Backwoodsman's Rangitikei


Since publishing the book, a number of other poems and songs have come to light


The Old Days of Otairi

I am sitting by my fire, on the Tapuetotara Flat,
On a chair I made with supplings supplemented with a sack.
With nothing to disturb me but the pine trees gentle sway,
And the murmur of a streamlet as it ripples on its way.

I am thinking on the difference since some sixteen years past,
And how the hand of progress here its iron grip has cast.
Where sheep now roam in thousands, yielding frozen meat and wool,
Then nought would wake the echoes save the roaring of a bull;
Or the ringing of the axes where men were falling bush,
For they were here in numbers, then, a merry-hearted push.
They were camped upon the ridges, in the gullies, on the flats,
All sorts and breeds and sizes, that could graft or weild an axe.
Should you come upon their camp at night a welcome you would meet,
As in rough and ready language they'd invite you to eat;
In their style so free and easy you would find them very kind,
Though their knees were through their trousers and they might be gaped behind.
But that made little difference, we were welcome one and all
Round their hospitable table when we chanced to make a call.
There was poor old Harry Wilson, who has crossed the great divide,
He was grafting on the station from the start until he died;
He was good where work was hardest, he was better still in camp,
And although he liked his whiskey, he was far from being a scamp.
There is Innes and Jim Kendall, both real terrors, too, for work;
Dan Kain and State and German Jack, Jimmy the Crab and Bourke.
There was Steve Hunt too and Bolton, I can well remember Steve;
He could beat the worst I ever heard at swearing, I believe.
He would pray the skies might fall on him, he'd hope the earth would melt,
I can't repeat his language, but I'm sure he took the belt.
There was Parson Smith and Gassy Smith, and likewise Smith the swell;
There was Sailor Smith and Lanky Smith, and cranky Smith as well.
There was Ross and Hogg and Stewart, Darkie Fox and little Joe,
Making rows among the timber in the days of long ago.
There was poor old Paddy Rhoddy too, with Gibbs and Gypsy Tom;
But I cannot name one half of them, it would take me far too long.
I will only mention Mellody, who also had a say,
And the valley where he laboured is called after him to-day.
It was lively on a Sunday, when they came down for their packs,
Some few had smokes and saddles, others humped them on their backs.
But the fun of all the season was the measuring of their ground,
When the acres which they reckoned on, somehow could not be found.
They would cut some funny capers at the lessening of their div.,
And ease themselves with language which the lexion don't give.
In those byegone days I wondered, with the trouble that he had,
That the boss of the Otairi wasn't fairly driven mad.
But those human oral hurricanes he quietly let pass;
And the ground that was the cause of them now waves in English grass.
The roads where, in those early days, a horse could scarcely pack;
You can get your goods when ordered now, by waggonette or trap.
But R J Smith and Stewart had to battle through it all,
And it would be little wonder if they drifted to the wall.
Times are changing, ever changing, as the seatides ebb and flow,
But I've kindly recollections of the days of long ago.

Otairi, September 12th, 1898
BACKWOODSMAN