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
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
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, & the house started. A surreal though beautiful place,
constant companion at night, the mournful sound of the morpork.
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 & 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 Johnstone’s fish shop
for sale buy 11 am.
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
Having collected milk & 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 & 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 & 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, & whilst I got on with him on most matters, he was very
right wing, & during the 1952 wharf strike, we had many a
argument, me sticking up for the men, & he 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 & eggs man, the rabbiting life, & the wistful
will always be there.
It was a lonely life, & while,“ the maiden of the lake “
didn’t claim me, soon after, another lovely young maiden called