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Islands of Despair

Sixteen — Tandy Inlet

page 151

Tandy Inlet

After visiting Waterfall Inlet for fuel, the Ranui left for New Zealand on 14th December. Both Les and George were given the opportunity of a trip home with her, and a similar arrangement was made for Graham. The remainder of us formed a rather lonely party.

At the main camps there was a more or less regular routine, although it was always disrupted to a certain extent during the periodic visits of the survey party. The cook for the day would arise about 6.30 a.m. and get the range started and the breakfast on. About 7.15 he would arouse the other men, and the meal would be on the table by 7.30. The cook, after washing the dishes, would then be responsible for cleaning and sweeping the rooms. This would also entail the removal of the battered remains of the whale-bird that the station cat invariably caught during the night and partially consumed in the battery room. During the day the cat normally never shifted very far from the range. The amount of work done by the cook depended entirely on his interest in the job. A keen man would pile fuel on to the fire and get the kitchen to a high enough temperature for baking bread. He would produce some very good loaves, too. Other cooks specialized in pastry and fancy dishes, and would scorn to offer a meal straight from tins.

The meteorologist had regular rounds to make of his instruments, including periodic trips to Lookout Point to get a true indication of wind direction and velocity and the height of the page 152cloud. He would then have to make up his observations in code form for transmission to the Weather Office.

The radio operator was responsible for transmitting the weather reports and other messages at fixed intervals throughout the day. He also looked after the maintenance of the radio equipment and the electric-lighting installation. All stations had small petrol-driven generators for charging the batteries, but at Carnley Harbour a wind-driven generator was used with some success, while at Campbell Island a small hydro-electric plant had been established.

None of these jobs occupied more than a few hours a day, although they did have to be done at fixed intervals every day of the week throughout the year. In addition, there was always incidental work to be done, at which everyone lent a hand. There would be firewood to be cut and carried to the camp, and occasional boat trips to Ocean Island to feed the sheep. Maintenance work was also necessary on the camp buildings and the corduroy paths.

The original purpose of the camps was to maintain a coast-watch, and this utilized a great deal of time. In the summer months it meant a constant watch from about 2.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. This continuous watch had been relaxed when we arrived, and only a periodic inspection was required at specified times. Later on it was abandoned altogether. For this reason a party of three was now quite sufficient to run a camp. The work could have been done by two men, but it would be unwise to reduce the staff of an isolated camp to that number. The greater the numbers the smaller the likelihood there would be of trifling incidents leading to serious friction.

Most of the permanent hands at the camps depended on scientific work as a means of occupying their periods of leisure. There was plenty of bird life in all parts of the group, and a good dinghy with outboard motor was freely available for scientific purposes.

During the evenings we had the benefit of the radio, and a plentiful supply of books and magazines. Although several page 153of us carried on with our normal work on most evenings, Saturday night was always regarded as a special occasion, and we would play cards or sometimes table tennis. Photography was a popular hobby for most of the men. The bath-room could be blacked-out for use as a dark room, and after dark we used the kitchen. Conditions for photography were very seldom good, and almost all our pictures were taken in dull or even wet weather. Although the results consequently lacked the clarity and sparkle that we sought, they were none the less typical of the atmosphere of the islands.

During this period in the main camp I was occupied with plan work and computing, and of course every man had his turn at cooking. The weather also seemed to be kinder, and occasionally we had a really nice day. Sunday, 17th December, being such a day, I decided to take advantage of it by visiting Crozier Point. There was brilliant sunshine with just a slight breeze, and the coastal scenery could almost have been mistaken for some less remote part of New Zealand territory. The shags at the big rookery were very busy hatching eggs and stopping gulls from stealing them. There were a few chicks out, but most of the birds were seriously engaged in sitting on, and periodically examining, their eggs. The shags are notoriously ungainly in flight, and so when one tried to alight in the narrow confines of his nesting area he would almost invariably misjudge his landing and would be assailed mercilessly by the outraged occupants of the area into which he had unwillingly trespassed. After beating a hasty and undignified retreat, he would be greeted fondly by his mate, and all would be well.

It was also about this time that I discovered a newly born seal pup a few yards from the Lookout Point astronomical station. Since this station is 188 feet above sea level, and quite a distance from the sea, I was rather interested to see how often the mother would make what would certainly be an arduous journey to visit her pup. I regret to say that either she had met with some mishap or else her maternal instinct was not strong enough, as every day I visited the pup he was noticeably page 154weaker. On sunny days he would be trying to shade his eyes with a pitiful little flipper, while hordes of flies buzzed busily around him. Mother finally appeared after eight days, which I considered to be rather a long time between meals. A few days later I called to find the little chap dead, probably from lack of food.

All four of us were now preparing for Christmas, and on the 23rd we took the dinghy to Ocean Island for fresh mutton for the special dinner. There were only two sheep left and they had become cunning enough to be extraordinarily difficult to find. Of course we did find them, and after driving them into the open we caught them by simply running them down. Skinning and cleaning operations were watched by a horde of mackerel gulls, black-backed gulls, and the ubiquitous skuas, while I also noticed a nelly keeping an eye on proceedings from a discreet distance.

Everybody contributed something towards the Christmas dinner. The result was a noteworthy spread. It was also a spread of such proportions as would satisfy the most ardent trencherman, and it left all of us distinctly uncomfortable. Two of the men decided that an afternoon nap was indicated, but the other two of us preferred exercise, and we rowed over to Ewing Island, where we annoyed a few sea-lions and penguins.

At this time we were experiencing a minor drought. Owing to the polluted state of the streams in this part of the island we relied on tanks for a water supply, and these were now very low, so that as much water as possible had to be taken from the creek. This was now quite a deep chocolate colour. Rain is normally so frequent that the tank storage provided was not great, and this sometimes caused us minor inconvenience. We never did have to wait very long for more rain.

On 30th December Bob Pollard, the meteorological observer, reported sick with a poisoned finger. He explained that some weeks earlier he had put a sea-leopard's head in a pool of water to decay, and a few days ago he had attempted to pull out the teeth for souvenirs. In doing this he had scratched page 155his finger on one of the teeth, and this poisoning was the result. Next day he was much worse and he was unable to move about, although he was bathing the finger frequently. Fortunately, his previous training as a chemist stood him in good stead, and he soon found a treatment that was successful in removing the infection.

The Ranui reappeared in the cove at 5.30 a.m. on 18th January 1945, with a large quota of very welcome mail. I was pleased to see George back again looking for more work, but unfortunately for us both Les and Graham had been relieved.

It would have been a serious blow if George had not returned. He had been doing most of the topographical work, and he knew exactly what had been done and the best way to get to the areas that were not yet finished. I think he must be over six feet tall, and with his long legs he could step over big tussocks that everyone else had to climb over. Towards the end of a long day struggling over wet tussocks was a laborious business, especially when we were well laden with equipment. Chiefly for this reason, George was able to cover the ground much more quickly than the rest of us, and the reward for this was in being dispatched to the more distant areas. As a result, I regarded him as invaluable, more especially as his work was always conscientiously and carefully done.

George took life very seriously, even when it came to the matter of food. I think he was the most consistent user of the vitamin tablets and tonic preparations that had been supplied to us as substitutes for fresh food and adequate sunshine. I must admit that he always seemed to be in robust health, but whether that was due to his diet is rather open to question. The rest of us, who were less mindful of our daily intake of calories and vitamins, seemed to suffer little through our ignorance. Some of us were affected at times by troubles such as rheumatism induced by exposure, but this was only to be expected. No matter how cold and wet we might get, nobody ever caught a cold.

On 21st January we sailed at 9.30 a.m. for Carnley Harbour, page 156where we loaded our camping gear, and the next day we went up the coast to Tandy Inlet to establish our first field-camp of the new year. It was an unusually good day, and we were greeted by swarms of blowflies and sand-flies. We had some trouble in finding a suitable camp site, as the land was swampy and foul with seal tracks, but we finally settled on a site on an elevated promontory. Here we could escape both the bogs and the sand-flies. Unfortunately, access from the landing-place was very difficult, and we left most of our stores near the beach under the cover of a tent-fly. On this occasion George and I had two new assistants, Bob Pollard and Tubby Wenham. Although Bob had been at the islands for twelve months, this was his first camping trip, while Tubby was a new arrival.

We did not have any definite routine in our bush camps, as our activities were necessarily influenced so much by the weather. During the first two or three days at each location, while we were occupied in getting our camp reasonably habitable and in cutting access routes through the bush and scrub, we were able to work in any but the worst of weather. Also if we were in an area that was unfamiliar to us we were able to reconnoitre in any weather provided the visibility was reasonable. But when we had completed these jobs we had to wait for clear days without too much wind.

When my alarm clock woke me in the early morning I would crawl out of my sleeping bag and start to prepare the breakfast. At the first sound of pots rattling George would appear to lend a hand, and after a short time the steady roar of the Primus stoves would bring tousled heads from the other tents, and dishevelled figures would trudge through the eternal mud to the stream for a morning wash. If I awoke to hear the rain beating on the tent, or a high wind roaring in the canopy of rata trees, I would leave the breakfast for someone else to prepare. On really bad days it became somewhat of an endurance test to see who would yield first and decide to cook the meal.

Breakfast consisted of porridge, followed by hot canned page 157tomatoes and usually some form of canned meat or fish. There was also dried bread or biscuit and hot tea.

Unless the weather was completely hopeless we would then set out for work. Each man dressed according to his fancy, but he would almost invariably wear a hooded parka, heavy boots, canvas gaiters and a balaclava. On cold days woollen mittens and waterproof gloves were in demand, and if travelling conditions were known to be comparatively easy, we often wore oilskin leggings.

If no field-work was possible we had to fill in time as best we could. The mess tent was about 10 ft. long by 6 ft. wide, and contained a reasonably large table that George and I were able to use to a limited extent for preliminary plan work and computations. We usually had at least one naturalist in our party, and he would happily employ himself in searching for specimens or undertaking some form of systematic observations.

When we were confined to camp the midday meal would consist of hot soup, followed by dried bread and biscuit with butter, jam, cheese and honey. We had our main meal in the evening. This would usually include dehydrated potatoes, canned vegetables and bully beef, and either a canned plum pudding or canned fruit eaten with a prepared cereal.

It would have been impossible to make these camps comfortable without an outlay of time and material that would be quite unwarranted for temporary occupation. Although at times we tried lighting fires to dry our clothes and for that peculiar satisfaction that comes of sitting beside a camp fire at night, they were not spectacularly successful. It was always either raining or blowing, and smoke would swirl everywhere, so that one after another we would give up in disgust and go to bed.

The day after our arrival at Carnley Harbour was devoted to our now familiar task of clearing a track through the forest and the thickest of the scrub. The next day we managed to get some beacons erected on the high country. On this occasion page 158the route was quite interesting, and in one place passed through natural corridors in a great basalt dyke. The tangled scrub we encountered at intervals in the tussock country was most exasperating. The two newcomers found it an arduous day, arriving home rather much the worse for wear.

On 25th January we started work on a track up the north side of the valley. On this occasion we had the big stream to cross, and we had to go some distance upstream before we found a suitable place for crossing. Even here the stream was about fifteen feet wide, but good rocks were available for stepping stones. It would be difficult to cross there after much rain, and even on that occasion Bob succeeded in slipping and falling in, to the huge delight of everyone else. Bob had decided that camp life was grand, and he regretted that he had not been able to get out with us earlier. George and I reminded him that this was mid-summer, and even on the Auckland Islands conditions are a little more pleasant in the summer time.

Tandy Inlet was at one time a favourite camping site for sealers. On the ridge just to the north of the inlet is a conspicuous rock mass which resembles a church and steeple when viewed from the sea, and this was known to the sealers as the Chapel Rock. It was evidently used by them as a landmark when approaching the inlet. From the inlet it is a comparatively short distance to the western cliffs, and no high ridge has to be crossed. In fact, the saddle separating the two coasts is no more than 700 feet. high, and the distance from the inlet to the western coast is less than three miles. The western cliffs are 580 feet, high at this point, and it is almost certainly here that the Sorenson Salvage Syndicate proposed to construct the access road to their projected cantilever. Although they mentioned Smith Harbour, it must be understood that Smith Harbour is a secondary inlet intersecting Tandy Inlet.

We found plenty of evidence of prior occupation by sealers. Some stumps of felled trees were seen, and an old track to the western cliffs was visible in some places, although now badly page 159overgrown. Flax bushes were flourishing on the beach, which is one of the very few sandy beaches in the islands. Bob also took me to see a discovery of his—the letters H M S B L painted on a vertical rock face. Although the remainder of the letters had been removed by the weather, we had no difficulty in deciding that this had been done by men from H.M.S. Blanche when she was engaged on survey work in 1870.

We were unfortunate to strike a great deal of bad weather again. Although the winter and spring were bitterly cold we usually had a reasonable number of clear days that were quite suitable for survey work, except for occasional periods when storms temporarily blotted out the hills. In the summer and autumn we had to contend with the same high winds, but the somewhat milder temperature favoured the formation of thick cloud, which often mantled the hills for weeks at a time. Rain did not trouble us very much, although at Tandy Inlet we had enough of it to make the place a morass, and our already difficult access to the beach and stream became almost impossible. Tubby often managed to lose control of his legs when negotiating the track, usually when he was carrying a clean towel, but he was by no means the only victim. The night of 31st January was the wildest I have ever spent in a tent, and sleep became quite impossible as the wind reached hurricane force.

On 3rd February we had a better day, and I got observations completed at Smith's Crag and Omega Peak. Smith's Crag is a great buttress overlooking Smith Harbour and Norman Inlet. Both of these two inlets have been carved out by one glacier, and Falla Peninsula is very nearly an island.

Rather to my surprise, the following day also promised to remain fine and clear, so we made the journey to Bleak Hill. There I just succeeded in completing observations when thick cloud started to form around us. We had some difficulty in finding our way home, as visibility was only a few yards. Actually, we were very fortunate when the cloud lifted momentarily, as it showed us that we were heading for Musgrave page 160Inlet instead of Tandy Inlet, and although the weather closed in again immediately we were able to get on our correct course. We reached home thoroughly soaked from the steady rain and the high wet tussock. Tubby was little better than a cot case, and Bob was gone in the ankles.

It should be mentioned at this stage that we never used a compass when travelling as it would be even worse than useless. The rock outcrops, which are extremely numerous, are highly magnetic, and no reliance can be placed on compass bearings. I found that a magnetic variation of 40° east could be changed to 20° west by moving the compass three feet, this being at Meggs Hill, and subsequent observations elsewhere proved equally unreliable. Sir James Ross also recorded in 1840 that Shoe Island is highly magnetic.

Three days later I was able to visit Chapel Rock and the Giant's Archway, although the wind was uncomfortably strong. Tubby had a particularly trying day, as for a start he fell down in a filthy seal wallow, and then, later in the day, he went up to his hips in an equally foul-smelling bog. He was interesting himself in collecting botanical specimens at this time, but on more than one occasion he became so upset when he was struggling through tangled scrub, or when he fell into a hole, that he would scream with rage and would fling his hard-earned specimens into the air, where they would be whirled away by the wind.

Whilst we were at Tandy Inlet the Ranui had been to Dunedin to pick up the relief party for Campbell Island, and she called in to collect us on 10th February. This time we had our work done and were waiting for her.