In 1948 we migrated as a family to Kaponga in South Taranaki where my father had obtained a job as local electrical serviceman with the local power authority. So, on weekends, in groups of four or five we local kids would visit various haunts within cycling distance. Chum came too. Favourites were a few dams on farmers’ properties or on the many streams about the mountain. We would fish for koura and some of them from the deeper dams were big and black. The bigger boys could pick them up behind their nippers but one boy was not quick enough and there was blood everywhere. They would also terrify the younger of us by chasing us with their koura with nippers outreaching. We learned to run. And there were other dubious activities.
|John in Chum's Kennel - Kaponga|
One adventurous undertaking was to make outrigger canoes out of sheets of corrugated iron. The front of the canoe was made out of the sheet of iron bent up over a short plank and nailed to it and the back section was the other end of the sheet bent and nailed about a rectangular piece of wood (about 400 x 250mm). The whole thing was waterproofed by melting tar off the road over a fire and pouring it into the seams of the 'boat'. The 'outrigger' part was a plank nailed across the canoe and extended out to a kerosene tin on one side. These canoes worked well on a dam just up from Kaponga on the Kaupokunui Stream. This dam was of historical significance although few knew it at the time. It marked the site of the first hydroelectric generation in New Zealand in 1916. The dam has since been destroyed in an attempt at flood control. It’s a miracle that we didn't drown in that dam as I had only just learned to take my first few swimming strokes and we were always out of our depth, having 'naval engagements on the high seas'. I doubt that any of the others could swim. Chum stood on the bank and barked warnings.
Possums were a pest up towards Mount Taranaki. On weekends and school holidays I’d visit school friends on their farms and I would hike off to the nearest patch of bush looking for possums –with Chum. I remember being part of some death struggles between Chum and possums that had been caught on the ground. There was fur everywhere as the possum would loose its fur and the dog would nearly gag on the mouthfuls of possum hair. I would grab a big stick to try and help dispatch the possum but, on one occasion in a swamp, couldn't tell the difference between the possum and the dog, they were both so covered in mud. The dog and I were great mates.
From our front window you could see Mt Taranaki. Not surprisingly I took to wandering again and on a few occasions would take Chum, and bike up onto Mt Egmont. On one trip Chum became lost in the bush and I had to find him – by using his yelps as a beacon. It took me quite a while. He was caught by his paw in a possum 'gin' trap at the base of a big Rimu tree and I had to work out how to release him from the trap. I had to use my foot to open the strong spring holding the jaws of the trap shut on his paws. I gathered him up and carried him to the road. I biked him home, carrying him under one arm. Fortunately it was all down hill. I was quite pleased with my 'rescue' as I’d never been alone in the NZ bush before and had been quite scared.
My father had cured some rabbit skins from Chum's kills in Hastings and these were inverted and used as gloves over the handlebars of our bikes in winter. No more chilblains on frosty mornings.