Times Two

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

The waters of the river can be angry.

Submitted: July 17, 2018

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Submitted: July 17, 2018



There’s another branch to the river, unromantic titles perhaps, but there’s the North Branch and quite remarkably there’s the South Branch too. Not that I’ve measured them but I’d say the South Branch is the shorter, after having walked both because both, happen to be boundaries of the forest. There’s an old pack track that crosses the South Branch, a pack-horse track, carefully built to drop down onto the river bed. The track’s built up with flat rock because it’s very steep and anyone packing provisions or equipment wouldn’t want to have wanted a horse stumble in a place like that. Once across and with height regained, crossing the tussock covered hills is easier. Likely it was a trek that required overnighting under the stars, and in the very early days, Gib, who became one of my forest workers used to lead a horse on the passage.

It’s still wild country where the weather can turn in a matter of minutes, so being prepared was essential, but it’s been decades since horses traversed the area. We opened the track back in ’78 to allow Boy Scouts across during their Asian-Pacific Jamboree. I wonder if any of those boys remember the experience. Nowadays my guess is that the crossing is covered in broom and gorse. Horses are spreaders of broom, if they happen to have the opportunity of ingesting a few seeds before the trek.

Over time and on its way to the sea, the river formed alluvial river terraces formed high above the riverbed, some are sheer bluffs of thirty metres or more. Over time the silt among the stones matured to clay, which happened to be very useful when excavated and used on a road formation. It went down like concrete. Sometimes it was crushed, which made it even better. So the council made a quarry and excavated the bank for their roading projects at a time when there were no face-height restrictions for working on a quarry site.

The man who farmed the terraced river bank was Ted, a short, well-muscled man who worked hard to make his dryland farm pay. These were the days of regular droughts and hard times but Ted was a good farmer. Betty, Ted’s wife was a hard working housewife during a time when baking and cooking wholesome meals was important to attract the best shearers and of course to provide for their young family. Active in the community she served on the local school committee and was a member of a local women’s group.

Weather in the region can’t be relied upon. The month of June is usually the driest of the year, in fact there have been Junes with no rainfall at all, but just to be different, the wettest month ever, happened to be a June. After a drought, rain begins and it forgets to stop! The south-easterly drizzles can last for three days, while back in the hills there’s heavy precipitation and the river rises rapidly. This time there had been several floods, perhaps a week or so apart, it didn’t take much rain to bring the river up again. The soil was saturated too.

It was the tail end of yet another three day drizzle, Betty taking a spell from housekeeping, left the house and watch the floodwaters and listen to the roar of the surging water. From the clifftop vantage point, she had an impressive view, standing thirty metres above the raging torrent that carried whole trees along with it. The water was caramel coloured and tipped with a foam frosting. Watching water is a pastime for many and Betty was no different, she was mesmerized. Without warning the clifftop collapsed taking Betty with it! She was lost forever, never seen again! When Ted came in from the farm he found Betty missing, and knew she would be watching the floodwaters. He found the collapsed cliff-face.

Years later, young Lenny took over the farm. He and his wife kept a weather eye on old Ted through his lonely senior years and Lenny tweaked some of the practices he had learned from his father. When the Forest Service bought the block of land from old Bert, we needed access to walk the dozer from one block to the other. Happily we were successful in having a good relationship with Lenny who allowed us through his property and across the river. We had to widen one gateway, but that was a small price to pay for the access.

Sheep have a reputation of being dumb, which pretty much a myth, any good shepherd will tell you that to be successful, you need to be able to out-think them. The advice is sound and there are easy ways of handling them as well as difficult ways. Anyway, just after weaning Lenny turned his wether lambs out onto the paddock that overlooks the river. As all good farmers do, he made his rounds to check on them.  Farmers can sense trouble so he had a rough count. One short. He counted again. Still one short. He peered over the cliff-face and there was the missing wether, stranded a metre of so down.

There was enough of a footing to get down to the frightened wether and a handy gorse bush gave him a handhold. Another bush just down the face would give his right foot somewhere to gain purchase, to get back out, so he gingerly climbed down towards the wether. River-worn stones rolled under his boots and he lost traction! The bottom bush’s roots were too weak to support him! Lenny plummeted, and the wether went with him! They were both found, broken, at the bottom of the cliff.

Two tragedies for one family in the very same place.





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