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Pioneer travel in Southland

Extracts from Thomas MacGibbon’s 1909 reminiscences of a bullock wagon trip, in early 1858, to deliver wool from Longridge Station in the Waimea Plains, to Invercargill.

|Invercargill|Returning to Waimea|Early hardships|Rats for recreation|

Invercargill - a one-horse place
n the morning, with much labour and anxiety, we got through our ‘sloughs of despond’ and on to the dry ridge which took us along the side of what is now Forth Street, Invercargill.

"Tay Street was all bush at the east end, and as much of it had just been felled, the road was impassable for wheeled traffic. We finally drove into Tay Street just where Nith Street intersects, and it was plain sailing to Mr Calder’s store at the west end, where the Bank of Australasia now stands.

"Alongside Lind’s Waihopai Hotel there was a stable which, although not completed, had a roof, and in this building we deposited our loads of wool. The present Albion Hotel, opposite the Post Office, stands on the site of Lind’s building, which was the first, and for a time the only, hostelry in Invercargill.

"Lind’s hotel stood a little way off the line of Dee Street and was a composite building. The larger part was constructed of slabs with a thatched roof, while the smaller portion, which was new, was built of weatherboards and roofed with shingles. Here we put up for a couple of days, and the host, Mr Lind, and his good lady made us very comfortable.

"Invercargill was a very one-horse place in those days. The houses, or rather huts, were few in number. The two stores were primitive in character. Dee Street was a mass of dense bush which extended right down to the back of the hotel. The only street which showed any sign of man’s improvement was Tay Street. This improvement amounted to the bush having been felled the width of the street...."

Returning to the Waimea Plains

n our way back to the Waimea Plains, I picked up about 600 feet of sawn timber which had been left for me at the edge of the bush about the end of what is now McMaster Street. I carted this timber up to the Halfway Bush to form part of the new accommodation house being erected by Mr Hughes.

"On our way, we camped alongside Mr John Oughton’s house and spent the evening indoors with his family. After a pleasant evening, David McKellar and myself adjourned to our 6-by-8 tent. I remember that during the night we had a fight with rats, which were present in swarms and had attacked the sheepskin rug on which we lay.

"After leaving Halfway Bush we had a regular southerly buster which confined us to our tent for a couple of days. We beguiled the time by swapping yarns and telling anecdotes. Mr McKellar had a great deal to tell about his first trip with stock, from Mokomoko to the station at Waimea. The snowgrass was so long that he needed to take a small cut of the main flock of sheep, and drive them ahead a half-mile or so to make a track along which the main flock might travel. This procedure made progress very slow, and it is not surprising that the Messrs McKellar did not reach their run at Longridge for a year or more after starting out from the Bluff." [Today’s car journey is under two hours.]

Hardships in earlier days
"Mr McKellar described some of the hardships they encountered on the trip. His experiences are worthy of record, if only to show the stamina of the men who pioneered this country.

"One of the chief impediments to travelling was the snowgrass [red tussock], which grew luxuriantly and to a great length. In places where it had escaped burning, I have seen it eight feet long, so that it will be seen that it was a serious obstacle to rapid progress over the plains. During the winter the weather alternated between frost and sleet, and with the snowgrass being saturated with moisture, it requires no stretch of the imagination to know that the travellers’ clothes were anything but dry and comfortable.

"McKellar told me that after a thorough soaking all day and a hard frost at night, he sometimes found his nether garments frozen so stiff they would stand on their own! The only course was to get a good fire started and dance around to keep warm until the heat of the flames had thawed out the garments and made it possible to get into them…."

Rats for recreation
ime hung somewhat heavily on our hands [while snowed in at Longridge Station], and the only recreation was reading, varied with an occasional rat hunt. This latter pastime afforded a great deal of amusement and excitement to us and our canine assistants.

"Doubtless if the unfortunate rodents themselves could have expressed themselves, their words would have been, "It may be fun to you, but it is death to us".

"In the vicinity of the station there were immense clumps of speargrass, and as the roots are edible and much appreciated by the rats, they congregated there in considerable numbers.

"The order of the day was to get all the station dogs around while we poked poles into the base of the speargrass. This startled the rats out, and the dogs, who were eagerly awaiting this part of the performance, joined in the fray. The rats gave the dogs many a good chase, but the result was usually a considerable number of victims.

"Another method of rat killing was to keep a candle burning in the sleeping tent, which was erected on the top of sod walls so as to give more head space. Crumbs of bread and meat were laid down as bait, and we waited with loaded revolvers to pop off the rats that appeared.

"As I have previously stated, the rats were literally swarming, and it was very difficult to keep stores from their voracious maws."

gin.jpg (5200 bytes)
A Beaumont Adams .44 cap and ball revolver, believed to be the
weapon Thomas MacGibbon used to shoot rats in his tent.

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