Mike Brosnan 22-02-1206
A Voice to the Soul
Looking back on my life I will never forget my Auntie Val (still alive in Dunedin). Auntie - diminutive in stature, a giantess 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 was 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, Dumas, Hugo, London, Bromfield, Sinclair Lewis and the like. Auntie and I became, and 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, is promulgated to breed work fodder and cannon fodder and 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 and living amongst mother and three sisters, with one younger brother who was pushed into the background, I was a definite minority. Though fairly much alone, I was a born survivor. I could see this and vowed to manifest it through life.
Miss Sarah Foster, in Standard six at Macandrew Intermediate, was an ethereal academic sort of lady and though I was hell bent on being different and a rebel, I respected her. She was big on the arts. I liked this and grudgingly allowed her influence to foster my English and reading and 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 of 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 carpenter's tools and became a good woodworker So - was I to become a carpenter?
We had three acres with our house, horses and perhaps a cow or goats. Was this 'the way'?
One day a canvasser from an agriculture school came and 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 realized quickly that a structured education at that stage was wrong, and 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 and would go rabbiting, selling the skins and unbeknown to me, this became the nucleus of saving to buy my own farm.
Back to the story comes Auntie Val as she started all us kids with a Post Office Savings Account. I still have that cherished little orange book.
On the 26 November 1946, Election Day, I answered an advertisement in the Otago Daily Times for a 'rousey'" job on Traquair Station. away up on the top of the Maungatau mountains above the Taieri Plains. I was interviewed by a nice man at Wright Stephenson's 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, let's 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 and introduced myself to old Bill Reid, the father of my prospective employers further up the mountain. He opened the door and took one look at this little lad in short pants standing on his path and 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 and partly pressed for four shearers which today would take at least two people. I instantly became hard old Bill Reid's favourite and he embarrassed me in front of all the shearers and 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 "hmm, this life could suit me". If only he knew. Old Bill was disliked so the wily shearers talked this naive kid into putting daggs 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 and 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 and both ultimately fatigued, I reined her in, flopping 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 and blew through us and being nuzzled by the pony was one of the most pivotable times in my life.
My soul literally soared, and for the first time I saw a path for my life. This was nature at its best and 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 and stop her from forcing me back to 'school'. As 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 and rabbit skins. I did well so 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, gaining a position as a rabbiter at Patearoa and 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.
A lot of this was influenced by our diminutive Auntie Val.