Pioneering the Pumice
Chapter X: The Animals
Chapter X: The Animals
“A living being having voluntary motion”—The Dictionary.
Man has now overcome all rivals and enemies of the animal world except the smallest — the insects. Indeed it would appear that the smaller a creature the deadlier — until we get right down to the inframicroscopic bacteria.
So, with due respect to the enemies of my race, I will begin with insects or rather all very small creatures—not necessarily confined to those furnished with head, thorax, abdomen and six legs.
†Fleas were abundant in the soil. Whence they drew sustenance before our arrival is a mystery: but, when we appeared they did their level best to make up for lost time. Once when I had to sleep outside to make room for visitors I would catch thirty or forty in my blankets each morning and in the manure shed they simply swarmed in the blood-and-bone. If we neglected to tie strings round the bottom of our trousers when working with that manure the little wretches would rush up our legs in hundreds and gorge on our life's blood. Ultimately we reduced their numbers to a negligible minimum.
During the summer there was a great pestilence of †sandflies. However if sandfly bites are not rubbed or scratched they do no harm.page 148
Another stinging insect was the honey bee. Ere long a hive was established in the ceiling over my study and its inhabitants occasionally paid me a visit without attacking me, but in the garden on two or three occasions a few have come at me. On all these occasions except one I was fully clothed and more or less in my right mind, but this time was without a hat. Bereft of this useful shield it was impossible to keep the brutes off and I was rather badly stung, with the result that I suffered from swelled head for several days.
What a useful thing the farmer's hat it! Besides its everyday office of keeping the wet winter rains from running down his neck, and preventing the hot summer sun from damaging the delicacy of his complexion, it may be used, as shown, as defence equipment for beating off attacks from the air or for gently urging sheep into a pen, or for kneeling on in wet ground, or for holding hot iron, or for lifting water out of a creek for drinking (the experienced drink from the brim not the crown), or it may be for carrying water to the radiator of a car, and so on. Originally of strongest felt, it has by now lost its band and gained a topmost ventilator, through which the wind may at least whistle. Yet city men would cast away this useful old friend: the protector of their heads and brains.
Besides this domesticated hive we occasionally took a swarm which had separated from it and now and again we robbed the wild bees which had their homes in holes in the cliffs at the back of the run.
The only other dangerous insect was the †mosquito — fortunately extremely rare. Seldom indeed did he —or rather she (†cherchez la femme!) appear to sing her wakeful war song and to drink our very blood.
Gnats and small flying insects known to the natives under the generic name of †naho naho would appear on warm, damp evenings in numberless masses: also moths innumerable of all sizes, shapes and sorts. Besides the little friends of the drapers there were vast numbers of fairly large moths residing in the †manuka scrub. At night attracted by the motor lamps they would leave the bushes and perish in large numbers in the radiator. Occasionally the large and handsome sphinx convolvuli would appear, and once I captured a specimen of the beautiful †dasypodia selenophora, but the huge and handsome hepialus virescens (or †puriri moth) I never saw, though a specimen was taken in Rotorua.
The common †mason fly (really a wasp) was always present in the summer, sealing up our key-holes and spoiling any unused clothes left hanging up. Its spider victims were mostly of the prettily-coloured native varieties. These would retain their vivid colour in the cells but, once the cells were opened, they would rapidly fade.
Another wasp sirex juvencus, so greatly feared at one time as a destroyer of pine trees, seems to have faded out.
The most common flies were the “blowflies” and the “house flies.” The former mostly of the brown sort— also †bluebottles and the handsome †iridescent variety principal progenitor of the dreaded sheep maggot. The native †blowfly of fierce appearance, page 150 but harmless habits, appeared rarely. The most efficient way of destroying these unpleasant imported pests is by placing small kerosene baths on top of the lower window sash. What induces the creatures to enter I know not. That is their business and the fact remains that the baths are soon filled with dead flies in hundreds. These again may be saved and used for lighting the fire! Broadlands was never as bad as many places I have known. In the remotest beech forests at the back of Taupo I have seen the bluebottles roosting so thickly on the trees that one could see no bark. And in view of the complete absence of lawful visible means of support I have asked: “Upon what meat have these our blowflies fed that they are grown so great? As far as one can see there is absolutely no food for them or their loathsome offspring, and the dropping of the smallest quantity will attract them in instantaneous swarms.
In December the †house flies would begin to appear and with unbelievable rapidity increase and multiply and replenish the earth. If they would only stay outside they could be tolerated, but they have great penetration — into all kinds of food. The only advantage I see in them is that when the autumn frosts begin they get stupefied. If one rises early in the morning one may go round with a brush and a kerosene tin and brush them off the walls in masses.
The wide range of my ignorance of entomology prevents my describing the infinity of the other varieties of flies abounding in countless numbers and leading an apparently enjoyable, airy existence without any help from the Government. Their object in life is to feed superior beings such as fantails.
The greatest natural enemy of the fly— the †spider —is also present in great variety and myriad hosts. One of the most beautiful sights in nature is the multitudinous cobwebs on a frosty morning — from the humble little houses of the earthdwelling spiders to the magnificent geometric designs of the page 151 larger sorts. Then they are outlined in glistening frost crystals. Unfortunately when the thaw begins most of the webs collapse. However, the daughters of the luckless Arachne seem to keep an inexhaustible supply of raw material in their abdomens and have no need of government licences for importation from distant countries. The spider is a very varied beastie of all colours shapes and sizes. Distinguished from the true insect he has only two sections in his body—the cephalo-thorax and the abdomen, and walks abroad upon eight legs. However, a †tarantula I caught in California boasted ten legs which seems to me improper. Most of the spiders at Broadlands are native—brightly coloured, green predominating. Some have long slender bodies and others are round and fat though they usually win only one meal a week. One peculiar little black fellow lives in a large apartment house. This looks at first glance like an irregular and thick mass of web, and it is most unpleasant if one incautiously sticks his head into it, for he must then spend much time pulling the sticky web off his features, and combing the little spiders out of his hair and ears and collar. But on closer examination it is seen that each spider possesses a most beautifully spun dwelling of its own. It seals its eggs in small brown sacs and attaches them in great numbers to twigs of shrubs where they may easily be mistaken for seeds. Then there is a great fat brown spider which lives in the scrub and builds a large and astonishingly strong web between the bushes. Multitudinous spiders colonise the edges of the weatherboards, the window frames, and even the keyholes of your dwelling and other buildings. Others specialize in interiors. Though most are repulsive, all are harmless. I have never seen a †katipo in the pumice area.
Ants are not very numerous, but occasionally one comes across their remarkable nests in the earth. Where the flying ants come from is another of the mysteries of nature. They are the page 152 males and females on the curious nuptial flight. The neuters have no wings. In the early autumn they appear in clouds and settle upon you, and pester you almost to death. It seems impossible to drive them off. If on horseback, it is advisable to “stick in the hooks,” take flight, and beat the wretches at their own game. It is well to fasten up the barndoor fowls and put them away. They are apt to gobble the ants and the resentful creatures sting them in the throat with fatal results.
The †red admiral is the only large †butterfly commonly seen. Smaller sorts are fairly numerous and the notorious †white butterfly is seen in millions on the swedes. In the garden the large voracious brilliantly green caterpillars polish off one's carefully reared cabbages and cauliflowers in double quick time. They seem naturally to avoid plants close to eleagnus hedges. The only control I found of any practical use was common salt and water frequently applied with a watering can.
The †diamond back moth is a worse and more uncontrollable pest but he does not appear till late in the summer.
The †humble bee is numerous and a great asset in the clover fields, but his success among one's broad beans is not so satisfactory.
Cicadas abound and their gentle crooning, ushering in the warm and langourous summer days, is most complacently cheerful. They are a great source of food for the large †swamphawk.
The true †locust is seen only on rare occasions.
†Grasshoppers are in the usual full supply.
Caterpillars have a wicked habit of suddenly appearing in innumerable mobs and attacking one's oats just as they are ripening. With incredible speed they will strip all the grain from a crop and leave nothing but bare stalks. The only salvation is to sool the starlings on to them. Unfortunately, in my day, the birds have been under no sort of control, but doubtless page 153 the present Government will regiment them and plan their movements. One should rush his binders in quick and alive, but the caterpillars continue to attack the sheaves and do not cease their activities till the straw is dry. They do not eat the grain, but only sever the petiole which connects the grain with the stalk. The grain falls on the ground and if disced in will throw a good crop.
I believe that most of our insignificant native †beetles are resident in the Pumice Country—the largest being the †huhu: the most numerous is the green ladybird, inhabiting the manuka scrub, and the most destructive the †bronze-wing beetle. This unmitigated curse to humanity spends its youth as a little white grub in the soil and devotes its energies to killing the grass by eating the roots. It emerges “in the perfect state” as a perfect pest about the middle of December. Its mature life is devoted to eating the young turnips, and when it has finished them it chews all the leaves off the fruit trees. That job completed it is satisfied to destroy anything beautiful or useful.
The †Maori bug (Kekerengu—“kikarydoo” of my childhood days) was rare and opportunities for inflicting its odour on any folk happening to be around few and far between.
Lice of many sorts were present. Formerly they abounded in the heads of our native brethren, but latterly I observed among them a distinct decline in the industry of delousing one another. In sheep they are not at all common and can be detected easily by the manners of the sheep. Different kinds of lice have been invented to persecute different kinds of animals. Among spruce trees a peculiar louse is very destructive.
The ked or sheep tick is not nearly so common as it used to be—indeed I have not seen one for years.
While discussing repulsive creatures I must name the common †bed bug. One of my men whom I had allowed to sleep in the house left behind him as a suitable reward a number of these page 154 dreadful pests. They cling closer than a brother and are not easily got rid of.
In the garden, slugs are not numerous and snails almost absent—and, as in the case of many folk, their absence is a delight. I think the thrushes absorb them and turn them into song. Frogs also devour their eggs.
Slaters are quickly increasing. Crickets are seldom seen or heard. Centipedes occur—all of the smaller sorts.
Lastly, but by no means least, let me name a remarkable native—the weta—so aptly dubbed by naturalists deinacrida—the terrible prickly insect. It is by no means common and at Broadlands I have never seen the big-headed sort megacephalus.
And now to our principal allies against the insects. As is usual in New Zealand birds abound—especially water-fowl. I will endeavour to give a plain statement and a simple description of those present on Broadlands, but must confess that I am not an ornithologist. For instance I cannot conceive why our graceful and sweet-voiced †kokako should be placed among the †corvidae, or why the breastbone of a bird should be called its sternum. If I had my way I would place that bone at the other end near “the pope's nose”—though, again, I cannot understand why a pope should want to place his nose in that region.
Ducks are the most numerous aquatic birds. †Grey ducks are in the vast majority but there are many teal, both †black and brown. †Spoonbills are not uncommon and the Maoris are very fond of their delicately-coloured feathers for making mats. †Paradise duck (really a goose) began to appear about twelve years ago and are now fairly plentiful.
The handsome †Pukeko is superabundant. These birds have page 155 greatly increased. They are very destructive—tearing the thatch off stacks and making great holes in the roof by tugging out the straws to get at the grain. They also devour the grain in the standing crop. They destroy young clover plants. The only part they actually eat is the crown just above the root. In their pursuit of the grass grub they will tear up a paddock nearly as badly as pigs. In 1920 these birds learned the value of potatoes as food. After that no potatoes could be grown away from the garden. They dug up the sets and also the young potatoes as soon as they formed. They ate and damaged quantities of fruit, especially apples. The pukeko is a very intelligent bird and very bold and friendly. If you get a special licence to shoot him you will bag plenty the first day, but after that he seems to sense when you open your back door with a gun in your hand. He stalks off displaying the white flag but at the same time wagging his tail at you in defiance. When the lagoon by my house was bordered by tall †raupo the cock birds used to tie some of the heads together and roost up there screaming a shrill challenge to all the other roosters and telling them what they would do to them if only they could get at them. Eggs are plentiful and easily found, being laid on top of rushes usually on dry ground. The chicks are quite black and can run like fury and are cunning at hiding themselves.
†Bitterns used to be plentiful—I have put up as many as fourteen in a flight—but the Maoris are very fond of their flesh, and fishermen of their feathers, and their numbers are greatly reduced. They stand still as death with their beaks up in the air and just like a stick. On the ground their cry rather resembles that of a bull. On the wing their voice undergoes a remarkable change to a hoarse croak.
Various †shags are numerous. They breed on the place.
The †pied stilt is a tall and handsome creature not common. It flies around emitting a cry like a small dog.page 156
The †dab-chick or grebe is an interesting little bird. After the flash of a gun it can dive before the shot has time to reach it. It carries its tiny chicks on its back.
Only once have I seen the great †crested grebe at Broadlands.
At rare intervals native †pigeons have visited us.
The nearest I have been to †kakas is when I have heard and seen them high in the air flying across.
The graceful flirting †fantail is very common and very friendly and tame, always coming close to welcome and to inspect you and often enough entering your rooms to sample your flies.
The tiny †riroriro with its sweet but unfinished song is also very common. The Maoris have great faith in the cleverness of this dear little bird. One of their few sensible fables relates a race arranged among the birds, the prize to go to the one ascending highest in the air. Away sailed the great and powerful and mythical †hokioi, easily outdistancing the others. Quite satisfied that he had won the prize he descended. But from out his great feathers had flown the little riroriro rising higher than its host, thereby raking in the sweepstakes.
The native †tomtit is rather rare. Once a pair built in my garden and hatched out their brood, but I fear the house cat decided that they were titbits as well as tomtits.
The gaudy †kingfisher with its flashing flight sometimes visited us, but did not seem to settle down.
The pretty and musical †shining cuckoo called in to see us only occasionally.
The white-eye or †blight bird often paid us visits, always in small mobs. Clothed in their delicately tinted green robes they twittered their pleasure at resuming acquaintance with us.
Owls would stay with us some winters and wake the silence of the night with their demands for †more pork.”
The ground lark or †pipit was common enough, usually on the roads, rising on the wing for a short distance and alighting again. Motors have almost completely driven them away.
The pretty and interesting banded †dotterel is very common. It runs along the ground not far away uttering its friendly little call. It breeds on the place. Its young are quite interesting: they are all legs and hair before they can fly, and rush along at an incredible speed. Errant youngsters having left the parental home—if their rudimentary nest may be dignified by that name—are a great anxiety to their parents. Should one be captured the distress of the old birds is piteous.
The big †harrier-hawk which nests on the ground in swamps is very numerous. When Lord Bledisloe was here, standing in one spot he shot twenty-one hawks before lunch, and counted it a record. I have never seen this hawk attack a full-grown rabbit or hare, or even a duck or pukeko; but he will sit with infinite patience outside a burrow wherein resides a family of young rabbits and snap them one by one as they come out; or he will descend on young ducks if the mother be away. He is said to page 158 kill lambs, but I fancy they are already dead or moribund. He will pluck out the exposed eye of a badly cast sheep. He eats fish, but I doubt whether his catches are “all alive-oh.” He is really a carrion eater and will live for days on a dead sheep.
The plucky little †sparrow-hawk was plentiful when I first came up; but seems to have disappeared. It nests in the cliffs. Should a person approach, these birds scream more and more furiously as he gets nearer the nest and reduce their cries as he recedes. In this way they really guide the intruder to their home. Once, riding across country to Taupo, I disturbed sparrow-hawks on a nest on a cliff. I decided to have a look. As I got close the parent birds flew straight at me and I had to keep them off with a stick as well as I could in my precarious position. In the nest were fledglings not quite ready to fly. I put one in my pocket. It squeaked and the outraged parents continued a furious attack on me. I had intended giving the chick to the Museum, but the parents made themselves such a nuisance that I gave them back their offspring. Whether they got it back home I know not.
A week after an eminent scientist had delivered a lecture on the †moa in which he stated that the bird had never existed in the central regions of the North Island, I found bones of two specimens of the squat heavy-boned variety about seven feet down in the pumice.
And now for imported birds:
†Black swans were often about and looked very graceful. They used to nest in my lagoon, but the Maoris took to hunting the cygnets just before they could fly and so chased the swans away. I understand that they are very good eating. It is interesting to remember that the black swan was the Rara in terra avis (the bird rare upon earth) as the ancients of the Northern Hemisphere believed a black swan to be an impossibility.
For years there were wild geese on my lagoon, but continuous page 159 appropriation of eggs and chicks by other birds similarly sombre but devoid of feathers caused them to die out.
Of imported birds the †house-sparrow is the most numerous and one of the most destructive. Several will work on the co-operative principle to pull a straw out of the stack and share the stolen grain. In time much damage is thereby effected. Mobs of them will descend on a small isolated crop of oats and leave the stalks bare of grain.
†Sky-larks are also very numerous. Just before dawn they will rise in scores to great heights in order to greet the orb of day by pouring forth a regular torrent of melody. Though they build on the ground their nests are very hard to find. How the bird itself, descending from hundreds of feet up, contrives to discover the particular ten square inches in which his dwelling is situated is nothing short of marvellous. The paddock may contain one hundred acres, all covered with grass plants exactly alike. They work much harder and for longer hours than a well-regulated union would allow, at uprooting young oats and young rape.
†Starlings are in thousands. They work in mobs and feed on the grass grub without injuring the pasture. When caterpillars attack the nearly ripe oats it is, as I have already remarked, a great stroke of luck if the starlings find them and assemble in their hosts to do battle for you. Towards the setting of the sun many mobs make for the same roosting place—usually some tall manuka but sometimes they will get a night's lodging in the big trees near the house. They can chatter, just before retiring and just after rising, to beat the band—or even all the women in the world; but they are, take them all round, the most useful birds on the farm. They usually nest in holes in the pumice banks but, should they chance to build elsewhere, it is no use trying to chase them away. They will return to the same spot year after year with extraordinary persistence.page 160
†Blackbirds were common when I first went up and were to be found everywhere—even in the most remote corners. They have diminished.
†Thrushes abound: The pluckiest and most cheerful of birds, their tuneful song is heard from dawn till dark right through the winter: nor does rough weather damp their ardour. We all know those common creatures—the one who can sing but will not: and the one who can't sing but will. But the thrush is that rara in terra avis which can sing and will. The blackbird is said to have a sweeter song: but that is of no use if he will not produce it but keeps it down his neck.
The cheerful chaffinch is fairly common. His chief accomplishment is stealing the seeds out of sunflowers.
Yellowhammers used to be very numerous, but have diminished.
Linnets and the gaudy goldfinch sometimes appear in flocks.
Among game birds pheasants used to be plentiful—to such an extent that a certain boarding establishment used to have “spring chicken” on the menu every day. At the time of my arrival their numbers had greatly diminished and now they are virtually extinct. The advent of the rabbit was their obituary notice. Poison laid for it was even more attractive to birds.
At one time †quail—mostly Californian but also Australian—threatened to become a real pest. However they have almost disappeared. They have a tremendous capacity for picking up grass seed. They are also very fond of blackberries and very careless of where they ultimately deposit the seeds.
Casual visitors have been two or three carrier pigeons who, as soon as they had been fed and were rested, took wing again for their destinations answering the call of duty.
A solitary †rook stayed with us for quite a while. The cattle did not like the little black stranger and used to chase it about: but I fancy the real cause of its departure was the urge of spring and the need of female society.page 161
A large white †cockatoo also adopted Broadlands as his home for some months. He was a handsome bird with fine yellow crest and we were fond of him, but when he rewarded our hospitality by taking to the roofs of stacks and tearing them to pieces we had to get rid of him.
I had almost forgotten the most useful of birds—the good old †barn-door fowl!
Prior to my coming the common green frog was in almost complete possession. His countless millions made such a noise that folk imagined that they were listening to the breakers on the wild sea-coast. At times his hosts would decide to travel say east: other times other directions. Usually at the brilliant green stage of their growth they would hop along in their tens of thousands. In a few days they—or their survivors—would usually return to resume their song in the principal lagoon in front of the homestead. They were most useful. Everything ate them—trout, ducks and all other aquatic birds, rats, cats, dogs, and the like. Frogs are cannibals. For long I could not make out what animal screamed at night. Then I found a big frog attacking a little one which cried aloud to its gods, but they heard it not, and soon the silence of the abdominal grave ended all. But the big fellow frog could scream much louder than its late victim when the house-cat started to stalk him. These creatures are still numerous but vastly reduced in numbers. I think the cause is the eating out by my cattle of the great areas of raupo which formerly sheltered them.
†Rats were quite numerous and lived mostly in riverside page 162 residences until they came to us as uninvited guests. Sometimes they would appear in hundreds. I have got in among them in the chaff room and killed twenty at a time. I confess that I was not a little afraid of their delivering a violent counterattack upon me. We finished this mob with strychnine. At the time of my arrival the long-tailed English black rat—so elegantly named in classic language mus rattus—was in possession. He had driven out the mus maorium but was eventually displaced by the conquering brown rat mus norvegicus.
These big black rats used to invade the house. One night I was aroused by a noise in the dining room. I took a stick with me and closed the door. One of the rats rushed me and ran up the inside of the leg of my pyjamas. When it had very nearly reached the crotch I grabbed it and crushed it to death. This gave me an understanding of the objection womenfolk have towards rats.
I may here relate a curious adventure at Ohinemutu. A Canadian gentleman had come up with a few friends on final leave before his honeymoon. Taking a stroll on the lake shore before breakfast to calm and strengthen his soul for the coming conflict, his attention was attracted to a woman who had collapsed on the ground. On his rushing to her help she confided to him that a rat had run up her clothes. He besought the lady to stand up and shake the creature out: but of this she was incapable, so our hero had to “do the necessary.” When he related his exploit, his friends gave him such a rattling that he left the town.
Small field-mice lived in their burrows here and there until they came into my store and dwelling to fatten up.
One of New Zealand's only native mammals (two kinds of small bats) was to be seen at rare intervals.
†Rabbits had been present for some time. A lunatic policeman had picked up some young ones in Hawkes Bay and let page 163 them go on Strathmore. May his soul fry in fat! For many years we held them in check—at considerable expense—with pollard poisoning, fumigating, and so on. Casting round for means of reducing this ghastly unremunerative outlay I observed that wild cats seemed the most successful of all the rabbits' natural enemies. So I advertised that all cats delivered at an address in Rotorua would be bought at one shilling each. Small boys got busy: and, as cats are seldom ear-marked, proof of ownership could not be required. Arrived at Broadlands I took them in boxes to the remotest wilds before releasing them. Still, many found their way to the homestead and became a nuisance. For all I know the others returned to Rotorua. Presently a policeman appeared to prosecute enquiries (and perhaps me!) on an information laid for cruelty to animals. I expressed my regrets but remarked that it was necessary to destroy the rabbits. “That is not the question,” replied the Bobby. “The cruelty is to poor pussy taken from the lap of luxury and morning milk to be deserted in the wilderness to earn her own living.” I laughed the man to scorn but knocked off the purchase of cats because I thought the unprincipled creatures were returning to their homes in Rotorua, and I might have to pay for the same cat twice! A few years ago the rabbits increased in a most alarming manner and I got properly frightened, but the increase in the value of skins caused bunny to carry his death-warrant on his back. They are now quite few but, until we can teach them the advantages of birth-control, even these few are a standing menace.
At first †hares were a greater pest than rabbits, being especially damaging to turnips: also to all other crops and to young trees. They generally have only two young (called leverets) at a birth, and the young are very foolish and may be caught by the hand. In cutting oats we always had sport at the finish. As the binder went round and round the hares retired to the page 164 centre and had the unpleasant choice of having their legs cut off with the knife, or being caught by the dogs we had assembled. Nowadays they are not a serious menace.
Wild horses were present in hundreds. The Maoris would bring in any number required at seven and sixpence a head or would catch any particular horse for £1. These animals look quite nice running about, but few are worth more than dog-tucker. Those much over two years old cannot be broken in. However, I got several useful ponies out of them—very sure-footed and cheaply fed on fresh air. At the very beginning a Maori had a contract to deliver one horse each alternate week. He used to shoot it in a particular part of the neck and drive it in to wherever we wanted the carcase. There he would pole-axe the poor brute and the dogs would pick its bones. In the very early days stale horse one week and fresh air the next formed our dog-tucker.
When first we put up fences several horses got tangled up in them. They were unacquainted with these new-fangled obstructions to the freedom of the subject.
At first I could not understand what caused the immense heaps of horse-droppings here and there. It appears that each wild stallion has his own private latrine and always returns there to dung.
To show the extent to which unprofitable animals will invade a place I may say that, when part of Strathmore was sold and a thorough clean-up effected, no fewer than one hundred and fifty Maori-owned and wild horses were turned off. These animals would consume as much feed as one thousand sheep.
Wild cattle were present in considerable numbers. We could always go out and find thirty or forty: but getting them in was page 165 another matter. On one occasion I heard a friend with the party wildly shouting that he had caught a bull on a peninsula in the river, connected with the mainland by a narrow causeway. I arrived to see the bull charging along the track in complete disregard of my friend's traffic signals. The right-of-way was not disputed. Even when we succeeded in getting a mob in, the only result was wreckage of the yards. Although the cattle were fine big shorthorns we soon gave up bringing in anything over a year old.
Sometimes a wild bull would come down and run with our tame cows. One such came in with a mob right to the gate of the house paddocks. I went in and got a rifle, but was afraid to fire off the ground lest I should only wound the beast. So I hopped on my horse and let the bull have it. My faithful steed raised active objections, and next instant I was on the ground anyway, and my rifle yards away. Fortunately the bull was dead. This was a real treat for the dogs—a change from horse-flesh to beef! It lasted a fortnight. Towards the end the dogs would enter at one end and emerge at the other with a terrific B.O. that even Lifebuoy soap would not remove. I have put as many as seven bullets into a wild bull before killing him. But at short range the snider is the thing. It opens a cavern that no beast can survive.
There were a few wild sheep around, carrying about three years' fleece. The getting of them in was very difficult, but at last I accomplished it—or rather my little dog did. They were great strong animals showing no sign of “bush sickness.”
Wild pigs were numerous and the Maoris very keen on hunting them. Usually we did not go after them ourselves, but told the Maoris where the poakas were running and they gave us a cut of the meat. From a young, well-conditioned wild pig the meat is very sweet.
I have often asked the Maoris how they lived before Mr. page 166 Butcher and myself appeared on the scene and paid them wages. Their answer was: “Plenty poaka (porker: hog) that time, e hoa, plenty †kau, plenty †koura, plenty †kai ika, plenty †riwai.
It is stated that when Messrs. Ross and Rankin took possession of the country afterwards called Strathmore they killed five hundred pigs and drove five hundred more across the Waiotapu River on to the Maori land.
Deer were all round about but only once have I known one inside my fences.
Wild dogs occasionally gave us great trouble. They are very cunning, are off at a gallop when still well out of range and will not take poisoned meat. Three methods of capture are possible: [Firstly] Poison and bury a whole sheep. They do not seem to suspect this. [Secondly] Hunt them down with tame dogs trained for the purpose. [Thirdly] Tie up a bitch on heat and conceal yourself within range with a rifle. By this means, however, one gets only the dogs, whereas the bitches are much more dangerous.
Of tame animals introduced the horse is perhaps the most interesting and the most generally useful. His labour prepares the way for other animals. Gentle, faithful, patient toiler, of all lower animals the best friend of man! It is a contemptible crime to treat him unkindly. A man, even though incapable of defending himself, can at least complain. But the poor horse cannot say: “You have carelessly left a rope under the saddle” or “A chain is chafing me.” He just has to endure the pain unless his master cares for him. Protection of our dumb fellow creatures is a plain duty and a charge upon our humanity.
The only domestic animal on the place when I took possession was a two-year-old colt branded H. K. Grass being very scarce we turned him out as soon as we had a fence up. As he continued hanging about we brought him in and broke him to saddle and to harness. Then indeed he had many claimants, but page 167 none could prove ownership. One fellow was very persistent and demanded payment of a considerable sum:
“He got the brand H. K. That the way he my horse.”
“All right,” I replied. “Show me that that is your registered brand.” Finally he struck a dramatic attitude and declared: “I take nothing.”
“Splendid,” I said, “for that's exactly what you'll get.”
In the end I found the right owner and bought the horse. He proved a most useful beast. For one thing the foundation of his beliefs was that Broadlands was the best place on earth. No man could keep him away. He'd find his way home.
Pompey was the best horse I ever rode myself. Strong as a bullock and brave as a lion he would tackle anything you put him at. But he had his own idea of what was proper. Once for a small wager I forced him over the dried remains of a dead brother horse. Unfortunately he stepped on it and a portion of the dried skin clung round his leg. He gave a great exhibition of jumping and high kicking, but the remains of the dead horse fell off before I did, thank God. Another time I was starting for Rotorua about 4.30 a.m., having in my pocket an alarm clock for repair. Mr. Pompey did a bit of a “prop” and a “pig jump” which set the clock off, and the beastly thing wouldn't stop—neither would Pompey. It took me all my time to stop on.
Bridget was another of my hacks, a sweet gentle creature and yet full of ginger. She and I were great mates. If I left her a while she would welcome me back with cries of affection: or, if we were on a strange farm, she would follow me about whinneying.
Tahu was a thoroughbred out of a mare I owned, and was a wonderful galloper, but too fresh for station work. He objected to carrying sheep about on his back.
Many other good and useful hacks I had.page 168
Of working horses I kept two full teams and a few spares, besides foals. They usually had swagger names given to them by the teamsters: Joe Ward, Massey, Gunson, Coates, King, Prince, Duke, Lady, and so on. It sounded quite grand to hear one's man swearing at Massey and telling him what to do! Some lovely mares we had: Roany alone bred two full teams of splendid horses. I believe she was parthenogenetic and didn't really need service by a stallion. Then Tangi, Belle, Dolly and others were stout of heart, excellent mothers, and good workers.
For a while I kept a stallion, but stallions are a pest on a farm. They always incline their hearts to practise wicked works. A stallion will fight another stallion to the death or kill a gelding without any compunction; but, should there be an absence of suitable subjects for murder he will attempt suicide quite oblivious of the fact that he has cost £60 or £70. A favourite method is to get tangled up in a wire fence about midnight. Then one has to arise from his warm and comfortable couch and sally forth in the rain or the frost to rescue the villain. Nor will he assist his owner. On the contrary, biting and kicking are methods he employs to indicate his resentment at interference in his affairs. So I sold my stallion.
Alone among the lower animals dogs are said to be possessed of a conscience—due to long association with man. This goes to prove that dog owners are usually of the better sort. It is wonderful what dogs can be taught to do. My shepherd Rory's bitch would hunt, force, head, lead or wing. A faithful creature too. Were she placed on guard of Rory's lunch I believe she would have starved to death before eating it, and woe betide anyone seeking to take it away. Once Rory had put her in charge of his coat in a wagon. One of the other men was about to jump in when Rory warned him. The man, however, relying on the dog's knowledge of him, persisted. The bitch flew at him and page 169 bit him. He kicked her. Then the fat was in the fire and fists were flying.
My best dog was little Glen. I bought him as a pup for ten shillings. He was not purebred, having a good bit of bulldog in him. I broke him in myself — the best practice. One day I wanted to cross the Waikato River, but there was no canoe on my side and no response to my yells. I swam the little dog through the river and hunted him up to a house where I believed there was an old woman. I barked him and out rushed the old woman to chase him away. She brought me a canoe. Clever little dog! It was a treat to see him work sheep out of a bad place. His only fault was that he would not force: he was of too quiet a nature.
An exceptional dog is worth his weight in gold. When Rory left everyone wanted to buy his bitch. He refused to sell but finally put £200 on her! There was no response: but a professional shepherd had better sell his right hand than part with such a clever slave.
Dogs are faithful and hard-working — and ill-rewarded; but they know they are doing all right if they are not being cursed. At sheep trials men are not allowed to swear at their dogs: consequently some dogs fail to understand the orders given. At Broadlands the dogs had good kennels, but it was a curious fact that on frosty nights they always slept outside. Often have I gone for my dog before sunrise to find his hair white with hoarfrost.
The largest number of cattle I ever had on the place at one time was eleven hundred. I always liked Shorthorns: they are cattle and all other breeds are varieties. Herefords and Poly Angus also thrive. Shorthorns are comparatively gentle — an unsolicited testimonial being the action of buyers at the bull sales. When Shorthorns are being offered the buyers jump into the yard: when other breeds come on they mount the topmost rail. I have seen a Poly Angus jump clean out of the yards; page 170 and, with a charge more ferocious than that of a lawyer, scatter the buyers to the four winds of heaven.
Herefords are wild and dangerously horned: Poly Angus are sullen and savage. Dairy bulls are treacherous and consequently very dangerous.
Cattle are “As stupid as they make them.” A beast walking into the fork of a fallen tree will often not have the intellect to get into reverse gear and back out, and so he starves to death even more surely than a late-comer in a New Zealand hotel.
Breeders rearing bulls should bring them up in the way they should go. They should never be given the chance of losing the fear of man. If a young bull shakes his head at you, or paws the ground at you, or is slow about yielding to you the right of way, don't waste time but get your best whip, hop on your best horse and chase him well round the paddock, giving him a real good hiding.
Sheep are gentle, quiet creatures, born entirely without brains, though some contend that they must have some intellect for they have invented hundreds of different ways of dying — and there is only one way of keeping them alive. Worked with gentleness they will move in the way they should go. Bullied with frantic shouting and chased with savage dogs (the descendants of their ancient enemies the wolves) they become frightened and obstinate. I have seen a mob get into such a condition that each one had to be seized and thrown into the dip.
The gentle sheep submits its throat to be cut without a struggle or a cry and leaves its body for our nourishment. Should it prove that this be infested with stomach-worms and lung-worms and brain-worms and sheep-maggots and hydatids and cists, whose fault is that?
The pig is a prolific creature. A good sow will produce twenty pretty little piglets in a season. They enjoy a wide range page 171 of diseases, reducing the “uneconomic surplus” as effectively as Mr. Roosevelt could.
And good old pussy — I have not mentioned her — the protector of the premises from the filthy and noisy rat and the mouse, and the reducer of rabbits, she holds an honoured place by the fireside. What she will suffer without protest from small girls is marvellous. Two nippers on the place seemed to fascinate even the wild cats.
One must not leave this subject without describing the fish for which the district is so celebrated. The †trout is the most important. I cannot, of course, give you the dimensions and weights of those very nearly caught. Of those actually landed at Broadlands the heaviest was eight pounds, and the great majority from two to four pounds. When I first came we could go out at any time and be sure of half-a-dozen splendid fish. For some reason nowadays you may get twenty or thirty — or you may get none; and the quality has deteriorated frightfully. I have been speaking of the Waikato and its backwaters. In the smaller streams the fish are not so large and not numerous, but are of excellent quality.
The †brown trout exists in the local waters, but is by no means common.
†Carp are very numerous and may be shovelled up just with a Maori kit. I wish I could tell you a little story about a Maori woman engaged in this sport, but proper people might think it a bit fishy. Our native friends call the carp morihana after a man named Morrison, who introduced them to the district. Golden carp are fairly numerous.page 172
The native †koura may not be strictly a fish but a crustacean. Called “the fresh-water crayfish” it is only the size of a prawn but is very good eating.
†Eels have now appeared — it is said in consequence of the construction of Arapuni electric works. They are likely to be a great nuisance — perhaps the worst enemy to young ducks.
The only shellfish of which I am aware is the native fresh-water mussel or †kakahi.