19 June 2017

Harper Avoca Days

Back in 1956, as a first year university student, I found a summer holiday job (with two other students, Tony Hooper and Alan Depree) with the NZ Forest Service. The job was made in heaven for me; constructing a boundary fence between a high country station (Glenthorne) and the Avoca River (to reduce sheep incursion onto the NZFS research area) and then building deer exclosure plots for a research project in the NZFS area. Peter Logan was the boss and he supervised our activity from the NZFS base at the Harper Avoca river junction in behind Lake Coleridge. Apart from the fencing we also had to pack in our fencing and food supplies with pack horses (some fencing materials were also airdropped and the posts ended up as match sticks!). We had occasional contact with the deer cullers in the area who were part of the project.

Loading a Pack Horse in1956 - Russel Toose, centre.

Tony Hooper, Alan Depree and BLS - Triangle Hut 1956


For the first part of the project we were based at Triangle Hut and worked daily from there on the fence line. It started at the river near our hut, went up a steep scarp across some downs area and then up to some bluffs above the true right side of Triangle Creek. It was constructed of #8 fencing wire, droppers, steel standards and waratahs. Even if I say so myself it was quite well constructed. Some years later (about 1990) I tramped down the Avoca Valley and found our fence on the Avoca flats - boulders from a flood had banked up against the fence on one side and formed a waterfall! And, as you do these days, I 'Google Earthed' the area and could faintly discern our fence - so I could even say it was visible from space - just like the Great Wall of China. Yes, well.

Our fence in 1990
Triangle Hut in 1956

We had a few days off at Christmas. Some of my pay was spent on a BSA single shot open v-sighted 22 rifle. Peter had said we could shoot for food. So when we returned to the job I'd often take off after work and manage to bring home a few rabbits, hares and even venison. Some hunts were not so successful. After a few days we finished the boundary fence and moved on to the next phase; constructing deer exclosure plots. These involved more pack horses and camping in tents. From memory we constructed about four plots. These were about 20 x 20m and about 2.5m high. We did hear later that one of our plots was so good that over winter a snow bank formed on the uphill side of it. A deer had used the snow ramp to jump into the plot for a feed. But it couldn't get out and was still there in the summer when the botanist came to record the plant growth. Maybe it starved to death?

Our work had been very enjoyable. I left at the end with enough time to do our first climbing trip in the Mt Cook region. My climbing mates had to put up with their insufferable mate storming through the valleys bellowing his battle cry of "they breed 'em tough in the Harper Avoca" - it had been a great summer. I'm not so sure if opportunities like this exist for young people these days.

I recently talked to Alan Depree and two main memories of our time there coincided. One was of a forestry shingle gang coming in to maintain the roads and how they used one of their trucks to bring in a keg of beer at the end of the job. All the cullers and students came in from the hills and the antics of the evening are best left unsaid, The other memory is of one of the cullers (an Aussie) who was said to have shot 17 deer in one glorious fusillade from the bottom of a shingle slide. After that his nickname became "Machine Gunner Toose". The deer were thick on the ground in those days.

In 2014, I visited Triangle Hut with my brother. The fence was still there but the hut had been destroyed in the 1996 earthquake. Glad we weren't in it at the time.
BLS and JohnS 2014 - earthquake wrecked Triangle Hut