Check out the blog on http://www.gonebush.org to find out what it is.
Check out the blog on http://www.gonebush.org to find out what it is.
Well kind off. We have abandoned the WordPress platform and now our site is being hosted elsewhere. If you type in gonebush.org it will take you straight there but if you are one of the few people who get an email when a new story is posted you won’t be receiving it. My son Charles will fix that when he manages to get a bit of spare time. I have just posted the 3rd part of The Man Who Stopped. You should find this site a lot easier to find your way around. You’ll also find our video’s and other bits and pieces if you have a poke around.
Bill knew he’d become a man because he went to bed worried and woke up stressed, he’d watched his dad do it all his life.
He was now caught up in the world of adults, which is a bit odd because as a 10-year-old he’d declared to his mates that he would never be like grown-ups as they worried, were boring, and had no idea how to have fun.
Yet here he was, an adult (at 16!) filled with responsibility, and it felt awful, which from the discussions he overheard in the smoko shed must be normal.
The first year of his working life crept by like a slug chasing a sloth. Bill progressed from stacking timber in the yard to the planer shed and then to the tanalising plant. It made him feel a bit more important, it was just a shame they didn’t increase his wages, but he was climbing the ladder and hoped his dad would be proud of him.
On the weekends Bill went pig hunting with his friend Tom. Together they traipsed the hills, ever hopeful of finally catching a pig. Tom loved his dogs almost as much as they loved him, and if they’d known he was after pigs, they’d have gladly caught their master hundreds. After escaping death row at the local pound, their Saturday jaunts into the bush to sniff, pee and bark at shadows was paradise. Bill & Tom had a great old time too, and like the dogs spent all week dreaming of the freedom Saturday would bring.
And that was life, endure the working week, hit the hills on the weekends and then do it all over again, and again, and again, and again,………..
By the time Bill was 48 he’d worked his way into a better paying job, owed the bank a heap of money for the house he and Alice lived in, and they were as happy as most reasonably successful people can be. He and Alice never managed to have any children, which was a real shame as they would have been great parents. But life deals its cards, and you need to play the hand you’re given.
Tom and his dogs were a distant memory, but the draw of the bush was as powerful as ever, and he and Alice spent most of their weekends tramping, hunting, or just plain relaxing up in the hills.
One Friday night while they were painting the living room they decided to have fish and chips. Bill stayed behind to clean up and told her he’d have 2 pieces of fish, a hot dog and a scoop of chips. A drunk driver saw to it that Alice never came back.
The house they had worked so hard to make their own became a prison of memories and Bill sold it not long after the funeral. He rented a small flat not far from where he worked and got on with life as best he could. He stayed away from the bush for several months, terrified he would hate it as much as the house now Alice was gone.
Life without Alice and the freedom of the bush was unbearable and not long later his 49th birthday, Bill took a risk and grabbed his pack, 308 and a bit of tucker and headed up to his bivy.
It was the one place he and Alice had never shared, so was pretty rough and ready, which was just the way Bill liked it. That night as he lay in his sleeping bag, listening to the comings and goings of the night creatures, he had his first decent sleep in months.
He saw three deer the next morning but didn’t fire a shot. He just watched them graze and sniff the breeze. Alice had taught him how to just look, she called it smelling the roses. He smiled when he thought of her, and the sadness he felt was almost like a friend.
He’d only planned to stay the one night, but the weather was good, and he was in no hurry to go back to the madness of the city. That evening he shot a spiker and cooked its liver with a few onions. As he sat by the fire, lightly searing his dinner, he whistled.
Bill did that when he was happy.
I was going to write a bit more about Bill tonight, but we were involved in a car accident and are stranded in Te Awamutu, so thought I’d write about that instead.
Sue was towing the quad, and we were hit from behind by a young guy who was following a bit too close. I bet you’ve followed a bit too close before, so have I, interesting how indignant I felt when we were the victims.
I’m a worrier by nature, have been doing it all my life. Our trailer was wrecked, so was the towbar on our car, and we have a job to start next week up in the Coromandel. But I’ve been worrying for over 50 years and have had enough of it. It’s a complete waste of time and doesn’t fix anything. Instead, I found a few good reasons to be happy. Sue was uninjured, so was the young bloke that hit us. Our insurance company is being difficult but the lady I spoke to was really nice. It’s not her fault that the company she works for is making things awkward.
Sue and I located an engineering company who bent over backwards to help us. We parked our house truck on the farm that is owned by one of the engineer’s parents. Hopefully our Toyota Surf and Trailer will be good to go tomorrow. But if not, all the worry in the world won’t change that a bit.
Worry, no thanks, gave it up.
His name is Bill.
You’d probably walk right past him in the street, like all the other people you walk by.
And after reading his story you’d probably do it all over again, but maybe, just for a second, you’d notice him, before more important matters swept your mind away.
But that’s not likely to happen, as Bill has no time for cities, towns, streets or anywhere people have scratched up the warm earth and covered it in concrete and tar seal. Nor would you if you’d seen a kārearea plummet from the sky and turn a kereru into a cloud of feathers that only the breeze could steal away. No, he would no more give up his world of kokako, crystal clear streams and the freedom of the ngahere then a billionaire would give up his mansion for a jail cell.
But there was a time when he was just like the rest of us, busy, always busy, and not really knowing why. His life was filled with bills and worry, deadlines and unpleasantness, and occasionally, just very occasionally he would try and imagine his life being different, but he couldn’t.
This story is about how it happened. If you like powerful endings and good plots then I wouldn’t bother reading any further, this is just a very simple tale about a man who stopped.
Bill was born in a little place called New Lynn (it’s not so little anymore). He had brothers and sisters, parents who did their best, and when he was older he went to school, that’s what kids do.
Life was reasonably straight forward, a bit like a story until his granddad died. He was 12 years old when it happened, and he didn’t like the story he was in anymore and wanted to be in one where his granddad didn’t die. Kids are silly like that.
Watching his dad and uncles throw the last few clods of earth on his Granddads grave was a big turning point in Bill’s life. As they walked back to the car a sadness came over him that decided to stay.
The best day of his life was when he packed up his schoolbooks for the very last time and walked out of the school gates into a world full of promise. That night as he sat at the family table, his dad winked at him as he passed the mashed potatoes. ‘You’ve got the world at your feet now Bill. Your first day on the job tomorrow, I’m proud of you son.’
Bill felt all grown up and liked the feeling. But it didn’t last long.
The mill was a dirty, noisy place. They put him out in the yard to stack timber to see how he would go. His hands stung, back ached and when the smoko bell went, he felt like crying but ate his sandwiches instead. It was the longest day of his life, and when the knock off siren finally sounded he fled the place, vowing never to come back. But when his dad passed the peas and winked at him that night, Bill changed his mind.
He listened to the older blokes as they chatted in the smoko room and could tell they didn’t like being at the mill either, but like him, they kept coming back, they’d just been doing it for longer. When he stood in line that Friday to pick up his pay packet he worked out why they kept coming back. The brown envelope felt good in your hands.
Eager to forget the week just gone and desperate to not think about the Monday to come, most of the older blokes went to the pub. Bill shot into town and put a down payment on a car he liked. He needed it to get to work, and he felt like a million dollars when he drove out of the car yard.
When he filled it up on Monday, it gave him a bit of a shock. He did the maths as he drove to work and it gave him a sinking feeling. He’d need to stack a few more packets of timber each week so he could meet his car payments, board and fuel.
When the knock off whistle went that night, he stayed on to stack timber. By the time he found a forklift driver and filleted a packet of 6×1’s there wasn’t enough light left to go for a rabbit hunt.
He met the foreman in the carpark.
‘You got insurance for your car?’
‘Not even third party?’
As he drove home that night he decided to get some organised. He’d need to work a bit harder to pay for it.
Billed slammed the car door when he got home. He’d never done that before.
Henry was lost in thought as he slipped and slid his way to Les’ hut and hardly noticed the dawn chorus as thousands of birds greeted the morning sun. Hope had lifted his spirits, and he briefly let his imagination paint a picture of what his burnt over block of bush and mud could one day be. Instead of slush, stumps and ashes, he imagined acres of grass, tight fences and healthy stock. He remembered an old saying of his mum’s when times were tough.“Oh, how bright is the sun and beautiful the day when a storm has cleared the air.” He allowed himself a brief smile as he thought of those better days, those days before the war.
The war; just the thought of it made him flinch. Steeling himself, he pushed away his fanciful thoughts and focused on the cold hard reality of life. The farm of his dreams was years away, and he knew the chances of achieving it were low. And then there was Les, what to do? Henry was relieved that Les was on the road to recovery, but he was another burden on Henry’s meagre financial and emotional resources. He was beginning to warm to Les, and that was a luxury he couldn’t afford. It was a hard lesson learned in the trenches of Passchendaele. The vision of friends bodies draped over barbed wire and buried in the foul, stinking, mud often haunted his sleep. He had no room left for the pain friendship can bring. Les had to go, he was of little use around the farm, and the worry of the man starving to death was a responsibility Henry could do without. The sun was warm on Henry’s shoulders when he arrived at the ponga whare.
“What to do?”
He sat down and rolled a smoke, a vice he’d learned in Europe. Dragging deeply on his cigarette an idea came to him which at first shocked him. But as he mulled it over it began to make sense. Finishing his smoke, he tossed it into the scrub and entered the hut to retrieve his axe and saw. He had a good look inside. Apart from a few eating and cooking utensils and the Bible and exercise book, the hut was bare. He stepped back out into the sunshine and gathered up some dead ponga fronds and other dried vegetation and piled them up against Les’ home. A breeze had started to rustle the leaves of the few remaining trees, it would serve his purpose well. Breaking up some manuka twigs he kindled a fire and watched guiltily as the flames licked and smoked up trough the ponga fronds.
When the flames reached the whare walls, Henry had a pang of conscience and rushed inside to retrieve the Bible and exercise book. In less than five minutes the hut was reduced to a few sheets of twisted roofing iron and smoking ash.
Henry didn’t feel proud of himself, but it was done. He’d planned to tell Les that the hut must have burned down the day they left, but now he had the books. He couldn’t bring himself to chuck them in the scrub nor could he return them to Les. He opened the Bible, something he hadn’t done since the war. On the inside cover, written in copperplate was the inscription ‘Awarded to Leslie Jamieson for perfect Sunday School attendance. Dec 1904.’
Underneath the inscription in a rougher hand was written the following verse.
John 15:3 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus Christ
He snapped the Bible shut and roughly placed it on the ground before rolling another smoke. He had a couple of puffs before opening the exercise book. Inside were rows of figures written in the same hand that had written the Bible verse. At the top of the first page was written ‘FOR MY OLD AGE’ Underneath Les had documented every penny he had earned or spent. The amount spent on himself over the years was tiny and consisted mainly of flour, salt, sugar and soap. Henry knew he was prying, but couldn’t stop turning the pages as he watched Les’ tiny savings grow. At the top of page six was the final entry.
05/06/32 My friends – £87.30d
And the hard man wept.
It took Henry nearly a week to write the letter, and by the time it was posted he was mentally exhausted. Admitting to his brother that he needed help and thanking him for the money was a bitter pill to swallow, but Henry’s concern for his family was more pressing than his pride. He informed his younger brother that he now had a £87.30d share in the property and when the farm started to pay, Henry would repay the money with interest. And though it galled him, he asked for a further loan to restock the farm. The one small concession was that stock prices were at a record low so the sum Henry asked for was not great. Times were different back then, and Henry didn’t mention the contents of his letter to Rebecca nor did she ask.
Relieved his letter writing was over, Henry made a new handle for his axe, sharpened his saw and continued his assault on the forest. He was working under the bush canopy near the Waimihi stream when some massive thunderheads blew into the valley. Oblivious to the approaching storm he was laying into an ancient totara when the lightening started. He ignored it at first, but as the storm intensified and hail started raining down sticks and leaves, he resigned himself to finding shelter to ride out the storm. The old whare that Les had lived in was only a few hundred yards away, so he made a beeline for it. It took a lot to frighten Henry, but when a bolt of lightning hissed and sizzled through the bush canopy, blasting the crown of an old rata into wooden shrapnel, he ran. By the time he reached the whare, he was drenched, and his body stung from the pounding the hail had dealt to him. Not bothering to use the latch, he kicked in the door and burst into the ponga sanctuary. It was dark inside and while he caught his breath his eyes to adjusted to the gloom. The first things he saw were Les’ Bible and exercise book on the packing crate table. He felt a sudden sense of foreboding and turned his gaze to the manuka bed. Under an old Hessian wool bale he could see the outline of a body. Henry froze, not wanting to confirm the accusation of his conscience. With deliberate slowness he approached the bed, “Is that you Les?” he asked, hoping and nearly praying for a reply.Almost imperceptibly, the form under the blanket moved, and a small, weak voice stammered “Y-y-y-yes, h-h-h-how are y-you H-Henry?”
“I’m well, but what about you? I thought you’d gone.”
“S-s-s-s-sorry, I-I-I h-h-h-had now-w-where t-t-to….”
“No, said Henry, I didn’t mean that – I just didn’t know – I just thought – oh hang – what’s wrong with you man, are you sick?”
Les shook his head. “N-n-n-no j-j-ust a-a-a b-b-bit h-h-ungry.”
Henry looked around the confines of the tiny hut, there was not a skerrick of food to be seen.”
“As soon as this storm blows over, you come with me, and Rebecca will cook you a good feed.”
Les smiled weakly. “I c-c-c-can’t g-get u-u-up.”
“Here, I’ll give you a hand.”
As thunder boomed overhead, Henry gently lifted Les out of bed, frightened by how little he weighed. He sat him on the huts only chair and shuddered when a flash of lightening illuminated Les’ gaunt features. Henry had witnessed death on the battlefield many times before and knew it wasn’t far from Les.
While they waited for the storm to pass, Henry wrapped Les’ only blanket around his emaciated shoulders before kindling a fire in the hearth. It smoked and sparked, but it did radiate a little bit of warmth and gave Henry something to do. Neither of them was good at holding a conversation, and despite his guilt, Henry knew intuitively that they didn’t need to. As the storm passed and the weak winter rays of the sun pierced the gloom, Les smiled. It baffled him, the man was almost dead, a hunchback that had been entombed in this miserable hut for years and treated poorly by Henry. Yet there was not a hint of accusation in his smile, just the obvious joy of Henry’ companionship. Henry would remember it for the rest of his life.
Henry was a big man and carried Les’ skeletal body all the way home without stopping. As they neared the house, Rebecca rushed out to meet them. When she saw Les she gasped. “Henry, what happened?”
“He needs food and drink and a warm bed.”
Henry knew the next few days would be touch and go, and missed 3 straight days of work so he could help Rebecca as she tended to Les. Once Les got some of his strength back they asked him what had happened. He told them the frosts had destroyed his garden, and he had run out of supplies.
“Why didn’t you come to us?” Henry regretted the words the moment they left his mouth.
Les just shrugged.
On the 4th day, Les was on the road to recovery and Henry was able to get back to work. It was a sunny day, and he felt happier than he had in a long time. He’d left his axe up at Les’ hut so took a few tools with him to repair the door.
It would prove to be a trip that changed Henry’ life.
But more on that in the next blog.
Tomorrow wasn’t better, and the rest of the month was no improvement. Several hard frosts rolled into the valley, destroying their vegetable garden and giving the children chilblains. Then the fog rolled in again, blotting out the life-giving sun and blanketing them in doom. As an act of defiance, Henry worked on the block from daylight to dusk, his silent rage taking vengeance on the rimu, rata and totara clad hillside. Rebecca waited for him fearfully, and silently thanked God when he returned each evening. Suicide was cruelly common in those hard, difficult times.
Desperate to delay the inevitable, Henry rounded up his breeding ewes and drove them into town on foot, he’d sold his horse to make their last mortgage payment, and the sheep were the only asset he had left. The turnout at the sale yards was disappointing, there looked to be more sellers than buyers, never a good sign. He’d long given up on miracles and told the stock agent to sell with no reserve before leaving to wander around town as he couldn’t face watching the sale. He spotted a few down and out looking fellows aimlessly wandering the streets. One of them struck up a conversation with Henry, it was a welcome distraction. The men were from a camp for the unemployed about 6 miles west of Te Kuiti on the Rangitoto Range. Boredom and despair had driven them into town and when the bloke he was talking to learned that Henry owned some land he pleaded for work. The look Henry gave him told the man all he needed to know, and his shoulders slumped as he left to continue his hopeless vigil.
Henry was a brave man, but anxiety had its talons deep in his chest as he made his way to the stockyards to pick up his cheque. Most of the farmers and animals were gone, only a couple of stock agents and the auctioneer remained.
When the agent saw Henry, he lowered his head, taking a sudden interest in his shoes.
“How did it go?” asked Henry. Despite his best effort his voice quavered, he knew what was coming.
“Not well Henry, times are tough and no ones buying unless someone’s giving stock away.”
He handed him a cheque and scuttled off before Henry could react.
Henry stared at the cheque in disbelief and almost tore it up. But his poverty wouldn’t allow him even that small concession.
The farm was gone, taking the few tatters of optimism the war hadn’t stolen from him. He walked in a daze to the Te Kuiti Club, he had never been a drinker, but he needed to do something, anything to dull the pain and anguish that was consuming him. It was a cold day, but he didn’t notice the warmth of the open fire as he stepped through the doors. Half a dozen men stood at the bar, and several others sat at tables, their voices merging into one.
A barman with a huge walrus moustache smiled at him “What’s your poison?”
“Whisky,” said Henry, fumbling in his pocket to find the cheque.
“You won’t be needing that.” said a familiar voice. “My shout.”
It was the bank manager, Henry stared at him in disbelief, unable to comprehend what was happening.
His bank manager paid the barman, passed Henry his drink and raised his glass.
“To better times.” he said.
Henry looked at him blankly, not sure if the man was taking the mickey.
“Nothing like a bit of good news in hard times Henry, and I don’t know how you did it, but well done.”
“Oh, I see, yes now, hmm, this is not the time nor the place. A bit unprofessional of me, just enjoy your drink.”
He left Henry with his whisky and wandered over to a table to enjoy his lunch.
As if in a dream, Henry left his untouched drink and made his way to the bank. Only one teller was on so he had to wait in the que for several agonising minutes before it was his turn to face the flustered clerk.
“I need to know my account balance.”
The teller looked up, sure thing Mr Needham. After digging out a ledger, he found the section with Henry’s account details, ran his finger down a column and said “Your available funds are £27.15d”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mr Needham, you have those available funds.”
“But, are you certain?”
“Yes, your previous deposit was £87.30d. £60.15d was offset against your mortgage, leaving £27.15d in your current account.”
Henry thanked him and after buying a few supplies at the goods store started the long walk home, his mind a cauldron of thoughts. It was his brother, of that he was certain. But how did he know? It must have been Rebecca, she was always writing letters to his mother. The thought of them knowing about his failure embarrassed and humiliated him. But at least he still had the farm for another few months. He felt the cheque in his pocket and cursed, he’d all but given his breeding stock away. Hope and despair were his constant companions as he made the three-day journey home. When he finally arrived Henry knew what he was going to do. But more on that in the next blog.
Henry laced up his boots, cursing the fog as he braced himself for another gloomy day in the valley. Work was all he had left, and he was afraid to stop, foreclosure or no foreclosure. Physical labour stilled his mind, stopped the ugly pictures, silenced the screams. He walked down to the old maire and picked up his axe, testing its edge. Its weight felt reassuring, it was solid, real, no one could take it from him.
Charred sticks and ash crunched under his feet as he walked down the clay track to the eastern part of his block. A pair of paradise ducks took to the air a few hundred yards away, alerting the world of an intruder. Henry stepped off the track and waited. His patience was rewarded by the crunch of footsteps, he grasped the axe firmly, just in case.
A ghostly figure emerged from the fog, it was Les. He was so severely hunched over it made the swag on his back look like a saddle. He remained silent as Les disappeared back into the gloom, leaving Henry with his axe and agony.
He took to the trees like a man possessed, his rage wielding the axe with a terrible violence. As tree after tree thundered to the ground, he grunted and sweated, not daring to stop, not giving his mind the time to bully him. Late in the afternoon, his axe jammed in the scarf of a Totara and broke its handle trying to dislodge it. Bellowing with frustration he kicked the tree with his leather clad foot, breaking a toe. Hobbling home, the evening shadows began to chill the foggy air, his sweaty shirt clung to him like a corpse.
Rebecca was waiting for him when he arrived at the house, her relief changed to concern when she saw he was limping.
“Henry, you’ve hurt yourself!”
“Its nothing, I’ll be in soon.”
“We were worried, dinners ready.”
“Did you see him.”
“Yes, he’s gone. What’s for dinner?”
“Left overs, is he coming back?”
Henry said it with such firmness she knew the topic was closed
“The children are in bed, there’s hot water in the copper if you want to wash up.”
Henry nodded and she went back inside.
Rebecca sat quietly as Henry ate his meal. A morepork called from the cabbage tree behind the house, making the night her own.
“They’ll have to take me off our place at gunpoint.” said Henry as he finished his meal.
“You’ve worked so hard, it’s just not fair.”
“Life’s not fair, nothing is.”
Henry drained his cup. “A month, they know our situation. A month!” he scoffed “They might as well ask us to fly to the moon.”
Rebecca smiled fondly at him, wanting to take away some of his pain, but he wouldn’t look at her, he hadn’t been able to for a long time.
Henry winced as he stood up, his toe throbbing with pain.
“We’d best go to bed, I want to get a full day in tomorrow.”
Rebecca joined the charade and nodded.
“It will be a better day, you wait and see.”
As the 1920’s came to a close, life on the farm was tough and the great depression was about to make things worse. Henry was under constant stress, and Rebecca and the children were on edge whenever he was at home. Things came to a head when the government inspector came to the farm to check up on progress and no one was home. Henry had taken the family to town to buy some basic supplies with the last of their money, which proved to be a terrible mistake. One of the conditions for receiving government assistance was for someone to always be present and working on the farm. It was a cruel requirement as many families lived miles from town and no right thinking man would allow his young family to travel for days by themselves to get supplies. But the rules were the rules and the inspector duly recorded that they were absent when he visited and their government assistance was forfeited. The letter informing them of this bad news arrived on the same day as a letter from the bank which informed Henry he was in default of his loan and had a month to deposit the required funds or the bank would foreclose. They were completely broke and Henry was ready to explode.
When Les turned up for the highlight of his week, the Sunday lunch, he was warmly greeted by the delicious aroma of a mutton roast, but unlike the joint in the coal range, Henry was as cold as ice. While Rebecca flitted from the kitchen to the dining room, Henry pretended to read his dog-eared copy of the Aussie, not once making eye contact with Les. He was seething with rage as not being able to support his family was emasculating him. And as for Les, though Henry had grown to tolerate and almost like him, the thought of someone eating the little food his family had left, filled him with resentment. Knowing something was wrong, Les did his best to entertain the children, but his stutter betrayed him, adding to the powder keg atmosphere.
While Henry carved the roast, the children washed their hands as Rebecca served up the roast potatoes, swede and gravy. The potatoes were from Les’ garden. He didn’t tell them they were his last few spuds. A series of heavy frosts has decimated his vege patch, but Les wasn’t one to share bad news.
Once plates were filled they waited for Henry to start eating before the rest of them dared start on their meals. Apart from the sound of chewing and the clinking of cutlery on plates the room was silent. Rebecca glanced nervously at her husband and their guest, she could see Les felt unwelcome and it grieved her.
“We had some bad news, Les.” She said, not daring to look at her husband.
Les turned to face her, his forehead furrowed with concern.
“It looks like we may have to give up on the farm, we got a letter from bank and……”
Henry banged the table so violently the gravy jug bounced off and smashed on the floor.
“It’s none of his business woman.” He bellowed, “And telling him won’t make a mite of difference.”
Rebecca’s eyes filled with tears and the two youngest children started crying. Les felt terrible and wanted to give them some hope.
“B-b-b-but if y-y-you t-t-t-tell G-G-G-od H-H-H-e m-m-m-might….”.”
Henry leapt to his feet, his face purple with rage.
“Where?” he screamed, “Was your God when we were being mown down like flies?” He advanced on Les, his fists clenched.
Rebecca pleaded “Henry, NO!”
Les stood up, his face a picture of sorrow but not fear.
Henry’s voice was white with rage, his words cutting like knives.
“Get out of my house and take your useless religion with you, and don’t you dare darken my door again.”
As Les left, Rebecca caught a glimpse of his eyes, they were so filled with sorrow it broke her heart.
When the front door closed, Henry went back to his seat and finished his meal. No one spoke, words had become meaningless.