The Old Man of the Mountain by Etheljoy Smith
My name is Allan Pettigrew. This is a story my parents told me about going into the Ureweras, the rugged, forested and remote region of the North Island.
Venturing into the Ureweras in 1948 was a challenge; but, my parents were young and adventurous. They applied for the Māori Mission Station at Maungapōhatu where the school had fourteen pupils. My father was appointed school teacher. He was also the Postmaster, Registrar of Births and Deaths and Returning Officer!
My mother achieved one of her earliest childhood yearnings by fulfilling the position of honorary missionary.
My parents’ journey from Dunedin into the Ureweras was delayed at the Presbyterian Māori Boys’ Farm at Te Whaiti. Heavy rains had made the track from the road between Ruatahuna and Lake Waikaremoana too dangerous for travelling.
After a day or two, a farm truck took them a further thirty miles. My mother held me, a five month old baby, inside the cab while my father rode behind on an armchair perched on the open deck. That part of the journey only took them to the Papatotara Saddle. From there, the narrow track left the safety of the road, wandering deeply into dense bush towards the place where Rua Kenana, a Māori prophet, once had his stronghold.
Now I’m going to read the final stage of the journey from my mother’s diary.
‘Te Heuheu the paramount chief and his wife Lina came out to meet us at the Papatotara Saddle.
They had horses for us to ride and three packhorses to carry some of our more immediately needed belongings. A twelve mile ride was ahead of us.
I was then a greenhorn with horses so handed over Allan, our baby, to the chief’s wife, Lina, for safe keeping. She wrapped him in a blanket, twirled him deftly onto her back, anchoring him firmly with a second rug. Lina then tied a clean, white nappy around her head pulling the free end firmly over my baby’s head. I knew he would be uncomfortably hot but I was a newcomer and didn’t dare open my mouth.
We set off. The track was very rough and so narrow that our packhorses could only take a kerosene case each side. Even so, they sometimes hit a tree. In the following months, I was to see horses fall over banks and into the stream below, spoiling their precious loads of food supplies.
The track led down into and along the stream until it climbed up over the first of the ranges with the horses puffing their way up and over.
Then there was a steeply treacherous, slippery descent into Kakewahine – a little gem of a clearing circled by huge kahikatea trees rising from the valley floor.
The next range out of Kakewahine was a long, hard climb; so tough on the horses that we dismounted and walked to give them a spell.
At the top of the range, we stopped, staring at the breath-taking view. Sheer-sided, the Maungapōhatu Range swept down to the Māori village with its school and Mission House in which we would live for the next two and a half years.’
My mother’s diary describes me. ‘Our baby with his very fair skin and long mop of blonde hair delighted Lina, the paramount Chief’s wife, as he was to delight all the Māori folk.
Lina was entranced by this little pakeha tamati who, when I stripped the stifling rugs from him, sat happily in a loose pikau, in front of her on horseback.
From that first time I coped with carrying my baby myself while riding.
And so ended our initiation into travel in the Ureweras.’
Only a year later, my mother, no longer a greenhorn, helped to take a thirteen year old Māori girl suffering from rheumatic fever to hospital. The day was cold and very wet; the narrow track so muddy that only two men carrying the girl on a makeshift stretcher could transport her.
It was a slow, painful journey. Finally, my mother with some women helpers, rode ahead to the road at Papatotara where they got a fire going to boil the billy. Urewera country was the home of the Nga Potiki or Tūhoe people, often called ‘The Children of the Mist.’ They were skilled at making fire from rain- soaked bush.
Wanting to arrange for a truck to meet the stretcher party, my mother walked six miles in the rain towards the Mission House at Ruatahuna before she got a lift. It was dark before the exhausted stretcher party was picked up. Nine hours had elapsed since their journey had started.
Next morning, my mother accompanied the sick girl to Rotorua Hospital where she recovered.
My parents had settled into their new home. They had a little Dover stove, but it was hard to get suitable wood which had to be dragged by horses through dense bush. Rainwater was their only source of water.
There was a kitchen but neither the sink nor bath had taps, so for bathing they used a galvanised iron tub carried into the sitting room.
Now I am turning again to my mother’s words from her journal. . .
‘It was comfortable with the friendly Māori folk. On Saturday mornings we attended the Ringatu Service with them, although understanding little of the Māori language.
School started at half past nine but the children came early at half past seven because they wanted to play with our baby! The Māori called him Tu Temaungaroa – The Old Man of the Mountain - because of his long, blonde hair and tiny face. He was called ‘Tu’ until he was eleven years of age.
Pupils’ ages were from five to over fourteen years of age. Children lived on tea, bread, Pūhā, bits of venison and sometimes wild pig. They all loved sugar. At school they had powdered milk and cod liver oil pills. Books were provided.’
My father always felt it was too hard for little Māori children.
After nearly three years my parents left with me and a new five month old brother. This last trip out was dramatic.
They had three horses. My father rode ahead to help drive five head of cattle to the road. My mother with the baby rode the most docile horse. A Māori lad helped with the children and loaded up the third horse called Pera – a powerful, flighty beast.
Pera objected to his load, bucking strongly until he broke the surcingle, a girth which goes round the horse’s body. So, my mother and her little party were forced to return to get this fixed. Setting off again, the Māori lad walked leading Pera with two suitcases each side and a radio on top.
Pera again bucked strongly; the load went flying and Pera put his hoof right through the radio’s wooden case. There were no spare horses and help was unavailable.
What could my mother do?
She tells us from her journal.
‘It was obvious my old, staid horse should be the pack horse, But, I couldn’t risk riding with the baby on such a high spirited, dangerous horse as Pera and I didn’t know if the Māori lad’s horse was reliable. Several Māori folk had come to say goodbye so I left Allan, my three year old with them and rode on with the baby. Fortunately my husband had been held up with cattle escaping into the bush so I caught up with him after nearly two hours.
My husband took my horse back to be the pack horse, leaving me and the baby under the shelter of a tree on the Kakewahine clearing. After another three hours we were picked up and the rest of the journey went more smoothly.
And so it was that my husband and I with our two young sons rode out of the Ureweras.’
My father always thought it was too hard for little Māori children to come into an alien environment, not understanding anything. He believed children should be taught Māori and English for the first two years at school. But, in those years, the School Inspectors would not agree to his plan.
Two more sons were born to my parents. My younger brother is an educational psychologist: My two youngest brothers both became missionaries and teachers, like our parents.
My father died but my mother still lives in Athenree.
And what happened to me, Alan?
I became a doctor of medicine.
It’s a long time since I was known affectionately by Māori as Tu Temaungaroa – The Old Man of the Mountain.