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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Old-Time Sport

page 186

Old-Time Sport.

We are told in the "Old Book," which besides being an infallible guide for all times for all people, old and young, and which also is astonishingly prophetic, that in the latter days men (and women) shall be lovers of pleasure. Looking back fifty-nine years the writer is able to affirm this truth. In olden clays there were not many avenues for sport of any kind, and the new Wairoa has more sport now in a week than old Wairoa had in a year, unless, indeed, answering "war's rude alarms" could be called sport. Then, the chief enjoyments of Wairoa comprised a few dances, gambling, drinking, scandal-parties under the willows on the river bank, and perhaps a spellingbee, a bazaar or a concert. The dances were rude, and the gambling varied from high to low, some of the performers being worthy of the cult of Monte Carlo. I recall one man who was so keen on the throw of the dice that one day Avhile engaged on the Wairoa beach waiting for the return of the surf-boat from a schooner lying offshore he staked the shirt on his back—and lost! Now, there are races, shows, athletic sports, golf, pigeon-flying, deer-stalking, trout-fishing, football, cricket, boating, dances, cinemas, tangis, huis and boxing, not to mention the coming sport of flying. Yet a Wairoa mother complaining to me not long ago, and trying to account for the tendency of the young people to go further afield, said there were not near enough avenues of sport in Wairoa! But whether the order of old-time sport in Wairoa was high or low, certain it is that in most of page 187the national sports of the Dominion, Wairoa has taken her share with decided honours, more especially in the domain of football, and she is still proud to own as one of her sons, till he went north, the famous George Nepia, the Nuhaka All-Black footballer, who returned in March, 1925, to receive a hearty welcome from Europeans and Maoris. Out on his own as a player he came back, the Only man who played in every match against the football stalwarts of the Motherland, sharing with the Brownlie brothers the honour of the bloodless conquest of England. But in the earliest days of Wairoa it was racing that most appealed to the people and not always on recognized courses. The "military," of course, were well to the fore in this, and as the first town sports were held on the river-bank, between pub and pub, one horse race, at least, ended tragically in the death of the rider by collision with the verandah post of a store. The cause of the bolt was not an electric battery under the saddle-cloth, but something liquid and equally potent. So history repeats itself, and for part of a day sports were again held in Wairoa's main street! The earliest racecourse I heard of was on the foreshore of the Wairoa river, from the Kihitu pa to the Kurupakiaka or Te Uhi pa, but over that course now flows the Wairoa river. Other courses there were at Maititi, north of Huramua, the Kopane, near Waikaremoana, Marumaru, Mohaka and Paeroa, but compared with the others the Paeroa was the Wairoa Ellerslie or Flemington, though at times local rivalry put in a claim for Waitahora and the Awatere. Many of the events were—well, page 188let us say—irregular, but the first properly organized club race-meeting was held at Turiroa (Matiti) in 1862. The weather proved bad, but despite this the attendance was good, and the following were the results of the several events which were merely designated by numbers:
No. 1
Paora Apatu's Little Tommy (J. Burton)1
Rangimataeo's Ture Hina (Hamuera)2
Naihe's Manawanui (Hoani)3
Hamana's Manuangu (Kihi)4
Paora Apatu's Tutawhanga (Ruapapara)5
No. 2
Rangimataeo's Rongotawhanga (Burton)1
Hamuera's Rangaranga (Matenga)2
No. 3
J. Carroll's Hokopou (Burton)1
Henare Apatere's Potini (J. Mitchell)2
Rowana's Merina (D. Lewis)3

The next, of which there is any record, was held on the same course on 31st January, 1867—and between the two dates the Pakehas and the Maoris were at war, and if horses were in evidence at all it was in the scouting parties. The course marked out was a mile oval and the readers may take it from me that the races were not hedged in by too many vexatious restrictions. One incident on that occasion will illustrate this. The Natives who were then, as now, very keen on equine events, had a rather good-looking horse called Rererangi, which they had imported from page 189the Wairarapa, and they expected great things from him. There were five events on the programme and Rererangi was entered for the Wairoa Stakes, a two-mile event. He was trained at Matiti, and on the eventful day was ridden by a Maori hunchbank, whose shortness of body Nature had compensated for by abnormally long legs and arms. Crossing the course was the track leading to Rererangi's stable, and the hope of the Maoris on reaching this spot decided that he had had about enough of it and he bolted. Straight he dashed for a Maori stab-fence, and not being a hurdler, he shot the rider, all arms and legs, over on the other side, rendering him unconscious for a long time. The Maoris duly soused him in the cool waters of the Wairoa—a sovereign remedy for any ailment from enteric to a broken head. Loud were the lamentations made over the ill-fated jockey, who in reality was not dead, although komate had been sounded over him. He was suffering from a cracked cranium, from which he eventually recovered. The races were held up for a time. The day was hot, the creature comforts were over-abundant and the rules were those of the well-known "Mr. Rafferty." A scurry event was put on, and two horses were started back to back in opposite directions, and when nearing the finish one of them, Kerei, ridden by a Maori of the same name, had the top of his head torn off, and the other had his heart burst by the fearful impact, and, of course, both died. One of the jockeys skidded along the course like a bounding football, and the other, a man named John Burns, alias Kopiri, had a thigh broken. Such was racing page 190in the early days, when there was no fear of stewards or of disqualifying meddlesome metropolitans, or stipendiary stewards, or even police. The "Sport of Kings" got such a hold upon the Natives that even after legitimate races were being run at the Awatere they became race-mad and nearly every pa had its annual meeting, and the classic event was generally the Sugar Bag Handicap; other stakes were a hundredweight of flour, a sack of oats, or a fat pig. It is stated a portly dame of the pa was once the stake offered, but whether she was handed over or not I cannot recall. There were many disputes, but these were usually settled by verbal weapons and not by the tomahawk or the gun. "Oh, those good old days"—I don't think.