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- Station Amusements - 1/30 -

Produced by P J Riddick



Lady Barker


The interest shown by the public in the simple and true account of every-day life in New Zealand, published by the author three years ago, has encouraged her to enlarge upon the theme. This volume is but a continuation of "Station Life," with this difference: that whereas that little book dwelt somewhat upon practical matters, these pages are entirely devoted to reminiscences of the idler hours of a settler's life.

Many readers have friends and relations out in those beautiful distant islands, and though her book should possess no wider interest, the author hopes that these at least will care to know exactly what sort of life their absent dear ones are leading. One thing is certain: that few books can ever have afforded so much pleasure to their authors, or can have appeared more completely to write themselves, than "Station Life," and this, its sequel. M. A. B.

Chapter I: A Bush picnic.

Since my return to England, two years ago, I have been frequently asked by my friends and acquaintances, "How did you amuse yourself up at the station?" I am generally tempted to reply, "We were all too busy to need amusement;" but when I come to think the matter over calmly and dispassionately, I find that a great many of our occupations may be classed under the head of play rather than work. But that would hardly give a fair idea of our lives there, either. It would be more correct to say perhaps, that most of our simple pleasures were composed of a solid layer of usefulness underneath the froth of fun and frolic. I purpose therefore in these sketches to describe some of the pursuits which afforded us a keen enjoyment at the time,--an enjoyment arising from perfect health, simple tastes, and an exquisite climate.

It will be as well to begin with the description of one of the picnics, which were favourite amusements in our home, nestled in a valley of the Malvern Hills of Canterbury. These hills are of a very respectable height, and constitute in fact the lowest slopes of the great Southern Alps, which rise to snow-clad peaks behind them. Our little wooden homestead stood at the head of a sunny, sheltered valley, and around it we could see the hills gradually rolling into downs, which in their turn were smoothed out, some ten or twelve miles off, into the dead level of the plains. The only drawback to the picturesque beauty of these lower ranges is the absence of forest, or as it is called there, bush. Behind the Malvern Hills, where they begin to rise into steeper ascents, lies many and many a mile of bush-clad mountain, making deep blue shadows when the setting sun brings the grand Alpine range into sharp white outline against the background of dazzling Italian sky. But just here, where my beloved antipodean home stood, we had no trees whatever, except those which we had planted ourselves, and whose growth we watched with eager interest. I dwell a little upon this point, to try to convey to any one who may glance at these pages, how we all, --dwellers among tree-less hills as we were,--longed and pined for the sights and sounds of a "bush."

Quite out of view from the house or garden, and about seven miles away, lay a mountain pass, or saddle, over a range, which was densely wooded, and from whose highest peak we could see a wide extent of timbered country. Often in our evening rides we have gone round by that saddle, in spite of a break-neck track and quicksands and bogs, just to satisfy our constant longing for green leaves, waving branches, and the twitter of birds. Whenever any wood was wanted for building a stockyard, or slabbing a well, or making a post-and-rail fence around a new paddock, we were obliged to take out a Government license to cut wood in this splendid bush. Armed with the necessary document the next step was to engage "bushmen," or woodcutters by profession, who felled and cut the timber into the proper lengths, and stacked it neatly in a clearing, where it could get dry and seasoned. These stacks were often placed in such inaccessible and rocky parts of the steep mountain side, that they had to be brought down to the flat in rude little sledges, drawn by a bullock, who required to be trained to the work, and to possess so steady and equable a disposition as to be indifferent to the annoyance of great logs of heavy wood dangling and bumping against his heels as the sledge pursued its uneven way down the bed of a mountain torrent, in default of a better road.

Imagine, then, a beautiful day in our early New Zealand autumn. For a week past, a furious north-westerly gale had been blowing down the gorges of the Rakaia and the Selwyn, as if it had come out of a funnel, and sweeping across the great shelterless plains with irresistible force. We had been close prisoners to the house all those days, dreading to open a door to go out for wood or water, lest a terrific blast should rush in and whip the light shingle roof off. Not an animal could be seen out of doors; they had all taken shelter on the lee-side of the gorse hedges, which are always planted round a garden to give the vegetables a chance of coming up. On the sky-line of the hills could be perceived towards evening, mobs of sheep feeding with their heads _up_-wind, and travelling to the high camping-grounds which they always select in preference to a valley. The yellow tussocks were bending all one way, perfectly flat to the ground, and the shingle on the gravel walk outside rattled like hail against the low latticed windows. The uproar from the gale was indescribable, and the little fragile house swayed and shook as the furious gusts hurled themselves against it. Inside its shelter, the pictures were blowing out from the walls, until I expected them to be shaken off their hooks even in those rooms which had plank walls lined with papered canvas; whilst in the kitchen, store-room, etc., whose sides were made of cob, the dust blew in fine clouds from the pulverized walls, penetrating even to the dairy, and. settling half an inch thick on my precious cream. At last, when our skin felt like tightly drawn parchment, and our ears and eyes had long been filled with powdered earth, the wind dropped at sunset as suddenly as it had risen five days before. We ventured out to breathe the dust-laden atmosphere, and to look if the swollen creeks (swollen because snow-fed) had done or threatened to do any mischief, and saw on the south-west horizon great fleecy masses of cloud driving rapidly up before a chill icy breeze. Hurrah, here comes a sou'-wester! The parched-up earth, the shrivelled leaves, the dusty grass, all needed the blessed damp air. In an hour it was upon us. We had barely time to house the cows and horses, to feed the fowls, and secure them in their own shed, and to light a roaring coal (or rather lignite, for it is not true coal) fire in the drawing-room, when, with a few warning splashes, the deluge of cold rain came steadily down, and we went to sleep to the welcome sound of its refreshing patter.

All that I have been describing was the weather of the past week. Disagreeable as it might have been, it was needed in both its hot and cold, dry and wet extremes, to make a true New Zealand day. The furious nor'-wester had blown every fleck of cloud below the horizon, and dried the air until it was as light as ether. The "s'utherly buster," on the other hand, had cooled and refreshed everything in the most delicious way, and a perfect day had come at last. What words can describe the pleasure it is to inhale such an atmosphere? One feels as if old age or sickness or even sorrow, could hardly exist beneath such a spotless vault of blue as stretched out above our happy heads. I have often been told that this feeling of intense pleasure on a fine day, which is peculiar to New Zealand, is really a very low form of animal enjoyment. It may be so, but I only know that I never stood in the verandah early in the morning of such a day as I am trying to sketch in pen and ink now, without feeling the highest spiritual joy, the deepest thankfulness to the loving Father who had made His beautiful world so fair, and who would fain lead us through its paths of pleasantness to a still more glorious, home, which will be free from the shadows brooding from beneath sin's out-stretched wings over this one. As I stood in the porch I have often fancied I could seethe animals and even the poultry expressing in dumb brute fashion, their joy and gratitude to the God from whom all blessings flow.

But to return to the verandah, although we have never left it. Presently F--- came out, and I said with a sigh, born of deep content and happiness, "What a day!" "Yes," answered F---: "a heavenly day indeed: well worth waiting for. I want to go and see how the men are getting on in the bush. Will you like to come too?" "Of course I will. What can be more enchanting than the prospect of spending such sunny hours in that glorious bush?" So after breakfast I give my few simple orders to the cook, and prepare, to pack a "Maori kit," or flat basket made of flax, which could be fastened to my side-saddle, with the preparations for our luncheon. First some mutton chops had to be trimmed and prepared, all ready to be cooked when we got there. These were neatly folded up in clean paper; and a little packet of tea, a few lumps of white sugar, a tiny wooden contrivance for holding salt and pepper, and a couple of knives and forks, were added to the parcel.

So much for the contents of the basket. They needed to be carefully packed so as not to rattle in any way, or Helen, my pretty bay mare, would soon have got rid of the luncheon--and me. I wrapped up three or four large raw potatoes in separate bits of paper, and slipped them into F---'s pockets when he was looking another way, and then began the real difficulty of my picnic: how was the little tin tea-pot and an odd delf cup to be carried? F--- objected to put them also in his pocket, assuring me that I could make very good tea by putting my packet of the fragrant leaves into the bushmen's kettle, and drinking it afterwards out of one of their pannikins. He tried to bribe me to this latter piece of simplicity by promising to wash the tin pannikin out for me first. Now I was not dainty or over particular; I could not have enjoyed my New Zealand life so thoroughly if I had been either; but I did not like the idea of using the bushmen's tea equipage. In the first place, the tea never tastes the same when made in their way, and allowed to boil for a

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