Saturday, June 5, 2010


Irrelevant to the rest of this blog there was a bellbird in the abutilon bush yesterday. There was the usual array of wax-eyes there and at the fat ball when suddenly this larger bird flew in, balanced and swigged some nectar before taking off again. I’ve seen tui often at that bush but never until now, a bellbird. It made my day.

When I grew up in Little River it was the head-quarters of the small Waiwera County Council. Pride of place was the local Domain. A few blogs ago I mentioned rugby during the war years there each winter. There was also cricket, tennis and croquet in summer and basketball (now netball) in winter. The young women, having played their match earlier, in their uniforms were part of the rugby sideline scene. My elders talked of women’s hockey teams as well but that had long gone.

Somebody, (or bodies), in the 19th century with great foresight had planted belts of deciduous trees around a large area of public land between the sheep market yards and the primary school. Those trees, lush in summer, bare in winter, formed a splendid backdrop to the Domain’s activities. At the south end was the public library and council chamber. At the north end were the county offices, croquet lawn, tennis/basketball courts and changing rooms.

To cap it all off there were by the memorial gates two large whale tripots from Peraki – a memento from the past. Hempbelman’s shore station there had been the first pakeha settlement on Banks Peninsula. Each year we had a social studies lesson in front of those pots.

But the biggest memory is the impressive stone war memorial gates with the engraved names of local lads who had not come home from the First World War. Anzac Day saw the Domain at its most resplendent. The sheep that grazed there all summer had been removed -–they would have spoilt the ceremony. They did not return until the rugby season was over. Cricket didn’t involve getting your face in the mud.

Every year summer fairs and sports meetings, (Mum always won the married women’s race) were held there. Townies would come out to picnic. But the major event was the annual show. This poem sums up a boy’s response to the tawdry spendour of that occasion.


Each November, the locals complained
‘too many townies, professional pothunters.’
Early morning, Old Bert, the blacksmith, collar and tie,
measured the horses, calling their height in hands
on special days, words can change meaning.

Everyone jostled to park ringside beside the jumps
and though she’d never admit it, Granny enjoyed seeing
riders come a cropper; she’d call out, ‘Get up lass,
you’re not hurt,’ and as alarmed horses capered
round, shout out advice to arm-flailing stewards.

Uncle Charlie’s budgies always won the prize for cage birds
as in their section did my stepfather’s mother’s scones and sponges.

Merry-go-rounds, candy floss, darts,
plaster dogs for a shilling a throw
discreet lines in the makeshift urinals
and then there was the Highland band
the grand clearing of spittle from pipes.

Once the band got distressed,
‘where's Jim the big drum? – at the marque and late,
loud cheers
when he lurched into view
and they placed the drum around his shoulders,
rearranged the lion skin, positioned him and started the parade.

Even out of step, his timing vigorous
and behind the waddling bulls
my embarrassed calf tugged me past the shining cars.

I haven’t seen a show like that for years.

Harvey McQueen

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