|Looking back on my life, I will never forget my Auntie Vall ( still alive in Dunedin) Auntie, diminutive in statue, a giant in character, my mother’s sister, never married, I thought her too good for any “ mere male, “ she was my inspiration, my female model. Known for decades as “ Sister Butcher “ at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin. This little ramrod of a lady, a terror to the nurses, & revered by the mothers. I still meet mothers who remember Sister Butcher with affection|
Auntie’s influence on my life is legend to me. She encouraged me to read deeply early in life. Hiding from my stern mother, my fantasy playgrounds were in Dickens, Scott, Steinbeck, Laurence, Duma, Hugo, London, Sinclair Lewis, & the like. Auntie & I became, & still are book mates.
By the time I finished primary school at age eleven, I was better read than most teachers.
In the top stream ,but a rebel , school was a bit of a joke to me Conventional education, in it’s so called normality I believe it is promulgated to breed, work fodder & cannon fodder, & the more I read / study, the more I see this.
Our family was dysfunctional, to say the least, father being ejected from the nest early on by my very strong mother. It was a matriarchal house, & living amongst mother & three sisters, I was a definite minority. Though fairly much alone, I was a born survivor,
could see this, & vowed to manifest it through life.
Miss Foster, in Standard six at Macandrew Intermediate, was an, ethereal academic, sort of lady, & though I was hell bent on being different & a rebel, I respected her
She was big on the arts. I grudgingly liked this. & allowed her influence to foster my english & reading , & have a gram of respect for conventional education
I was always good with my hands so ,very early in life, I saved enough from my milk run pay, six shillings a week,.( I had to pay three of that to mum for board, which, in retrospect was good, as it taught me the value of money..) to buy a whole set of second hand carpenters tools, & became a good woodworker So,, was I to become a carpenter?
We had three acres with our house, horses, & perhaps a cow or goats. Was this “The Way?”
One day a canvasser from an agriculture school came & talked to our class. This wetted my appetite to try something different.
The Year at Taieri High Agricultural Course was a total waste of time for me. ( I realised quickly that a structured education at that stage was wrong, & a broader academic one would have been more useful .) The work was so simplistic, while wagging two days out of five, I was second top in the class. I bred ferrets, & would go rabbiting, selling the skins, & unbeknown to me, this became the nucleus of saving to buy my own farm
Back to the story comes Auntie Vall, as she started all of us kids with a Post Office Savings Account. I still have that cherished little orange book.
On the 26th November 1946, Election Day, I answered an add in the Otago Daily times for a “ rousey “ job on Traquair Stn. away up on the top of The Mungatau Mts. Above the Taieri Plain.
I was interviewed by a nice man at Wright Stephenson’s, the stock firm, who gave me a chance.
As I had to be different to the mob, back at school I remember saying to a friend Ernie Prattley, “look, we don’t need to wear long pants to show we are men, lets continue with short ones,” & also,” these kids think it’s chic to smoke, we have been smoking for years, let’s knock off “ I never again started.
Enthusiastically jumping off the bus at the farm at Woodside, I entered the house & introduced myself to old Bill Reid, the father of my prospective employers up the mountain. He took one look at this little lad in short pants, ran to the phone, & to my horror, I could hear him telling the agent at Wright Stephenson’s in Dunedin, that I looked far from suitable. The nice man must have said “ oh give him a go”.
Whew!!, I knew I just needed a chance, The next day I picked up, rolled, & partly pressed for four shearers, which today would take at least two people. I instantly became hard old Bill Reid’s favourite, & he embarrassed me in front of all the shearers & musterers at smoko one day by saying, “ this boy will own his own farm one day” ( that had not entered my head, but in fact, nine years later he was proved right) I thought, “hum,, this life could suit me”
If onley he knew. Old Bill was disliked, so the wily shearers made this naive kid put dags in his tea and stir it around!
That first evening, after the boys had left for the pub, I wheedled the loan of a spunky little piebald pony from the farm manager.
In the golden gloaming of the evening, I rode & rode this brave little animal for miles across the rolling mountain slopes, until, as Banjo Patterson, in the Man From Snowy River would say,, “ his sides were white with foam “
Awed by where we were & both ultimately fatigued, I reined her in, & flopped down in the tall snow tussock which clothes these mountain lands
Sitting there as evening crept around us, my hair synonymous with the tussock, as the wind ruffled & blew through us, was one of the most pivitable times in my life.
My soul literally soared, & for the first time I saw a path for my life. This was nature at its best, & I wanted to be part of it. In fact I knew I already was,, at one with the universe. I WAS CALLED.
PS : The hardest thing was how to outwit my mother in not forcing me back to “ school “
I had done well at wool classing at Taieri. I told my mother “ I will be a wool classer”
This satisfied her, so I duly started in a job learning to class wool & rabbit skins. I did well, & was soon entrusted as a buyer in the slack season, Within a year my cunning plans came to fruition, as I escaped from Dunedin for Central Otago, continuing my life in the NATURAL WORLD.;
I want to end by saying “ The day I left school, was the day I started at “My School”
which I love.