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Guest post ‘Droving days’ (by my late father)

If you have read my last post you will know I talked about the importance of recording your own corner of history, writing down what you’ve done for those that come after you, be they kids, friends, family, whatever. I talked about how my Dad only ever wrote one small snippet about his life before we were born. He wrote this a few years ago and I’ve decided to share it with you. This piece is written by my Dad. He left school at 14 to go out to work, so was no scholar nor student of English, my Dad was a man of the land and our family are descended from Pioneers. So here is a small glimpse into where I come from which I am very proud of. This is my Dad talking a bit about when he was young. I wish he had written more. I hope you will agree this is a fascinating insight into Rural New Zealand, not all that long ago really.

‘Droving Days’

At the end of the war Mum and Dad heeded the call “to go north young man” and through the “Man Power” scheme accepted a job up North involving driving the Pipiwai bus from a little known place called Kaikou the 30 miles into Whangarei. Childhood memories from Opotiki included trips around town on the bike carrier behind Mum, getting my big toe severely mangled in the spokes, getting dragged behind Uncle Lin’s car as he drove away from granny’s house where we lived while dad was away in the war.

Before going into the army Dad had been a drover and I have memories of rides on his horse up in front on the saddle although I must have been only 2 or 3: Most special through are the memories of Clark my older brother and I playing around Uncles Les’s trucks, marvellous old Macks, Internationals, Whites and Reo’s. The sheep smells mingled with the dust from trips through the Waioweka Gorge to Gisborne and up to the East Cape were just the beginning of a growing fascination with animals and farming.

Dad’s droving life had started as a 13 year old with his own horse and dogs one of his sisters told me many years later at a family funeral. Story telling was much more prevalent back then so our childhood days at Kaikou in the old corrugated iron Maori shack were often filled with Dad’s stories of his youth back in the Bay of Plenty. How as a very homesick 15 year old in his first shepherding job, his dogs would start howling and he’d be bawling his eyes out in his little whare. (which is a very basic shelter out in the back blocks)  Later on back droving before the war, stories like the time they had a mob of wild East Coast cattle yarded for the night at Matata where the railhead was, only for the train to put in an unscheduled and extremely unwelcome appearance in the middle of the night. This great huffing, puffing noisy beast was of course far too much for these outback cattle so away they went heading for the hills with dad and his mates and their dogs in hot pursuit!

A few years into our Kaikou days dad could not resist the temptation to make a name for himself and rode a bull to a standstill in the local rodeo, much to our pride and everyone else’s amazement!

How mum put up with those seven lonely trying years with no power in that terrible old shack I’ll never know, we finally found ourselves with a small dairy farm at Hikurangi just north of Whangarei.

Years of envying our white friends at Purua School, with their lovely houses that seemed like mansions, with proper toilets, hot and cold water etc. as opposed to our old corrugated iron dunny full of huge spiders and smells plus the frightening dash at night hoping the candle would not blow out and let “kehoes” (ghosts) get us were blissfully behind us! At last after years of having very little we had our own cows and pigs to name, calves to rear and make pets of and real jobs to do like our mates back at Purua! The novelty of getting the cows in and milking them wore off eventually of course but how we enjoyed those first few years.

For me one of the most pressing requirements was with the aid of pillows teaching myself to drive the old 1929 Dodge truck at eleven years old, so I could deliver the cream cans down to the main road where Toni and I would also catch the school bus. One memorable afternoon I took my sister Toni down to catch the bus from Hikurangi into Whangarei when I was at least twelve years old only to be made to walk the five miles home by the local constable. Dad to his great disgust had to ride the bike back down to bring the truck home!

Dad and Mum were very determined their farming venture was going to be successful so that meant lots of hard work and sacrifice for one and all to the point where lots of weekends were spent cutting and burning gorse and scrub and picking up huge sticks, where dad had crushed big scrub with the old Fordson Major on steel wheels in order to sow new grass. Mum’s picnic lunches were always a great treat and Clark and I quickly learnt to stay very quiet so dad could have forty or fifty winks. We grew to hate the inevitable gorse and barbary prickles that more often than not would turn septic and become painful. After a couple of years Clark was old enough to leave school and get a job in the Hikurangi Dairy Factory and I became Dad’s right-hand man. Dad found winter work when the cows were dried off, droving the reject boner cows from the out-lying districts into Hikurangi to go off to the freezing works via the train. We had a much better 1950 Commer 1 ton truck by now which doubled as our car so dad built a crate so he could get his horse and Mac the dog out to where he had to start picking up the cows from the various farms. My job was to help him get started the first few critical miles until he had a reasonable sized mob together then I would take the truck home hoping I’d not be seen by the cop as I was still only about thirteen or fourteen.

Being an independent young chap and keen to tackle anything, Dad decided I was up to the task of taking the twenty or so heifers plus some dry cows out to grazing twelve to fifteen miles away, (he probably got sick of me pestering to let me have a go and gave in for the sake of peace). Off I set on the bike about thirteen or fourteen with our very good dog Mac in the belief Dad would be along shortly to help get the three to four miles along the main road especially through Hikurangi to the turnoff out into Hikurangi swamp. My experience with Dad helping him get started on his boner cow drives stood me in good stead and to have such a good dog as Mac was a huge plus.

Getting the mob through Hikarangi was no picnic on my own with it’s traffic and side streets so it was a big relief to finally make it to the much quieter flatter side road. Setting off on the last lap I could have been forgiven for thinking I was halfway to becoming a full-blown drover!

Little did I know there was much worse to come! We had very quickly come to appreciate how the cows varied in nature, some were so docile and no trouble at all while others where the complete opposite aggressive, bossy, and always causing trouble. When we got to the first narrow little bridge about half the mob had scuttled safely over and one of the older cows chose the worst possible moment to assert her authority and bunted one of the heifers off the bridge a feat made much easier by the fact the bridge had no sides! The skidding and scuffle and huge splash was enough to send the already nervous ones over the bridge tearing off up the road and the still more reluctant nervous ones charging back up towards the main road, so I now had three different mobs going in opposite directions. Mac did his usual good heading job and we managed to coax the remainder of the mob over the bridge and heading off after their mates. Meanwhile the heifer in the water had swam and waded it’s way downstream until she could scramble her way up the bank and started anxiously running back along the fence eager to regain the safety of the mob. This of course was of huge interest to the dairy cows in the next door paddock who all came running over to investigate and became even more excited when this strange wet very upset beast managed to scramble through the fence and join them. Still no sign of Dad and I had become very concerned about what state the owner of the cows might be in as the house wasn’t far away. Sure enough as I was trying to extricate the heifer from their midst, no easy job on my own, a very irate farmer strode over wanting to know what the bloody hell I did, I think I was doing.

Dad put in a very timely appearance about then and the farmer quickly quietened down much to my disgust as I was very aware of Dads ability to handle the odd stroppy drunk passenger on the bus and I was looking forward to dad sorting him out.

Praise was not something handed out willy nilly back then but I am pretty sure dad was quite pleased with his youngest son’s effort.

I love that story. Like I said, I wish he had written more of them. I wonder where my love of story telling came from?

If you’d like to hear this story read out, by me. You can click on the link below for an audio file.

Droving Days Audio

23 replies »

  1. Your love of story telling is from all your grandparents. They were
    all amazing especially Sessie’s mother. I never tired of listening to her. She was also a great mimic – something else you have in spades. Your loving Mother xxx

  2. Actually I need to amend that to Great Grandmothers. Both Great Grandfathers died before I was born so they were a bit reticent. Your loving Mother

  3. I wish I knew Goggie. It’s funny how remembering the stories becomes more important as you get older. I miss sitting round a table talking about the old days. I can still ‘shut it bangy’ as Ally so loved to tell. Good times

  4. The story telling is a dying art, I had a grandfather who would sit there at morning smoko and tell me stories of old and how my Great grandfather would do the census up Pipiwai and of the droving of stock up north to the works. If only I had written them down the references alone to the local area and it’s history.

  5. Hi Sandy
    Thoroughly enjoyed this particular post. A piece of life and of how things were done in NZ in earlier years. Fantastic that your father had written it down so that his story could be retold. I read this post on my net book whilst on an Irish Ferries sailing earlier this week, together with more of your posts. I am hooked! Cheers Margaret

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