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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

The story about the canoe

page 155

The story about the canoe

My mind reels back to the time in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua when Stanisław Dygas, Michal Smal and I decided to build a canoe. We started looking to the nearest native bush stand, known to all the boys as the "pierwszy lasek" (the first bush stand). We found quite a large tree, I think it was rimu, with almost half of it hollowed out with rot, several meters high and ideal for the canoe.

After school the next day, armed with borrowed axes, we made a beeline to that first bush stand. We worked with zest so it didn't take long to bring the half-rotten tree down. Once on the ground we cut it to the length we wanted. Every day after school we worked hard, shaping it and digging out the inside. Some weeks passed by and we were making good progress – it was two-thirds finished and we were counting the days to its completion. But it was not to be and our dreams would be shattered.

One day, we were concentrating and working so hard on the project that we didn't notice a police officer with a farmer sneak around and pounce on us, like vultures on a dead carcass. We had no chance to run. The policeman took our names and confiscated our axes. The next day we had to face our camp commandant about all the problems we'd caused and the bad name we had brought to the camp. We were grilled for a long time by the red-faced commandant and told we were to appear in Pahiatua children's court.

The time had come for us to present ourselves before the judge. A stern-looking judge was seated behind the bench as he read our charges – first being unlawfully on the property and secondly the cutting down of a tree. When he finished reading, he asked us if we had anything to say. I piped up, saying the tree was rotten.

The judge looked at me with cold eyes, raised his hand and banged it on the bench – £10 fine each, which was a lot of money in those days. The fine was paid from our pocket money, so we were without it for a long time. When we got back to camp, we had to again face our camp commandant who imposed a further punishment – cleaning the toilets for a month.

So ended our great canoe dream.