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The Autobiography of a Maori

Davis, the Ferryman

Davis, the Ferryman

I must mention Mr. Davis, the ferryman. He was a rough old chap who kept a firm hand over the children who needed his services. In the morning we had to be down on the Kaiti side of the river on time, and the same applied to our arrival on the town side in the afternoon, for if one of us was late he would miss that trip and would then have to wait until another passenger arrived before being taken across. As a rule, the children were punctual on their way to school in the mornings, but on their way home, after school, there was always trouble with the boys. From a boy's point of view it was the right, or perhaps the excusable, thing to be late. How could a boy hurry away from his after-school game or rush through the town without a page 70word with a pal or without looking at the lovely things displayed in the windows? He would not be a boy if he did not do such things. Old Davis was not a boy, and though he had been one once, it was a waste of time to expect him to view the situation from a boy's angle. The boys had no choice but to face the lion in his den. It was his delight to leave us sitting on the bank of the river awaiting his pleasure. After being punished on the bank of the Turanganui for being late, extra punishment awaited us for the same crime on our arrival home. It began to dawn upon me that this was an unjust world.

When I got the "sack" at Te Aute, to add insult to injury, a fellow-tribesman borrowed two half-crown pieces from me, promising to pay them back "next week." Hundreds of weeks have now come and gone and I am still waiting for my money.

Davis was a tyrant, but he was also a fine disciplinarian, and, although we hated him, I must confess that it was he who impressed on my mind the importance of being punctual. But, nevertheless, when you come to think of it, punctuality is not everything, is it? Just think how much is missed on a country roadside because our every step is timed. Recently we—my cousin and I—divided time into two categories—pakeha time and Maori time. We have found that there is something to be said for Maori time which really means any time.

A Native Minister, hardly a month ago, was timed to arrive at the carved meeting-house at Te Araroa at eleven o'clock in the morning. Although the leaders of the local tribe had assembled, no Minister turned up; he had changed his mind, excusably enough, and had gone to Hicks Bay. He appeared on the scene at two o'clock in the afternoon. We thought nothing of it, for, being a Native Minister, the gentleman seemed quite in order in carrying on racial traditions by observing page 71Maori time. As it was nothing untoward happened; at any rate, the meeting was a success and the Minister was able to keep all his appointments that day. The only hitch was that the Maoris had to wait a long time. What of it? We were Maoris and accustomed to anything, and that was the end of the matter.

"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."

Ultimately, a time came and we had our revenge on old Davis. The Gisborne Borough Council resolved to span the Turanganui River with a bridge. We hailed this idea with jubilation for we knew that it would mean the end of Davis's career with his ferryboat. As the work of construction proceeded it seemed to us that a kindly providence was providing us with a citadel from which we could fire our broadsides at the ferryman and his boat. Long before the bridge was finished we began using it and Davis's days were then absolutely numbered.