Of My Early Youth
One so often reads of great men of letters or science, acclaimed by their fellow countrymen and men of other nations, but do we ever stop and think of friends, humble people, who to those who knew them were mighty people and looked up to as leaders in their own villages. History may show their names as having participated in a Treaty signing or as having been a participant in a debate at which a Government representative was present—nothing more. They just pass on into obscurity, not even known by their great grandchildren or those two generations after them. Because I would like him to be remembered as I knew him, I write this short record of one such great man of our village.
I refer to Teone Watene, born somewhere in Southland, but the greater part of his life lived in our village of Rapaki, situated three miles further up the harbour from Lyttelton. I do not remember his wife, but did know his four children, two boys and two girls. Johnny Watson, as he was known to us youngsters and his many Pakeha friends, was a big man. In one of his stories he spoke of a big Maori chief who, with one sweep of his taiaha, could kill twenty men. He could have fitted this chief. At huis he was a wonderful figure, walking up and down on the marae, tokotoko often clasped in both bands, speaking to his people in our native tongue. These orations often exceeded the hour. If it was a tangi Johnny would quote passage after passage from the Bible. The marvel of this was that he could neither read nor write. It was the custom in those early days, immediately the church bell rang, for all work to cease, and the villagers would go to the service, irrespective of whom the preacher was. Obviously, Johnny's very retentive mind had absorbed all that he heard.
Let me here tell you how our elders respected the Sabbath. Friends from Lyttelton were camped on the beach for the weekend. Two sons arrived with a football on the Sunday afternoon. Our playing area was by our hall. That ball was not kicked more than three or four times before one of our kuias arrived stick in hand. Poor Doug and Roland made a hasty retreat to the beach. I wonder can these two brothers remember this?
Johnny loved to play cards, euchre or cribbage, and it was quite common for us young folk to fall foul of our mothers by being at Johnny's home learning either game, when we should have been at home helping our Mums or having our tea. It was during these times, too, that Johnny would tell us such thrilling stories of his young days.
I shall relate two of his stories:—
Human transplants were known to the Maoris some time before his Pakeha brother brought them into practice. Johnny was with a gang felling trees in Southland, when one of the men fell on his axe. The axe was razor sharp and the angle of the fall almost disembowelled the man. Despairing for his friend's life, one member set off for help, but on emerging from the bush, spotted sheep grazing near by. Skill and cunning resulted in that flock being reduced by one.
This was taken back into the bush and a stomach transplant performed. Kiekie flax, which grew nearby, was used to complete the operation. This proved so successful that in two months the injured man was back in the bush. One day he really felt he had to
relieve himself, so took cover behind a bunch of scrub. Imagine his friend's surprise and amazement when he returned carrying a set of twin lambs!
The next concerns our own village and the perfect cone-shaped hill overlooking us. A big hui was being held in Rapaki. The problem of providing a suitable pudding was discussed. It was decided to make a big plum duff. The fire was made ready, and the biggest pot produced. This could contain the two hundred pound bag of flour. All the ingredients were added, including one large tin of baking powder. After vigorous stirring, all was ready, and the lid placed on the pot. The men then returned to the hall, but not for long; the children saw the lid fall off the pot and the plum duff rising and spreading rapidly. They called the men, but nothing could stop that pudding from completing its destiny. Thus we have our cone-shaped hill watching over us—Tamatea, erroneously known as Mahuraki.
Johnny loved his drop of beer and on ‘pension day’ he would harness up his old white horse to his trap, and off to Lyttelton they would go. Late on these afternoons they would be seen slowly walking home with Johnny in his seat, reins in hand—fast asleep. His good friends in Lyttelton, including the publican, would successfully manoeuvre Johnny aboard his trap, turn the horse about, and set them for home. The horse never once failed him.
The Koskela brothers were two Lyttelton fishermen who fished into our beach for many years. I remember them first with one rowing boat, then a motor was installed and, later, with two boats. During the rowing and one motor boat era, Johnny would always be on the beach to collect the unwanted fish—rig, elephant fish, red cod, and sometimes a feed of flounders. Johnny would clear the beach of rocks and seaweed where he estimated the net would finally land, or he would take over the pulling in of the net. If not at school, I would sometimes be on the beach too, and, like all boys, not being satisfied with the red cod, I would try to sneak a flounder and would cover it with seaweed, or hastily dig a hole in the sand with my feet. If the tide was coming in and the reloading of the boat took too long, I would lose my flounder. Size mattered little to me in those days.
Quite frequently, I would accompany Johnny along the foreshore at low water in quest of sea foods. He always carried a gaff to be used on any unwary conger eel or paua too deep to be reached by hand. I learned of many conger holes during these excursions. He loved to go fishing at night. If a boat was available, he would take the older boys out, often crossing Quail Island or the Lighthouse Reef. Mum would sometimes allow me to be in the party if it was on the rocks handy. How I loved this experience. We never returned empty-handed.
When the rigs—toothless sharks—were particularly active on the mudflats in Governors Bay, Johnny would lead a party armed with spears, gaffs and gorse knives into the attack. Should a dogfish—this possessed teeth and was unpleasant to the taste—or stingray venture too close, it would be in danger of losing its tail. The rigs would be brought home, the centre bone removed, cut down the middle to within an inch of the tail end, salted and peppered to combat flies, and thrown over a wire fence to dry for winter food. It was tough, but I enjoyed chewing “dried shark”. All the travelling was by horse and trap or bicycle for the younger men.
In his younger days Johnny was a first class shearer. He was well-known in sheds owned by Gardiners of Purau, Mortons (later Scotts) of Heathcote, Kinloch Station of Little River, Dick Morton of Motukarara, McAlpine of Craigieburn and Mt White Station. I think Johnny loved Dick Morton's of Motukarara best as it was so close to the big swamp we so often visited, being sure of a good supply of eels. This swamp has now been drained and turned into productive farm land.
I must tell you of two more stories both connected with this part of the country:—
Johnny and his team of shearers were on their way to Kinloch Station when, on approaching the corner which is the turn-off for the seaward end of Lake Forsyth and the big straight into Little River, the taipos
(spirits) of the many Maoris buried in the caves about here frightened their horses which stood petrified. Johnny, knowing the cause and cure, dismounted, took off his shirt and set it on fire. This smoke drove off the taipos and Johnny and his team drove on to Little River.
The next concerns a beautiful spring which flows through a paddock about one mile from the present shop and petrol bowser on the main road at Motukarara. It was always possible to spear a few eels along the banks of this spring. Johnny, his son Lu and another youth arrived there in quest of eels. On the good spearing side of the culvert there were no eels, but on the other side, with a gravel bottom, were seen dozens. As it was unsuitable for spearing, Johnny solved the problem by tying the bottoms of his trousers, loosening his belt and undoing his shirt front. He then stepped into the water and told the boys to start the eels through. Johnny lay down with his head in the culvert. Within minutes he called to the boys to stop, and climbed out with eels bulging all around him. These were duly placed in a sack and the process repeated until all the eels were caught.
We still visit this spring, hoping for eels, but these too, like the fish in our harbour, are very scarce. There is usually a good supply of lovely watercress.
As I wrote earlier, Johnny was a wonderful orator, an inspiration I am sure to one who later became our member of Parliament. It was customary at huis for all to speak in our Maori tongue on any subject of interest to our people. Jimmy Tregurthen, later to become Sir Eruera Tirikatene, was one of the young men who did this and, no doubt from his listening and perseverance, developed into one of the greatest of our Maori orators. So many of us listened only. Our great and sad loss.
Johnny lived to the ripe old age of 94, and, though a true Ngaitahu, joined his brethren of other races on 29 August, 1934. His resting place is in the grounds surrounding the church in which he loved to worship.
Maori Poet wins Burns Fellowship
Hone Tuwhare, our foremost Maori poet, has been awarded the University of Otago Burns Fellowship for 1974.
Mr Tuwhare held a special short-term Burns Fellowship during 1969, the university's centennial year. He is best known as a poet, although he has published some prose fiction. His poems have been included in a number of anthologies and publications used in schools in New Zealand and Australia.
His first volume of poems, ‘No Ordinary Sun’, was published in 1964 and has since been reprinted six times. ‘Come Rain, Hail’ followed in 1970, and a third collection, ‘Sapwood and Milk’, was published in 1972 and reprinted in 1973. A fourth volume of poems is being prepared.
Hone Tuwhare says his plans for this year are flexible but he ‘will welcome the opportunity while 1974 Burns Fellow to demonstrate a ruthlessness in confining myself more fully to my trade as a poet.’
Born at Kaikohe in 1922, Mr Tuwhare, after finishing his formal aducation at Beresford Street School in Auckland, was apprenticed to the boilermaking trade. He has worked at hydro-electric power projects on the Waikato River, the Rangiteiki River, Bay of Plenty, and in the naval dockyard at Devonport, Auckland.
Last year Hone was one of three Pacific poets who read their works at the Waratah and Sydney Opera House Opening Festival, performing at the Opera House, universities and several venues in Sydney, together with Albert Wendt of Western Samoa and John Kasaipwalova of Papua, New Guinea.