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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April 1, 1938.)

Dream Places — The Ratanui Bend

page 32

Dream Places
The Ratanui Bend

There is a kind of dreamland which can become the permanent park-land of the mental dwelling-house. It takes to itself the semblance of reality, and, indeed, may gravely disturb much of our fixed belief in the actuality of the appearances round us.

This vision of mine, this place I have named “Te Reinga the New,” with the great Ratanui Bend, hollowed out of the sunlit New Zealand coast as by a monstrous cannonade of mammoth guns, is a constant companion.

On a hot summer afternoon, I welcome its pleasant arrival; I lazily watch it take shape and substance; the inhabitants of it become companionable and personable; the very mistiness of it all has the charm of warmth and amity.

Do you remember that delightful story of the old Chinese mystic:— “I dreamed last night that I was a butterfly hovering over countless nodding blossoms. As I flew hither and thither, it seemed to me as a butterfly, that I was conscious of the attributes and the memory of a man, a man dreaming. Now that I am awake, am J a man who dreamed he was a butterfly or am I a butterfly dreaming that he is a man?”

Then there is the exquisite story told, I think, by A. P. Herbert, of the young Duke of Devonshire who dreamed that he was in the House of Lords making a speech; and when he woke up, he was!

This fabric of dreams has caused some wonderful thinking, and the inevitable outcome, wonderful writing. Old Pliny, whose letters are as modern as “Letters of a Self-made Merchant to his Son,” wrote a precious note to Suetonius Tranquillus who was worried by a bad dream. Pliny explained that when his first brief came along, his mother-in-law appeared to him in a dream and warned him that it was dangerous; his relations pointed out that the opposing side was in with the current Caesar, and so on. However, Pliny took the case, won it handsomely and, as he points out in the Letter, it proved the firm foundation of his fame and career. No omens in dreams for Pliny.

But the printed word that is in point for me comes from Pascal's “Pensees,” that wonderbook of commonsense lit by the magic glow of humour. It should be a handbook for politicians and after dinner speakers and, sadly enough, is nearly unknown to them.

Pascal always strikes me as a mental cocktail, a mixture of ingredients of genius assembled in some supernal shaker, and poured out for the stimulation of mankind.

Here is his combination of science and poesy on dreams ….

“If we dreamed the same thing every night, it would affect us as much as the objects we see every day. And if an artisan were sure to dream every night for twelve hours’ duration that he was a king, I believe he would almost be as happy as a king who should dream every night for twelve hours on end that he was an artisan.”

Then, after more examples, Pascal the scientist finishes with this …

“For life is a dream a little less inconstant.”

Now, returning to my dream, this established inhabitant of my dozing time or any time when I “set my fancies free,” I have no difficulty in finding its structure real.

It returns regularly, and has, by now, become a sort of sublimation of errant ideas, straying thoughts, and those hazy plans for happiness that stay about in the background of everyone's mind.

Here are the details: I imagine a vast enclosed piece of the New Zealand coast; there is a roaring rock-bound barrier across the whole breadth of the foreshore; against jagged pinnacles of stone, heaped up as if by an earth cataclysm, the Pacific pounds and thunders. For miles there is not a landing spot in this bay, whose shapely curve is fanged with thrusting teeth of stone at fantastic angles, sharpened and ground by the everlasting rollers.

Inside this barrier of wave-riven rock there is a huge half circle of flat land, green with velvet turf and dotted with ti-tree and many branched cabbage trees, and here and there small totaras and puriris looking exactly like toy trees from a large Noah's Ark. This area is ringed completely by perpendicular cliffs of papa, blue, stark, and so immense as to be impossible of ascent or descent.

It is as impregnable to human exploitation as Conan Doyle's “Lost World”; but—I have been there dozens of times. I made my way into it with one of those falling sensations one gets in dreams. Just as I nodded off, I seemed to make a swift and tremendous plunge downwards—whether through a hollow tree or a water-made cave, I did not seem to mind. I found myself effortlessly page 33 passing the floor of this wonderland.

Again and again I have descended there by different routes and the delightful lack of any rationalisation in dreamland always tells me that, for the moment, I am the “first to ever burst” into that silent scene.

However, it never remains silent for long. Bellbirds and tuis are a full-time orchestra, and the first person I meet is always Maui. This handsome Polynesian demi-god always has a black and white feather in his hair, a greenstone mere flashes in his hand, and his shining body is bare but for a golden cloak of some sort of skin. He always greets me with a smile which is the jewel of all smiles. It hints at a supernal disregard for consequences, a daring in mischief which is from the primal pagan world, and a mirth, primeval in its earthly splendour.

Maui is always laughing; the tiny riro-riro joins in at times, as its ridiculous little feathered body flits about from the tip of Maui's mere to the bare point of his shoulder, as if it were the animated eye of a magic needle embroidering a pattern of nonsense.

Maui's great friend and constant companion is a white-bearded venerable old gentleman, with eyes as blue as the forget-me-not. He is the Official Assignee who had served the country above the Ratanui cliffs for seventy years, and in the words of one of the other exiles: “had seen all of the county broke once and some of ‘em twice.”

In my various visits I saw several candidates applying for admission, and there seemed to be little knots of happy folk here and there about the broad expanse through which the Ratanui River ran. This was one of those wayward New Zealand streams that changes its course on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and its mouth was decorated with a clumsy lacework of spars and spiky fragments of the only vessel that attempted the stormy bar.

There were sandy reaches running up to grassy slopes, and on one of these one night, I heard the court of inquisition at work. It was moonlight, and Maui sat in the centre with the Official Assignee next. The moon threaded the scene with a tinily woven network of silver, and the river was a trembling whiteness.

The creekstones rang like little gongs Tapped softly by the fishes’ fins,
And trees lilt airs of greenwood songs,
The purl of pixy mandolins Far off begins.

As I watched, Maui's laugh sounded loud and clear. I stole nearer. The old Assignee's eyes had become blue wells of laughter and Maui and he made a terrific effort to become grave and judicial.

The candidate was a queer specimen, cheery of face, but with a certain sort of impudent hardihood. He was talking rapidly and this is how it sounded: “I ask yer—a man ‘unted by sheilas oughter getter break.”

In the peculiar fashion of dreams I understood his case without any explanation. He had kept the billiard saloon at Tauwhata township, where no licensed hotel existed, and his activities were various, including a bookmaking practice of genuine merit. In his own words, “I always shaded the city books with me double prices, and I ‘eld on even when it was ‘shut the gate.'”

It appears that he had the support of the leading citizens though much of it was, of course, unofficial. It appears that everything was going well until the arrival of a certain lady. I cannot use the excuse even of a dream for he purpose of giving Joe's description of this lady's appearance and attributes. But what had really upset the apple-cart was the fact that a leading citizen had “got on the slate for a motza,” and Joe tactlessly pressed his claim. The leading citizen and the lady “teamed up,” and action was their watchword. The saloon was raided with startling results, his books were seized, and he had decided to “turn it up” if the Bend was open to receive him. The Official Assignee enquired the name of the leading citizen, and when Joe gave it, he smiled: “I remember him,” he said. “One of the worst bankruptcies I ever handled.”

Joe Burrows, billiard saloonkeeper, of Tauwhata, grinned — and instantaneously I saw something—I saw that this grin was a recognisable descendant of Maui's smile. It had got slightly tattered and shop - soiled in its journey down the ages from Maui to Joe Burrows.

Maui's smile answered back and Joe was obviously safe And then, the smile winged its way about the ring of faces, just as a melody is taken up by a singer here and there in a camp chorus.

“He always greets me with a smile which is the jewel of all smiles.”

“He always greets me with a smile which is the jewel of all smiles.”

It seemed to me to be the first smile of Time; the jewel-sign of mutual enjoyment of the oddity of human affairs. These exiles, I said to myself, have made the Great Discovery. Their brotherhood is a working entity. Here is a place with none of those small things that represent our modern progress.

Here men joined in laughter as a benison; a golden cup of mirth to be passed round for all to use. Here was the only sign-manual of their fellowship; the only password to the lodge; the only entrance feet to the order—here it was—a smile.

Suddenly it seemed to me to be a sunny morning and the smile seemed all about still, lazily drifting or darting swiftly from river ripple to leaf tip; it gilded the dropping green of young rimus; it shone from the golden kowhai showers; and burnished the purple kaka berries till they glowed like sunlit grapes. Maui and his blue-eyed old companion joined in again; it was a sun-made smile; it might have been the first smile of the old wrinkled Earth when he saw the queer little beings that had somehow got upright on his surface and learned to talk; and lastly, the paling daytime moon slowly smiled itself away.

I heard someone say—” Here's your tea, Dad, what were you smiling at?”

I was awake, but it didn't matter. There will be another summer afternoon and I'll be back again at the Bend.

page 34