Settlers and Pioneers
3 — The Home in the Bush
The Home in the Bush
That first night in the bush was vividly remembered by the new-chum family long after later memories had become blurred by familiarity. It was their first night with the mosquitoes. 'These awful stinging flies!' was the first complaint as evening came down. The settler neighbour had not thought of advising them to provide themselves with mosquito netting before they left town. Bush-seasoned himself, he did not feel the need of it. Some newcomers, after one taste of the mosquito myriads— or rather one taste of their blood by the mosquitoes— made muslin bags with draw-strings, to cover their heads and shoulders at night. All the naeroa of Hunua gathered to the feast. The 'stinging flies' at any rate kept the family so busy that the strange, deep silence of the forest and now and again the sharp cry of the weka or the mournful call of the morepork failed to depress or startle them.
Morning came at last and with it relief. Forest voices, the harsh ka-ka of the big parrot and the page 18 chunk-choo of the tui, clear as glass, echoed from near and far along the forest-edge. There were bell-notes dropping from the darkness of the trees.
'How lovely!' said the mother, 'how fresh and sweet the morning is! But look at your face in the glass, Betsy!'
Not only Betsy but mother and all bore signs of the night's battle with the naeroa hordes.
The boys were out with the first touch of dawn. Tommy, the youngest, who had been reluctant to leave the ship, played bo's'n with a whistle he had acquired. He imitated the gruff orders of the bo's'n and his mate:
'Starbowlines ahoy! Show a leg, rouse and shine, ye cripples! Up you come, turn to, or I'll help you along with the toe of me boot!'
'Aye, aye, bo's'n,' said the big brother, 'and you can turn to yourself, and get the fire going for breakfast!'
'I'd like to have been that big bo's'n,' said Tommy as he set about his job. 'But I may be a bullock-driver yet. The gentleman who fetched our things out here must have been a bo's'n once, by the way he could talk to his bullocks.'
Their helpful neighbour from down the track was with them soon after breakfast, on horseback this time. He sympathised with them in a gravely amused way as their sufferings were described by mother, echoed by the girls. 'My fault,' he said; 'I should page 19have cautioned you to lay in some netting in town. But what you want is a cow or two. Why? Because dry cowdung is the stuff for a smudge smoke that sends all the skeeters to the right-about. When they're bad we just gather up the dry cakes of cow-dung and make fires here and there about the house at sundown. It clears the place pretty well and you can keep your doors shut after that.'
'Good—that's one of our first colonial hints,' said the father. 'There's a job for you, Tommy, when we get our cow.'
'But you must be getting a roof over you first thing,' said the neighbour. 'Now, I've arranged with a couple of the Maoris down at Papakura creek to run you up a nikau whare—a bush hut, you know. That's your first house until you can get slabs and shingles split. Then when you are under cover and getting used to the life, we can see about pit-sawing boards for a proper house, but the whare will have to do for a while.'
The new settler and his wife thanked their kindly friend who had taken them under his wing so opportunely. 'It's all right,' he said. 'I'm fairly well fixed in my place for the present and I can give you new-chums a hand. The Maoris will be here presently, good fellows who can tackle anything in the bush and farming line. They grow wheat; the old missionaries taught them the white man's farming, and they grind the wheat at their little wheel mill at the page 20waterfall on the creek and the flour is as good as anything they sell in town.'
Two cheerful young Maoris came up and greeted the pakehas. Both could speak some English. They set to on a neat whare with beautifully-made walls of nikau-palm leaves, artistic as well as useful, with a thick roofing of fern-tree fronds. By the end of the second day, with the assistance of the white family in the cutting, fetching and carrying, there was a rain-tight house, one that would be cool in hot weather and warm and windproof in cold.
That was the beginning of the new life. Gradually the settler and his family fitted themselves into the conditions of the country, on the edge of the interminable forest. It was not so very difficult for these country-bred folk. They cut their way slowly into the bush, with the near-by Maoris to call upon for help and bush-sense. When a little ground was cleared, the neighbour lent them his bullocks and plough. To the Maoris, a few pounds of tobacco and gifts of clothes were more acceptable than money.
That neighbourly spirit among the Maoris as well as their pakeha neighbours helped mightily in establishing immigrants on the land in the first two decades of British settlement. Unfortunately it did not last. In the third year of the Mermaid family's life in the bush the Waikato war began. The kindly Maoris of this South Auckland country were forced into the struggle. Sooner than desert the Kingite page 21cause they abandoned their homes and cultivated fields, their mills on the streams, their fruit groves, and many of them came to bid farewell to their white friends, with whom they had toiled and pleasured, each race in the process learning much of the wisdom of the other.
The Maori women of the nearest families pressed their noses to their pakeha friends' and wept over the parting. 'We must go,' they said, 'our men must take their guns and help Waikato in the war. We want peace, but we cannot give up our King, much as we like the pakeha. Farewell! E noho ra, e hoa ma, e noho! Remain there, friends, remain there!'
That unhappy check to the peaceful subjugation of the bush and the winning of a livelihood from the newly-turned soil altered the course of life for many a border family. The tragedy of war, like so many far greater wars before and since, could have been avoided. At any rate, the frontier settlers and the Maori farmers were not the war-makers.