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By Mike Brosnon

The House by the Lake


It was settling into the ground, as if to say, "I have been here long enough, not lived in, neglected. It's time to return to my mother earth".

This was how I felt walking up to the old farmhouse, which was to be my home for the winter of 1952. I had taken up rabbiting on Len and Marie's farm at Clarendon St. Otago. They lived in the big stately stone house up on the main road, whereas this house was at the end of the back road that vanished into Lake Waihola.

The lake, with its many moods, mists, winds & sounds, dominated the old house. On a misty night, it was hard to know where the lake ended, and the house started. A surreal though beautiful place, my constant companion at night, the mournful sound of the morepork.

The inside of the tired house was least interesting, but soon became liveable, the kitchen functional, one room to sleep in, an open fire in the lounge doubling as warmth and company. An old wireless belted out timeless tunes like Mona Lisa, which still remind me of this long ago time.

The work required rising at 5am, saddling my horse "Lofty", retrieving the rabbits from three hundred traps set the day before, while beating the hungry hawks, packing them to the main road, skinning, cleaning & boxing, (around 150), to catch the 9.30 bus from Milton, having them in Dunedin at Johnston's fish shop for sale buy 11am.

Back to the house watching, as the new sun lifts itself above the Berwick Hills, the lake throws off its nightly clothing of mist, which stealthily withdraws into the willow marshes to await a new darkness.  Having collected milk and eggs from Charlie Andrew's croft-like farm up the road, a hearty breakfast was enjoyed on the veranda facing the lake, shores wrapped in weeping willows,which drew one, as if a ghostly, wistful maiden.

A short rest and it was away to pull half the traps, setting them in new ground, and resetting the other half. Lunch was a large preserving jar of rice cooked with milk and sultanas the night before. Finishing the resetting, it was home to fat, wire, and hang the skins on a fence to dry. The other half of the income.

Len Dillon had come from an old Central Otago farming family at Becks, and whilst I got on with him on most matters, he was very right wing, & during the 1952 wharf strike, we had many a heated argument, me sticking up for the men, & he for Sid Holland, our equally right wing prime minister at the time. Len's wife Marie, originally a town girl,hailing from Dunedin like myself, was rather more rational & interceded at times, mostly to my advantage (We later named out third daughter Jacque Carrol Marie after her).

The old house, gone many a year, but my memories of it, my horse "Lofty", right wing Len & pacifist Marie, Charlie Andrews the milk and eggs man, the rabbiting life, and the wistful lake, will always be there.

It was a lonely life, and while the maiden of the lake didn't claim me, soon after, another lovely young maiden called Fleur did.


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