The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 10 (February 1, 1930)
Superannuated Railwaymen — What do They Engage In?
What do They Engage In?
It is often asked of a New Zealand Railwayman “what will you do when you retire?” The following unique letter received by our Chief Accountant (Mr. H. Valentine), from Mr. W. S. Smith (a former Goods Shed Foreman in Dunedin), tells what one original and enterprising individual is doing “in retirement.”
Prospecting In Australia.
Some few weeks ago a declaration form (from the Superannuation Branch in your office), which has to be filled in and returned as proof that I am still in the flesh, was received at my home in Sydney. This fact, as you are aware, has to be attested to by the New Zealand Government's representative here or by a Justice of the Peace. I asked my wife to call on Mr. Blow and explain my position as regards seeing him personally. He (Mr. Blow) is punctilious in the discharge of his duties, which is befitting a man holding the position he does. He consented to signing the form, (to which my signature had already been attached), after my wife was able to satisfy him that she was not yet a widow. Just now, I feel that the mournful duty of reporting my demise is likely to fall to one of her successors. He requested, however, that I should write to you and explain matters. By doing this unofficially I shall be better able to give full details, so please pardon my digression from the usual channel.
The Alluring Quest.
Since June last, I have been camped on the top of the Blue Mountains, 4,000 ft. up, following the alluring vicissitudes of a gold digger's life. Four of the worst months of the year under canvas in preference to the comforts of a well-appointed home in Sydney. Why and for what purpose? With the liberal assistance of a permanent retiring allowance, I have all I require for my daily needs, but nothing much to give away. The poverty and distress among the poorer classes in this city is appalling. It is the product of continual industrial upheavals. I am past the age to hope for suitable employment that would help to supplement my income. There are hundreds of younger and better qualified men than I vainly seeking for that already, so I resolved to get out and do what I could with pick, shovel, and dish, and all I win, be it little or much, if Dame Fortune is good enough to smile on my efforts, will be devoted to the alleviation of the poverty and distress I have already mentioned.
So far, nothing of a startling nature has been revealed, but I am so well satisfied with my prospects that I am going to continue for a few months longer, despite all the disabilities and discomforts of a “hatter's” life. My camp is right in the bush and isolated in the fullest sense of the term. Twenty miles from the nearest Railway Station and Post Office, twelve miles from the nearest habitation, and 120 miles from my home. Here I am, away from the sight or sound of man, with no other companions than the feathered tribes, the beautiful wild flowers, the tall gaunt gum trees, and the starry heavens at night. In nature's workshop, in nature's cathedral, I work and worship daily in the hope, or I might say, assurance, that my efforts will be crowned with success. In this adventure I have the sympathetic and active assistance of my dear and valued friend, Mr. Paget, and our ladies, without whose interest and co-operation the successful achievement of my enterprise would be difficult as well as doubtful. I have shut the door on 68, but can still sling a long handled shovel to the time of a lively tune.
I have been working in a valley which terminates at the top of a high waterfall at the head of a deep gorge. I have dug cross and circular trenches six and seven feet deep to trap the water, which, in the rainy season, rushes down page 35 off the hillsides. Instead of running over the surface it will now fill the trenches and percolate through and underneath the wash dirt and carry any fine gold over the fall into a hole (ten by twelve by four feet deep), that I have dug out at the bottom to catch all that is washed over. It is here that I shall occasionally lift out and wash the spoil.
Life in the Heart of the Bush.
This note will be left at an established depot five and a half miles out, where it will be and again, could be picked up through a break in the trees over head. I had one eye on the star and the other on the ground, which was broken and rough. Suddenly my foot caught in the end of a fallen log and I went headlong down hill, my packs one way, my lantern another. An Australian born bushman, whose variegated vocabulary is the envy of the world, might have been able to give vent to expressions suitable to the occasion, but I was both winded and speechless, so I got up, found and relit my lamp, and recovered by lost luggage—no charge—and set off again, reaching the camp without further mishap. A survey of the damage revealed pants hopelessly settled. That did not matter much. Public decency does not compel one to wear them where I am living. Two breakfasts lost in the egg department, page 36 biscuits broken up, sugar “bust,” and other minor damage. That was a lesson—I do the job in daylight now.
Encounter with a Snake.
If I have not wearied you, I hope I have at least satisfied you that that monthly instalment is still to continue and likely so for a good many more years to come.
Those responsible for the drafting of the Railway Superannuation Act showed, in my opinion, want of forethought and vision in not making provision for the quiet removal of all beneficiaries who exceed the allotted span. Such an oversight would not have occurred in countries say like China, for instance. There you would not be allowed to remain a burden on the taxpayer for as long as it suited you. You would be told to do it yourself or sharpen an axe and get some other fellow to take you down to the back of the abattoir and do it for you.
If the opportunity should come to you, would you please convey my sincere good wishes to all those I had the pleasure of meeting at our annual conference reunions? To them all my kindest regards and best wishes—the same to yourself.