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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter XXI. — Sports

page 166

Chapter XXI.

A Grand opportunity for an energetic bushranger might be found on the Pahi regatta and sports day, generally held in January. Then every one, masters, mistresses, children, and servants turn out, and leave houses and their contents to look after themselves. It is one of the chief events we look forward to in our uneventful lives up here, and a most sociable and enjoyable day is always spent, for every one seems light-hearted and happy on a Pahi sports day. Luncheon parties are given on board cutters, owned by neighbouring settlers, and moored so as to command a good view of the races; picnic parties are held on the bright shelly beach, while the settlers who live in the township itself keep open house.

Our punt usually conveys us to the scene of gaiety, distant about four miles by water, though over twelve by land. It was on our first visit page 167on a regatta day that I became acquainted with a singular colonial institution known by the name of "planting." My introduction came about in this way. I had not long disembarked my wife and children at the township, after a somewhat boisterous trip, when a gentleman whose acquaintance I had lately made came up, and after shaking hands with us all, whispered mysteriously in my ear that he had a plant near, and wished me to come with him. Having secured seats for my party, I followed, wondering what sort of plant it could possibly be that required mentioning in, such strangely subdued tones. My conductor soon came to a clump of tea tree, where, stooping down, he commenced groping about among the undergrowth, and at last produced a bottle containing some liquid, which I shortly after discovered to be brandy and water. What a curious plant! and in what a curious position to find it! The tea tree (symbolical of blue ribbonism) protecting and sheltering the deadly brandy and water plant. Here is food for reflection indeed, but let it pass! There were plants (of the class alcoholic) in all directions that day, from the humble beer to the haughty three star brandy plant.

An hotel has since been opened in Pahi, and page 168there is now no necessity for planting, though the system—which will doubtless strike with horror some of my readers—is still in vogue in most country districts on the occasion of any public gathering. In common justice, I am bound to say that I saw no one on that day at Pahi the slightest degree the worse for the peculiar gardening operations; in fact, unless like a bee gathering honey from flower to flower, some thirsty soul had made a round of the plants, which he could only do on receiving a general invitation from the proprietors, they were harmless enough, and the system must be regarded simply as a method adopted by colonials to show good fellowship.

To return to the regatta. Three or four hundred persons were by this time assembled. My wife had joined, by invitation, a party of ladies—the wives of some of Mr. Hay's heroes in "Brighter Britain"—on board one of the moored yachts, and I leave her deeply engaged in that enjoyment so dear to most ladies—a good gossip—and stroll on to the wharf to see the cutter race started. After some little delay, and a good deal of shouting, the seven boats entered for the contest are in position, the gun is fired from the umpire's boat for the start, and they all page 169become suddenly covered with canvas, and are off. It is blowing half a gale—but what care they. Up go their gaff topsails, and the boats careen over until you can almost see their keels. Most of them carry extra hands for ballast, and this live ballast hangs itself over the windward rail. Away they go, till they look like toy yachts in the distance. Now they round the buoy, and beat up for home. One boat misses stays and goes ashore, another carries away her topmast, and a third springs her bowsprit and gives in. But nobody seems to mind— every one appears happy—owners of the damaged crafts and all. On the wharf, which is crowded, a little mild betting goes on, and a gentleman (an old Etonian) gets up a shilling sweepstake in his hat. Bang goes the gun, as the first boat passes the winning post. Bang again, and the second boat is in. Then a voice whispers in my ear, "Come along, I've got a plant;" and I retire with the whisperer, and have a glass of ale.

While the cutter race is progressing a rowing match is started, and then a punt race is rowed, followed by another sailing race for open boats, a Maori race, and a model yacht race. After all the boat events have been run off, walking a page 170greasy boom fixed out from the end of the wharf is indulged in; and after that the landsmen have a turn, and a move is made for the greensward, which reaches down to the beach. Here are erected hurdles for horse-jumping, in which several Maoris (who are great at sports) are competitors; next comes pole leaping, long jumping, foot races, &c.; and the sports conclude with an obstacle race, in which the competitors have to crawl through bottomless tubs, and overcome all sorts of carefully devised impediments to their passage. A concert and dance in the public hall conclude a most enjoyable day's amusement. At its conclusion, horses are saddled, boats and punts got ready, and the assembly melts away, leaving the pretty township of Pahi bathed in the glorious light of the full moon, which here and there shines brightly on the sapless remains of the now no longer regarded colonial alcoholic plants.

Another great break in our monotony up here is the Matakohe Annual Race Meeting, in connection with which I at present hold the position of Hon. Secretary and Treasurer. At our last meeting, held in March, about four hundred persons assembled on the racecourse, and a capital day's sport was enjoyed. We had a page 171grand stand capable of seating three hundred, refreshment booths, saddling paddock, weighing room, a tent for the Secretary, and a Judge's box. The jockeys all rode in colours, and the scene was altogether a very brilliant and enlivening one. The following events were run off during the day:—

The Maiden Plate, over a mile and a half course. Nine horses started, and winner received seven pounds.

Settlers' Race Handicap. Two miles course. Six started, and winner received seven pounds.

Handicap Hurdle Race. Two miles course, with eight sets of three feet six inch hurdles. Four started, and winner received eight pounds ten shillings, and second horse one pound five shillings.

Hack Hurdles, over a mile and a half course and six flights of hurdles. Five started, and winner received five pounds.

Maori Race, over a mile and a half course. Only three horses started, and winner received five pounds.

Matakohe Cup Handicap. Two miles. Seven started. Winner received thirteen pounds ten shillings, and second horse one pound ten shillings.