Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947
Chapter Five — Southern Lakes
every summer since the end of the war we had gone away from home for the holidays. My father sent us off with our housekeeper Carty for six weeks, following himself just before Christmas, for the law holidays. The summer of 1919 we spent at Warrington, on the green cool coast about twenty miles north of Dunedin, bathing on the long sand beach that almost shuts off the Waitati inlet from Blueskin Bay, walking rough paddocks and narrow winding roads, through the heavy shade of macrocarpas and the grey-green airy shade of ngaios. At a bonfire on New Year's Eve, the Kaiser was burned in effigy; it was a popular occasion to which everyone in the small holiday settlement came, many of them Dunedin people whom we knew. I can just remember feeling excited and yet vaguely disturbed by it.
The summer following we went for the first time into the dry clear air of Central Otago, to Wanaka. In the hotel near the lake, our small rooms opened onto the garden with its rare old mulberry tree, its beds of poppies blazing in that clear hot sun, roses that rushed into bloom and died almost in a day, delphinium and clarkia, hollyhock and nasturtium. With Carty and our hotel acquaintances we spent much of our day beside the lake, in the green shade of the small thick willow trees along the shore, which rose in low ridges of pale shingle formed by the different levels of the water. We bathed, read, sailed boats, made harbours. When my father joined us we were more active. He wanted to see everything in the district, to meet people of all sorts, to talk and inquire; he was full of interest and curiosity, and impatient of my readiness to do nothing, that is to play and read and daydream. We would have seen little of the district page 95without him; he took us for expeditions, picnics and visits, walking, driving and by launch.
We scrambled up Mt Iron, a small islanded outcrop about a mile from the township, so placed that on its top you stand in a great basin among the mountains and snow peaks into whose fastness the two lakes, Wanaka and Hawea, thrust their keen blue winding arms, half hidden among declivities. The hill is a pointed jutting ridge of rock, steep on three sides, with rough screes of glittering grey mica schist and a patchy fell of matagouri thorn, bushes of sweet-briar and elder, bleached thin tussock. It rises nearly a thousand feet above the half-desert land about it, a wilderness of poor tussock and broad, roundish pads of scab-weed in many shades of exquisite silvery grey-green, palest ice-blue and dewy glaucous chalk-white. Further off lie parched hillsides, rough with rocks, half grown over with manuka bushes, which at dusk seemed to move and flow with the multitude of rabbits running upon them; for a moment the illusion held me astonished and bewildered. Higher and farther yet on every side the great rough mountains rose, smooth and tawny or bare and gleaming with rock or blue and soft as cloud, crowned with pinnacles of rock and snow and glacier fields bright and small in the distance. Sometimes when the air was very still the report of an avalanche rang faint and sharp from twenty or thirty miles away. Then one noticed that the whole world seemed to be held in rapt attention, mountains valleys rivers lakes ice and rock and harebell and lichen quivering in the heat and trembling with inward expectancy through all the vast transparent distances in which near and far, sound and silence, were no longer to be distinguished, absorbed in the presence and simultaneity of all things; a condition that, as soon became apparent, was not simply momentary, but persisted and was always so, quite independent of one's awareness of it.*
One day we took the small launch that plied up the lake and picnicked on Manuka Island, where the long north arms open out. Lel and I were surprised and excited to find a small lake high up on the island among manuka and rocks, and little rock islets in that lake, and I was intrigued by the suggestiveness of that series of one thing inside another, to which there seemed page 96no necessary end. The launch after dropping us had gone on to fetch wool from one of the farther stations, Minaret or Albert Burn or Makarora. It returned laden almost to the gunwhale with seventeen huge square bales which were piled in all the available space, barely leaving room for us passengers. On the way back we were overtaken by a violent storm, which quickly beat the lake into waves; pitching through them as they swelled rapidly past, again and again the launch was nearly swamped. Above our heads, lightning in white sheets lit up for a blinding instant whole parallelograms and inclined planes in the clouds, as if its light were reflected obliquely from their grained metallic surfaces, and in white-hot knotted forks seared the flesh of the black billowing clouds; it was so terrible I hid my face; then black thunder broke and seemed to tear the clouds apart with a fearful report as if ripping up the huge fabric of space, so that I half expected the whole cloudy architecture to come hurtling down and crush the earth, drowning us instantaneously. Fierce rain fell suddenly. My father pushed us inside into a tiny space beyond the motor hot with the sickening smell of oil and petrol, but stayed outside himself with the skipper. The launch heaved and we clung to our seats as the waves rushed past, the motor beat its urgent drum steadily although every few minutes the screw threshed wildly out of water, and all the time we peered from our dark shelter past the giant bales towards the ominous dusky rent of light astern where I felt our hope and safety to lie. My father seemed to enjoy the adventure and his only anxiety was on our account. But the launch held on its course, and delivered us safely.
Next summer we went to Lake Wakatipu and boarded in a private house at Frankton, to which we returned every year afterwards until my schooldays ended. We had enjoyed Wanaka, but probably none of us felt that a hotel was the best place to stay on holiday. It must have been expensive too; private board would be decidedly cheaper, and my father with his growing practice (after the war he took on a partner, Mr Norman Thompson) did not spare money yet preferred I think to live quietly and be independent and save and plan for the future.page 97
In Queenstown we had family friends of fifty years' standing. There was old Mr Hotop the chemist, Mrs Laing's father, whose shop stood on the corner of Ballarat Street and Rees Street, close to Eichardt's Hotel. And there were Gertie and Kitty Geisow, lifelong friends of Mother and my aunts, who used to visit us in Dunedin and now made us free of their house and acted as our guides to the district. It was they who found us board with Mrs Southberg and her daughters a few yards from Kawarau Falls (not yet dammed and bridged), where the lake flows into the Kawarau River, its only outlet.
Mrs Southberg was an old woman with a strong shrewd kindly leathery peasant face, deeply sunburned and wrinkled; such faces are rarely to be seen now among white New Zealanders. She held herself very erect, moved slowly and stiffly, and was active in a quiet way, presiding over the household although her daughters now managed it. She called and fed the fowls, scattering their wheat from a chipped blue enamel basin with her large strong puffy shiny-backed hands; she even dug a little in the garden. But her daughters dissuaded her from too much activity, laughingly cautioned her, wished her to rest more. I had the impression that she listened with a certain detachment, and went her own way. She wore dark clothes, long rough dresses like the drabber kind of butcher's apron during the week, and black on Sunday with lace and spangles and beads or brooch of jet. Being a little deaf, she spoke as if she had to raise her voice to be heard, in a high-pitched broken tone, shrilly and roughly, and seemed often to be quietly laughing to herself as she spoke. She had lived for more than forty years at Frankton and her husband had long been dead; they had come down from the Bullendale mine at Skippers, one of the great gold reefs of the district, driven out by the disastrous flood of 1878.
The Southbergs' oblong wooden house, with veranda in front and rooms opening off a central passage, had been built as a Presbyterian manse. It stood facing the lake inside a fenced oblong garden which sloped gently down the moraine terrace of Frankton Flat. Beyond the paling fence on the north side lay the bare open Flat stretching for nearly a mile to the foot of the hills, where the road from Cromwell to Queenstown passed. Almost behind the garden, at the top of the flat, a wall of rough page 98towering pine-trees hid the race-course, in later years the airfield, and next to it broad macrocarpa hedges enclosed the low wooden buildings of the county hospital. The Flat itself lay empty before us, its long wave-lines broken only by two big gravelly gullies opening out to the lake, and swarming with rabbits.
At the far bottom corner of the Flat, by the road to Queenstown, among bluegums and larches and hazels, a family called Hansen kept a small farm with a strawberry garden. The road then wound along the foot of the hill past the old oaks and walnuts of the Antrim Arms, a coaching hotel abandoned and boarded up, past Frankton jetty, where the lake steamers still came to load wool, and up the outlying knoll of Battery Hill past another farm with a strawberry garden, that of the Angelos. There, gazing, we lost the road in bluegums and bracken, although every car or cart raised a white dust-trail that showed where it ran, rounding the bulk of Queenstown Hill. Behind that hill rose the high steep ridge of the Ben Lomond Range, grooved and serrated against the sky like a rough prehistoric flint knife.
Harry Angelo might have been copied from an Italian peasant by Segantini or Brangwyn. He wore coarse untrimmed greyblack cavalry moustaches swept out to each side of his face and projecting if you saw him from behind, and looked at you out of eyes small and screwed up under rough dark brow-ridges — a distant, crafty figure to me. His sharp-tongued wife Emma in her wide-brimmed straw hat awed us children from close quarters, but our elders regarded her with amusement; she served afternoon tea as well as strawberries and cream, so that her garden was an oasis. Battery Hill seemed to us the hottest dustiest point of the road to Queenstown, which we all walked so often, although the Geisows reckoned halfway at a black mountain beech where a culvert ran beneath the road about half-a-mile further on.
The Southbergs' garden formed an island enclosure of cultivation in the huge untutored landscape; its wooden fence walled in a small demesne of order and disciplined peacefulness. Outside, hills and mountains pastured in age-long freedom, the lake rocked quietly in its deep narrow bed and boiled over the page 99falls into silent whirlpools; winds roamed in warm trance, or raged day and night, ploughing the lake water into frenzied waves, honing the rocks overhead into fantastic blades, savaging the pines and gums where the Flat broke off above the whirlpool.
That extraordinary range the Remarkables seemed to dominate our lives at Frankton. We lived not in its shadow, but certainly under its spell. Its potent darkness and its lights and colours set the mood of our days. It rose behind us in a towering, precipitous wall, nearly 7,000 feet above the curved sweep of the valley floor which its enormous buttresses appeared to overhang, leaning outward. The shoulder at the end of the range with the nearest ridge running up to it, across the Kawarau, is rounded and tussocked; but the valley floor, opposite Peninsula Hill, soon rises into sheer gullies and rock ribs and bare glittering flanks and faces, a metallic armour that beats back the sun. Although our view of it from Frankton was an oblique one in which the highest point, the rock pinnacle of Double Cone, appeared lower than other points, yet since I knew it best this view of the mountain seemed to me the most true and real one. Indeed I found the nearly full-face, more distant view from Queenstown, which gives a juster impression of the proportions and magnificence of the range and its peaks, not only less satisfying but as well less true — less true to its immediate presence and intimacy in our lives at Frankton. It disturbed me to find the mountain changing shape as I walked from Frankton to Queenstown, where a third point came into sight beside the twin peaks of Double Cone, so confounding its very name. Which view, which shape, was real? What is reality? How can mountains, which are as real, as palpable, as any object in the visible world, be subjected to the relativity of our limited sight?
At morning the face of the range as the sun rose behind it and above was touched here and there by light that struck its high points and projections so that they seemed to be breaking the surface of a transparent sea of shadow. In the middle of the day, it swam submerged in the shimmering high tide of light and heat, which drained the whole world of colour; its relief flattened out, it had withdrawn, hovering almost intangibly in air, a screen of pale-mauve gauze. Later the sun dipping westward struck obliquely across the ravaged face, lighting its harsh page 100outline of dagger pinnacles and square-cut massifs, and the black rock of its beaked ridges and promontories and naked shields, plunging the gorges into dramatic depths, enriching every moulding, deepening every groove and cleft and casting over the whole a sea of violet and silver, of thunderous steel and dark mid-ocean-blue, which so heightened and deepened the face that as my eyes explored it I seemed to lose myself among its countless dazzling thrones of light and its unfathomable shadow. Then the glow would fade quickly. The mountain receded, the rich colours died out like a retreating wave, and the sober face I knew was left, evening-grey and serious in its immense learned agelessness, darkening towards night.
Beneath this dramatic towering mountain face we led our quiet but to us eventful lives, and as we grew familiar with the district we came to think of Wakatipu as another home. The road from Kingston to the Falls had not then been made. There were only two ways of reaching Queenstown (and so Frankton), by road from Cromwell through the Kawarau Gorge, and by steamer from Kingston. The train journey from Dunedin to Gore (where you changed) to Kingston brought us slowly through dull rather characterless farm lands and the dry empty Waimea Plains, where a strong hot wind seemed always blowing, and at last to Lumsden and the border of the mountain land, the gateway to our own world. There the Oreti touched our path glancingly as it swept over the stones on its wide bed, pouring out of the western mountains on urgencies not ours, first reminder that even our world, intimate with it though we might be, pursued its course without reference to us. We entered a maze of warm tussock valleys and tawny hills, and were brought finally to the glacier boulders littered over the ancient moraine bed down which the train wound to the tiny hamlet of Kingston, huddled close beneath its huge mountain shoulder, and to the cold intense gentian-blue waters of Wakatipu — beloved lake, our home.
Which steamer would be waiting for us? That diminutive narrow italic warrior the old Ben Lomond? Or the broader comfortable paddle-steamer the Mountaineer, flanked by its two covered wheels like some antique aquatic cart? Or the calm swanlike Earnshaw, with its easy noble lines and tall bridge and page 101funnel? We always hoped for the last, by far the largest and quickest of the three. Not that the journey was one simply to be got over. Every moment of it was precious to me; I wanted to miss nothing, to know every landmark along the western shore which the steamer hugged, every mountain and lesser shape and stream and promontory, and the names of them, on both shores. As I floated over the dark still depths the far snow heights appeared, washed very pure and clear by the evening sun or already sunk and rigid in cold shadow. One by one the mountains I loved came into sight, until at last under the rugged pyramid of Ben Lomond the long pine-dark headland of Queens-town Park appeared. We rounded the enormous flank of Cecil, a huge world in itself as I took in the endless detail of its leonine ridges, midnight-blue precipices, hollows, bracken, slopes, beaches. Crossing the broad middle arm of the lake, I bowed inwardly once again to austere Walter with its Egyptian trident peak, the low bald brow of broad Nicholas, Turnbull's high, harsh-bitten ridge. Cecil and Walter were my chosen peaks always; the broad-based regal abundance and magnificence of the one, the more severe contained nobility of the other — it too so surely and superbly based, but towering sheerly from base to peak with none of Cecil's lavish open-handed largeness of spatial gesture. As we drew level with the Park, Queenstown Bay at once opened, the steamer sounding its triumphant horn crossed nearly to the far shore in order to round the light on its rock, returned almost on its tracks and swept as if on parade round the inner shore of the Park, passing the moored launches, Park beach, the waterfront, the jetty, the gracefully rounded willows, to draw up slowly at the wharf, which was crowded with local people and visitors for this, the great event of the day. Gertie and Kitty Geisow would be waiting for us as always and we were restored, back again — as I used to think — where we really belonged.
Two things chiefly fired my intense feeling for Wakatipu. First the marvellous beauty of lake and mountains in that clear serene air, the great space, the freedom, the solitude, and the intimacy among all this of our own small circle. Secondly a feeling of page 102belonging, of strong human ties there. Our only living ties were with the Geisows. But they were as much part of Wakatipu to me as its glittering schist rock, its dusky gold mountain flanks and blue distances, and the sweet-briar and matagouri, harebells and snowberries and small white violets growing in hollows and crevices wherever one walked or climbed. They had spent their whole lives in Queenstown; they were born in the plain strong stone house in Church Street in which they still lived. They were friends of my parents, my aunts and grandparents, they knew many of our Australian relatives, they had known my great-grandparents, their father having worked for a time for my great-grandfather. And my great-grandparents, Bendix and Mary Hallenstein, had lived in Queenstown when they first came to New Zealand or soon after.
At Frankton we used often to play near and in an abandoned stone shed among pine-trees close to the Falls which we knew had been a storehouse attached to Robertson and Hallenstein's mill. In Queenstown, Hallenstein Street commemorated Bendix Hallenstein's mayoralty. His house, we knew, stood close to the site of Rees's original homestead by the waterfront, a few yards from Eichardt's Hotel; an old stone building in Rees Street, next door but one to Mr Hotop's shop at the corner of Ballarat Street, had been his store. And the Park we thought of as very near to him, since it was not only during his mayoralty but at his proposal (we were told) that it had been set aside for a park, and its great trees planted. There was also Thurlby Domain, his house and farm on the way to Arrowtown. The Geisows seemed to be our only direct link with him. He had left the district to live in Dunedin, and although Grandmother had stayed later at Cherry Farm near Frankton, and in one way or other the family had always kept in close touch with Queenstown, still there was a gap between those earlier times and now, which the Geisows alone seemed to bridge.
Wakatipu did much to develop my tastes and my ideas about myself; what it gave me I was to keep for life. Going first as a skinny long-faced freckled small boy in a floppy sun-hat, before I had started at Waitaki, I returned summer after summer as if to have my growth silently registered and confirmed there. Waitaki and Dunedin might be witnesses of that growth, but page 103Wakatipu actively conspired with it, fed body and imagination, drew me out, guided my expansion; what I absorbed in summer, I took home to digest throughout the year.
Our lives at Frankton were quiet enough. We occupied the two front rooms of the house, looking onto the veranda, Carty and Lel sharing one, my father and I the other, which was on the south side of the house towards the Remarkables. I liked sharing a room with him less and less. It became an encroachment on my liberty or the sense of it, liberty of thought chiefly. But on freedom of movement too. My father did not sleep very well. At home he went late to bed and slept late, or later than the rest of us. On holiday he liked to sleep later still, if he could. I woke early and wanted light to read by, or else wanted to get up. But I was always fearful of waking him. Once woken in the morning he could seldom go off to sleep again, so that he hated to be disturbed. I learned silence, to dress quickly and noiselessly, to step lightly and avoid floor-boards that creaked, to open and shut doors without a sound. It gave me a certain pleasure: I might be an Indian, a path-finder, a hunter, stepping delicately and surely, displacing neither leaf nor twig. But also, since I was in a sense deceiving my father, creeping about on my own business which was to be hidden from him, I put myself in the wrong from the start.
We bathed once or twice almost every day in the shallows of Frankton Arm, where the cold lake waters, snow-fed, are tempered a little by mid-summer, then lay in the sun, and ate wild gooseberries from the bushes straggling along the shore among matagouri and lupin and sweet-briar. There as everywhere I carved and sailed rough wooden boats, constructing harbours in the short stretches of green dense marsh-like turf, or on beaches of thin milky glittering stones. We walked about the Flat, climbed trees, fetched the cows for milking, played cards, and I wrote poetry. Often I read all through the day, lying in the shade of pines or plum-tree in the garden, on dry grass browned and bleached in the fierce sun. One summer I devoured Dumas at the rate sometimes of a whole book in a single day, which astonishes me now as a painfully slow reader — but I took longer over other books. When Lel not long after this got into the habit of reading even faster, I used to declare jealously that she page 104had been skipping, but she could always answer questions put to her about the book concerned.
It was natural that we should get to know the MacBrides at Kawarau Falls Station, the Southbergs' nearest neighbours. Mr and Mrs MacBride were a hospitable couple, Irish and Catholic, but she seemed always to be over-burdened with children, of whom the elder had to help look after the younger, so that we did not play with them so very often. I think my father did not encourage the relationship. It used to be said that Mr MacBride, a friendly man popular in the district, spent too much time playing tennis and being otherwise sociable, and neglected his station. Everyone was sad that he had to sell it; we missed the children when they moved to Queenstown.
Instead of children, we made friends with the skippers of the two launches which ran from Queenstown to Frankton once or twice daily whenever enough people wished to make the trip. In our early years two launches ran regularly, the Kelvin, belonging to Jock Edgar, and the Muratai, to Mr Tompkies. We went down to meet them day after day and talked to one or other skipper while his passengers walked to see the Falls and take tea at the Southbergs'. Jock Edgar was a well-known Queenstown figure, and an old friend of the family. In earlier years he had been a very active and popular guide. My family had made several expeditions with him. On one of these, camping at the Routeburn Huts, the party (Emily, Uncle Harold and my father) went for a day trip over the Harris Saddle to Lake Mackenzie, a walk of four or five hours. At the lake, a storm blew up without warning, and snow fell so thickly that Jock doubted whether they could get back round the ledge above Lake Harris in darkness. Having brought neither tent nor sleeping bags they could not dig in until the storm passed, so they decided to try and get over an unnamed pass which Jock had seen but which was believed never to have been crossed. It lay at the head of the Mackenzie basin and must lead them down into the Routeburn valley opposite the North Branch; what the going was like no one knew. They set off, and in pitch darkness managed to get over the pass and find the valley leading to the Routeburn, instead of being led down in another direction to the headwaters of one of the branches of the Caples. They descended safely to the track page 105and the huts, where they arrived about 2 a.m. It was a shorter and in those conditions a safer route than by the track over the Harris Saddle, but rough and steep. My father was able to have the pass named the Emily Pass. Jock was short, sturdy and wiry, of slightly uncertain gait, like a sailor ashore, good-humoured and slow of speech; a friendly man tolerant of children. His short red nose proclaimed his love of the bottle. Emily used to declare that his eyes were bluebells under water.
As at Wanaka, we explored the district with my father, who began by hiring a trap which he drove himself, to my constant apprehensiveness; but soon he bought his first motor car. We reached Arrowtown, Skippers, the Roaring Meg. We took the steamer to Elfin Bay and walked up to Rere Lake; one year we spent a few days staying with the Aitkens, a well-known family who kept Paradise House, beyond Glenorchy, on the valley floor between Mt Alfred and Turret Head, and there in the beech forest at night we saw glow-worms for the first time. From that visit, when I was about twelve, I remember little else of Paradise.
page 106Any differences I ignored, or failed to see. The place was savage and romantic beyond a doubt, the mountain beeches, from a little distance, might well pass for cedars — not that I dreamt of trying to justify the identification, which I made unconditionally immediately, under the joint spell of poem and place, both of them holy and enchanted.
that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover,
A savage place, as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
I think I was fortunate in making or having instinct make on my behalf such identifications as these, which peopled the country as nothing else could have done for me. Even in my middle age I found myself making similar identifications, still wholly without conscious intention, as when I suddenly saw an old down-at-heel familiar house on the edge of Jubilee Park in Dunedin as belonging to the setting of stories of the Baal Shem Tov and others of the early Hasidim.
The track reaches its highest point before turning round the mountain above the junction of Shotover and Moke; it had been well worn for sixty years then by the feet of men and pack-horses. The mountain falls very steeply from its heights far above down to the chasm below. Slips occurred from time to time below the track, one of them reaching up to its edge, and I used to tread very delicately past that point, my heart in my mouth above the precipitous raw wound, at the foot of which the chasm yawned and roared. It amazed and awed me to see plants, bushes, and some distance down a small black beech, sprouting intrepidly as they overhung the gulf, as if defying destruction by their very confidence and serenity. Yet destroyed they must be, and sooner rather than later; the least slip, caused by rain or frost or violent wind, would carry them down inevitably, to be dashed to pieces, crushed, swept away by the headlong force of the torrent. Meanwhile year by year they flourished confidently, gladly, as if grown proud and strong in extremity of danger; fearless, nothing could daunt them. This was the normal condition of all living things, to have no certainty except of oneself, to live in calm disregard of what the future might bring. It shamed me that I in similar or in far less danger, personal and public (for these plants and trees returned to my mind again and again in the thirties, forties and fifties: I saw them at least once in each decade), should be so shaken and fearful and vacillating, so little able to compose myself, to live page 107as if it made no difference whether I and my world would endure for ever or be cut off abruptly and calamitously tomorrow.
Round the corner the Moke face of the range although less steep was far more unstable, constantly slipping and disintegrating; tracks broke off suddenly, and if one had been away for a few years one could never be sure which would lead without interruption to the junction of Moonlight and Moke a few miles farther on. One old track, later, led to a steep schist scree falling to the river; when James and I struck it in 1946 we thought it looked dubious and decided to scramble up and round the top; in Queenstown afterwards we heard that two men attempting to cross had been carried helplessly down as it crumbled, and drowned in the fierce waters below. That huge treacherous mountain always filled me with disquiet, as did the wild Shotover throughout its course, and the Kawarau from the Falls and the wide seething pool below to its stormy meeting with the Clutha forty turbulent miles away at Cromwell.
during the third term of 1926 my father wrote to ask me if I would like to go to Oxford next year. He had never mentioned such a thing before, and as if I was being offered a week-end in Christchurch, I said yes. What going to Oxford meant, what it might lead to, I had no idea at all. Neither, I think, had he. I knew that Esmond de Beer had been to Oxford. I knew that Rhodes Scholars went there; several Waitakians had become Rhodes Scholars recently. I had read a few novels which described Oxford or Cambridge life, such as E. F. Benson's David Blaize, Alec Waugh's The Loom of Youth, and Sinister Street, by Compton Mackenzie — Winsome had been greatly impressed by the last two, which we talked about a good deal. But I knew no more than that.
I cannot remember that my future was ever discussed at length in a rational manner, before then or afterwards. Grandfather assumed that I would go into Hallenstein Brothers. My father hoped I would take up law — his first choice — or else follow Grandfather. I did not question their assumptions; I simply avoided all thought and discussion of the subject. I page 108expected to spend at least one more year at Waitaki. What was to come after remained a blank. I did not think about going to university, of which I knew nothing, nor of earning my living. I remember dreading the period of compulsory military training in camp which followed school; that is the only portion of the future I can recall being real to me.
I can see three reasons for my father's decision, all of them related to what he wanted me to become, none of them to me as in fact I was. He no longer saw me as I was; he had lost me. I do not think he gave any reasons for sending me to Oxford, except of the vaguest, most general sort; I had to deduce them. Possibly he was trying to get his way by indirection, knowing my stubbornness already and realizing that open opposition to me would be ineffective. In the first place he still hoped to make me (in his terms) a sport: I must row at Oxford as he had rowed in Melbourne. He insisted oh stressing this when under his strict supervision I applied for entrance to St John's College; the application forms did not admit games to a place among the matters of interest to the College and it was clear to me that it would look foolish to bring up something so irrelevant. But no, I had to say that I would row. He knew about the Boat Race; this was the sport that counted, at Oxford, and so I must take part in it.
Secondly, I think he still hoped to interest me in law. He may have thought that I would take to it more readily in England, where I would see it, embedded in history and surrounded by tradition and ceremonial, closer to both politics and letters, in a more picturesque and dramatic light than in New Zealand. This may have suggested itself to him in connection with a case he was conducting at the time, in which his clients decided to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Possibly he conceived the idea of taking the appeal to London himself and at the same time settling me at Oxford; this may account for his sudden unheralded letter to me. There was hopeful precedent of a sort. One of my Australian cousins had recently gone to Cambridge and after graduating returned to Melbourne where he was apparently settling down contentedly in the family business. Three years at Oxford might give me all I wanted and leave me, too, ready to return home; if not to law, at least to business.page 109
But if Oxford did not make a sport of me, if it failed to lead me to law or to business, it could not fail to give me social standing. This was important to my father. He liked to move in the best society in Dunedin, and would have wished to do the same wherever he lived. He owed it to himself to do so — to his abilities, his good looks, his social graces. 'The best is good enough for me', he often said, in reference to a good hotel or a good tailor. He wanted to be a success, which meant being not only a successful lawyer but a success in sport and in society. To do well whatever one did, that was naturally essential; but it was not enough by itself; to be a success one must also be acknowledged by one's professional colleagues and be received among the best people.
Lel and I had to conform to my father's standards, and help support his position. We had to go to the right parties, which meant that we had to give parties ourselves, and to these we might ask our friends but must ask the children of the right people whether we liked them or not. I fancy we persuaded ourselves, making a virtue of necessity, that we enjoyed these parties — they were dances later when we were sent with many of the same children to the fashionable dancing teacher of the time, Miss Eve Lee. But neither of us shone socially; I had little or no general small talk and Lel did not have the right sort; we quite lacked social ambition. We found the whole social business tedious and boring; to me most of the girls were empty-headed, and the boys on those occasions behaved less sensibly than usual. The boys and girls we liked best did not go to parties, or not to the right ones. My father, I suppose, thought here too that we did not know what was good for us, and insisted on our being social so long as we lived at home. If I then went to Oxford, I would automatically acquire a standing which neither Dunedin society nor any other could dispute.
To be accepted by society was, my father felt strongly, essential to him as a lawyer with his own way to make and no connections to help him. He told me a number of times, with feeling, that Grandfather had done little or nothing to help him in his career and that Mr Theomin, for whom he had worked as accountant before practising law but with whom he had no other close ties, had done far more for him. Well, maybe. Mr page 110Theomin had built himself a vast grand house in Royal Terrace, outdoing in style at least all other baronial mansions in Dunedin, those of the Robertses and Rosses and Sargoods. He himself was a jolly bouncy little man who liked a bit of swank perhaps but was kindly and quite without side; his wife, however, Aunt Lucy Hallenstein's eldest sister but only a remote cold Mrs Theomin to us, was always said to suffer delusions of grandeur. My aunts at Manono rather laughed over Olveston.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in his own eyes my father was a self-made man to whom social acceptance mattered. It mattered, and even in so small a community as Dunedin it could not be taken for granted. No one of Jewish birth should count on being accepted. Prejudice waited everywhere, and might declare itself at any time, if not too blatantly. It waited, as always in New Zealand, for anyone who excelled — or excelled in any field except sport. Be too successful or too intelligent, too outspoken or too well-spoken, and on every hand the mediocre and complacent will prickle, and hold you an object of suspicion. My father may have been all of these on occasion, until he grew wary and learned more complete conformity. He was not ashamed of being Jewish, but resented anti-Jewish prejudice, and was unable or unprepared to ignore it or brazen it out. That prejudice was not overt in Dunedin and my father was too friendly and too normal in every way to excite it; but it showed from time to time. He joined the Dunedin Club in his late forties when already fairly successful in the law, and remained a member until his death; he was an active and I think a well-liked member, lunching and playing billiards and snooker and bridge there. Yet as usual in such situations there had to be one member who declared hotly during some club dispute that my father was the first and would be the last etc., etc. Going to Oxford would give me a strong defence against such prejudice.
I said yes, I'd like to go. Esmond de Beer, who was still living in Oxford, found that St John's would admit me, without entrance examination, on the strength of New Zealand matriculation, which I had yet to sit. I sat in December and passed as expected — well enough in my good subjects and with a mark or two to spare in mathematics and the sciences. The Oxford year did not start until the following October; we were to leave page 111New Zealand in July. I hoped to remain at Waitaki until then but my father, and Grandfather too, wanted me to live at home. They would be losing me for a full three years once we left New Zealand. They may have thought too that a little civilizing at home before going to England would not come amiss. And my father may have thought that proximity to business and law in Dunedin might help to prepare me for the future, and would at least be likely to weaken the hold of ideas which four years of Waitaki had given me, and to loosen undesirable friendships. Reluctantly, I agreed to stay in Dunedin, and to take some sixth form teaching at the school I had hated before.
That summer we were not to go to Wakatipu. Instead, my father decided, we should make a motor tour of both islands, in order to see more of the country before we left it. Carty accompanied us of course; and Grandfather.
He and my father had very different habits, which led to friction. Grandfather was a punctual man who lived by the clock. When going on a journey, we used to say, he would reach the railway station half-an-hour before the train got in; everything was done in good order, with ample time to spare; one waited; but there was no confusion or discomfort. My father, on the contrary, liked to reach the station in time to board the train as it pulled out. He declared that he never missed trains, he refused to let himself be hurried, he lingered if it pleased him, and did whatever took his fancy. He cut things so fine that if you had not his confidence you were constantly afraid of being left behind; and there was always the possibility of miscalculation or an unlucky delay. As a policy for one man on his own it worked well enough; when several people were involved it generally led to frayed nerves, confusion, tempers and tears. I envied my father his nonchalance, but in practice and by temperament sided with Grandfather; you knew where you were, with him.
After crossing from Lyttelton to Wellington, we drove by way of New Plymouth, Mt Messenger and Waitomo to Auckland. There we met friends and relatives, Grandfather visited his shops and talked to their managers, as he did everywhere, taking me page 112with him, and took me also to bookshops and to the museum and the art gallery. From Auckland to Rotorua and Wairakei, where I remember hot and cold pools among pine woods, and lying in the water on a dark night gazing at the stars from among invisible trees. We crossed the great ranges from Taupo to Napier on a hot, brilliant day, drove on to Wellington, where I bought books of poems by Stephen Phillips and Alfred de Vigny and booklets on Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, and took the ferry to Picton. At Spring Creek Carty visited her mother. Then Nelson, the West Coast, Arthur's Pass, and home. The journey took about four weeks.
All the time I managed to read, devouring books late at night and early in the morning. I read hungrily, miscellaneously, and far from well, with no one to direct me or even to suggest consistency. I had to read everything, in order to find out where my tastes and interests lay and reject what I did not want. By the time I left New Zealand I had had my fill of romantic and popular novels and was ready for better ones; I was also ready to move on from Swinburne and Masefield. But I wish that through such diversity of books I had read a few good writers steadily and thoroughly, and formed a habit of steady, thorough, reflective reading. That might have disciplined and strengthened my mind as formal education had failed to do. Some of the little consistent reading I ever managed was with Grandfather. Earlier, during school holidays, Lel and I and John and Biddy Laing used regularly to dine at Manono on Sundays, and when no other visitors were present John and I had to read to Grandfather after dinner. Why the girls were not obliged to join in I am not sure; Grandfather may have thought that the books which we then read, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were not likely to interest them, or he may have regarded women generally as rather less serious than men — his attitude to his daughters suggests this. John and I envied them their freedom, and penned in the sitting-room chafed to see them outside in the garden or hear them moving and talking in the drawing-room next door.
The Iliad of Lang, Leaf and Myers and the Odyssey of Butcher and Lang are soporifics after a rich midday dinner; all the clarity and sharpness of action and feeling in the stories are blurred and muted in the pseudo-poetic haze of their make-believe page 113language. I got something from those readings nevertheless, and am grateful for even a slight familiarity with the persons and the action of the poems. But none of us got enough for our trouble. We did not know it; John and I simply thought the books tedious, and protested to Grandfather again and again. He used to laugh tolerantly; the readings went on.
Now in that half-year in Dunedin I visited Manono daily and again read with Grandfather, but voluntarily and more enjoyably. We read the Greek Anthology, especially in the versions of Walter Leaf, which had an added interest for him because Leaf was not only a scholar, but a banker and man of affairs. I too admired them then, but today find them colourless as most other translations of the Anthology. We also read Harriet Monroe's anthology The New Poetry, and the Spoon River Anthology of Edgar Lee Masters, two books which interested Grandfather very much, although I doubt whether he enjoyed English poetry as he did the German poetry he had read when young and returned to from time to time, Goethe, Schiller, Heine and others. He had never made English fully his own language. He must have spoken it at least from the time of his marriage at the age of twenty-three (because Grandmother then spoke German imperfectly), and he had lived in New Zealand since he was thirty, well over half his life, yet he continued to speak it with a strong German accent and wrote it well but not quite idiomatically. When he visited Germany in later life his relatives laughed at his rusty old-fashioned provincial German. But he had made New Zealand his own and thought of himself as a New Zealander by adoption. He knew more of the country and more about it than most New Zealanders, and loved it deeply, especially Dunedin and its surroundings. Here was his home, here he had put down roots, here he expected his children and grandchildren to succeed him.
The country had indeed been good to him. He had entered his father-in-law's very successful business, had soon followed him as head of it and conducted it through difficult times, had made many friends, and was well-known and respected throughout the country. Until 1914 he had kept up his German connections. Bendix Hallenstein had been German Consul in Dunedin, and Grandfather after him. That ended with the war. page 114By then he had lived in New Zealand and had been a New Zealand citizen for so long that he did not fall under suspicion, unlike some other Germans; and Uncle Harold after being in the territorials for years had joined up as soon as his parents returned from England. But Grandfather lived very quietly, and gave up travelling and inspecting branches in the meantime.
That half-year in Dunedin turned out to be, above all, half a year spent in getting to know Grandfather better. I was no longer simply a young indulged devoted grandchild; in spite of the fifty-one years between us, we became almost equals, and I began to see him as an individual, with particular tastes and interests, many of which I found congenial. I could not follow him as a collector. Already I had stopped collecting stamps. His coins, plaques and medals did not draw me, in spite of the fascination of those worn irregular silver pieces, small and great drachmas with the leaping dolphins of Syracuse, the Athenian owl — especially the great winged owl of Marathon, Apollo's regal wild swan of Klazomenae, Metapontum's conch shell and ear of barley; and the Indian swords and daggers encrusted with coral and turquoise, the Tibetan bowls, censers, prayer wheels of silver, brass and copper, the netsukes — yes, I should love to own them, I hoped always to be able to see them round me, yet I had no wish to collect. I admired Grandfather's collections — that is, I admired some of the individual pieces in them. I enjoyed being shown them, hearing him talk about them; but I did not find myself poring over them; my response was sensuous, but otherwise passive; although I did not know this yet, I wanted to steep myself in the sensuous and not to stop, neither clinging to it nor passing beyond, but passing into it, making it mine by becoming it. Nor did the early printed books hold me for long; true, I had picked up a few serviceable first editions of Browning, Tennyson and Swinburne, but chiefly because they were well-printed, strongly bound, and readable; I wanted books to read and use, not to admire for their age and rarity and preserve in cases.
1. Otago Heads and Port Chalmers, from Signal Hill, c. 1866, painting by George O'Brien Hocken Library
4. The Octagon, c. 1920, showing First Church with harbour beyond Press Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
6. (above) Sara and Willi Fels Hocken Library
9. Family group, 1890 Standing, from left: Willi Fels, Agnes Hallenstein (later Mrs Barden, 'Aunt Agnes'), Frank Hyams, Henrietta ('Ettie') Hyams. Seated, from left: Mrs Willi Fels, Bendix Hallenstein, Mary Hallenstein, Emily de Beer (with child Mary). Children in front, from left: Kate, Emily, and Helene Fels Hocken Library
18. View of the lake Photograph by J. T. Salmon, Making New Zealand Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
21. (above) The Brunswick Mill, early flour-mill established by Bendix Hallenstein and J. W. Robertson at the Kawarau Falls at Frankton, Lake Wakatipu Alexander Turnbull Library
22. (left) Shotover River at Arthur Point National Publicity Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
As for music, the Steinway was silent now, but we played the gramophone almost every evening, although it was not played when Grandfather had no visitors. The earliest music I remember is a pre-war hit called 'Alexander's Rag-time Band', a favourite of Uncle Harold's. I am told that the music I liked best and often asked for as a young child was, surprisingly, a record of the Egmont overture; we still played records of this and of the Coriolan and Leonore overtures, of several of Beethoven's and Mozart's symphonies, of many extracts from operas, Wagner, Mozart, Verdi, and of many songs, especially Schubert, and some Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky. A conventional collection, but I got to know the music well, and grew as familiar with the operas as stories from them added to Grandfather's recollections of those he had seen allowed. Familiarity without understanding does not seem of much value, however. I gave up piano lessons after my second year at Waitaki because I disliked my teacher's habits and did not connect what he taught me with music; he was a heavy elderly man with a strong Scottish pronunciation who ate and drank his morning tea and biscuit uncouthly in my ear. I soon forgot the little I had learned about musical form, and never learned to read properly; in this as in so many other things I page 116was intellectually lazy, with no impulse to master the disciplines I met. Nobody made me work, so I remained half educated.
Grandfather loved entertaining friends and visitors, especially to midday dinner on Sunday. This was the grand meal of the week at Manono. He often spent Sunday morning on his knees painstakingly weeding the lawns, a menial task which the gardener had no leisure for; then in good time he would go upstairs, and after washing, brush his clothes carefully and dress in his best for the occasion. We too put on our best that day, and so did the visitors, three or four of them or even more; my father never came; he was expected in the evening.
Sunday dinner was usually a roast of beef with Yorkshire pudding. Grandfather carved with deliberation, watched rather anxiously by Miss Moodie and expectantly by grandchildren and guests. He habitually drank wine with this meal, from tall goblets with swelling green stems; either a Rhine wine or a South Australian burgundy or claret or hock from one of the old-established German vineyards near Adelaide, Büring and Sobels, which I think he had visited; he kept a cellar in a small cold room at the back of the house. For us as children the excitement of the meal was the second course (there were never more than two courses): would it be Spanish Cream, or the foamy evanescence of Floating Islands, or trifle, or Queen Pudding with its raspberry jam and meringue, or stewed fruit and junket?
The dining-room wore a wintry air for me, its darkish dry-green dominated from above the sideboard at the head of the table by a large gloomy lithograph after Landseer of a many-antlered stag baying to a frozen landscape. This was the only picture of its kind in the house and I cannot imagine why it was chosen, or kept. At the other end of the room a square bay of windows looked onto the garden; a glimpse of town and harbour past a walnut tree to the right, trees and fernery across lawn in front, and farther left the main lawns with the two oak-trees, beyond the statue of the girl reading under her honeysuckle canopy. It was beneath the dining-room windows that the tall snowflakes with the green birth-mark grew so well. The long page 117side wall of the room backing Uncle Harold's work-room was half occupied by a fireplace with a large mahogany surround of mantelpiece and small cupboards. Opposite, against the hall wall, stood a tall mahogany dresser on whose upper shelves was displayed a handsome set of Delft plates in white with a gold and red monogram. Beside this hung a photograph of Bendix Hallenstein.
Occasionally fresh fruit followed the sweet, and with the fruit finger-bowls of Indian brass stamped with patterns of stems and leaves, or with figures of men and elephants among leafy scrolls, or figures human-headed or animal-headed that stood with arms outstretched in a small framework suggesting at first glance a Frankish or Romanesque niche. For coffee, which Miss Moodie made in the pantry, we moved to the drawing-room, or on sunny days to the side veranda onto which both it and the sitting-room opened. My favourite coffee cups belonged to a simple shapely Doulton set, plain white, fluted, narrowing downwards, with gold handles, small enough to allow one to drink two or three cupsful (black or with hot milk, and brown sugar crystals) without seeming greedy. Grandfather took his coffee with great relish and an 'Ah' of satisfaction, sometimes tossing it down in a few mouthfuls and sucking his moustache if it had got wet.
We then sat talking, Grandfather would persuade the visitors to stay for afternoon tea, and almost invariably he took them round the garden before they left. His most frequent visitors were university friends. Business acquaintances he saw during the week and met at a luncheon club on Fridays; I do not recall businessmen coming to Manono as friends, except very rarely the enormous George Crow, manager of the d.i.c, whose daughter, Marion, Lel and I met at parties. The George Thompsons came often; he was professor of modern languages, a tall fair shy man, chiefly a French scholar, and the first historian of the University of Otago. His wife had both charm and character, the charm of an understanding heart and warm imagination, and she and Grandfather were instinctively drawn to one another. They came to the house out of friendship, not because of Grandfather's good hospitality. And there was the professor of classics, T. D. Adams, Tommy Adams to my father and his other men page 118friends, a smiling, twinkling, almost too courteous man charming to ladies and much admired, although considered rather an old woman. He lived with his parents in George Street until he married after retiring, in his middle or late sixties, long after the time I am writing about. Smallish, bald, carefully dressed, he could make the most unpromising subject live; I remember a lecture of his on the Greeks and sport which surprised and delighted me. He advised Grandfather over the building up of the classical collection in the Otago Museum; together they ran the Classical Association, whose meetings Grandfather attended regularly and to which he lectured on coins and other subjects.
I do not remember that the Skinners came often to Sunday dinner, but Dr Skinner (Harry to my aunts and the de Beers) was constantly calling or being summoned. When the University of Otago decided in 1918 to undertake the teaching of anthropology, Grandfather had helped to get Dr Skinner appointed jointly lecturer in anthropology and assistant curator of the Otago Museum, guaranteeing half his salary for five years. The curatorship of the Museum had from the beginning been attached to the chair of biology, then held by Dr Benham, who however left the running of it very largely to Dr Skinner; and it was Skinner who made the Museum the fine professional institution it is today.
The Museum had become Grandfather's great interest. In 1929 he gave it his very large and valuable Maori collection, which he had been amassing steadily since the nineties. He continued adding to his other collections after that, intending them too to go to the Museum in time, and worked with Skinner in building up the Museum's collection in several fields. On every journey he made, in New Zealand and abroad, he bought for both collections. He used to complain, humorously, that Skinner was too ready to pay high prices — 'Skinner doesn't have to earn the money', he would say, laughing but meaning it; I believe he sometimes drove hard bargains himself, not so much with dealers but with private owners; he had no hesitation in asking people to present objects to the Museum. He was continually making gifts of material to it himself, and paying or helping to pay for its purchase of other material; this apart page 119from various endowments and outright gifts of money. But he knew how to value Skinner's knowledge and judgement.
It was through their common interest that he met Peter Buck, who used to come to the house on his rare visits to Dunedin. Professor Macmillan Brown, one of the intellectual dynamos and steam-rollers of his time, was another whom I remember at the Sunday dinner table; his daughter Mrs Baxter, the poet's mother, who was of a strong independent inquiring mind, used to visit Uncle Alfred's wife, where Mary de Beer often met her. And there was F. A. de la Mare, Froggy, a lawyer from Hamilton, rationalist and champion of academic freedom and one of the notable liberal figures of his time. A stranger figure, and to us young ones far more engaging, was Captain Bollons of the government vessel Tutanekai. His work as inspector of lighthouses took him regularly round the coast; he told us of wild seas and tricky landings, especially in the Otago sounds, with such high good humour that he seemed to take positive pleasure in them; we laughed with him, but I thought it sounded fearsome enough work. He was bearded like Grandfather; they enjoyed each other's company greatly; but with all his friendly joviality he cut a questioning figure in the delicate apple-green drawing-room. His presence confronted our lives (so far as I knew them) with dangers I had no conception of.
Grandfather's day, the day at Manono, was well ordered. He got up early at a regular hour, rather later in winter. After performing some simple physical exercises, brushing his clothes, bathing, he came downstairs dressed for the day soon after seven. A small tray with a tumbler and a jug of hot water was brought to him, with the morning paper. On fine days in summer he sat outside on the front veranda, looking down the green garden aglow with fresh light as he read the paper carefully and sipped his water. Then he took a walk through the garden, to breathe the morning air fully and the clear scents of flowers and leaves (his sense of smell was good; he did not smoke), noting the progress of particular plants and thinking about changes and improvements. Sharp at a quarter to eight he came into the dining-room for breakfast, with a good appetite, cheerful, pleased with the fine morning and the beauty of the garden, and with his own punctuality, which seemed proof of the order-page 120liness of the world and of his own part in helping to maintain it, however gloomily he might shake his head over the day's news. Breakfast was unhurried but businesslike, not to be held up by long conversation. As soon as he had finished Grandfather rose, not waiting for anyone else, and left for his office, usually giving the gardener some brief instructions as he went.
He invariably took the same route to town. The shortest way was down Victoria Street, with its steep upper section and its rather inconveniently spaced steps below Cargill Street, and then through a slummy lane leading from York Place to Filleul Street. He took the more dignified, less steep, round-about way down London Street and Scotland Street into Filleul Street, through the lane beside the Town Hall into the Octagon, and along Princess Street to Dowling Street. He returned by the same route for lunch at one o'clock, and again about five in the afternoon. Uncle Alfred usually accompanied him home from the office, and sometimes joined him in walking down. Once or possibly twice each week, quite regularly, Grandfather went to the barber's to have his beard trimmed. Home once more at the end of the day, he often walked through the garden again before going inside to wash and settle down; it was his unfailing delight. I think it pleased not only his love of flowers and trees but also his aesthetic sense. The proportions of the three lawns, the relationship of open and enclosed spaces, of thicket and formal garden; the large circle of a flower bed surrounded by other beds which together composed a square set within the square side garden; the white and terracotta statues and urns amid the green; glimpses through the trees of red town roofs, blue harbour, dark hills; the pool of quiet green amid the noises from the town and from houses and gardens round about — all these gave constant stimulus to the play of his mind and sense, and endless satisfaction. After dinner Grandfather sat down in his habitual armchair to read, unless he had visitors. He did not wish to talk idly, so that the evenings were dull for Miss Moodie, who might sew, but read very little. About nine o'clock, she would bring in a dish of fresh fruit with plates and fruit knives and forks. This was usually the only supper. Between 10.30 and 11 Grandfather went to bed, after tapping the barometer and turning the lock in the front door.page 121
On fine Saturday afternoons we very often walked, generally up Flagstaff, the big hill behind the town. I liked to walk ahead, following the tracks as if passing the frontiers of the known into new country. Larks sang overhead; the rainbird piped his patient melancholy phrases that fall away despondingly into silence. The hillside, one of Flagstaff's modest buttresses, rounded and dipped slightly and we came to the pools and runnels of a stony creek, much broken up among stands of manuka, which we knew always by one name, Crayfish Pond, because dark grey crayfish that seemed semi-transparent in the pale water lurked there under banks and among stones. I do not remember that we tried to catch them. We filled the blackened billy, made a fire of manuka and other wood (lit with one match only, if possible), and drank the lightly smoked tea that has a flavour like that of no other tea on earth.
Usually we walked on, before or after tea, across the swampy flax-grown slopes beyond the creek, to join the road at the Horsetrough. That road leaves Taieri Road a little beyond Ashburn Hall, and from the shoulder of Flagstaff one hundred yards or so past the Horsetrough drops down its western face steeply to Whare Flat and Silverstream. Near the Horsetrough an old track turns off the road to wind along the eastern face of Flagstaff; we knew it as Snowberry Road, from the snowberry plants growing thickly beside it. The Horsetrough used to mark a stage on the bullock track that wound along the high spine of Flagstaff and over Swampy and down past Double Hill to Blueskin Bay: this was the first road to Dunedin from the north. From the Horsetrough we saw in a long arc below us the harbour and Otago Peninsula, part of the town, the coast running south and the shallow basin of the Taieri Plain. That was long before plantations shut out the view. At the top of the road, a little farther on, suddenly the hill fell away and an astonishing world leapt into being immediately ahead, expectant, still, frozen in grandeur as if it had been waiting there through all time, undiscovered till this moment: wave upon wave of silent smoke-blue ridges, with sheer gorges muffled in bush plunging blindly between, and far inland against the sky a long bare featureless wall, the rampart of the Rock and Pillar, its vast southern wing dipping and sweeping out to the high wind-page 122scoured fells of Lammerlaw and Lammermoor. All quivering in haze and distance, near, alive, inaccessible. Still but alive. Was its life also mine? Was the earth's life, that of wind, light, rocks and waters, plants and trees, insects, birds — was all this life related to mine, identical with mine? Was I part of this, and this part of me?
Sometimes we walked the short distance up to the top of Flagstaff; very occasionally, carrying tea things all the way, we filled our billy at the Horsetrough and boiled it a short way down towards Whare Flat, to get most of the view but escape the wind. At the end of the afternoon, the cable tram carried us again from Kaikorai Valley over the top of the hill at Highgate and down to London Street. Grandfather loved these walks as much as we did; the wild hillside with its natives spoke to him, I think, as it did to me. He always carried a pocket knife and a trowel and often took home small seedlings to plant in the garden. Carty and Miss Moodie, Uncle Alfred and Aunt Dora, John and Biddy Laing, other friends now and then — the party varied, but consisted essentially of Grandfather and another grown-up, Lei and me. My father never came with us; he was more importantly engaged at golf.
at easter that year I spent a fortnight at Minaret Station, on the west shore of the northern arm of Lake Wanaka. The station belonged to Fred Freeman, whom my father had met as manager of the Otago Farmers' Co-operative Association, which I think he advised legally. He had a manager at Minaret, but not long afterwards retired to live there permanently and run the station himself.
My father left Dunedin a week or two ahead of me, in order to go deer-stalking with Mr Freeman. I travelled by service car to Wanaka, spent the night there, and next morning took the launch that ran up the lake once or twice a week carrying mail and supplies to Minaret, Albert Burn and other stations and taking out their wool at shearing time; it was their sole means of communication with the rest of the world. The Minaret yards, shearing sheds, cook-house, men's quarters, garden and page 123homestead lay, a mile or so north of the jetty, on a low terrace between the mountain face and a hilly peninsula thick with manuka. Beyond the peninsula, the north end of the lake lay clear in view; within its huge straight channel cut between steep mountains the terrace formed a smaller channel which the wind poured through from the snow mountains, the Haast Pass and the Tasman.
The prevailing northerly often blew day and night for weeks on end. A wall of bluegums had been planted for shelter behind the homestead, running across the terrace; they had grown enormous, dwarfing the little settlement which they protected, but the snow summits a few miles away beyond the Albert Burn still looked over the top of them when you stood fifty yards in front. The wind roared in them constantly, tearing off bark and branches, sounding like a vast boiling ocean, but without the rhythm of waves; on quieter days it swelled and sank tenderly on a low ruminative accompaniment to the passage of hours measured only by slow sun and moving pools of shadow. The wind spoiled Minaret; it was wonderful, but tiring, because you could not simply bow to it, go with it, let it have its way, if you were to go on working you had in self-defence to withstand and struggle against it. When it dropped the stillness was miraculous.
The homestead was a small mean inconvenient wooden bungalow such as you might have found in a poor town street, difficult to run, and wretched to live in. Astonishing on a prosperous high country station of about fifty thousand acres; and Mr Freeman was not poor. Moreover he was used to a certain comfort in his tall old family house at Abbotsford near Dunedin, where the living rooms were pleasantly big and high and the kitchen adequate at least. Yet he and his wife lived at Minaret meanly for more than twenty years, cramped and hard-worked and often unwell as they grew older; Mrs Freeman suffered from prostrating migraine headaches due partly, she thought, to the terrible wind. For entertainment (it was before the days of radio) they had a gramophone and a mixture of records including popular classics, which I was allowed to play in the evenings.
I helped dipping sheep on the day I arrived, and next morning set off with some of the men and their dogs and rifles for the Albert Burn, where they were to muster, a walk of about four page 124hours; another man had gone ahead with pack-horses carrying tent, food and gear. We followed the base of the mountains for a few miles, until near the Albert Burn, which divides Minaret from Mt Albert Station. Turning upstream, the lake now at our backs, we climbed over a hill at the narrow entrance to the valley and saw it open out before us in a long, winding, ample basin. After walking for another hour or more upstream from our camp site and passing a fine waterfall, the Grey Mare, tossed down the sheer scarp between beech-grown crags onto one of the tussock flats of the valley floor, we saw the Minarets at its head, sharp in snow. Someone followed a stag, with no success, and next day, which was too wet for mustering, we saw several deer in the basin above us. Mosquitoes and sandflies pestered us as we lay in our blankets on rough fern beds; the men made irregular meals and late in the day went shooting rabbits; they got about fourteen. The day after rose fine, the musterers set off, while I stayed behind with the youngest station hand, Bill, to pack and load the horses and return to the homestead; we took turns at riding in the heat.
A week later I took part in the mustering on the main station block, the range which runs back from the lake to the Minarets, of which it is an outlying spur. Mr Freeman and my father were away with three men deer-stalking. Bill and I climbed in the hot middle of the day to a hut some hours away up the range; one of the musterers whom we joined there took me out to shoot keas, but his dogs played up. Snow already lay thick on the Minarets, which shone clear that night in frosty moonlight. Tired from the climb and the heat, I slept but my bed was uncomfortable, and I woke early. A fine sunrise stained the peaks, but it was ten o'clock before the sun reached our hut. While the men went out to prospect I stayed behind, reading Paradise Lost and damming the stream; a warm day, followed by a mild night with another clear moon.
Then came the mustering day. Each man was to stay at a certain height on the range, and with his dogs to drive all the sheep before him towards the lake face and down to the home yards. I had no dogs, but with the station manager, Mr Spedding, I was to take the summit ridge. Setting off early, we climbed straight up for an hour into the snow on the broad ridge; we page 125were well back towards the Minarets and could see Aspiring now and then beyond them. The other men were lost far down on the folded and fissured range. Occasionally I heard one of their dogs barking, thin and sharp in the immense distance, or a faint insect whistle, but the ridge swelled out and curved steeply down towards the Albert Burn far below to our left, and I saw no trace of them. We were alone between the ridge and the sky. For more than five hours we tramped over thin snow; then it ended, the ridge fell away before us, and we stood at the blunt apex of an enormous rough triangle, the lake face of the ridge. I was to follow slowly down, behind the musterers, watching for sheep that might have escaped their net. Mr Spedding and his dogs left me.
It was early afternoon, still and hot. The lake in its long narrow trough from Pigeon Island to the head lay very blue beneath me; nearly opposite, small from where I stood, opened the Gap, a low narrow pass in the hills leading to Lake Hawea, through which ran the road to Makarora and the Haast Pass. The quiet lake, the brown and tawny hills, tussocked, rock-strewn, steep and broken, and the snow peaks above, dwelt with me for the whole of that long slow mellow afternoon as I dawdled down the huge face, and sat to gaze and daydream and gaze, drinking in the sun. The whole world before me seemed my possession; I had never before, alone, held such a vast scene in my eye and mind, had never been subjected to and penetrated by one so grand, so rich. All I had ever known of the visible creation was gathered there in my sight: no matter that it was country in fact new to me: it was not strange, that day I came to know it, and it was made mine for good.
On the lake and on the hills beyond nothing stirred; only from far down the slopes before me the cries of sheep were borne up, sifted through the fine air, and I saw their tiny clots and files hovering and straggling downwards here and there among the gullies and ridges of the immense face. Like a bird floating on outstretched wings, the sun sailing motionless overhead drifted towards the peaks behind as I descended, sinking slowly and calmly as if it would never reach its haven among those violent rocks. I lingered too, unwilling for the day to end, reluctant to reach the dust and clamour of the yards, the dull friendly home-page 126stead, and the meal for which I was growing hungry; yet so exultant, so filled with the splendour of the day, that nothing could undo what I had seen and felt and become.
Three months later, my father, LeL and I sailed from Auckland on the Remuera. Grandfather, Kate and several old friends had seen us off by the early train from Dunedin. The Miss Dawsons came to see us at Palmerston. At Oamaru, Mrs Milner brought me good wishes from The Man, and with her came my friends — James and Ian, Peter, Dougal, Morry and three or four others, all of whom I loved in different ways. As the train began to move they gave me a haka, the greatest token of honour and affection I think I have ever received; and then, in The Man's car, raced beside the train as far as road and railway ran together. When we passed Waitaki, I saw my dear Miss White waving from her upstairs window. In Christchurch, Winsome and I dined at Warner's; I do not remember whether I had to fight to be allowed that. The uneventful voyage took us via Panama to Southampton. Few people were travelling first class, and we made only one friend, a girl going from Canterbury College to Cambridge, Sheelagh Sadlier, whose father was Bishop of Nelson. Black-haired, sensible and jolly, she liked us all and became a family friend. A few days south of the line, I had my eighteenth birthday.
* See 'Otago Landscapes, I', 'On Mt Iron', in Disputed Ground