Sandhills, Barley, airport, rifle-range
Hardies, House, Hay and silage
names of paddocks bounded
by river, surf and Wikitoria's road,
became our universe each summer
as we, escaping homes,
chased rabbits or waded 
knee-deep in the mudbrown creek
looking for eels
or, in season, whitebait
to be scooped into battered billies
and carried, triumphantly, to the farmhouse kitchen
and the comforting frypan sizzle. 

From  there,
with scones, dripping jam,
and scalding, black ,bitter billy tea 
to be drunk amid
hay tedded in seascaped rows
and stacked high in crazy cottages
leaning, dusty in the golden air,
against the hedgerow,
came Nana, large in my child dreams,
arms akimbo, apron starched,
flourwhite, across floral printed bosom,
soft beneath its armour,
urging us, from where we lay, 
sunburnt, exhausted,
to greater things with
love fresh baked from glowing oven.

At the end of the house,
behind velvet curtains,
was the front room - held prisoner in its curtained dusk 
to be released only for occasions -
by visitors and passing ministers
and spiritual sympathy 
measured in sponge cakes, meringues, scones,
heavy with clots of cream and homemade jam,
and tea strained,
like the minister's offerings, through silvered filters
watched by the eyes of sepiaed families
busily marrying, baptising and burying
themselves in the dust of memory.

For us, children hidden in the dusty storeroom,
freelancing among the pink covers
of weekly news and browning woman's weeklies,
discoveries were time-topped journeys with
Ginger Molloy, Prince Valiant and Phantoms
chased across the cobwebbed ceiling
and hidden in battered cabin trunks
to be played, with gum black hands
among pine trees and dug from pumice caves
hollowed in the plantation banks.

Hidden, too, among the hollow willows
was the whare,
a rotting storage shed,
where we prised honey from the walls
and dodged angry bees
until nursing stings, our hands sticky with stolen gold,
we ran along the rutted track
to the riverbank  and spied on Swedish Charlie
who, lost among the driftwood,
corrugated iron and thickened accents,
adrift in this distant southern sea,
drank himself to daily stupor
finding his past  again in the pungent bite of gin.

At family crowded weddings
we escaped the wet kisses of aunts,
the slapping camaraderie of uncles,
and hid in the haybarn and the dark caves
between bales- palaces to explore
in the yellow dusk filtered through the warm dry grass.
Until, summoned by the steady swish of milking
and the shuffle of cows hooves on concrete,
we emerged, dusty, covered in seedheads
to the cries of mothers wondering at our clothes
and the wisdom of our minds.

Winter evenings brought rugby to the fire lit kitchen
and uncles arguing, across bitter cartons,
as evenings drank their way to morning
and the crackling radio excitement
of McCarthy's listening 
and goals scored in the soaring song of distant crowds
calling scores to be settled
over the backs of cows, musty bars and meal strewn tables
until, exhausted, we crept out into the dew damp dawn,
to the barking dogs and the slow patience of milk-heavy cows
swinging across the paddocks
to the industry of milking -
and the fading pleasures of the shortwaved game.

As teenagers, at dawn and dusk,
armed to the teeth with shotgun, shanghai and .22
we ranged the sandhills,
through lupins,
across the paddock universe
startling birds from hidden nests in our hunt for rabbits.
And, often, sneaking from the lupin above the airport road,
we disturbed lovers locked in heaving cars
and, in envious speculation, fired stones onto exclaiming rooves
shouting discovery 
to the reddening sky.

On other days
we seized spears,rods and bait 
and ran, with sand hot feet, across the sandhills
to the beach, the rolling surf and undertow 
and waded, chest deep, in the foam to cast 
in the holes beyond the breakers 
for rumoured snapper
and catching only kawahai  
would watch them thrashing in the shallows
until,with their gills grasping for life,
we hid them in sugar-bags.
Later we waded the river edge
feeling, in the river mud,
for flounder skating in flurries of panic
away from our questing spears towards deeper water.

Towards the hill lay Hardies paddock,
with its maize and sprawling pumpkins,
hiding the marae and Maori families
with children running, squealing, across the grass
and scrub shrouded graves
to the green maize tunnels and rugby 
played with pumpkin balls.
And we, passing on swaying trailers,
could only wonder at their fun
and ponder the carved mystery
of the ridgepoled ancestor watching.

On a later Christmas, home from university
with the girl, whose red hair won
Grandmother's roman disapproval,
I saddled the farm hack
and rode through the lupins
to the army-camp and its deserted pillboxes
seeking, like earlier couples in
heaving cars along the farm tracks,
pleasure previously promised-
to find children playing wargames
among the shadows, tossing sand grenades
into dusty rooms and squealing in innocent pleasure
at the last goodbye
and we, frustrated, found solace
only in the surging surf and the raucous 
			company of cackling gulls.

And now I pass and do not enter
the remembered universe 
for the paddocks have another voice.
The cliffs, above the creek, no longer echo 
with the surging pump of the milking shed
or the rattling chains of farm-dogs stirring in the dawn.
The curtained rooms heavy with remembered talk,
the crackling radio shouting "It's a goal!"
and the dust of fading magazines and sepia families
have gone 
replaced by modern comforts
squat  along an empty lawn 
embraced by the lonely arms of the crying wind.
and I with memories of warmth
can only stand and weep.

Alan Papprill

If you've any comments on his poems, Alan Papprill will be glad to hear from you.


Wikitoria: Maaori transliteration of Victoria. After Queen Victoria.

Paddock: In NZ English any field marked off by a fence or natural boundary.

Whitebait: tiny juveniles of the freshwater INANGA (Galaxias maculatus).
Can also apply to juvenile smelt.

Whare: A house, hut or building used for domestic or communal purposes. The name still applies once the building was abandoned as it was in the poem.

Bitter cartons: (Dominion) Bitter is the name of a NZ Beer. A dozen are purchased in a cardboard carton.

McCarthy: A Rugby commentator (Winston McCarthy) famous in NZ for his calling of the International games. His trademark call was: "Listen! Listen! It's a goal!!!!" Letting the cheers from the spectators punctuate his commentary.

shanghai: A catapult. From the gaelic "shangy" a stick split at one end for clipping on a dog's tail!!

kawahai: (can be spelt: kahawai: kawai: kawhai) a greenish-blue to silvery white Australasian sea fish valued as food and a game fish. Also called NZ salmon or sea trout)

Marae: The courtyard of a Maaori meeting house but now used to apply to the whole complex of courtyard, meeting house, and other buildings and grounds.

Maori: (Maaori..used with the double aa to indicate the pronunciation of the vowel.) The indigenous Polynesian people of NZ. (The word used to describe NZers of European ancestry is Pakeha.)

ridgepoled ancestor: Above the meeting house on a Marae there is usually a carving of a prominent ancestor of historical or mythical significance to the tribe living on the marae.

Definitions from: THE NEW ZEALAND DICTIONARY by Elizabeth & Harry Orsman. New House Publishers. Auckland NZ. 1994.

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