, possibly two or three hundred yards from the beach. A rope connects her with the beach; and the noosed end of this is passed over the horns of one of the steers in the yard. Then comes a tussle to get that particular beast out of the yard while the others shall be kept in. Often, in spite of the dreaded stockwhips, one of the guardians of the slip-panels gets knocked over, and then away goes the mob of terrified beasts, tearing along the beach, and giving no end of trouble to get them back again. Once, I remember, a heavy steer bounded clean over the eight-foot fence of the stockyard, and got away.
When the roped animal is got out on the beach, a ring of men drives him down to the water, the people on board the cutter hauling at the rope meanwhile. By this means he is easily got alongside of her, when once he is off his legs and swimming. Then a sling is passed under his belly, tackle is affixed, and, with a "Yeo, heave ho!" he is lifted on board and deposited in the hold. Then the process begins afresh until all the batch is shipped.
The cutter sails down the river and out through the Heads into the open sea. She then coasts down and enters the Manukau Harbour, going up to Onehunga to unload. Onehunga is only six miles from Auckland, of which it is practically a part, being the port of the city on the west coast. It is connected with Auckland by railway and macadamized carriage-road.
In Auckland market fat cattle sell at twenty to thirty shillings per hundred lbs., sometimes even a little more. Our beasts usually fetch us ten or twelve pounds apiece, after deducting freightage, and our agent's charges for receiving and selling them. This year, our herd of two hundred head yielded us three batches of four-year-old fat steers, each batch containing about a dozen head.
When cattle breed wild in the bush they may be a source of considerable annoyance and loss. This does not matter in remoter districts, such as the recesses of the Hokianga forests. Wild cattle abound there, possibly in hundreds; and the Maoris make a good thing by hunting them for their hides. There are no settlers' cattle running in the bush there; but where there are, wild cattle would make them as wild as themselves, and would spoil a herd in no time. When they appear in a district, cattle-farmers have to combine to hunt them down and extirpate them.
Once there were some wild cattle in the bush between Te Pahi and Paparoa, on the opposite side of our river. The settlers of Paparoa were hunting them down, and we were warned to look out, for fear the beasts should take to the water. They did do so, and a whole mob of them tried to swim over to our side.
Fortunately we were on the look-out. At once a party took to the boats, while others watched along the shore. We were in a great funk about the matter, for if the wild bulls got over to our side it might mean almost ruin for us. So we charged gallantly at them in the water, and strove to head them back to the other side, where the Paparoa men were waiting for them.
Such guns as we had were brought out, but they were little good, not being rifled, and we had no ball cartridge. Dandy Jack performed prodigies of valour with an old harpoon; and O'Gaygun used his axe with great success. Altogether, the excitement was great and the sport good. One bull overturned a boat, as it rowed alongside him; but the Fiend, who was in it, adroitly clambered on to the animal's back as it swam, and, with great difficulty, managed to open its throat with his knife. Seven or eight were killed in the water. Even the despised new-chums' pistols were brought into use, and in this emergency they proved really valuable. The beasts that effected the crossing were slaughtered on the beach; and altogether we killed some eighteen or twenty. We prevented them thus from getting into our bush, so saving our own herd from contamination. This has been our only experience of the kind in this district, luckily.
There was an incident that happened once, in connection with cattle, of rather an unusual sort. So much so, in fact, that most people to whom we have at times spoken of it have doubted our veracity. I suppose it will add but little weight to the story if I premise it with the assertion that it is simple truth. Nevertheless, it is actual fact, believe it or not who list.
There was a grand assemblage at the station of a friend and neighbour of ours, on one of the Kaipara rivers. He had been running a large herd, over a thousand head of cattle, and was now going to dispose of the greater number. This was because the feed for them was getting short in his immediate neighbourhood; and because his land was now becoming ready for sheep and the plough.
Nearly all the men in the district had been asked to come and assist at the mustering, drafting, and so on, of the herd. It was a gathering of the kind known in America as a "bee." And as a bee usually winds up with festivity, feasting, dancing, and the like, such femininities as the district possessed were brought over by their respective husbands or male relatives. While we busied ourselves with the cattle in the yard and on the run, the ladies were occupied with industries peculiar to themselves indoors, giving the mistress of the house the benefit of a sewing, scandal, and cooking bee, probably.
We had been all day hard at work, and had pretty well got through all there was to do. Most of the cattle had been drafted into yards, had been branded or handled as required, and the work was nearly complete. Towards sundown we came to be most of us assembled about one of the yards.
This was a stockyard, or paddock, of about two acres in extent, and within it an obstinate young bull remained solus, holding his own against us. It was necessary, for purposes which need not be specified, that the beast should be thrown and tied down. We usually accomplish the overthrow of big beasts by noosing their legs, and so tripping them up; but this bull was far too wary to let any one get near him, and was wild and vicious, moreover. Several of us had been fruitlessly trying, for an hour or more, to do something with him, and our host was now saying the beast had better be shot out of hand; but we had spent so much time over him already that we did not like to give in, and resolved we would throw him anyhow. None of us could stay inside the fence, so fierce were the rushes of the bull, and he was too cunning to let himself be caught by coming near the rails.
As man after man concluded his other tasks, and came up to assist, our perplexity seemed to increase. Various plans were discussed, and put in operation, but the bull baffled them all. There was beginning to be a good deal of ill-temper and swearing among us.
And now Dandy Jack appeared on the scene. He had not been with us during the day, having just rowed over from somewhere else. Of course he had gravitated towards the house when he arrived, and had been sunning himself in the ladies' smiles. Now he was strolling out to have a pipe, and to see what we were about.
Tired, ill-tempered, and covered with muck as we all were, there was a tendency among us to resent this late arrival of Master Dandy Jack's; and this feeling, you may be sure, was not lessened by a contemplation of the extravagant cleanliness and daintiness of apparel that, as usual, pervaded this spruce lady-killer's outward man.
He was hailed with a volley of sarcasm and personalities, amid which he stood, hands in pockets and pipe in mouth, placidly surveying us and the situation. At length, when a pause in the tempest of words gave him an opportunity of speaking, he said, in his softest and most delicate tones—
"I see before me a number of gentlemen with whom I have the honour to be more or less acquainted. They are all hot, dirty, and disagreeable. I also see a stockyard, and within it four quarters of fresh beef, likewise hot, dirty, and disagreeable. There would seem to be a difficulty somewhere. Can I assist in removing it?"
He was answered by a burly giant of a bushman, a Wairoa man, who had scant knowledge of our dandy.
"P'raps you'll be so blanked polite as to show us how to capsize that blanked beast," he said, adding with bitter irony, "if it ain't too much to ask from such a blanked, pretty, drawing-room ornament!"
"Oh, certainly! with all the pleasure in life!" responded Dandy Jack urbanely. "Will you kindly keep my pipe alight for a minute?"
Then, to everybody's amazement, he vaulted over the fence and approached the bull. Instantly that animal saw him, down went his head, of course, and up went his tail, as he charged upon the sauntering figure. But Jack dodged the rush with the nimbleness of a practised picador; and the bull crashed against the fence. Again and again the same performance was repeated, while we all watched round the fence, calling to Jack at intervals to come out of his dangerous situation. He only nodded carelessly, and continued to saunter about as if no bull was near him.
Presently, the bull stood stock-still, then commenced pawing the ground, tossing his head and tail, bellowing, and eyeing Jack, who was leisurely moving towards him right in front. He had apparently grown tired of charging this figure that always eluded him, and was uncertain what to do next. So Dandy Jack walked on till he was within a yard or two of the bull's nose. Then the beast thought it was time to do something, and concluded to try the effect of one more rush.