|We have been favoured with the following descriptive sketch of Bush Life in New Zealand, from the pen of Mr. G. Berkeley Hill:
Monday, April 17th, 1882. "It was a fine day when eight of us started for the mountains to muster the sheep that were scattered over Mr. Tripp's run, at whose station I was paying a visit. Jack, the saddler, and Bill, his mate, were acting as packers, and had gone on before us with the mules, who carried our swags and "tucker" (food) pack fashion, and who were driven in front of the men, who rode behind, along the mountain tracks. We had 10 miles to ride to a hut in the mountains, and from thence were to proceed, on foot, as the hills got too steep and rough for riding. The men who started with me were all shepherds, or men employed about the station, and although rough-looking fellows and independent enough, are very far superior in intellect to the British yokel, on account of their having travelled about and quickened their perceptions by all the miscellaneous kinds of work they are in the habit of turning their hands to out here. In fact a sensible man need never be out of work. They are generally in the habit of following various professions, but, I am told, it is better to get a permanent situation if possible, as there are times in the year when the demand for employment is slack. Nearly all these men were Scotchmen, and if I called anyone 'Mac,' I was never far out. It was quite a treat to get a Bill, Pat, and Jack. We arrived at this festive hut during the afternoon, where, on the morrow, we were to be joined by Mr. Hope (Miss Tripp's intended), and some others, amongst them McKay, the head shepherd, who was 'boss' of the party. The packers now set to work getting ready the 'tucker.' This is done in the following way: In the hut there is a fireplace, or rather chimney with room for logs of wood to be burned underneath, fitted with a rough hook. When sleeping in tents, which is most frequent, two cross bars are put up, with another bar resting on them, and on this are hung the 'billies,' or tin pots; and a fire of wood, with the aid of a little fat, is soon kindled underneath. One 'billie' containing potatoes is put on to boil, another is filled with water, and, when this boils, a handful of tea is taken out of a sack and thrown on the top, which makes a not at all bad beverage in the way of tea. The next process is to cut up some chops and fry them in a pan. This done, everybody gets a knife and fork and tin plate, from wherever they may be lying in a heap on the ground, digs his fork into one, two, or three chops, and repeats the same performance with regard to the 'spuds.' When drink is required, one makes towards a heap of 'pannikins,' or tin cups, and having secured one, dips it into the tea-billy, and then, if he has a sweet tooth, makes his way to a sack containing brown sugar, into which he dips his hand, for want of a spoon, and sweetens his beverage. I generally found a fork as good as anything to stir it up with. There is also another sack containing salt, and one can take a pinch, well seasoned with fingers. In the hut were two bunks, made of a framework of wood; with pieces of sacking nailed on to the top. These made respectable seats for a few of us, and, having placed our plate on our knees, we commenced the fray. 'Pass the bread, please, Mac;' the knife is wiped once or twice on the top piece, and then a slice is cut off. I may mention that manners form no prominent part in the ceremony, and if you want the pick of the potatoes or chops, you had better be there in time, as it is a case of every man for himself. It is also the same in regard to your seat, for, if you get up for anything, and have a decent seat, you may find it quietly appropriated, and the only thing to do is to take no notice, and go and sit somewhere else. The weather now began to get misty, and a thin rain set in, which did not improve our spirits, for it might last a week! And these were not the exact quarters one would choose for a week's sojourn, with no other furniture than two berths, and a wall slightly ornamented with names written up with a burnt stick. The roof was made of galvanised iron sheeting, with nothing underneath it. However, we were equal to the task of amusing ourselves, and Pat produced two penny song books, which was the signal for our entertainment. Everyone was rather shy, but, having immediately complied with the universal request to start a song, which I had well learnt to do on board ship, the others followed suit pretty well, although a little undue pressing was necessary. I can't say our performance was celebrated for its artistic talent, the greater part of it consisting of hoarse croakings and tuneless mutterings. But Jack, the packer, had a decent voice, and certainly recited well some Shakespeare, although it was amusing to observe the clearing of throat and amount of expectoration at the commencement of each verse. Bill, his mate, made three successive attempts at a song, but could not proceed for fits of laughter, and each time he made less way than the first. I omitted to mention the mode of lighting our chamber. The fat that was left in the frying-pan, after having done service for chops innumerable, was emptied into a pannikin without a handle, and a large piece of wick floated on the top, which was set light to, and made a very decent illumination. All hands now agreed to turn in. There was a tent outside, but as it was raining fast, no one seemed inclined to patronise it. Consequently we all, 10 in number, slept in the hut. I was lucky enough to secure one of the berths, and Hughie M'Quinn the other. The rest slept on the floor, and when they had undone their swags and spread their blankets on the floor to settle for the night I don’t think there was room to drop a threepenny bit between them. It was said that as many as 12 men had slept in that hut and two under the bunks. I thought 10 was quite enough!
Tuesday morningNo change in the weather. Ah, this is lively, and may have to stick here for a week! We managed to get through the day, what with meals and conversation, finishing up with the usual evening performance, and to our joy, next day, Wednesday, it cleared up. I may say that we slept on these two nights about as well as the unseemly disputing on the part of the dogs as to the possession of a sack, would allow us. Our party was now augmented by the three others from the station, and one man who had come up to take back the horses we had ridden. We numbered 13 men and nearly 30 dogs. We had a hard day's work before us, and were told off into three parties. My party of five started for the Blue Mountain, on the summit of which we were to encamp for the night. Arriving near the base of this little rise of over 5,000 feet, two of them went round by another route and were to join us on the top. We three now commenced this almost perpendicular ascent, which I can fairly say required no small amount of wind and muscle to attain. The men I was with had been shepherds nearly all their life, and hailed originally from the Highlands. With their long legs they went on a good pace, although with long strides, and they followed on at it so! and only rested about twice all the way up. For a man whose heart was at all affected (otherwise than by Cupid), or whose lungs were not quite right, this game certainly would not pay. I couldn't help thinking it would be good training for a man who had an office in London on the fifth floor, where there was no lift. The walking is decidedly not good, nearly all these hills being strewn with large stones and rocks, which seem to be the result of some volcanic agency. We started through masses of wet ferns, but as we got higher they disappeared. There is not much bush about these mountains, but where there is any, it is almost impassable. The trees grow very thick, and their branches get entwined, underneath which grows a thick sort of scrub. Presently one man branched off in another direction, and went to join one of the other parties. We two reached the top in time, although I thought it was never coming, and M'Quinn said he reckoned we had got over the worst part of the journey. On the top we found Jack had preceded us with the mules, and had got the tent pitched. The other two men we left at the base rejoined us later on, and, the tucker being prepared, we all sat down round the camp fire, the great tip being to secure a position where the smoke didn't blow all over you. The evening came over cold and misty, and it was then that I found out the efficacy of my waterproof ground-sheet. Being packed five in a small tent, I was able to share this with another man, who remarked, "You see what it is to be next to a gentleman." We hadn't been lying down long before the wet began to come through, and I could feel the drops coming down on the blankets. When I woke in the morning, I was sorry I had omitted to take the necessary precaution of putting my boots under my pillow, as they were considerably wetter than when I took them off. The morning with us was clear, as we were above the clouds, but below there was a mist. It was a grand sight to see the tops of the higher mountains, sometimes tipped with snow, coming out of the clouds, with the sun smiling on all around us and making the hoar frost glisten, while all below was a sea of mist, which looked as if one could dive into it without sinking. The morning was very cold, and there had been a sharp frost, the first warning of which we had on waking and finding the damp tent of the night before a mass of ice. We 'coo-eed' for the others, but no sound from them came in response. They were late in starting, and no wonder, poor fellows, they had had no 'tucker' since breakfast the day before, and after their exertions were almost too weak to do anything. Bill, who was to have seen to their wants, didn't know the country much, and, having horses to drive with the mules, lost his way. The horses led the mules off the track, and one of the latter played the fool, to the detriment of the potatoes, which were sown by the way, consequently we had to go without any for the rest of our outing. However, he turned up at some time in the morning, and having refreshed themselves, they made a move. We had a good deal of rough walking to do, and towards evening, took about 15,000 sheep into the yards at the bottom of one of the mountains. We were altogether now, and took up three tents. As we all sat round the blazing fire, Hope remarked to me, "What would your people think if they saw you here among this company? Mine have cut me, and won't have anything to do with me." I thought the remark was ill-timed, but only said, "My people are too sensible to take offence at me because of that, and would most likely think a good deal more of me for making myself useful."
Early next day (Thursday) we were woke by a chorus of dogs, who all set up a dismal howl, which was fearful to contemplate, but an angry shout from one of the tents had the effect of silencing them. The poor brutes must have been cold, for their coats were covered with hoar frost. I was told that that didn't hurt them so long as their skins were dry. It was pretty cold, and after a wash in the creek, we were glad to get round the fire and demolish our breakfast. We set to work, about seven o'clock, drafting the sheep. This is done in the following manner: There is a narrow strip boarded up, with just room for one sheep to pass through at a time, and at the end is a gate which a man pushes one side or the other, and drafts them into the right or left paddock. It is a rare job to get them to run through, as every now and then they turn obstinate and want to run back. It takes a deal of turning and hauling to get them through on these occasions. I was also continually being called away to take down the 'tallies' from a man who was told off to count them, which he did by letting them out of another gate, and counting them, in lots of about 200 as they ran through. We had hoped to have got the drafting over that day in time to take them on to the 'sod-yards' three miles further on, but as they didn't run well, we had to stop there that night, having finished too late to proceed. Next day (Saturday) we had the whole day to take them the three miles, so we had to go through the process of 'tailing,' which means taking them a short distance and letting them feed. This is rather slow work, but as they were anxious to get away, we were not able to sit down much on the hill sides, for they kept us constantly at work, first one side and then the other. The sheep, since yesterday, being divided into two 'mobs,' another party was looking after the others in advance of us. It is no joke keeping about 6,000 sheep together on the mountains, and if it were not for the dogs, no number of men could well manage it. When we got to the other yards, we were about 16 miles from the station, and next day (Sunday) was devoted to the purpose of taking them there. This entailed a good many more miles' walking, as we had to go all over the place to keep them together. When we had got about half-way we stopped to get some lunch, and as I was with the first mob, had finished before the second lot came up. Pat, who was going to sleep at a hut six miles from the station, was very anxious for me to keep him company, so I elected to do so, as I remembered he was staying there when he saw an appalling sight, which robbed him of his sleep for some nights. They had found the body of a man they knew, who had been drowned in the creek, and having been in the water some time, his body was in the last state of decomposition. I therefore rode on with Bill, the packer, and left some 'tucker' at the hut we were to stay at, and then went on to another hut where rations were to be supplied, and walked back to the former one. I really was not sorry, as the scene was very picturesque, and I quite fell in love with the spot. Besides, the hut was a nice one, and had a plastered ceiling, and was fitted with two bunks, which was a treat after sleeping on the ground. Pat turned out to be a good cook, and the sheep that was killed at the first yards was nice and tender, so we just enjoyed ourselves. We had also been supplied with potatoes and fresh bread from the station. We were taking care of some sheep on the hill, and had to see they did not come down and cross the creek. We were to wait next day till Bill Tait came with some rams, and he was going to stop there in our place.
Next day, Monday, I woke up to the fact that it was my birthday, and as Bill Tait did not appear after lunch, I walked on by myself into the station, where I enjoyed a comfortable meal for the first time for eight days, and a more comfortable sleep, although I must say there was not much to complain of as to the way in which I fulfilled that requirement of nature, all along. I never enjoyed a bath, or a shave, much more, and felt quite a swell when I had a clean pair of boots on.
In conclusion, I may say a few words for the enlightenment of those who are not conversant with these parts. The scenery in some places is grand, and being of a wilder nature than that of the home country, is well adapted for one who is of an adventurous spirit. There is never a lack of water in these mountains, as the place abounds in numerous creeks and waterfalls, which add greatly to its beauty. There are also abundant springs, where one can stoop down and quench their thirst. Before the practice of putting up wire fences, shepherds used to live in these huts for weeks and months together, keeping boundaries. I have heard that they sometimes went stark staring mad, and I don't wonder at it, as they never saw anybody for months together, except perhaps the man who supplied them with 'tucker.' One night the whole sky was lit up with a grand display of the Aurora Australia, which corresponds with our Aurora Borealis, which some people might have given untold gold to have beheld, but, as I had just turned in to bed, was contented to catch just a glimpse of it through the door, as the man who was next it, held it on one side for a moment, to admit of our seeing it. Since going up country I find there has been a joke going about on my account. They make a practice at Mr. Tripp's (and I daresay at a good many other places) when a "new chum" comes out, of testing his powers to see what he is made of. When one arrives off board ship, he is generally "soft," and they delight in taking him out for a walk up the mountains to get him tired out. This they did with me, but instead of tiring me out the tables were reversed, and Hope, who took me out with the above intention, succeeded in completely knocking himself up, while, to use his expression, I was 'as fit as a flea.' Likewise during the whole time I was out they did not succeed in getting me to show any signs of fatigue. The best part of the joke was the entire innocency on my part of their intentions, and my unassuming sympathy for Hope when he was hors de combat. If I had only known it, I might have been led to put a good deal of 'side' on. I may say that I had amused myself for a week at lawn tennis at Melbourne, besides a little bicycle exercise, which might have prevented my being so soft as I ought to have been. I have been told about this in town, and not a word has been said to me by the parties themselves. They are rather fond of 'blowing' out here, but will, perhaps, in time, find out that England does not pick out all her sickly children for shipment out here!"