Station Life in New Zealand
Letter X. Our Station Home
Letter X. Our Station Home.
We are now in mid-winter, and a more delicious season cannot well be imagined; the early mornings and evenings and the nights are very cold, but the hours from 10 A.M. till 5 P.M. are exquisitely bright, and quite warm. We are glad of a fire at breakfast, which is tolerably early, but we let it out and never think of relighting it until dark. Above all, it is calm: I congratulate myself daily on the stillness of the atmosphere, but F—— laughs and says, “Wait until the spring.” I bask all day in the verandah, carrying my books and work there soon after breakfast; as soon as the sun goes down, however, it becomes very cold. In an English house you would hardly feel it, but with only one plank an inch thick, a lining-board and canvas and paper, between you and a hard frost, a good fire is wanted. We burn coal found twelve miles from this; it is not very good, being only what is called “lignite.” I don’t know if that conveys to you a distinct impression of what it really is. I page 62 should say it was a better sort of turf: it smoulders just in the same way, and if not disturbed will remain many hours alight; it requires a log of dry wood with it to make a really good blaze. Fuel is most difficult to get here, and very expensive, as we have no available “bush” on the Run; so we have first to take out a licence for cutting wood in the Government bush, then to employ men to cut it, and hire a drayman who possesses a team of bullocks and a dray of his own, to fetch it to us: he can only take two journeys a day, as he has four miles to travel each way, so that by the time the wood is stacked it costs us at least thirty shillings a cord, and then there is the labour of sawing and cutting it up. The coal costs us one pound a ton at the mouth of the pit, and the carriage exactly doubles its price; besides which it is impossible to get more, than a small quantity at a time, on account of the effect of the atmosphere on it. Exposure to the air causes it to crumble into dust, and although we keep our supply in a little shed for the purpose, it is wasted to the extent of at least a quarter of each load. We are unusually unfortunate in the matter of firing; most stations have a bush near to the homestead, or greater facilities for draying than we possess.
You tell me to describe my little house to you, so I must try to make you see it, only prefacing my attempt by warning you not to be disgusted or disappointed at any shortcomings. The house has not been built in a pretty situation, as many other things had to be page 63 considered before a picturesque site: first it was necessary to build on a flat (as the valleys here are called), not too far off the main track, on account of having to make the road to it ourselves; the next thing to be thought of was shelter from the north-west wind; then the soil must be fit for a garden, and a good creek, or brook, which would not go dry in the summer, close at hand. At present, everything out of doors is so unfinished that the place looks rather desolate, and it will be some years before our plantations can attain a respectable size, even allowing for the rapid growth in this climate. The first step is to obtain shelter from our enemy the “nor’-wester,” and for this purpose we have planted quantities of broom in all directions; even the large beds for vegetables in the garden have a hedge of Cape broom on the exposed side; fortunately, the broom grows very quickly in spite of the wind, and attains to a luxuriant beauty rarely seen in England. We have put in many other trees, such as oaks, maples, etc., but not one is higher than this table, except a few poplars; the ground immediately outside the house has been dug up, and is awaiting the spring to be sown with English grass; we have no attempt at a flower-garden yet, but have devoted our energies to the vegetable one,—putting in fruit trees, preparing strawberry and asparagus beds, and other useful things. Out of doors matters would not even be as far advanced towards a garden and plantation as they are if we had commenced operations ourselves, but the ground has been page 64 worked since last year. I am glad we have chosen to build our house here instead of at the homestead two miles off; for I like to be removed from the immediate neighbourhood of all the work of the station, especially from that of the “gallows,”—a high wooden frame from which the carcases of the butchered sheep dangle; under the present arrangement the shepherd brings us over our mutton as we want it.
Inside the house everything is comfortable and pretty, and, above all things, looks thoroughly home-like. Out of the verandah you pass through a little hall hung with whips and sticks, spurs and hats, and with a bookcase full of novels at one end of it, into a dining-room, large enough for us, with more books in every available corner, the prints you know so well on the walls, and a trophy of Indian swords and hunting-spears over the fireplace: this leads into the drawing-room, a bright, cheery little room—more books and pictures, and a writing-table in the “horiel.” In that tall, white, classical-shaped vase of Minton’s which you helped me to choose is the most beautiful bouquet, made entirely of ferns; it is a constant object for my walks up the gullies, exploring little patches of bush to search for the ferns, which grow abundantly under their shelter by the creek. I have a small but comfortable bedroom, and there is a little dressing-room for F—— and the tiniest spare room you ever saw; it really is not bigger than the cabin of a ship. I think the kitchen is the chief glory of the house, boasting a “Leamington range”— page 65 a luxury quite unknown in these parts, where all the cooking is done on an American stove,—a very good thing in its way, but requiring to be constantly attended to. There is a good-sized storeroom, in which F—— has just finished putting me up some cupboards, and a servants’ room. It is not a palace is it? But it is quite large enough to hold a great deal of happiness. Outside, the premises are still more diminutive; a little wash-house stands near the kitchen door, and further up the enclosure is a stable, and a small room next it for saddles, and a fowl-house and pig-stye, and a coal-shed. Now you know everything about my surroundings; but—there is always a but in everything—I have one great grievance, and I hope you will appreciate its magnitude.
It was impossible for F—— to come up here when the house was first commenced, and the wretch of a builder deliberately put the drawing- and dining-room fireplaces in the corner, right up against the partition wall, of course utterly destroying the comfort as well as the symmetry of the rooms. I am convinced some economy of bricks is at the bottom of this arrangement, especially as the house was built by contract; but the builder pretends to be surprised that I don’t admire it, and says, “Why, it’s so oncommon, mum!” I assure you, when I first saw the ridiculous appearance of the drawing-room pier-glass in the corner, I should liked to have screamed out at the builder (like the Queen in “Alice in Wonderland”), “Cut off his head!”page 66
When we were packing up the things to come here, our friends expressed their astonishment at our taking so many of the little elegancies of life, such as drawing-room ornaments, pictures, etc. Now it is a great mistake not to bring such things, at all events a few of them, for they are not to be bought here, and they give the new home a certain likeness to the old one which is always delightful. I do not advise people to make large purchases of elegancies for a colonial life, but a few pretty little trifles will greatly improve the look of even a New Zealand up-country drawing-room.
You have asked me also about our wardrobes. Gentlemen wear just what they would on a Scotch or English farm; in summer they require perhaps a lighter hat, and long rides are always taken in boots and breeches. A lady wears exactly what would be suitable in the country in England, except that I should advise her to eschew muslin; the country outside the home paddock is too rough for thin material; she also wants thick boots if she is a good walker, and I find nails or little screws in the soles a great help for hill-walking. A hat is my only difficulty: you really want a shady hat for a protection against the sun, but there are very few days in the year on which you can ride in anything but a close, small hat, with hardly any brim at all, and even this must have capabilities of being firmly fastened on the head. My nice, wide-brimmed Leghorn hangs idly in the hall: there is hardly a morning still page 67 enough to induce me to put it on even to go and feed my chickens or potter about the garden. This being winter, I live in a short linsey dress, which is just right as to warmth, and not heavy. It is a mistake to bring too much: a year’s supply will be quite enough; fresh material can easily be procured in Christchurch or any of the large towns, or sent out by friends. I find my sewing-machine the greatest possible comfort, and as time passes on and my clothes need remodelling it will be still more use ful. Hitherto I have used it chiefly for my friends’ benefit; whilst I was in town I constantly had little frocks brought to me to tuck, and here I employ it in making quilted cloth hats for my gentlemen neighbours.