The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 1 (May 1, 1932.)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
I have been taking a hair-raising course of ghost stories—try that excellent collection, “A Supernatural Omnibus”—and the thought naturally comes that New Zealand is too young yet to have accumulated much of this kind of lore. Pakeha ghost stories, of course; there is any amount of supernatural association in Maoridom, with its belief in wairua, kehua, matakite or second-sight, and the like. Our dwellinghouses are not yet old enough to have attracted the serious attention of ghosts. Here and there, though, one has seen lonely houses which might well harbour a spook or two. I remember in a certain part of the Waikato a pioneer farmhouse, locally called “Matai Castle,” because of the timber chiefly used in its building, which always gave me a shivery feeling, it looked so spooky and unhealthy. A number of the family which owned it had died in it, and perhaps that fact made special impress on healthy youth.
Down in Opotiki the old home of the Rev. Volkner, the missionary who was murdered by the Hauhau fanatics in 1865, was reputed to be haunted by the spirit of the martyred clergyman. There was a creepy story to the effect that at midnight there were sounds as if a heavy body were being dragged from step to step down the stairs. But the historic church is, of all places, a building that the missionary's spirit might well haunt, for the reading-desk on which his head was set by the devilish prophet Kereopa, still bears the stains of his blood. The full story of that tragedy makes blood-curdling reading. But in general New Zealand has yet to raise its ghostly visitants.
By the way, I have discovered that the best time to read a collection of ghost stories is between midnight and three o'clock in the morning. Particularly if the night is still, with now and again a little wandering waft of a breeze making a low “whee-ooh” around the house. In that way you get the right atmosphere and the full flavour of the spook tales. Try it.
The Importing Curse.
Some American has been telling a Wanga-nui paper that New Zealand really ought to get some birds for its forests, and he suggests the wild canary and the Chinese parrot! There is really no end to the diabolical craze of would-be acclimatisators to introduce strange animals and birds to these benighted wilds of ours. The importation of page 36 undesirables has been going on for seventy years or more, and the marvel is that we have any birds of our own surviving at all. Now-a-days the Government is more vigilant, and the unwanteds in most cases find the doors barred against them, but the bush is overrun with enemies of the birds, weasels, opossums, stoats and the like. Alien birds have robbed the Maori birds of their food supplies; every introduced bird in the bush means so much less for the natives. And the Chinese parrot is surely the crazy limit. Fortunately it won't get any further than the suggestion stage, as with that amazing idea propounded some years back that the Canadian fox and the beaver would be such suitable animals for the Fiordland forests.
Our recent summer saw more bush and seaside holiday camps than ever before. The simple life in the bush is the best thing in the world for a week or two for our city-pampered people. Highly popular, too, is the week-end tramping outing. The girls have taken to it, too, and it is an excellent correction to a too-long course of picture-shows and dance-halls, and other haunts of crowds. But one has noticed a tendency among week-ending girls, as well as youths, to overdo the swag-carrying habit. The inexperienced townbreds are apt to load themselves like packhorses, lugging all sorts of unnecessary impedimenta over the ranges. It is not a pretty sight, a young woman bent almost double under a packload she could profitably reduce by two-thirds. It is ridiculous to trudge up into the hills for a couple of days burdened with such things as heavy canvas tents, patent cookers, and excess quantities of iron rations. Some of these young people even carry gramophones with them, and wireless sets. That is not the way to enter into the spirit of the bush and gain the fellowship of the wilds.
The essence of bush-camping enjoyment, for a two or three days' jaunt, is to travel as lightly as possible. Most of the stuff so painfully packed can be done without. A party of half-a-dozen can do very well with just a couple of billies, one to fit into the other, for cooking purposes.
Tents are needless encumbrances in summer, if you are in the bush. It is a simple matter to run up a lean-to shelter with saplings, and a light calico fly, that will serve all bivouac purposes. All that each person needs is a blanket and a light waterproof ground-sheet. Oiled calico, in squares large enough to cover two or three people, is light to carry and easy to rig up in conjunction with the bush material. And let the morepork and the kaka and the tui have their say to you, instead of vulgarising the bush with gramophone crooning songs and jazz-steps.
In the summer time of the year in many a Maori settlement, and in quite a lot of pakeha gardens in the warmer parts of the North Island, you will see the fences covered with long hanks of tobacco leaf laid out to dry in the sun. Tupeka has been grown by the Maoris for some seventy years; in Governor Grey's time, in the late 'Sixties, a pamphlet of instructions in its cultivation and treatment was issued by the Government and translated into the native tongue by John White. The finished product is called torori, or raurau. Sometimes the Maori flavours it with molasses, which gives it a special tang of its own. I have known a pipeful of toroi to be likened to old socks on fire. That is perhaps a libel; nevertheless it takes a strong stomach to withstand the aroma of a hutful of the old folks with their pipes of torori in full blast.
“When as in Flax my Julia Goes.”
We shall yet, I hope, have to give Her-rick's line, a new and popular rendering as above. That is, when our valuable and unappreciated phormium tenax plant comes into its own. There is some discussion at present of a revival of the flax-milling industry, and of a widening of the field of uses for the fibre. I often have thought that if our native flax grew in some other country, say in America, it would long ago have become perhaps a staple wealth-producing item. Here it has too long been regarded as a kind of weed, growing anywhere, and neglected because of its very abundance.page 37
It has been established by experiment that flax is of use for many purposes besides ropes and cordage and binder-twine. A century ago it was discovered that it made excellent sail material for ships, in lieu of ordinary canvas. The Japanese have made paper out of it. But for one of its great uses in the future we shall have to take a lesson from the Maori. Clothing, both soft and warm, can be made from the flax. The korowai and kaitaka robes and shawls—miscalled mats—woven with primitive appliances by Maori dames from the hand-dressed fibre, are not only handsome and graceful but combine the qualities of cotton and wool.
Many years ago, a King Country correspondent lately mentioned, a bale of flax which was sent to Japan was converted into beautiful artificial silk, and the proprietor of the mill had a dress made for his wife from a piece of the woven material. This dress was worn and was greatly admired.
There should be more than a hint in that for some of our enterprising business men. The material is here, in every swamp. It grows quickly, it can be harvested indefinitely. May there not come a time when our women will be proud to display dresses and cloaks which have the merit of real originality. She could not but be graceful in a flaxen robe which can be dyed any colour, and which naturally falls into those easy lines of liquefaction that pleases the poet's eye.
A radio-auntie, reading out children's birthday greetings the other evening, came upon the Taranaki place-name Ketemarae, which she thought was a queer old name and so like “Kitty Maria.” That is exactly what the early settlers in that part of the country called it half a century or so ago. It was near enough for them, and everyone, even the Maoris, knew what was meant when Kitty-Maria was mentioned.
Perhaps a par of explanation may be welcome to those who know not Kete-marae's origin. It is Normanby now; the railway station of that name occupies the site of the village Matariki, which was one of the Ketemarae group of villages. There is still a Maori settlement called Ketemarae, about a mile from the Normanby station. In other days it was a rather famous meeting-place of the tribes, for several tracks of inland travel met here; one was the bush route to New Plymouth by the Whakaahurangi trail, passing a little inland of where Stratford town now stands. The meaning of the name holds a reference to the large gatherings and generous feastings of old. “Kete” is a basket of food; “marae” is the village square or parade ground.