The Fort

January 2, 2020

Recollections 7

The fort is probably something that looms larger and more perfect in memory than it was in fact. But even if it was half the establishment we think it was it remains something quite creative and even formidable. At least in the eyes of a kid. 

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The Plan(tation)

December 30, 2019

Recollections (6)

So, while it’s a small town with only Puketapu (Pookie) to geographically mark it for the passing traveller, there were any number of points that anchored my boyhood view of the place. The curved platform of the railway station for a start. That always entranced me, as did the rails, the rolling stock, the fragrance of coal and oil mixed with earth, and the prospect of far away places. The Plank, a ford or river crossing of the Shag River where we fished for eels, cut down trees, jumped from an old willow tree into the deepest part, sailed toy boats, lured elusive trout, threw rocks and made dams. Summer day memories of exploring downstream from the Plank through long green grass, the smell of wild mint, cutting through every now and then as we checked each dark pool for the shadow of fish. The Shag River empties into the ocean at Shag Point, both named after the cormorant that lives along the coast, otherwise known locally as a Shag. Black Shags mainly. Little Shags too. Trotters Gorge was a special, favourite location. “The Valley” already mentioned which traces up along the Horseback and Kakanui Ranges and through which Highway 85 runs. Macraes Flat (long before the mine) and Nenthorn, country familiar to many thanks to the Lord of the Rings. Places that were familiar to us but which were often never signposted, or had any specific centre of settlement. Morrisons is part of our DNA. The old coach inns, some repaired and some now vanished along side the highway from Cobb and Co days (there tended to be a settlement every ten miles, the distance horses hauling a wagon of goods could make it in a day). The weir at Glenpark, full of dark water under silent willows. Other places of special note included the library (Mrs Green) and the Post Office (Mrs Jopson). The Newsagent owned by the Applebys. Dad Appleby and his twin sons, nicknamed Drip and Drop by some, but never us. They were too generous and kind for that. Applebys was an Aladdin’s Cave of variety but especially the source of fishing lures and other tackle and in later years sneak peeks into Playboys while some of the gang distracted the twins. The home of Doctor Harper. The Presbyterian Church building next door and its accompanying Clark Hall. “Horrible Halls”, a derelict run down place in which we hid a hut in the attic. Any number of huts perched up trees dotted around the district or small underground bunkers dug into forest floors.  And of course the numerous homes of friends which were open homes to us. 

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December 29, 2019

Recollections 5

Palmerston has a glow about it which comes from lots of memory burnishing, especially polishing that has as its base compound a happy childhood. In truth it’s a tiny country town for which, to those who are not residents, there is little or nothing to commend it. And of course that is the vast majority since only 800 or so reside in that grand metroplis. Which to my ten year old mind it truly was. It outstripped Waikouaiti, home to a mere 500 souls or so, or Dunback at 30 if everyone was in for Sunday lunch. Or any number of small hamlets up and down the line or valley against which I was happy to pit our town. Though if we were ever under threat of being upstaged it was perfectly acceptable to lift 800 to 900, which happened more often than I was ever keen to admit. 

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A Yellow Bug

December 28, 2019

Recollection 3: A Yellow German Bug

I was not in Dunedin very long. After five years, a yellow German VW beetle clattered me from there and transported me north. Twenty years after we beat them in a global stoush I was being given a lift in one of their cars. We were buying Japanese cars too but in an altogether different configuration. One of my earliest memories was of toy cars made from recycled tin. Thin plastic wheels. Painted passengers. But when you flipped the car over the undercarriage was revealed to be absent except for the thin wire axles. However the original advertising or branding on the reverse of the tin was visible. I recall blue images of fish, no doubt a recycled tin of tuna. And characters ascribed to the Japanese though how we knew that at such a young age I have no idea. But years before Toyota and their TQM and precision engineering we had a derogatory view of their quality. If it was of dodgy manufacture it was “Made in Japan” in the same way a more recent generation has grown up ascribing rubbish to the Chinese. 

In those early years however  the family didn’t have a car so we walked everywhere, were given lifts, or caught the bus. We lived on Carrington Road in a house Dad renovated. If I have my facts correct (always doubtful)  his father had loaned my parents enough money to buy the house. Renovated and sold, Dad repaid the loan and used some of the profit to purchase their first car. A Holden. HD or HR? But I get ahead of myself again. 

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Palmerston Sky

November 30, 2019

Recollections 4

If we are contemplating missiles and such, perhaps we can start this recollection with Skylab. Standing in cool air in the dark on the top of ‘the bank’ staring into a sparkling black sky waiting for movement. Then we hold our breath in wonder as a bright diamond rapidly slides across the deep dark of the night sky. And it was dark. No light pollution to ruin the view. Somehow that bright light connected me with the rest of the world in same way aircraft heading to Dunedin did. Passenger aircraft. Freighters including a regular Argosy run. Those orange tailed C-130s the US flew down to the Antarctic in summer. Flying from Christchurch mostly, arcing past a town of 800 people that was home to a twelve year old who escaped into a whole other world out there, imagining points of departure and places of arrival. Not that I was really looking to leave. I was happy there, content for the moment to be rooted in rural Otago, resident in a town no astronaut or pilot ever imagined existed.

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Bay of Pigs in New Zealand

September 6, 2019

Recollections (2)

In April 1961 an attempted military-by-proxy (a favourite US formula) invasion of Cuba took place by those who were no admirers of Fidel Castro and his Communist buddies. Backed and trained by the CIA the invasion at the Bay of Pigs was reduced to naught in three days and is often used to define the word ‘fiasco’.  At least on the part of the Americans, for it cemented Castro as a national hero and helped stitch up the relationship between Havana and Moscow. Emboldened by the idea that they had a friendly ally so close to the US and from which you could throw stones onto houses in Florida, Moscow figured they would plant missiles there. So between April 1961 through into 1962 the world was drawn into an increasing period of tension which culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis as Russia deployed SS-4 Sandal medium range missiles onto Cuban soil. Eventually Moscow and Washington defused everything and the crisis was considered over in November 1962 but not before everyone thought they would be cooked in an instant of ‘one flash and you’re ash’ ‘mutually assured destruction.’

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Guts for Garters

September 3, 2019

Recollections (1)

In the movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Hec, the grumpy character played by Sam Neill, in the final denouement moments of the story, threatens his protégé with the warning that, should the boy Ricky Baker outperform Hec, he would use the boy’s ‘guts for garters’. It was such an unexpected line I laughed out loud  and even in rewatching the movie I wait for the line as the movie closes. It’s such a wonderful line with deep undertones of awful violence. To use one’s intestines, presumably cleaned out, twisted and dried, as instruments by which to keep your socks up implies foul murder and wanton butchering. What’s to be done, after all,  with the rest of the body if only garters are produced? I’m surprised the line survived the editorial cut but I’m pleased it did, for it’s a line my father used and it ‘takes me back’. Back to lines which threatened unreasonable death such as “I’ll knock your block off” or lesser drubbings such as  “Do you want spiflicating?” or “I’ll belt you into the middle of next week”. That was a delicious favourite, as I imagined flying through time to find out what would happen before anyone else arrived. None of it was ever taken seriously of course but the tone was about suggesting you had better straighten up. Indeed, that word spiflicate was beyond our understanding. It was the sort of thing the old man might have made up and right through into our teens we imagined that was the case.  So it was with a cry of delight that brother Rob rushed through the school library one afternoon and declared the word actually existed in the English language. So, said the Greater Oxford Dictionary. Sadly the meaning was far more droll than the magnificent and exotic lashing we imagined it might represent. 

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