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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 12 (March 2, 1936)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 31

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

Our Storylands.

People from overseas often display more interest in the history and romance of this country than most New Zealanders themselves exhibit. I have frequently found that the residents of a district know very little of the great and stirring story that belongs to the very ground from which they draw their living. Intelligent tourists, once they gain an inkling of such adventurous associations, are eager to learn more; the historic background gives added interest to the landscape. Sometimes we have visitors from other lands whose forebears were pioneers in New Zealand or fought here in the Maori wars.

The Von Tempsky family who lately spent several weeks in touring the Dominion, combining scenery-viewing with a kind of ancestor-worship, are people with a special concern in the country's history, for they were following up the war-paths of the most celebrated member of the clan, the Major who fell in a bush battle in Taranaki sixty-eight years ago. There was an added interest in that tour through the old fighting grounds in the search for Major Von Tempsky's sword.

The Sacred Sword.

That question, what became of the sword which the soldier of fortune carried without its scabbard on his many fighting expeditions, has excited a curious interest. It has been discussed in these pages more than once, and it has been made clear (by the inquiries which I made many years ago from the Maoris concerned) that the pakeha is never likely to see that famous weapon again. It is buried deep in a Maori grave at Parihaka, and Taranaki soil will hold it as long as any Maori remains there. That pakeha-Maori celebrity, Kimble Bent, saw and handled it after the battle; he identified it for the Maoris, and he described how it became regarded as a sacred relic. His narrative of the thrilling scene in the Hauhau camp on the day after the battle is given in “The Adventures of Kimble Bent.”

The historic name of Von Tempsky is not likely to disappear. Besides descendants in New Zealand, there is quite a small tribe in the islands of Hawaii, the owners of a great cattle estate on Maui, founded by a son of the Major. As the recent family visit to New Zealand indicates, they will always regard our Taranaki scene as a kind of family shrine.

Our Gaelic Pioneers.

The tales of the hard-faring founders of the Highland Scottish-Nova Scotian founders of Waipu and adjacent parts in the North Auckland country are rich in lessons of courage and endurance that are particularly worth recalling in these days of ease and many inventions.

Much has been told, yet there is always something new in the simple annals of these hardy Gaelic nation-makers, as recounted now and again by their descendants. I have just been dipping into Mr. N. R. Mackenzie's book, “The Gael Fares Forth,” the story of Waipu and sister settlements. There is intimate detail here of the life of three generations ago when Waipu was literally hewn out of the forest.

The Resourceful Housewife.

Here is one vignette of the women's self-reliant ways: “A reaping 'frolic’ [a kind of working bee in which all the neighbours joined] was in progress on John McGregor's farm, Waipu Centre. Mrs. McGregor found that she did not have enough bread for such a large party, and she had no flour in the house. (Owing to the difficulty of crossing the Waipu river bar, outside supplies were frequently cut off.) She went to the wheat field, gathered some sheaves, thrashed them, winnowed the grain, and ground it in a hand-mill. When the working party came in to tea, she had an ample supply of scones —made from the grain that had been growing in the field at lunch time.”

Simple Fare and “Pretty Men.”

“Stalwart men,” the historian recounts elsewhere in his chronicle, “could make a hearty meal with a menu composed of nothing but mashed potatoes and milk—not because nothing else was procurable, but because they preferred plain diet. They despised anyone who was too particular about his food.”

I am reminded here of the letter that an early-days Taranaki resident wrote to England. He described meeting an English labourer who had found a land quite to his liking in fertile Taranaki. He was contented with his frugal fare, milk and Maori vegetable marrow called kamokamo, popularly pronounced “kumikumi.” “Gi'e I kumikum and milk,” he told his visitor, “and I wouldn't call the Queen me uncle—God bless her!”

Probably our “three-meal meat-fed men,” as Kipling described the Colonial, would consider themselves at starvation's door if they were restricted to such a diet for more than a day. Yet we would all be better for this simple fare. I recommend it to some of our tired city men who complain of indigestion after a hearty mid-day meal.

Some of the most stalwart of races are reared on the simplest fare. The Samoans, fine tall fellows and strong and handsome women, live chiefly on fruit and one or two vegetables. The Nova Scotian settlers were and are sixfooters and over. One of that ilk, discussing fit fare for building men, told me that he was reared on potatoes, porridge and buttermilk—the proper food for “pretty men”—good Highland phrase.