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Waihola (13)

March 22, 2008

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In 2006 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. Read more

Possums (12)

October 28, 2007

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

The pet possum was a rare animal, treated with compassion and given a citizenship in the house that few other animals ever had. Ordinarily the Australian brush possum is hunted without respite, it being a noxious pest in New Zealand, causing millions of dollars of damage to forestry and agricultural resources every year. They are hunted with a passion and were the source of some pocket money as we grew up. Out on the Run, with the dogs loose it only required a whispered “sic ‘em” to have a pack of half a dozen dogs or so (sometimes more) to get their blood up and to tear off towards the nearest outcrop of rock to hunt out a possum. Whether there was one resident there or not. David would amble along behind to see what would flush out but often he was the one grabbing this or that dog and force feeding it down a hole or crevice. Sometimes a possum would flush or sometimes a possum would deter the dog with a well aimed swipe at the nose. Sometimes there was only a lot of noise, dust, and slow grins and absolutely no possum to show for the hunt. One possum escapade was especially memorable. It was at Waihola. On that place there was a very old woolshed. At one end there was a lean-too structure which was only a single story high, with a corrugated roof. Somehow we had learned there was a possum resident in the roof but we were unable to flush it out. With a ceiling pinned to the reverse side of the rafters there were plenty of places for it to hide and no way for us to see in. David’s solution was to pick up one of his scrawniest dogs (he used to bring a selection of them down to Waihola, and in the days prior to the purchase of the truck they would all be piled into that old Ford) and stuff it under a loose bit of corrugated iron on which he would then stand to prevent the dog reversing out. Hardly any need since every dog knew that a hunt was on with the cue “sic ‘em” and the place stank of the possum in any event. There was a huge commotion from within the roof as the dog scrambled around in the dark, barking and yelping and the possum growled and shrieked. I have no idea how the possum got out but remember being surprised at its appearance as a dark blur evacuating from under the guttering, flying across the yard and scrambling up the trunk of a huge old macrocarpa tree nearby. Its second mistake was to pause to look around and get its bearings. David shot it dead. We then spent some effort in extracting the dog from under the iron and I recall a few sheets having to be lifted. That old woolshed came down a few years later and was replaced by a new structure that did not leak but had none of the adventure in it that its collapsing possum ridden predecessor had.

Standing on the high country of the Run on a snowy day I paused with David and watched the “bread bus” making its way along the pigroot. David had stopped striding across the tussock to point out that the bus was travelling way too fast on a road covered with ice (he would know) and only opened that morning by the council grader. He suggested we watch it disappear around a bend on the side of the distance spur, across the gully and in the far distance and see if it reappeared on the road further down the valley. “My bet” said David, “is that we don’t see it reappear.” And we didn’t. An hour later we edged our way carefully back up that same bend and found the bus on its side in the snow. The driver seemed very nonplussed and was sitting in the snow drinking from a thermos flask and making wise cracks about the mail not getting through. But as we chatted we realised he was very shaken – as he had swung around the bend only seconds after vanishing from our view he had lost control and was heading for a dramatic drop into the creek below. Somehow he had wrested his careening vehicle to the other side of the road where he had deliberately aimed for the ditch in an effort to get the thing to stop. We left him in the snow and ice, in the rapidly dropping ice blue shadow of the end of the day and said we would call the council to see if he could get him towed out. An hour later the grader came through and about an hour later the bus crept past David’s house, somewhat chastened no doubt.

We left the Run late one night in pouring rain. We had been up there at midnight in late spring, shooting rabbits using a spotlight. The booming .303 was something of an overkill, deafening those in the cabin and proving to be more of a fun factor than anything else. I can still hear Steve saying “Bruce, put that thing away!” as the muzzle flash lit up the night and the thunder of the shot cracked across the gullies. The rain increased to a point where, even if there was a rabbit out there we would be hard pressed to see it so we departed the top of the Run and headed down to the highway. Travelling back to David’s place, as we drove up a long gentle slope in the highway a rabbit hopped out onto the road just at the edge of the headlights. Not in any hurry but just edging along in a slow lope. David asked me to pass over the .303 which I did. Leaning out the driver’s window he proceeded to blast ten rounds up the highway. One hand still on the wheel. Chunks of Highway 75 were flung into the night but the rabbit continued its slow lope, seemingly oblivious to the noise behind it and the destruction around it. In the end it hopped into the verge and stopped after which we duly dispatched it from a distance of only inches. The “one shot, one horse” legend was in tatters!

But not so much that I ever failed to appreciate his praise for my shooting. Getting a pat on the back from David was rare but when it came it was very special. Once at Waihola he took about five or six of us kids up to what was then known as the CYC paddock, the only patch of green grass on the place. From a high vantage point we looked down onto a large puddle on which was floating a thin stick, about half an inch thick and barely visible. About 75 yards away he said. Giving us all one round he then handed his rifle to one of the group and asked us to hit the stick. One after another twig was bounced around in the water until I was handed the rifle. Taking quick aim and dropping the sights on it I fired the round and the twig became two. David was impressed. I savoured that praise for years.

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The Run (11)

July 5, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.


The Run was a wild place. Probably still is. Country like it has become well known around the world thanks to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Despite what I recount above, my most precarious driving experiences were up on that place with David edging his truck over steep edges with no view over the bonnet of the descent or the destination. Here were wild horses which we occasionally went up to shoot for “dog tucker”. David’s favourite rifle was a .22Hornet – a .22 on steroids. I watched him one day, truck still rolling, open the door, and with rifle poised, vehicle moving, fire a round over a distance of about 50 yards at a running horse. To bring a horse down with a .22 is quite something and only a shot that reaches the brain will do it.
The round entered the head just below and behind the ear and I watched with amazement as the animal slowly folded up and collapsed to the ground. David had put the round where he wanted, and expected to and was matter of fact and businesslike in his response to our applause. His dogs were another matter. They leapt off the back in a cacophony of barks and yelps and raced to the horse, know that that quartering and butchering was going to yield titbits. And so it did although an enduring image of that poor animal was to discover how riddled with parasites it was. We pulled open intestines to observe closely packed worms and carefully examined its stomach to discover other parasites clinging to the stomach walls. David was always intrigued with the internal workings of an animal, and offal seemed to have special fascination. Not morbid but forensic. We dissected and poked and probed and found all sorts of interesting things in a kill.

Up on “The Run” – scoping with the Hornet for pigs. I was always intrigued by the dogs which always knew to look in the direction David pointed his rifle.

One memorable kill was my first slaughtering of a sheep. Two in fact. Appropriately it happened at David’s. Although I had seen countless numbers killed and dressed for our table I had a lot of theory and no practise. David took Steve, his brother Ken, and I down to the woolshed where he had three rams held in a pen. Standing there quietly in the dim, dusty light of the place, backing up together against the far wall and watching us warily. We had no idea what was coming next. But I always reckon the sheep knew what was coming – there is another truth in the words “As a sheep stands before its slaughterer is dumb”. They stand there in silence but they know what is up. David pulled a knife from somewhere, handed it to me and declared that he wanted these things not simply killed but dressed and it all to be done by the time he got back from town. Then he walked out. We talked about the theory for maybe fifteen minutes or so – the best way to cut, the need to break the neck at the same time, and so on. All along plucking up the courage to do the deed. Eventually I entered the pen, drafted one of the rams into a neighbouring pen, tucked him between my knees and started sawing. Steve did the same. Poor Ken, he started but at the first spray of blood, dropped the knife and said he could not go through with it. If you have ever seen this sort of thing done you will understand the dramatic and copious expression of blood that comes from the jugular. With a nicked artery, blood was spraying all over the place and I had to jump in and finish the throat cutting as quickly as possible. Dressed and hanging, David’s only quip when he saw our efforts was that it was a shame one of them was hamstrung!! But that was always David’s teaching style – that he would show us once, or understand that we had seen how a thing was to be done, perhaps seen somewhere else, so he would trust us with the job without any further instruction. We did not always get the task right but there is real potency in that trust. He was a clever trainer and sharp psychologist in that regard.

Next Chapter

Winter Storm (10)

June 16, 2007

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.
That dump, in May, caught everyone by surprise. It was breathtakingly cold. Concerned about his cattle still caught out on the high country of his farm David was up early the next day and driving out to “the Run” to bring those animals in. I knew it was cold because even David stopped in some wonder to observe that the creek up in that part of the farm had been snap frozen, caught in mid motion as it tumbled over little waterfalls and swirled around the sedges and tussocks. We had a laugh later in the day as we went high up onto another mountain to bring down two of his bulls. The snow had started to come down heavily again and we were starting to think that they had been lost in the cold when they came bulldozing through the snow to us, attracted to the sound of the truck. By now the snow was coming down so heavily that it had covered the fences and gates and it was hard for me to get my bearings. I was also very concerned about driving with David as we felt our way up a scratch of a track tacked out of a steep hillside. Somewhere out on my left the mountain dropped away to nothing and a wrong guess would put us in mid air for a few seconds as we plummeted to a dead stop. I recall being quietly relieved when he asked me to get out of the truck and to walk back down the track to open a gate I could not see but which the bulls would need to have open if they were to make it back to the safety of the yards. Pushing through the snow I felt my way down the fence (after locating that first) to the gate and arrived just in time to hear a muffled shout of warning from David. I turned around. The falling snow was sufficiently heavy to have David in his truck almost invisible only twenty metres away, just a shadow in the grey-white silent swirl. But between the truck and where I was standing the snow was heaving and pulsating and from which the rolled eyed, snorting heads of two Hereford bulls pushed a few moments later. In a nanosecond I was standing on the strainer post supporting the gate and refusing to get back in the snow – despite all David’s exhortations and taunts. And laughter. But sense won out in the end. David stopped the truck and waited, the bulls settled down, only their heads being visible above the snow, and I reinserted myself into the snow to unlatch the gate and pack it back far enough for the bulls, who clearly knew what was going on, to amble through, down the track and to a dry spot under some macrocarpa (a cypress) trees where they started into an unprotected tumble of old hay bales.

In fact travel with David could often be a precarious thing, but it was especially so when he was in a risk taking mood. South of Cherry Farm is a stretch of highway that in wintertime would not see any sunlight for a good few months, it being cut into the shadow of a hill. The drop off was not great, maybe thirty feet or so, but at the bottom was a water channel and swamp that promised deep water. It was the perfect environment for black ice to form and stay. On a cold winters day we were travelling in a new four wheel drive that David had just purchased. As we rolled down past Cherry Farm and the strip of icy road hove into view David, who had been delighted with the way this new vehicle performed in the mud and snow, declared he would be interested in seeing how it performed on black ice. So without slowing down as we reached the ice he swung the steering wheel. Instantly we were travelling sideways down the road, fortunately perfectly in the middle. I was looking out the side window at the centre line passing underneath us, with my back to the water. Fortuitously there was no traffic coming the other way. Without seeming to be too perturbed (maybe I was too fixated on my own alarm to really note David’s disposition) he flicked the wheel and we continued to slide sideways down the road but this time we were facing the water. After correcting that move we slowed down and behaved more circumspectly as we rolled out onto less slippery bitumen. I never did ask what he thought of its performance on ice.

Next Chapter

Tractor Accident (9)

March 7, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

The tractor accident is probably the vehicle event most synonymous with David. For many of us at least, for there was a fear at its occurrence that he would die as a result of his injuries. Years later I was surprised to discover that for many of his friends it had slipped from their minds. David never spoke about it so even his children seemed oblivious to what was a major event in the district. And all the more so for Rodney White being killed in a rolling truck that fell of a road at the Limestone works at Dunback. Or the sheep-truck disaster at Dunback at the Macraes Flat Road intersection. Accidents in a farming community can get the whole district focused and on edge. David’s was one of those. It was the talk of the high school for weeks and weeks. On the day, Warren Thurlow – his family farmed the property adjoining the Patons, grabbed me at school and told me there had been an accident. I am not sure how he found out – mobile phones were twenty years away. David had been thrown out of the tractor on a steep piece of country. He rolled down hill and the blue Ford rolled after him. The tractor was fitted up with a T roll bar which crashed against his body as it overtook him, crushing his pelvis and leaving him severely wounded. Mrs Paton told us later how she had always insisted that Jack and the boys always be in for meal times exactly when they were supposed to. Minutes after not arriving Jack went looking for him. (I had always thought it was Mrs Paton that hunted him out but family told me recently it was Jack). Drawn to a crowd of cattle he found him rolled up against a fence – David’s bellows of pain had attracted the cattle over. Some said later that some of the cattle had tried to lick his wounds. Part of the legend I suspect but something I want to think happened nonetheless. He survived a long trip to hospital. His recovery became the stuff of legend as well. Not only did he meet his future wife there (I suspect the meeting may have happened earlier but the relationship at least came about during his convalescence) but there is the story of nursing staff finding him gone from his bed in the middle of the night. He was not supposed to be able to walk. They found him in the pool swimming with the deadweight of his inert lower body being hauled through the water by his arms alone. Whatever the truth of that, he was always a strong and enthusiastic swimmer.

In fact there was a strong physicality to David. He was always fit and well and energetic. Wet or cold was better for him than heat and humidity. One May school holidays I was staying with him. The nights were clear and cold and the days bright and brief. He had recently caught a wild pig and locked it up in the woolshed. This big brute of a sow (isn’t it always a sow?!) had a couple of piglets. For a while she was happy with her little prison but after a few days started to eat her way out. If you don’t know pigs you need to know they have a “jaws of life” capacity to chew through almost anything. The light timber of the woolshed was disappearing very quickly as she tried to escape. She had to be stopped and David decided the most sensible way to do that was to build her a more spacious home. That late afternoon, under a grey sky and in sub zero temperatures we set about building a new sty against the back fence of the yard. The daytime temperature, if it rose above zero, probably never made it beyond one or two degrees. The green eucalypt timber, deemed tough enough to beat this pig, was frozen through, not a drop of moisture or sap other than it was additional binding on the hand held saw. We dropped posts into the ground and rammed and tamped the earth into place. It was too cold to mix cement. The light vanished and the temperature sagged a little more. I was wearing a brand new woollen shirt over underwear, and underneath a jacket. Still, I froze. David wore gumboots and an unbuttoned shirt but did concede a woollen beanie. A red and yellow one. But nothing else. Then we painfully cut lengths of timber to create the floor – joists and slatting. Planks for her enclosure. The hours passed and the temperature still kept dropping. Finally, after about five hours we had constructed a pigsty to house the sow and her two piglets. Trouble was she had given up her escape and had settled down to sleep, and flatly refused to budge. The next most dangerous thing to a wild sow on the loose is a wild sow that you have prodded loose. Besides, it was too cold and she was happy nestled under her pile of straw and hay. So we figured we would leave it until the next morning to move her to her new digs.

We retreated to the house where it took an hour to warm up but having done so we had dinner and sat down to watch television in front of a coal fed fire. Asked to fetch another bucket of coal I opened the back door only to have two or three feet of powder snow fall into the hallway.

Next Chapter

Vehicles (8)

March 7, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Many of the memories of times with David relate in some way to vehicles. Somehow there was never any real affinity for, or affection for things mechanical although he was as adept at repairing them as any other farmer. But they were just tools and functional items that had a utilitarian purpose. Despite that there was one vehicle that has very fond memories for me. There was a very old Ford David drove. I think it actually belonged to his Mum and Dad. Its heater hung by wires underneath the dashboard, swinging precariously. But it worked. The door locks did not. I travelled on numerous occasions in that green machine with binding twine (designed for baling hay) stretched across my lap, the twine tying the two doors closed. We loved travelling with David in that clapped out thing to Dunedin and back on Bible Class trips. Usually with only one headlight working we wound our way down to Moana Pool, swam, bought fish and chips later then ate them up at the lookout or steamed up the car with them as we drove home. That was very special. Indeed, I want to tell you more about those times but they have faded too far, leaving me only with a warm recollection of being wrapped in the warm embrace of a toasty but dangerous car, and in the care of a bunch of older men who were quite accommodating of a couple of kids wrapped up in blankets in the back seat. David and the other young men used to compete with each other to see who could detect an oncoming car before anyone else. It took me a while to twig to the best clue – light gliding along the telephone lines strung beside the road – always hinted at the lights of an approaching car long before anything else.

Pork (7)

January 31, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

I digressed onto weapons. But I wanted to also note that many memories of being at David’s relate to pigs. Indeed, when visiting David and his family in 2001 we pulled into his yard and I could only laugh out loud for there was a freshly slaughtered wild pig lying on the back of his truck. I was delighted that things had not changed in the intervening years. In 1981 good friend Steven, his brother Ken and I spent three days looking for pigs. Not one did us the courtesy of letting us sight them, despite plenty of spoor. David would drop anything to hunt pigs but after three days he had had enough and insisted we help him fix a fence in compensation for the three days “fun” he had provided. We were on holidays and were happy to oblige. We loaded up a dangerously precarious load of posts on the back of the Landcruiser, perched Ken and half a dozen dogs on top and proceeded to head up the property. After a short drive we were easing the vehicle into a creek bed, being careful not to dislodge Ken or the posts. The cry “pig” was made by Ken at about the same moment we in the cab saw a large sow and plenty of piglets heading into the tussock. Instantly the truck was slammed into the creek, ploughed out the other side and across the bank onto a track where we caught a glimpse of the sow vanishing up another bank into more tussock. She had been separated from her piglets and was squealing in rage. Steve and I tumbled out of the cab and I loosed of a quick shot which kicked up sand between her legs and then she was gone. David bellowed out “don’t shoot” as he took off after the piglets and Steve and I hurried after the dogs that were chasing the sow. I shouldered the .303 and caught up with sow and dogs, one each of the latter hanging off each of her ears. She had backed herself into a bank and was doing her best to dislodge the dogs. After a quick consult about why David might not want her shot I walked behind her and picked up her back legs, the very random and ill-conceived plan being to “wheelbarrow” her back to the truck. But her kicking quickly tired me out and I had only enraged her some more. So Steve stepped in, stood beside me and took one of the legs. At which point her left ear detached. Without the counterbalancing effect of a dog attached to each side of her head she set of after us, turning tightly to the left and trying to bite us. So we pirouetted out of her way as best we could, turning in seeming ever decreasing circles. The dogs got even more excited, she screamed blue murder and we rapidly tired – and wondered how on earth we were going to extract ourselves out of this one.

After what seemed like an eternity of madness and with her jaws snapped at us from only inches away David crested the ridge, paused and demanded to know what on earth we were doing. We were too breathless to explain and in any event were not going to take our eye off this sow from hell. He wanted to know why I did not just shoot her?!! Striding over he pulled a skinning knife from somewhere (he was good at that) and asked us to roll her onto her back. We flipped her quite easily and in a flash he had her jugular cut and she bled out in a few minutes. Once she had whimpered and gurgled to a stop David explained that his instruction to “not shoot” was made only out of concern that I might have hit one of his dogs. Our mute staring reply was born out of the dangerous pointlessness of the madness we had just put ourselves through. He just laughed and suggested we get back to the truck to see how Ken was.

As it turned out we had completely forgotten about Ken. Somehow he had survived the launch through the creek and along the track but all posts except for those immediately lying on the deck of the truck had been thrown out such was the violence of the traverse. After using a couple of the posts to float the sow in a nearby dam (it was a hot day and this was one way to keep her cool while we worked on the fence) we spent the next thirty minutes backtracking and recovering the scattered posts. I never did figure out how Ken had managed to stay on the back of that bucking tray.

Venison (6)

January 22, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Domesticated animals, even those that are let to run feral are one thing. But two exotics are part of my memories of David as well. Deer. And Pigs. We were always scanning the hills for deer but they were far too cunning for noisy kids. But on one occasion I went out with David and my father after a hind that had come down close to the house but had moved on before David could grab his rifle. A quick call to Dad and we were off up the valley to David’s place. I was twelve or thirteen and was soon left behind as we climbed up into the high country. They had spotted the hind as she propped on a high point and watched us approach. Their hearing and eyesight are acute so there was no possibility we could approach her from the front. So we dropped over a ridge into a parallel valley and hiked up there as fast as we could. Soon I was on my own as David led the hunt back over the ridge and the last I saw of them on the climb were two bobbing heads vanishing through the snow grass. I assumed they were still climbing but had a wary sense they might have stopped to sight her up, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk into their field of fire. So I walked on and on until I was so far up the mountain I was sure I was safe. Carefully broaching the ridge I looked down but couldn’t see the two of them. Let alone the deer. Just as I was thinking I needed to get back into the neighbouring gully least I get a hole in the head, far below me three cracking booms split the air. In that open air position the rounds seared the sky for ever and I could hear them rip the air apart as they scorched down the mountain. Followed by faint stains of white smoke which flowered from the tussock below. The hind was still watching her front and never saw the rounds coming from behind, one breaking her back but not stopping her launching into the air and propelling herself downhill for a few hundred yards. David had loosed the first round but it had been deflected by the top wire of a three strand fence which he had not seen. Two wires makes for a low step obstacle for cattle so he no choice but to repair it. It was along walk up there and he spoke for years afterwards about the need to go back and rewire that fence the next day. We ate venison rolled with seasoning for a while after that. David wanted to know why I was perched so far above them and was puzzled at my safety reasoned response. I thought his effort with the wire more than justified my care.

As a minor aside the occasional deer would turn up in winter time seeking forage around the house David shared with his brothers. If that careless they were shot from the kitchen window. A booming domestic .303 would have been quite something. I never did see that. But I did witness something similar years later when David was married and the house renovated. On a November 5th evening as the fireworks were being fired off by the youth group in his backyard a number of extra large explosions got our attention. Those quick enough saw the shadow of his .303 being withdrawn from the louvers of the toilet window. He really was a bad example. Inspired by that, and freshly arrived at a new congregation in 1983 and invited to a fireworks night I took my own .303, pulled some rounds and fired ten cartridges inside a small aluminium garden shed. The effect was thunderous, I suspect my hearing was impaired for a while, I would have been a classic gunpowder residue CSI case, but a few of the matrons were appalled. I don’t think I have seen them since.

Next Chapter

On That Farm They Had a Cow (5)

January 11, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Cattle were another story altogether. Even as a child I had a sense that the horses, though alarming, were random, flighty and without malice. David sported wild cattle that had nothing but a malicious streak in them and were to be avoided at all costs. David had a Suzuki 125 which was a dodgy machine to be riding in the first place. I was pillion. We had ridden up through a recently ploughed and scarified paddock and the earth was soft and loose to a significant depth. The mission – a foolhardy look at a wild cow which had recently calved. A white and red long horn, she was a massive thing that crashed through his fences and had on a number of occasions been considered for .303 target practise. We approached very close and at the point that she lowered her head and started pawing the earth David swung the bike around and presented my back to her (So far, I had derived some small comfort from the fact that David was between she and me. I also completely failed to understand the point of the exercise.) At which point the rear wheel bogged and the engine stalled. In what seemed like an unhurried couple of kicks David tried to get the thing started. I refused to look but I could hear Madame Bovine thumping up behind. At the last moment the bike kicked and reared, we shot forward to crash up against a fence. The bike conked out again as we did so but we were already evacuating it and tumbling over a very scanty fence of only four saggy and loose wires. Tumbling over and rolling away from the bike as quickly as we could. She head butted the bike a few times while we lay still and waited for her to walk away. She would not, so we snuck away through the matagouri thorns trying to not draw any attention to ourselves. David retrieved his bike at some other point. He never spoke about it – I think it must have put the wind up him. It sure put the wind up me. After the event I had bit of a laugh to myself when I recalled my primary worry as we went over the loose and low fence was that this fence was hardly going to slow her up at all, given she had a reputation for ignoring even David’s best fences. Of which there were few! Fortunately she tried to take things out on the bike.

Other cattle were much more benign and I have a Streeton painting in my head of David milking a cow. I watch him wander out across a frozen, frosty, flat, white paddock, back dropped by a white muslin fog through which the arcing silhouette of a bare branched willow is faintly visible, and breath steam misting and drifting behind him in lazy coils. The cow looks up so slowly you would swear it was being careful not to crack in the cold. Squatting on his heels David tucks the bucket between his bare feet, tips forward until his head is leaning on her flank and balances there, and in a half sleepy torpor he swishes the milk into the bucket in slow steady streams. I stay under the eiderdown, curtain corner lifted enough to watch and my breath being caught by the cold glass and turned into flat icicles. David has earned himself the scoops of warm cream from the top of the bucket for his breakfast and none of us begrudge him that.

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The Farm (4)

January 3, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.


There were other memories around that house that evoke memories of David. Animals and vehicles. Creeks. Gates. Offal pits. Old machinery. Single wire clothes lines propped up by pieces of timber. A long row of macrocarpa trees. Tumble down old sheds, rusty red paint beaten off over the years by the weather and never repainted. And housing a familiar musty smell of horses generations dead, old leather harnesses which had now been hanging for more years than they were ever used, sparrow droppings, dry as dust sheep manure, possum smells. All shot through with dry aroma of hay. Decorated with pint bottles with sump oil last drained in 1948 and wearing an equally aged necklace of dust, broken chainsaw chains, rusty scythes, sagging tractors smelling of perished rubber and oil and metal and dirt, mower blades with teeth fused from neglect. In the background the knocking clunk clunk clunk of the hammer head water pump which lifted water from the trickle creek up the short rise to the house. A creek that I always thought magically swayed its way down hill, such was the effect of the cress and weed in it, moving gently from side to side as if moved by a caressing wind. Inches shallow as it dribbled across the road but deep enough for us to find an enormous eel scything its way upstream one afternoon. Trinkling down across the road, through the trees and across the paddock where David’s brother built water turbines and other projects that intrigued and fascinated us. And where the water would slow and pool and be messed by ducks and geese which would leave their eggs in the soft mud of the bed, some of which were rescued for some of those famous sponges.

Just off from one of those pooling ponds were the pine tree redoubts of cranky geese that would hiss and honk and deter us but as we grew wise to them the tables were turned. But for many years they would barricade themselves into little timber forts built between three long rows of pine trees. Turkeys and ducks and hens. David always did an excellent imitation of a duckling and he would tease ducks with his whispered sibilant frantic, desperate, duckling calling for his mother. David showed me how to do it and, though a poor apprentice, I did manage years later to have an Air Force instructor look around his class for a lost duckling, chiding us all for bringing one into the room. Only one colleague twigged, a farm boy from Dubbo but he kept his counsel. The trick lay in keeping your lips and throat from moving. Looking the sergeant in the eye as you kept the duckling calling helped as well. David would have enjoyed that.

More sinister beasts than premenstrual geese scared the daylights out of us at David’s place, so much so that for some years we would refuse to stray up into the higher country of their farm. Once farmed with the assistance of horses machinery had displaced those animals which were simply turned out onto the mountains to fend for themselves. A mob or two of them ran wild out there somewhere. No respecter of fences, or small children they would occasionally appear out of nowhere, the silent, lark in the sky stillness of a sunny afternoon instantly transformed into a thunderous, galloping dozen or more apocalyptic plunging, roaring horses, all arched necks and flying manes and rolling eyes (they are still burned into my mind), that always seemed to breast a ridge just in front of us and to the best of my recollection always came onto us at a dead run only to veer away at the last minute. Caught in open country it was frightening, and for a long time we would only climb into the hills by walking along the fences, ready to hop to the other side if we were threatened with being trampled to death. On one occasion we bolstered our courage with a lightly lifted .22 rifle but what we thought that would achieve I am not sure. We never did see a horse while clinging to a fence, or when armed.

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