The little stream meandered from the Styx plateau, down through the soft folds in the hills, past the hut to the Maniototo plain to eventually, seemingly with a sigh, join the parent Taieri river to be carried on its bosom to the sea.
The boy crossed the stream, unlatched the door and with the bright light behind stared into the scary gloom of the old mud hut. Was this to be his home!
He had turned fifteen that year, getting a job on the Patearoa Rabbit Board where he shared a camp on the banks of the Linburn stream with Jim Stewart. Jim hailed from Ida Valley, a tough but fair man and that winter the two of them poisoned, skinned and wired 45,000 rabbits. He had been catching and selling rabbits since a small boy so it was natural he would end up there on Charlie Hore's 'Stoneburn Station' on the board.
In the inevitable years when sheep farming became unprofitable many a land holder actually farmed the rabbits as a means of survival. This was very detrimental to the land and with the ensuing erosion that followed, the boards were set up in an attempt to eradicate the vermin, eventually devaluing them so they were poisoned and buried under cairns of rocks and left to decay.
Jim's wife was coming in from Dunedin to stay at the main camp so the boy had to shift out. He was so naive he didn't really know why.
Back to the hut! Initially reticent to enter this gloomy space the boy edged inside. It was the classic old mud brick hut built for rabbiters, musterers and general farm hands many years ago when other materials were scarce. Three by three meters wide, mud floor and walls, with an open fireplace. The boy's face fell - not the best of digs. A grey furry shape scuttled across the floor. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he knew what it had been. The hut was once used as a chaff house and the stream and nearby dog kennels were swarming with water rats. (In earlier years he had read Orwell's '1984' which had left him with an abhorrence of rats!) Along the floor line were ROWS OF RAT HOLES. He really did feel like "the beggar who couldn't choose" but he also believed in fate. Was this sent to cure him of his phobia?
Being a forthright fellow he set about sweeping the dusty floor and walls, brushing out the cobwebs and residue of years of bird nests. An old bed with a sacking mattress filled with horse hair was set up in the corner with the least rat holes. Finding boxes for a table and a chair he lit the fire and settled down to his 'new home'.
Luckily he had a 1932 side valve Ariel motor bike and being quite a social lad joined the Patearoa Junior Rugby Club, meeting the O'Malley boys from The Styx out at the main road, and in their brand new 1948 Chrysler Sedan was driven to practice and games. He was so proud when he gravitated to captain of that team. With the occasional dance and evening at the pub he spent as little time as possible in the hut though was destined to wake on several occasions to a grey shape running across his bed. (The ghosts of George Orwell were very much alive.)
Needless to say he was very pleased when Jim's townie wife called it quits and bustled back to the city allowing him to return to the main camp. The boy never forgot his stay in 'The Chaff house'. He had learnt early to appreciate 'good digs'.