Scrubcutting on the East Coast: First Morning

Next morning, 5 am, Mark is shaken on the shoulder in his sleeping bag. ‘Time to get up” ; through bleary eyes Mark sees the friendly face of Hemi smiling goodhumouredly down at him-”come and have some breakfast”
Pulling on his jeans and T shirt, Mark follows Hemi down the steps and across to the other hut. There’s the smell of cooking in the air. “Gidday” Jimmy says as he comes through the door; “Mabel, ‘give the boy some food”. Mabel has her back at the stove, but turns and nods. ”Ever had puha, boy?” she asks. “Mark shakes his head “no- cant say I have” “First time for everything then, eh?” she smiles. She picks up an enamel plate by the stove and from one big pot she ladles a mound of green soft cabbage-like greens on to the plate, From the other pot she uses the same ladle to extract what look like large boiled chops, 2 , 3, 4 and 5 of them. The plate is piled high, and Mark “knows he’s never going to eat all that. “Put some fat on that bag of bones, eh ?”she smiles-looking him up and down, and hands him the plate.
Suddenly Mark realises how hungry he really is after the long motorbike rides over the past few days. He sits down on the trestle next to Hemi and begins wolfing it down. Mabel hands him a couple of pieces of toast to mop up the fat and gravy at the end, and a very large mug of the strongest tea he’s ever had. Hemi watches all of this intently, and laughs as Mark recoils from the strong tea. “Think that’s strong!-he laughs; ”Wait till you’ve tasted my cousy’s tea straight from the billy !”-he nods towards Jimmy, who frowns.
”OK, you guys, time to get on the job”, Jimmy stands abruptly and heads for the door. Chris, go get those jerry cans from behind the shed; Hemi, the tack. Take the young fella with you”, and he flicks his head at Mark and strides down the steps and off to the horse paddock. Mabel leans towards Mark conspiratorially “he’s aboriginal you know- that’s why he’s so black”, and goes back to her stove. Mark ‘s almost sure her big bottom waggles at him as though to emphasise her remark. Mark’s not sure about this; but says nothing, and trails after Hemi to find the saddles.

Struggling with the heavy and unfamiliar old saddle he is allocated from the lean-to behind the shed, Mark follows Hemi down to the horse paddock where Jimmy is eyeing up the horses. Thye stare warily back at the group from the far corner of the field. “ÖK; Mark (it’s the first time he’s heard Jimmy call him by his real name), that’s your horse there-the chestnut one with the white hooves – go bring her over and we’ll saddle you up ; this time””. Mark follows Hemi uncertainly over the fence and across the paddock. Those horses don’t want to be caught. Every time Hemi and Mark get close they break into a canter to another part of the field. “Come on you fellas!” Jimmy is shouting at them now from behind the fence, “get a move on; we’ve got work to do!”. Hemi catches his horse- a dark tall frisky stallion and leaps effortlessly onto his back bareback, He helps guide Mark’s horse into a corner and finally somehow, Mark manages to grab the bridle. The horse jerks away snorting and stamps her front hooves, but Mark holds on grimly and a little fearfully, and eventually guides her over to the fenceline where Jimmy waits with his saddle. With a grunt, Jimmy throws the saddle expertly over, and shows Mark how to tighten the girth straps and points out which foot goes where into the stirrups. Mark knows that the horse knows that he doesn’t know anything about horses! and he knows the horse can smell his fear. The moment one foot is in the stirrups she’s moving away, slowly at first –“grab the bloody reins and pull” Jimmy yells, as Mark seems to be heading off into the sunset, trailing one leg behind the horse and the other in the stirrup. Magically, Mark’s up into the saddle and manages to pull back the horse’s head with one hand on the reins and slide the other foot into the other stirrup. “See?-piece of piss!” Hemi glides up on his horse behind him, winking and laughing just a little, and nudges Mark’s back towards the fence where Chris has finally lugged four metal jerry cans of petrol down from the shed. “Two for you , and two for Hemi” Jimmy says, and proceeds to buckle them into canvas pannier bags on either side of Mark’s horse. The horse stamps and rears at the smell of petrol, but Jimmy is firm but careful; Mark can see he’s done this a thousand times before. “”ÖK”, Jimmy says, “Chris, get your bloody horse boy!-what’re you waiting for?”, And Jimmy is over the fence like lightning and across the paddock, up on the other horse and over by the fence again before Mark has time to turn his own horse to see what’s going on. “Hemi, you lead”, Jimmy grunts.

Mabel waves at them as they pass in column past the kitchen shed door, and on up past the big woolshed. A couple of paheka farmers in tartan flannel shirts and moleskin trousers are talking beside the open door of a Landrover . They don’t look up from their conversation. Up over the concrete slab that passes for a bridge over the stream, and steadily up the muddy vehicle track to the hills above, our little band of horse and men trots.…

Scrubcutting on the East Coast: First Morning

Paul Martin

DUNEDIN, New Zealand

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