The motorcycle sang its way up the dusty roads into the hills. Orange and chrome, overheating in the hot summer air, it droned on. “Föllow the road up the coast” the camping ground manager had said, “turn right at the pier and head inland; best summer job you’ll ever have”. And finally, bumping over the grassy mound up to the shearing quarters , there he was.
Wearily he pulled off his helmet and old flying goggles and levered off the backpack from the back of the bike. He looked around -the homestead in the distance up the dusty road a little, the yellowing dry hills ringing the valley; the faint sound of rustling water.
From the depths of a rusty red corrugated iron shed a few metres from the roadside emerged a small wiry man; the white singlet emphasising the blackness of his skin and his dark wary brown eyes.
He paused in the paint-flaked door, surveying the sight of this long haired young man, then flicked his chin in greeting. “last pakeha that had this job broke his back, young fella; can you ride?“
His voice was quick, each word stabbed at the stranger; no malice, just a trace of a smile on his lips. His eyes jabbed sideways over to the paddock fifty yards down the road, where three horses watched the stranger intently.
‘Ümm no-but I can learn” The man in the door snorted and moved forward, stretching out a large sinewy hand. Mark peeled off a riding glove and grasped it-wincing as the man squeezed down tight. “Jimmy; I’m the foreman here-you do what I say-ok?” ”Mark, Mark Johnson “, Mark stuttered, nodding..
”There’s a bed in there, dump your gear , and I’ll show you your mates.”
Mark wrestled the heavy backpack up the three open wooden rickety steps into the darkened room. Two beds had clothes and sleeping bags strewn over them, in the other corner, the bed was empty. Mark dumped his pack and helmet on the bed and gazed around the room. Cobwebs strung the murky window to the rear of the shed, there was a small plain wooden table and an old chair against one wall; a plain wooden floor and a corrugated iron roof ceiling where the sky spiked through the roofer’s mistakes; nothing else.
Mark turned, Jimmy stood framed in doorway-watching intently. “Come and meet your new mates” Jimmy’s head flicked in the direction of the other hut.
“Hi” Mark managed a nervous smile at the three people around the table in the other hut.. They looked up from their mugs of tea around the wooden bench. A large- very large, Maori woman sat at the head of the table, her body billowing around her. She smiled, her eyes coldly surveying him up and down. To her right sat a Maori young man (19 or 20?) in jeans and flannel checked shirt with long black tangled hair and an easy smile. He jerked his chin upwards in greeting.“Hi” he said “Hemi; you found us ok then?”. Silent , without an upward glance ,sat a slight pakeha young man-holding tonight to his mug. “That’s, Chris, hes a shy bugger; wanna cup of tea?”