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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 10 (February 1, 1930)

Superannuated Railwaymen — What do They Engage In?

page 34

Superannuated Railwaymen
What do They Engage In?

It is often asked of a New Zealand Railwayman “what will you do when you retire?” The following unique letter received by our Chief Accountant (Mr. H. Valentine), from Mr. W. S. Smith (a former Goods Shed Foreman in Dunedin), tells what one original and enterprising individual is doing “in retirement.”

Prospecting In Australia.

Some few weeks ago a declaration form (from the Superannuation Branch in your office), which has to be filled in and returned as proof that I am still in the flesh, was received at my home in Sydney. This fact, as you are aware, has to be attested to by the New Zealand Government's representative here or by a Justice of the Peace. I asked my wife to call on Mr. Blow and explain my position as regards seeing him personally. He (Mr. Blow) is punctilious in the discharge of his duties, which is befitting a man holding the position he does. He consented to signing the form, (to which my signature had already been attached), after my wife was able to satisfy him that she was not yet a widow. Just now, I feel that the mournful duty of reporting my demise is likely to fall to one of her successors. He requested, however, that I should write to you and explain matters. By doing this unofficially I shall be better able to give full details, so please pardon my digression from the usual channel.

The Alluring Quest.

Since June last, I have been camped on the top of the Blue Mountains, 4,000 ft. up, following the alluring vicissitudes of a gold digger's life. Four of the worst months of the year under canvas in preference to the comforts of a well-appointed home in Sydney. Why and for what purpose? With the liberal assistance of a permanent retiring allowance, I have all I require for my daily needs, but nothing much to give away. The poverty and distress among the poorer classes in this city is appalling. It is the product of continual industrial upheavals. I am past the age to hope for suitable employment that would help to supplement my income. There are hundreds of younger and better qualified men than I vainly seeking for that already, so I resolved to get out and do what I could with pick, shovel, and dish, and all I win, be it little or much, if Dame Fortune is good enough to smile on my efforts, will be devoted to the alleviation of the poverty and distress I have already mentioned.

So far, nothing of a startling nature has been revealed, but I am so well satisfied with my prospects that I am going to continue for a few months longer, despite all the disabilities and discomforts of a “hatter's” life. My camp is right in the bush and isolated in the fullest sense of the term. Twenty miles from the nearest Railway Station and Post Office, twelve miles from the nearest habitation, and 120 miles from my home. Here I am, away from the sight or sound of man, with no other companions than the feathered tribes, the beautiful wild flowers, the tall gaunt gum trees, and the starry heavens at night. In nature's workshop, in nature's cathedral, I work and worship daily in the hope, or I might say, assurance, that my efforts will be crowned with success. In this adventure I have the sympathetic and active assistance of my dear and valued friend, Mr. Paget, and our ladies, without whose interest and co-operation the successful achievement of my enterprise would be difficult as well as doubtful. I have shut the door on 68, but can still sling a long handled shovel to the time of a lively tune.

I have been working in a valley which terminates at the top of a high waterfall at the head of a deep gorge. I have dug cross and circular trenches six and seven feet deep to trap the water, which, in the rainy season, rushes down page 35 off the hillsides. Instead of running over the surface it will now fill the trenches and percolate through and underneath the wash dirt and carry any fine gold over the fall into a hole (ten by twelve by four feet deep), that I have dug out at the bottom to catch all that is washed over. It is here that I shall occasionally lift out and wash the spoil.

Although satisfied with my prospects it would be as well here to mention to expectant friends that loans of “fivers” are not yet available. I have finished that job which is in the vicinity of my camp and now daily cross a ridge to another valley which connects with a gorge deeper and more rugged and precipitous than the one nearer my camp. Here I am tapping
Valuable Freight In Transit. A special train chartered to transport motor cars from Wellington to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

Valuable Freight In Transit.
A special train chartered to transport motor cars from Wellington to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

picked up by a man who travels in to the Railway Station (Newnes Junction) for parcels and mail matter. My goods and mail are dropped at this depot for me every Friday. I usually go out on Sundays, if I don't lose count of the days in the week, and carry home whatever is left there. Sometimes my load is light and at others heavy. Last week I was late starting away, so took my hurricane lamp which I left in a marked spot two miles from home. It soon gets dark here. There is little or no twilight and it is difficult to keep on a blazed track with the aid of a dim light. As I had a heavy load slung fore and aft (I would lift my hat to an old pack horse now if I met one), I tried a short cut—steering by a star which, now the ground. That is, sinking here and there, at various depths, to find out what is underneath. If what I find is worth it, I may adopt the same plan here as I have done at the other claim. The country is principally of ironstone formation, which is generally considered favourable for the finding of mineral deposits such as gold, silver, and copper. I follow a blazed track through the bush about two miles. The second day I was out I ventured a short cut home, and, steering by the sun and blazing the trees as I went, came out of the bush in a dead line with my tent. Not a bad feat for one who, for the greater part of his life, always had a well-defined and permanent three feet six inch track to steer by.

Life in the Heart of the Bush.

This note will be left at an established depot five and a half miles out, where it will be and again, could be picked up through a break in the trees over head. I had one eye on the star and the other on the ground, which was broken and rough. Suddenly my foot caught in the end of a fallen log and I went headlong down hill, my packs one way, my lantern another. An Australian born bushman, whose variegated vocabulary is the envy of the world, might have been able to give vent to expressions suitable to the occasion, but I was both winded and speechless, so I got up, found and relit my lamp, and recovered by lost luggage—no charge—and set off again, reaching the camp without further mishap. A survey of the damage revealed pants hopelessly settled. That did not matter much. Public decency does not compel one to wear them where I am living. Two breakfasts lost in the egg department, page 36 biscuits broken up, sugar “bust,” and other minor damage. That was a lesson—I do the job in daylight now.

Encounter with a Snake.

The weather is getting warmer and I am not sorry. A few weeks ago a cyclone, accompanied by a snow blizzard, came along and I had the time of my life keeping the tent anchored down. I was in and out until nearly two o'clock in the morning, shovelling snow off the tent fly. I had no wish to sleep my long last sleep beneath the folds of a frozen tent. With the warm weather we get flies, ants, and snakes. On the way out to work yesterday I went down to my first claim to see how things were. Like most bush travellers, I had a stout stick about five feet long. It serves a twofold purpose. It helps you over the rough country and is handy as a weapon should a snake rear itself in your pathway to dispute your right to invade territory entirely occupied by wild life. My stick proved useful on this occasion. About half way down I came across a big black brute stretched right across my track. Hostilities on both sides opened at once. I went at him and he turned to run. I got a blow in but not fair on. He turned and came at me. It was my turn to retreat and in so doing, fell over a small log on to the broad of my back. As he was fast approaching I did not wait for the count usually allowed in the boxing ring. Quicker than it takes to write, I was on my feet again.
Glen Innes Station On The Westfield Deviation. (Photo, W. W. Stewart.) The above illustration typifies the style of the station buildings and platforms on the new line at Auckland, New Zealand.

Glen Innes Station On The Westfield Deviation.
(Photo, W. W. Stewart.)
The above illustration typifies the style of the station buildings and platforms on the new line at Auckland, New Zealand.

I side-stepped him and got in a heavy one about the solar plexus or kidney (both good hits). This made him feel groggy. Two more in quick succession and he was helpless, so I finished him. He measured four feet eleven inches in length and six inches in girth. I have done a lot of fishing round about the coast, but was never able to qualify for membership of any fisherman's club, so you can accept the measurements given as correct.

If I have not wearied you, I hope I have at least satisfied you that that monthly instalment is still to continue and likely so for a good many more years to come.

Those responsible for the drafting of the Railway Superannuation Act showed, in my opinion, want of forethought and vision in not making provision for the quiet removal of all beneficiaries who exceed the allotted span. Such an oversight would not have occurred in countries say like China, for instance. There you would not be allowed to remain a burden on the taxpayer for as long as it suited you. You would be told to do it yourself or sharpen an axe and get some other fellow to take you down to the back of the abattoir and do it for you.

If the opportunity should come to you, would you please convey my sincere good wishes to all those I had the pleasure of meeting at our annual conference reunions? To them all my kindest regards and best wishes—the same to yourself.