I left school when I was eleven and a half and worked with Dad digging drains for about a year before I joined Archie Clark’s in South Featherston milking about a hundred cows. We sold milk to a chap who took it to Wellington. Some nights he’d take two or three cans and on other nights he’d take the whole lot.
When I was fourteen, Uncle Harry (husband of Dad’s sister Rosa) found me a job in the Te Wharau district. To reach the area you turned off at Lands’ End and headed up the hill a short distance. The owners had their own road to Pukenui Station, down Craggy Lea Road, which was all flat for seven miles (approximately eleven kilometres), tucked away before the hills started again. Lands’ End Station was next door to Pukenui Station and up against Typo Mountains. The mountains were sharp and straight up, a different shape altogether and solid rock. The track up there wasn’t nice, it was only one-sheep-wide and it took all day for the sheep to cross from the back of Pukenui Station, across the Typo River and up the other side. It was a terrible place.
I was a cowboy and shepherd and every night I went around checking the hoggets making sure they weren’t cast. In the morning, I went up the gully to get the old cow and brought her down to milk. I carried the milk up to the house and separated it. Then I’d wash the separator and the old wooden churn too. I’d take the cream out, make butter, skim the milk and take out any milk we needed for the family.
My next job was at Barton’s Pigeon Bush Farm next door, that ran from the bottom end of the lake along Murphy’s Line towards Featherston. Together with my sisters I worked for Mr and Mrs Turner who managed Barton’s farm. At the Barton’s I was also shepherd and looked after a thousand ewes with a pony. It was relatively flat ground but with a heavy downpour, it become very muddy. My sisters Bid, Bet and Sis worked as maids for Mrs Turner while the Bartons lived in Featherston in a very big homestead, Fareham House. The Bartons spent a lot of money on Fareham House, including a big steam boiler that heated the whole place. I worked there off and on and after the war when the country changed over to electricity, I was called in to help remove the boiler.
Working on the Rimutakas
I was allowed travelling time one way when I was working up in the range during winter because it got dark before I could get home to bed. I was paid seven pound a week and keep, which was good money in those days. Breakfast was at 5.00am and I was billy boy. I’d chuck four or five plugs of gelignite in the hole, light it and boil the billy on it. It boiled like hell.
By this stage I owned my first motorbike, Panther, that I bought off Tui Morgan in Greytown. I think it had been in an accident or two before I got it as it went into a wobble at speed. I crashed it, Tui bought it back off me and wrote me an agreement and I got a brand new BSA, but I still owed seventy pounds. The government passed a law stating once men enlisted they must be paid what they were owed, so when I signed up at the age of eighteen, I collected just enough money from my unpaid wages to pay off the BSA before I went overseas.