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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

The young fellow was missing, where could he be?

Submitted: May 24, 2018

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Submitted: May 24, 2018



Anyone who has had anything to do with sheep will know that sheep can become cast. Usually they are heavily pregnant, or have a full fleece that becomes heavy when wet. They lay down, roll over on their back and can’t get back up. If they’ve been cast for a long time, their guts settles in a different position. That’s because they lay down chew their cud, so their stomach is full of grass. When the farmer tries to stand them up, their balance is up the pole and they can’t walk straight, or they may fall over. If left for too long cast sheep will die.

A television news item caught my attention. Housing is the big problem of the decade and the housing minister was berating the young Treasury people for not getting all the facts right, in his opinion. He said that these young bean-counters were just out of university so didn’t have enough life experience to understand the importance of social justice. Well, I don’t know about the people in Treasury, but if the minister is correct, how come university graduates are advising government ministers? Other than my question, what the minister said struck a chord with me.

Back in the day, I mean those old forestry days, university graduates used to turn up at District Office, fresh-faced and full of sitting-on-bum knowledge. Forest Rangers on the other hand followed a different path, based on theory and hands-on practical aspects, and all under the auspices of the Forestry Training Centre. The first posting of a Ranger Trainee on-forest was where the boss knocked off any rough edges. Basically, Rangers were forest managers and the university bods became Foresters assigned to District Office, their role was to give the forests additional support.

It was never written that the boss was to knock the rough edges off the young Rangers, nor was it written that the Rangers should re-educate the Foresters, but that’s basically what happened. They used to come onto the forest with all manner of ‘radical’ ideas and insist that we try them, the only trouble was that there’s nothing new under the sun and all the theories had been tried and most rejected. We couldn’t really refuse to try their suggestions, and those of us that had been on one forest for a long time, could take them to spots where their radical idea had been tried and failed in the past. If that didn’t work, we’d carry out their idea while they were on-forest, but as soon as they were back in their city office, we returned to our proven way.

In a career of close to thirty years on the same forest, and with a new bod turning up every two or three years, I did my share of re-educating. Fundamentally, to achieve anything in forestry (and other industries), you need people to perform the work, and in forestry it’s hard, dangerous and physical work. Workers were usually happy enough to carry out the tasks as long as they understood the required outcome and management showed some concerns for worker-conditions and welfare. University graduates didn’t tend to understand the principle.

Here’s a couple of figures that have stuck in my head: to remove a half inch diameter branch using a (hand-powered) jacksaw takes one swipe, while removing a three inch diameter branch takes thirty four swipes.  One proposal was to manage the crop in a way that resulted in the half inch branches growing to three inches simply because the crop was thinned too early! There’s more to it than that but it’s enough to show that by using a different crop management regime, conditions for the workers is easily manipulated.

Phil was one of the last of his bunch, and to be fair, he didn’t rock the boat too much, but he was hopeless in the bush! He had no sense of direction, half the time he was wandering off and becoming lost. He and I would be measuring or checking on trees, and while I wrote the details in my notebook, he would wander off in some random direction, nowhere near where we should be heading. I couldn’t work out if he was counting pine needles, chasing birds or looking for magic mushrooms! I found it best to sit and wait until he’d finished whatever it was that had taken his fancy, sooner or later he would call out and I would give him regular whistles to guide him back. He wasn’t too good on his feet either, so his boots, or undone laces, kept being caught up in fallen branches and he would fall flat on his face... or backside!  I could hear him crashing and bashing as he made his way back towards me. He’d never make a hunter!

Anyway, Phil and I were to meet on a new block of land to discuss appropriate chemicals to be used for weed control. We were to meet on-site at 9:00am, and I found his vehicle parked on the side of the road, but Phil was nowhere to be seen! He had wandered off somewhere! I called out, but there was no reply. Maybe he was away taking a dump, if so, he was unlikely to advertise what he was doing! I tooted the horn, nothing! I walked up a steepish ridge, looking in all directions as I climbed, but there was no sign of him. As I made my way back, I remembered telling him about an outcrop of rocks where there was one tall rock covered in guano; the roosting site of a Karearea, a rare New Zealand Falcon. I made my way there.

The rocks are weathered limestone that have been jumbled up by some violent geological event. I was still a hundred metres away when I spotted a couple of boots, upside down in the middle of the outcrop! Closer, I heard him calling me - faintly. The boots had legs in them! He was arse-down like a half-open pocket-knife, cast, between several rocks. His legs were straight up in the air and his arms were pinned above his head! He would have been stuck there for the duration, there was no way he could have extracted himself! He could only breathe shallowly, which is why he wasn’t able to call out loudly to me!

Don’t ask me how he managed to end up in there! Phil’s a big fellow and it took a bit of grunt for me to pull him out! I yanked on his arms, until he complained, and I yanked on his legs, one at a time. After he was loosened a bit, he was able to wriggle free. Poor bugger was bruised, his neck as stiff and he was a bit shaken! He wasn’t keen on talking chemicals anymore. So I sent him off home.  

© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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