New Zealand

The games boys play

Grampie2I have friends who have boys. Young men, little chaps, whatever they call male children. It appears there is no consensus but little bastards seems a common description as well. My friends with boys often bemoan the amount of time boys spend on computer games or engrossed in an internet based interaction or a mobile communication device. Inside stuff predominantly. They seem keen the boys would get outside more. Maybe engage some other boys in games in a park or something. This is what city people or townsfolk do when they play outside. Ball games in a park. That is a little limited in the imagination in my view. It made me cast my mind back to how we amused ourselves outside when we were a bit younger. I’m pretty sure if modern parents from suburban environments discovered what we got up to out there they would be encouraging their little treasures back inside fairly sharply. I’m going to have a quick look at the games boys play, or once did anyway.

Most games didn’t have any great structure. They were often made up on the spot based on the numbers of other children in the vicinity. Given my brothers and I lived a fairly remote existence we usually only had each other to amuse, or attempt to harm. If the community got together for a gathering during daylight hours the play could be more elaborate. For example in the annual ‘North versus South’ Cricket contest where the divide between north and south in our district was a creek. The men would play cricket in a field while the wives chatted on an embankment. The kids would head down to the creek to assemble in two teams of similar numbers on either side of the water and have what was called a ‘dirt fight’. The rules were quite simple, throw clumps of dirt or mud fashioned into a projectile at each other. There were usually dogs frolicking and hunting among us and almost without fail they would discover a possum in the surrounding trees. The dirt fight would be abandoned and the boys would then make weapons out of sticks and whatever else they could find to hand. They would scale the trees to try to find and kill the possum but they were never successful to my knowledge. What they always ended up as though was filthy with ripped clothing. Mum’s loved that.

This brings me neatly on to the other favourite pastime of young chaps in rural New Zealand. Possum hunting. We all had firearms at an early age. Rifles in a .22 calibre usually. You can’t really hunt a possum with anything else. While your parents watched the television you would go out into the wilderness in the dark, with just a torch and your trusty dog to search for possums. Possums live in trees and make quite the screeching and coughing sound at night. You can see their eyes shining in the torchlight but if you are on your own it’s actually quite hard to aim a rifle with two hands and hold a torch in a non- existent third hand, so you have to improvise. Luckily a .22 is not a heavy rifle so you can hold it in one hand and shine the torch down the barrel through the sights at the possum in the tree with the other. So there you are, a teenaged boy, somewhere in the wilderness, holding and shooting a rifle into the dark with one hand. Still want us to go outside and play?

Some might not think play and firearms make a great combination. Nonsense, they are a tremendous combination as long as you have the correct firearm and the proper safety equipment. One of the favoured games of boys in the country was simply called ‘war’. “Let’s go and play war” we would say to each other. This primarily involved one or two boys heading off into the wilds to hide while the other boys would head out and hunt them. The object was to kill each other. Not literally of course. But you had guns fashioned from wood and probably a sword as well for close quarter combat. You would ideally sneak up on your brother or friend and get close enough to point your wooden weapon at him to loudly announce a successful shot. Or you might find yourself out of ammo so you had to charge his position with your sword to engage him in a hand to hand battle to the death. The death-throws usually being accompanied by sound effects gleaned from a ‘Commando’ war comic.

Or you could put on a surplus army great coat and a motorcycle crash helmet and hunt each other with air-rifles. Which is significantly more fun than a pretend wooden rifle, but more painful when you get actually shot. It does lend quite a sense of realism to the hunting and hiding though. Much more fun that way.

Sometimes you had to engage in solitary pursuits. This might involve making a very dangerous and effective bow and arrow combination from some shrubbery and hunting members of the local wildlife community. You would use your ‘sheath knife’ to whittle the points on the arrows. The sheath knife is sometimes issued to a boy in rural New Zealand on his 13th Birthday, well mine was anyway. It’s usually a very large, very sharp and very dangerous multi-purpose knife you wear on your belt in a leather sheath, hence ‘sheath knife’. I have an impressive scar on my hand from misusing mine one day. Every boy should have a proper scar somewhere. 

You could always take your rifle and your trusty dog to go in search of rabbits. None of that shotgun nonsense they like to shoot running rabbits with in England. This is your .22 and you are stalking rabbits. Sneaking up on them and shooting at them from the prone position because they aren’t really rabbits at all. They are enemy snipers lying in wait and all you can see is their grey or brown helmet, shaped like a rabbit. Whichever way you look at it though, it’s a teenage boy walking about in the countryside looking for things to shoot at with a proper firearm that can cause actual death to people some distance away should they be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mums love that stuff. As an aside mums often also cut their sons hair, usually very badly, didn’t they mum?

If you enjoy a spot of fishing as your preferred method of play, you can take a very sharp object on a spike and search for eels while wading in a remote watercourse. The depth and flow of the river or creek can be deceptive and you will often fall in or find yourself suddenly waist or chest deep with no-one to help you. It’s ok though, it’s just water and you probably won’t get hypothermia on your long walk home in your sodden clothing (with a challenging haircut)

Ball games in parks were for weekends, structured play and not at all for fun. The other stuff outside with guns and war, mud and water is fun. Rugby is a ball game in a park in town at the weekend and it’s very serious indeed. That’s why the New Zealand All Blacks are the ‘All Blacks’. Rugby is not just a game of ‘rugger’, which is a word I hate anyway, for boys. You take time out from playing games to play Rugby which is a completely different thing to playing games. There is a famous quotation, which I have modified a bit to illustrate this.

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, …say losers”.

Now back to boys playing games.

Dotted around New Zealand farms are Hay Barns. They are full of several tons of hay. What is fun to do is to rearrange the hay bales to make forts and tunnels. You can make disguised crevasses and man traps for unsuspecting intruders upon your fortress to plunge into. You take a very well stacked large quantity of animal food and make it into an obstacle course and death trap for young boys, for fun. It’s a great day out making the Hay Barn into a proper fort on a life size scale. Much better than a pretend miniature fort made out of Lego.

So parents of boys of today, your sons may indeed be quite digitally dextrous which is an important skill in the modern era but I reckon we had a bit more fun back in those days and hardly any of us got maimed or killed or worse. Still want to send them outside though?

Have fun..

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13 replies »

  1. I always preferred to be up a tree or building a ‘camp’ somewhere – usually on the South Downs where we lived even though we weren’t supposed to go there without an adult – but that was the early 70s. Never went possum hunting though!

  2. Still got the scar for being shot with a slug gun, Great fun. Hope I can find a hay barn for my kids to build a fort in

  3. Not that long ago, we used to ride our bikes in the road, knew all the neighbours and snuck out to play arcade games in the corner shop. How things have changed.

  4. Love it Sandy! Well written too. Brings back similar countless memories of growing up in rural NZ. Something I dearly would have loved my own three boys to have done. Keep the pen flowing my friend. You’ve got talent

  5. And what’s wrong with your haircut !!! I well remember you and your older brother going camping down at the river at Ormondville (or maybe it was Campbell) Anyway you were home by 8.30 pm.
    As usual very well written. congrats.

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