It was the advertising that tempted me. Promises of beaches, lakes, mountains and fresh air in abundance. Cheap rents and a chance to have my very own little piece of the pavolvian paradise. What they didn’t tell me was, I’d be sent to the back and beyond where no Kiwis in their right mind would fear to tread
A hardened London commuter, I had spent years traveling like a traumatized sardine on the Underground. I knew just where to stand on the platform each day to maximize my chances of getting a seat and the shortest walking route between stations, it was all carefully entrenched in my memory banks to make the whole process easier.
But now I was in Murupara. A raw logging town. Population 3,000. The Maori translation meant “wipe off mud”! One hours drive from civilization. I could forget about the rail link from Rotorua. The only things that travelled on those rusty tracks were pine logs.
I stood out like the proverbial ‘sore-thumb’ 20, blonde, false eye-lashed and platform shoed I teethered round the small shopping precinct like a Barbie doll. At the butchers I would buy my little piece of topside for Sunday’s roast brushing shoulders with others swaying out of the shop with half a hogget under their muscular arms.
The locals were tough but gentle giants, as wide as they were high. Male and female dressed the same, bush-jackets, overalls, and boots, topped by woolly hats.
The bush-telegraph was faster than any broadband. A vulturistic band of Stepford Wives descended immediately. Their purpose to ‘educate’ me in the art of keeping ‘my tins full’, making jam and sewing clothes “Bring a plate” they said. I did…but no one told me I had to put something on it!
Cowboy hatted, rifle-slung men rode on horseback down the main street. Pig dogs, heads down scuttled and sniffed behind. Even the local Hotel resembled a saloon bar from a second-grade western. This was where the action was on a Saturday night. The pulsating hub where punch-ups and knotted balls of men flexed their fists and spilled out onto the pavement. Here they drank to forget their wives and TAB debts.
Late on Friday nights the Wairapakau mob would hurl into town on a cloud of dust. Huge, motor-biked figures leather-clad sporting tattooed skin. Their manner screamed “Don’t mess with me”
Everyday life was peppered with bizarre little incidents. My underwear mysteriously disappeared from the line…had the secondhand twin tub somehow consumed them? Then one Friday evening as I slid back the ranch sliders I was confronted with a phantom knicker-sniffer unpegging my ‘smalls’. Disturbed, the stocky man amazed me with his agility. He moved with the speed of a hunted animal, jumped the fence like a gazelle and galloped away into the night.
I had become so home-sick for all those familiar urban things. Obsession took over. I constantly checked the post-box for striped airmail letters from ‘home’. Mum and Dad where were you?
Memories of my early days in rural New Zealand.