Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand
Chapter XIII. — Purchasing Live-Stock
I will not weary the reader with an account of our journey from Auckland to our new property. As soon as I heard that the house was ready for occupation, we bade adieu to Parnell, and after a somewhat tedious journey arrived at the Matakohe Wharf, where a large barge with two men in it awaited us. Into it all our goods and chattels, together with ourselves, some fowls, and a retriever pup, were stowed, and after half an hour's pull we disembarked on the limestone beach in front of our new dwelling.
The carpenter who had been doing up the house had secured for us the services of a country girl, who, among other accomplishments, understood the arts of milking and butter making.
My first care was to purchase a couple of quiet cows.
One I bought from a sanctimonious individual, who assured me the animal was per-page 89fectly docile, stating as a proof that his little daughter was accustomed to milk her. Having sold me the cow, he expressed himself anxious as to my spiritual welfare, and preached me a short sermon in atrocious English on the subject of his own righteousness.
Although the man was leaving the neighbourhood, I felt no hesitation in taking his word about the amiability of the cow—he seemed so oppressively pious. She was turned into my paddock, and in a few days one of my little boys came running breathlessly to me to say that she had a calf.
I had been advised, when this event took place, to immediately take the calf away, and I accordingly proceeded to the paddock to do so, never anticipating any difficulty in the matter. To my surprise and alarm, however, when I got within about fifty yards of the animal, she suddenly lowered her head, and came straight for me, her rapid movements necessitating on my part a most ignominious and hasty retreat. On reaching safely the other side of the fence, I considered the matter over, and coming to the conclusion that my new "ehumminess" in the matter of cows and calves must be to blame, sent to request the assistance of a settler living page 90near. He was unfortunately out at the time, but a lad who was lodging with him said he. would come down.
On his arrival he inquired in supremely contemptuous tones, "What! can't yer take a calf away?"
I replied that the mother had protested in so very forcible a manner against my interfering with her infant that I thought I must have gone the wrong way to work, and asked him if he could undertake the business.page 91
To this he briefly responded, "Rather!" and marched off with a confident air to the scene of action, while I secured a vantage place outside the fence. No sooner, however, did the pious man's late cow catch sight of the would-be abductor, than she charged like a streak of lightning, and I don't believe that that—alas! no-longer-confident—youth ever before made such good use of his legs. When he was in safety, and had recovered breath enough to speak, he gasped out, "If that there cow belonged to me, I'd shoot her!" and strode off without another word, leaving me in the depths of despair.
Later in the day, the labouring man I had first sent for—a solemn-looking individual, with a long beard—came down, and when I related what had occurred, said with a placid and reassuring smile that he would soon settle matters satisfactorily. Procuring a tea-tree stake about five feet long, he requested me to follow him into the paddock, and on the way laid down a plan of attack.
"When I see's a propitchus oppertunity," said he, ‘‘I'll con-fus-cate the calf; and if the parent animyle precipices herself on me, as in all probableness she will, you must fetch her a right down preponderating blow atween the horns with this here tea-tree stake!"page 92
I did not like my allotted portion of this elegantly worded programme at all, and sug gested that I should do the abduction part, while he "preponderated" the cow. This being agreed to, we cautiously entered the arena, and seizing my opportunity—and the calf at the same time—I retired at a speed that would have completely shamed a New Zealand express train. I never attempted to look round, but I heard a blow and a dull thud close behind, and knew something had happened.
When outside the post and rail fence with my burden I breathed once more, and was delighted to see the settler standing triumphant, stake in hand, and the cow struggling on the ground. He had "preponderated" her in the most approved style, and the business was satisfactorily accomplished.
I thanked him warmly; and foreseeing that a difficulty would probably arise in the milking of the brute, arranged with him to perform that office for a time. It was well I did so, for she proved a perfect "terror."
To milk her it was not only necessary to put her in the bail—an arrangement which secures the head of the cow in somewhat the same manner as some of the old-fashioned instruments of punishment used to secure the head page 93of a man—but it was also necessary to rope both her hind legs to prevent her from kicking. These operations had to be gone through night and morning, and caused a great deal of trouble and waste of time.
No more pious men's cows for me.
The vendor of the other animal did not pretend to possess any excessive amount of spirituality, and the cow turned out a splendid animal.
I next directed my attention to horseflesh, as I found it impossible to get about on foot to see the country. I tried several animals, but could find none in the neighbourhood to suit my fancy.
One evening a man rode in who was anxious to sell the quadruped he bestrode—a weedy-looking, weak-necked animal, standing about fourteen hands, decidedly shaky about the knees, and with a swelling on the off-stifle joint.
"There's a ‘oss for you," he began, "choke full of spirits. Just the animal to suit yer. A regler gentleman's ‘oss he is, and no mistake."
I remarked that I feared he would hardly be up to my weight.
"Not up to your weight! Lor' bless you, he'd carry you like a bird—'e's all ‘art, ‘e is. My word, you should see ‘im junk—'e'd junk a brick wall down, ‘e would."
I had never before come across the word page 94"junk" in connection with equine accomplishments, but presumed it to be synonymous with "buck," and expressed a wish to see the performance.
"Ketch hold of these ‘ere eggs then," said he, handing me a basket. He next proceeded to cut a switch, armed with which he remounted the "junker," and pulling hard at the reins with one hand, punished the unfortunate animal with the switch, at the same time digging the spurs well home.
After pursuing these tactics for a short time, he looked over his shoulder at me and questioned, "Ain't ‘e junking yet?"
"No," I replied, not liking to confess ignorance of the term; "he does not seem to be ‘junking' much."
Another and a heavier dose of whip and spur torture was then administered, and at last the unhappy quadruped gave a feeble shake with one hind leg.
"He's junking now a bit, I think," I cried, anxious to stop the exhibition.
"Oh! that ain't nothink," replied the owner. "Lor' bless you, you should see ‘im junk sometimes; he'd junk a brick wall, ‘e would; but ‘e ain't in spirits now."
The latter fact I was fully prepared to corro-page 95borate, and may add that I did not purchase the "junker."
I eventually succeeded in getting suited, and was able to look about the country.
The tremendously steep grades on the so-called roads astonished me very much, but the horses bred out here think nothing of them. In the winter time these roads are veritable bogs in some places, and travelling is then anything but pleasant. When they become slippery, the horses have a fashion of putting their feet together, throwing themselves well back on their haunches, and sliding down the steep inclines. They never come to grief, and all the rider has to do is to lean well back in the saddle.
The main road through the county is supposed to be constructed by the local governing body, called the County Council, which is composed of representatives from the several ridings or districts forming the county, each riding electing a councillor every three years.
Too often the sole aim of a councillor is to get as much done as possible for the road near his own house, and to secure as much compensation as he can for himself and his friends, therefore almost useless roads are frequently promoted, and the money frittered away in page 96their construction and in compensation to the owners of the land through which they pass.
The main county road here is not yet formed in places, and though large sums have been expended, there was very little in the way of solid, substantial work to be seen until the last few months. Matakohe belonged to the Hobson County Council, which has existed for over ten years; it now forms part of a new county called the Otamatea.
County Councils have power to levy rates and taxes, and to borrow money from the Government under certain conditions, and they take care to exercise all their privileges in these respects.
When the chairman of a County Council is a large employer of labour and a man of influence, his part of the county generally shows the best graded and best metalled roads. Besides the County Councils, many of the ridings—of which Matakohe is one—possess Road Boards, also empowered to levy rates, and with the money carry out works on branch roads.
It is very commonly believed that the country would progress far more rapidly if County Councils were abolished and the different districts represented solely by Road page 97Boards, which would determine the works considered most desirable, and draw up half yearly reports to be laid before a Government engineer, who, after examining into the merits of the schemes proposed, would finally decide on those most likely to be beneficial to the county, and which could be undertaken with the funds in hand.
Enough, however, for the present of County Councils. The Matakoheans can certainly have no wish to uphold the system, as very little indeed has been done for their district by the county to which it, until quite lately, belonged. Its misfortune in this respect may have been due to its situation; it certainly was not due to its size, for Matakohe formed one of the largest ridings in the county.
It boasts of between forty and fifty private houses scattered over a somewhat large area; a good-sized public hall where concerts, tea and prayer meetings, dances and theatrical performances are held from time to time; a chapel used on alternate Sundays by the Wesleyans and Church of England people; a cemetery, a Government school-house, a public library, &c. &c.; three general stores (or shops, as they would be called in England); a saw-mill, a page 98tremendously long wharf in a tremendously inconvenient place, and a capital racecourse, where the Matakohe Racing Club holds an annual meeting.
Horse-racing is one of the great national amusements of New Zealanders, and there are very few settlements in the Northern Kaipara which do not number owners of racehorses among their inhabitants.
In England racing is associated with betting, blacklegs, welshers, suicides, and other disagreeable things: out here, as far as small country meetings are concerned, it means genuine, honest, legitimate sport, and should be encouraged, as calculated to improve the breed of horses in the colony, and to do a great amount of good to the districts in which the meetings are held.
A sort of betting-machine called the "Totalisator" has indeed been legalised by the New Zealand Government, but may only be used at race meetings where prizes of thirty pounds and upwards are given. It therefore does not affect in any way small meetings like ours, and the Matakohe Racing Club have no desire that it should.
For the benefit of my readers who are un-page 99acquainted with the betting-machine, I will endeavour to describe the manner in which it is worked. The intending speculator enters a small office and buys his ticket, or tickets, according to his rashness, and then proceeds to examine, a board on one of the walls of an inner chamber, where are displayed certain variable numbers arranged in the following manner:—
The numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, represent the page 100starting horses in the order shown on the Racing Club's card. They may therefore be taken to stand instead of the horses' names.
In the illustration above seven horses are supposed to be going to run. The numerals underneath in the squares indicate the number of tickets invested on each horse, and the top square records the total tickets sold.
When the investor has consulted his "correct card," and decided on what horse to place his ticket, he gets it stamped with its number, and the figure or figures on the board under the selected horse and those representing the total tickets sold are each moved on one. A few minutes before the race a bell is rung, and the totalisator closed, and after the event is decided the total proceeds—less ten per cent.—are divided among those who have placed their tickets on the winning horse. Thus in the illustration, supposing No. 6 won, and the tickets a pound each, the wily individual who placed his money there would receive ninety pounds; if No. 3 won, each of the five investors would receive a dividend of eighteen pounds; if No. 1, a dividend of one pound eighteen shillings and threepence, and so on. The ten per cent, deducted from the receipts is divided between the pro-page 101prietors of the machine and the Jockey Club; and inasmuch as fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds generally passes through it at one of the large Racing Club Meetings, the totalisator will be seen to be a paying concern. The advisability of taxing it was mooted in Parliament last year; and as our sage administrators of the law have deemed it right to make the betting-machine legal, surely they cannot be wrong in taxing it heavily as a luxury.