Thursday, April 30, 2009

Junking Out

A Northland farmer has found an economic way to keep his cows happy when grass growth slows down - by getting reject biscuits and surplus bread from Auckland factories.

Monsters Vs Aliens

When I read that the various satellite cities and districts around Auckland were going to be herded into one Super Auckland City by the Government, I was very surprised to say the least. The Auckland area has, right from the very beginning, been an unruly congregation of competing voices and I did not think they would generally accept a centralised unity imposed upon them.

Mayor Banks obviously sees himself as the best contender to be Lord Mayor of a massively enlarged Auckland City. With his historical links to the National Party, he seems to think he has exclusive access to the ear of Government and dismisses any organized resistance to the current plan as the work of “Low flying seagulls” and ‘rain dancers”.

He will certainly keep the media busy as groups jostle for control of what will probably be the second most powerful political organization in the nation. Of particular interest to Kaipara folk is the fate of Wellsford, which has yet to be decided on.

Mark Farnsworth, chairman of the Northland Regional Council, has been quoted in the Northern Advocate saying, “The reality is that if Northland decided on the same model, we could do it tomorrow.” This sounds all very ominous to me and yet somewhat familiar.

I recall well the time I spent near Waipu before the Whangarei County Council amalgamated with Whangarei City. The County Council was very supportive when I applied for approval to set up a studio and I remember warmly the help I received from the local building inspector.

When I built my studio he called in and inspected the site and was a great help as he advised me all the way thru’ the design and construction stages. He also dropped in on his way to other jobs to check on problems while our house was being built. Without his help, we might well have ended up with a house full of the same problems suffered by the many “leaky homes” being built at that time.

Ten years later, I was doing some alterations and I was disappointed to hear that he had taken a job with the Kaipara District Council. So I went instead to another building inspector who used to work only in the city area.

I was confronted with a little man with a tight face who had quite a different attitude altogether. This building inspector was having a personal chat with a tradesman friend (who was not in the queue) and I suspect he was annoyed to be interrupted by a bearded hippie type like me. I asked for advice and got this reply.

“Now look here Sunny Jim, I’m not here to waste my time on stuff like that! Go find an engineer to draw it up, sign it off and I’ll look at the plan.” I then explained that I was going to do it myself. He got quite shirty and told me to clear off. As I left I turned and saw him laughing derisively with his mate as they watched me leave.

I was short off funds and really annoyed at having to pay a hefty fee for something I could do myself. Looking back, I think this episode nicely illustrates the difference between urban and rural ways of doing things.

In cities, people are more specialised and trade their skills at a premium. In the country, on the other hand, people need to be more self sufficient, multi-skilled and co-operate to cut costs.

If Mark Farnsworth is hinting that Northland should have one ‘monsterous’ Northland council to fend off the ‘aliens’ in the south - then I hope the Kaipara preserves its rural way of doing things if this idea becomes a reality. I believe we have something special here and we should be prepared to do what ever is necessary to preserve it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Because He's There

Two very different people found their way into the public spotlight recently when the question arose (once again) - who really got to the top of Mount Everest first?

The late Sir Edmund Hillary is still the top contender for most people. However, in England, there is a determined bunch of Poms who want to contest this and the latest leader of the pack is the notorious author/politician, Jeffrey Archer.

It appears to me that these celebrities fall into two camps. One has almost stumbled into public acclaim by pursuing his dreams and the other has sought the limelight by raking up a controversy.

Sir Edmund is arguably the most esteemed public figure in New Zealand’s history. He was an incredibly courageous achiever and a devoted family man who tragically lost his wife and daughter while helping the Sherpa people build schools and health clinics in the Himalayas. In New Zealand, we admired his modest and quietly determined character – a quality we Kiwis are often noted for.

Jeffrey Archer, on the other hand, has the reputation of being a discredited British Conservative politician who was jailed for two years on charges of perjury and obstructing the course of justice. When I saw his picture in the paper, unpleasant memories of the Thatcher era re-emerged and I was reminded of a very ruinous period in Britain’s social and industrial history. They are still paying the price and it is adding to cost of the current recession.

Archer’s other claim to fame is the ability to write a good yarn. Titles I can recall being very popular are, ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less’, ‘First Among Equals’ and ‘Cat O’Nine Tails’ (Illustrated by Ronald Searl). He used the proceeds to avoid bankruptcy and writing has pulled him out trouble ever since.

Even when he was in prison he continued to write best sellers (Three volumes of ‘A Prison Diary’) and carried out research for his latest novel, ‘Paths Of Glory’. This book was published in March this year and makes the case for the Englishman George Mallory successfully climbing Everest in 1924.
The reaction in New Zealand was almost universally acidic. Mountaineer Graeme Dingle responded with, "He's dreaming. There's essentially no chance Mallory got to the top. All the evidence points to them not making it."

In 1999 Mallory’s body was found only 200 meters from the his goal, but his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, has yet to be found. Mallory made a promise to place his wife’s photo at the summit and it was not found on his clothing. This has led to speculation that he might in fact have succeeded and was making his way down.

A crucial part of the evidence could be in Irvine’s clothing or pack, because he was the one who carried the Kodak camera. Despite the time factor, it is thought that the film would survive. The search is continuing.

A film clip I saw of Mallory in his climbing gear astounded me. Compared to Hillary and Tenzing, he was very lightly equipped – even for that time. Like Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition he obviously belonged to the stoic British tradition of toughing it out – Man against Nature. It is very possible that he chose martyrdom ahead of safety and decided to soldier on to the summit despite the cost.

I guess we will possibly never find out the truth, but nothing can ever take away Sherpa Tenzing’s and Sir Ed’s amazing achievement and returning to tell the tale for many, many years afterwards.

I would not be at all surprised if the Poms tell us next that Hillary found more at the top than just snow and ask… “What did he mean when he said, ‘We Knocked the bastard off!’ Was it just one of those uniquely raw colonial expressions of achievement, or was it perhaps a Freudian slip?”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Potting Possums

Potting Possums

I would like to think that most people see me as a kind and considerate type of guy. However, my family says that this is just a front to mask the bloodthirsty killer that lurks within.

They are appalled at the personality change that takes place when I deal with possums. I have trapped them at night, shaken them out of trees (for the dog to dispose of) and swerved to imprint them with the tyres of my car.

It has been estimated that there are at least 70 million possums in New Zealand chewing their way thru’ our gardens and bush – so I have no qualms about sending another Aussie import to the Great Gum Tree In The Sky.

I must say that I am less inclined to use my present car for this task these days, because it is not fitted with metal bumpers. It has instead, plastic bumpers that are designed to reduce the damage on people and animals by collapsing on impact. I know to my horror just how expensive they are to repair or replace.

When I had a lifestyle block near Levin, I had a city boy’s reluctance to kill these furry raiders who were eating every fruit I grew there. I used to ring a local man who came to our place and killed them by grabbing their tails and swinging them several times before delivering a fatal blow with a spade.

When I told another friend how it was done, he said that he would give it a go too – so he reached into the cage, grabbed the tail and swung the possum. Somehow he lost his grip and I watched the possum fly skywards (minus the fur on his tail) and land in a nearby Karaka tree. He looked down at us with amazement and then he was gone. I never felt game enough to do this sort of stuff, so I drowned my prisoners after that.

As the recession bites deeper, I wonder if laid off workers and beneficiaries will be tempted to include possums on their menu. I know they are marketed overseas as “Kiwi Bears” to move them away from being associated with Australian wildlife and there seems to be a strong demand – especially in Asia.

This could be a thriving new industry for the Kaipara District and if we need some music to be used as an advertising theme, I know of one kiwi band who could be just right – ‘Fur Patrol’. They have a new (very good) cd out with the apt title, ‘Jingle King’.

I have never tried cooked possum, but I have heard that they are very nice in a stew. This culinary delight has not appealed to me ever since a relative gave me a lift home in his car after a wedding. It was late at night and yet that did not prevent him from stopping several times to pick up dead possums along the way. I can still remember vividly the stench wafting in from the rear of the hatchback.

I guess he wanted them for the fur and dog tucker. According to him, “There’s nothing better than possum to put a healthy sheen on a dogs coat.” The possum fur is of course becoming valuable once more as a blended fibre. When it is mixed with merino wool it makes very attractive and warm clothing.

If this sort of thing appeals to you, then I can really recommend the route from Paparoa to Oakleigh as a new source of income and protein. I have never seen so many dead possums on a road and alas, also the remains of harrier hawks scattered around them.

Now that drinking and driving is falling out of fashion, I wonder if the expression “one more for the road” will be replaced by “one more for the pot.”