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No. 32 (September 1960)
– 43 –

“GOOD GRIEF!”
SAID THE POSTMISTRESS

“GOOD GRIEF!” said the postmistress, pushing her feet back into her shoes and getting out of her chair. “Not another one!”

She came through the door into the outer office, leaving her half-eaten lunch.

“Only for one-and-six,” said the clergyman apologetically, “but I find I've come out without a penny.”

He handed the telegram across the counter.

“I thought, at a stretch,” he smiled, “you'd be able to trust me?”

“It's not that I don't trust you,” said the postmistress. “It's the principle of the thing. You all come in without any money!”

“Now you're joking!” laughed the clergyman. “And we all know your kind heart, Mrs Marshall. Thank you very much if you'll do that for me. I'll be in with the money first thing tomorrow morning.”

He went out. The postmistress looked at him, sighed, and pulled out a worn note-book.

The clergyman came in again.

“Or after lunch,” he said. “I've got to go out to Paritai first thing.”

He went out again.

“You'd never believe it,” said the postmistress, entering one-and-six in the notebook. “Excuse me a minute while I get this off—you're only waiting for the bus, aren't you.”

I relaxed in the dim coolness of the outer office while the hot and dusty midday shimmered on the roadway of Manuka Bend.

The postmistress came back.

“Now what was it? Oh yes?” She took one-and-sixpence from her handbag and put it in the till. “The trouble is, they don't seem to realise that there's no tick with the Post Office. Sometimes I think I'll get one of those printed notices and put it up: ‘Do not ask for credit—a refusal often offends.’ Not that it would do any good. Coming in without money's chronic at the Bend.”

“I suppose you feel it will send you round the bend,” I joked feebly.

“If it hasn't already!” She smiled quickly, her eyes shrewd, kind and intelligent. “I like the place and I like the work, or I wouldn't be here. It's a great place!”

I looked across the road to the petrol pumps, the garage with the usual grease-covered bits of worn-out cars beside it, to the great swathe the road improvements had cut in the hill, and at the dust.

“Not out there! We'll be getting it sealed soon, anyway. But look at the bush back on those hills! Glorious! I've a bit of it at my very back door.

“And look at the farmland around here. It's not the Waikato, I know, but it's got its own sort of beauty. I find it fascinating.”

“It is pleasant,” I said.

“Nearly all Maori farms, you know. And they're not making a bad living of them on the whole. Only the pity is, the land won't maintain more than one son with the father, and others have to go away to work. It's not Maori.

“Of course, the Maoris aren't as business-like as they might be. They're the chief offenders with this credit stunt I'm complaining about. Not that they're the only one, as you just saw. It's getting to be a full-time book-keeping job.”

“I suppose they pay in the end?”

“Oh, they pay in the end,” said the postmistress. “I nag them till they do. Usually it's only the odd shilling or two, but sometimes it's a bit over the odds.

“There's Mrs Karipata now. The other day she came in for her family benefit without her card. Left it at home, she said. She particularly wanted to buy something — could I …?”

She shrugged and held out her hands.

“Well, she was lucky. I happened to have three pounds. Usually I don't keep much in my bag at all. So I gave it to her. Now she rings up and says she's lost her card and what should she do? I said bring me in my three pounds pronto! Then she can talk about writing away for a new one.

– 44 –

Lost her card! Makes you wonder, doesn't it?”

I said it did, and would she like to sell me a stamp booklet for cold cash?

“Not a booklet. There's no sale for them here. A dozen threepennies if you like? Yes,” she went on, tearing out the stamps, “the family asks me why I keep the job on, but the truth is I love it, just love it. I wouldn't give it up for anything. They're a great crowd round here, Maori and Pakeha. Know what I had given me only this morning?”

She dived under the counter and brought up three immense beetroots; one was like a winecoloured squash.

“You might think they're too big to be edible, but they're not. Nearly every day I get something like this: you've no idea. Generous isn't the word. Sometimes it's tomatoes, or corn on the cob, or kumaras. The kumaras I've had! And they found I've given up fowls, just got a couple of old biddies left, and last week someone brought me a dozen eggs.

“And it's not only things, it's deeds too. We had a flood a year or two back, a real he-man of a flood. Well, our place is down the road a bit, near the river flats, and the flood left logs and what would you across the dip where our drive runs in. The house was high enough but we couldn't use the car for the logs and stuff.

“Did we have to ask for help? The nearest Maori with a tractor was there before we knew it. Amazing. Simply amazing.”

She put her notebook away under the counter.

“All that rather balances the post office ‘tick’, doesn't it?” I said.

The postmistress slowly rose to face me.

“Good grief!” she said. “So it does! so it does!”

There was a shout of “Bus coming!” from the children outside.

“And now you'd better go and finish your tea,” I said, “before it's cold.”

“Cold!” she said. “In this heat. The milk'll be curdled by now.”

As I picked up my bag a Maori came in.

“Mrs Marshall,” he said, “I want to ring through to Paritai.”

“That's toll, Matthew,” she said. “Cost you eightpence for three minutes.”

“I know, Mrs Marshall,” said the man. “I got no money with me, but I write you the cheque.”

“Good grief, Matthew Marima!” shouted the postmistress. “The post office can't accept cheques!”

I got on the bus, smiling. From my seat I saw the postmistress reach under the counter and bring up the battered notebook.

MAORI ART LOST

When a vast lake builds up behind the huge earth dam at Benmore. Otago, in a few years, a number of old faded Maori or “Moa-Hunter” drawings in cave shelters in the Waitaki Gorge will disappear beneath the water. Since 1957, the National Historic Places Trust has been concerned about the fate of the drawings. It initiated a survey of all the drawings in the area to be flooded—exploration for further sites, minute record of drawings found, and archaeological research. After three seasons of field work the task is now completed and a summary was recently given to the Royal Society Science Congress in Wellington, results pointing to widely differing, primitive artistic styles in the drawings, perhaps reflecting the different occupations of the inhabitants of the gorge. Mr John Pascoe, secretary of the Trust, has stated that an attempt will be made to remove some of the more striking drawings by cutting out sections of the rock, but the rock may crumble. If drawings are successfully obtained, they will be offered either to the Otago or Canterbury Museums, according to which side of the river they come from.

MAORI ADZES FOUND

Five Maori stone adzes were an accidental find made while prisoners were digging in the New Plymouth prison's gardens. They are to be given to the Taranaki Museum. Speculation on how the adzes came to be grouped in this one place recalls that Marsland Hill in earlier times was a noted terraced Maori pa, taken by siege and assault about 1760 and not afterwards occupied. It is therefore possible that workers from this pa, were using the adzes on the site where they have been discovered, particularly as this is fairly close to a bend in the Huatoki Stream. The site was also, however, the scene of a noted Maori ambush when a marauding party from Oakura was caught there while returning from storming the Rewarewa Pa, at the mouth of the Waiwakaiho River. This venture is estimated to have taken place between 1805 and 1810. The slaughter was very great, with the Oakura Maori routed. It is therefore also possible that the adzes were loot from Rewarewa dropped by the fleeing Maoris.

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