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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 31

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

The Old Reliable.

At an Agricultural and Pastoral Show held at Little River, Banks Peninsula, the other day, there was a class for bullock-teams, and it was fortunate for some of the shining new motor-cars there that the good old bullockie and his team are not yet extinct. The show ground was so boggy, churned up by the hundreds of cars, that some of the largest and most costly automobiles stuck fast when their drivers were leaving at the end of the day. So one of the bullock-waggon teams went to their assistance and hauled them out. I hope the photographer did not miss that spectacle. Banks Peninsula is one of those places where the “cow-horses,” as the soldiers used to call them in the Waikato war days, are still of use in the haulage work in the hills and on rough roads. The old bush days have gone, but a few of the old hands survive, and it is pleasing to know that even at this time of day they are called upon on occasion to come to the rescue of modern inventions.

In some of our North Island bush backblocks the “kau-mahi,” as the Maori calls the working-bullock, is as useful as ever, in spite of all the down-to-date haulage by machine. And there is one thing in particular on which the bullockie has cause to pride himself. His team never can be accused of dangerous speed; he never dashes through a populous district at fifty or sixty miles an hour; he does not fill the hospitals and the cemeteries with victims of his craze for violent travel.

To Fit the Crime.

And mention of our earliest form of haulage brings up a suggestion which would not only promote road safety but would provide employment for many teams and drivers and rejuvenate a vanishing industry. Let all serious offenders against the laws of motor traffic be sentenced to so many days, or weeks, of travel in a State bullock-waggon, along rough back roads, the offender to sit on the floor of the vehicle and play patience while the official driver carries on in the good old way!


An old colonist, relating recently her early-days’ experiences on the West Coast of the South Island, said that she found, in lieu of other vegetables, “native fern made a useful item for the pot.” They called it “pick-a-pick.” She didn't know how it came to be given that name, but there it was. Possibly she thought the name came from the act of picking it. It is curiously interesting to trace the derivation of such terms used by the old-timers, and some of which are still heard from those who have picked them up in the bush or on the farms. They are mostly corruptions of the original Maori words. “Pick-a-pick” is really pikopiko, descriptive of the curled fronds of various small ferns, called generally mauku.

This pikopiko boiled with pork or other meat—once upon a time it was a favourite trimming for “long-pig”—is a tasty bit.

The derivation of “pick-a-pick” resembles that of “biddy-bid”—or “bid-a-bid” as I have heard it—the stickfast burr that gives wool-growers such trouble. Correctly this is piripiri; it is also known as hutiwai. The ignorant or careless pioneers quickly transmuted the Maori word; they had a way of making r's into d's, as in puriri, which easily became “boo-diddy”

Samuel Butler and the Scene of “Erewhon.”

In a recent number of this Magazine the life of Samuel Butler as a sheep-farmer in South Canterbury was discussed, and his explorations in the wild Alpine region that he afterwards made the scene of “Erewhon” were described. A New Plymouth correspondent writes that, having read that article with pleasure, he looked up some scrap-book clippings he had regarding Butler, and he sends a copy of one. This is a letter which was written by Butler, in London in 1902, a few months before his death, to the editor of the Christchurch “Press.” The most interesting portion is his reference to the Rangitata and Rakaia Rivers and to his travels there with the late Mr. John Baker, the surveyor, at the beginning of the ‘Sixties. He mentioned his “Erewhon Revisited,” and went on to say: “You will see reminiscences of my own first crossing the hills above Lyttelton and riding across the Plains in Chapter xxvii. But I have deliberately altered a good deal, for I had to make the writer get up the Rakaia Gorge, whereas I have really taken him to the Rangitata…. Strange—the way in which Baker and I discovered the pass to the West Coast over the head-waters of the Rakaia is drawn closely from fact. We went up the Rangitata and actually overlooked the pass over the Rakaia ranges which was exactly opposite us, and which we should not otherwise have found. Alas! that our having found it should have cost poor Whitcombe his life.”

This reference is to Mr. Whitcombe, the surveyor, who crossed the Alps there in 1863 and was drowned on the West Coast, at the mouth of the Taramakau—that dangerous torrent in which so many gold-diggers later lost their lives.

In this letter, Butler also remarked on the interest which some of the illustrations in the Christchurch “Press” Jubilee number had for him, in particular that of Dr. Sinclair's grave, on the sheep-run which once belonged to him (Butler):—

“I was away down at Christchurch when poor Dr. Sinclair, who was staying at my station, was drowned, and never heard of what had happened till I actually reached home, and found that the body had already been buried, with a Service, I blush to say, read from my bullock driver's Mass-book by Dr. Haast, as he then was—no Church of England Prayer Book being found on the station.—Possibly I had taken mine with me for use at Christchurch, but at this distance of time—nearly forty years ago—who can say!”

Butler's apology for the absence of a Prayer-book at his station may have been one of his own characteristic bits of irony with which he peppered his books.