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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter XII


The majesty of the mountains—The great Canterbury Plains —Ashburton, a city of the plains—Then and now— The Rangitata River—Progress of settlement—Timaru —The surf—The olden time—The city of to-day—A triumph of engineering skill—The giant mole—Its con­struction—The engineer's description of the work—An old chum—"Once a mate always a mate''—Calling the roll—A vivid contrast.

On a bitterly cold morning, and under a dense heavy pall of leaden cloud, we start on our journey across the great Canterbury Plains towards Timaru and Dunedin.

The plains are composed chiefly of shingle, with a scant herbage of tussock grass. Here and there, alongside the line, are young plantations of English oak and Australian blue gum. Stubble fields, hedged in by long rows of gorse, stretch away on either hand for miles. Already (May) the winter ploughing has begun in places. The majestic range of the snowy Alps bounds the great plain to the right. What a burnished splendour! what a dazzling glory! as the sun bursts through the pall of cloud ! Could anything be more beautiful than these eternal solitudes of snow? The absolute purity—peace—rest. What an emblem of the soul's repose after purification from life's mire and unrest! The rattle of the train hurts and jars. It is so incongruous with that pure holy majesty of the pinnacled snow. Little wonder that moun­taineers are generally reverent and religious.

Now we cross the rapid Rakaia over a very long wooden bridge. At every country town in the South Island among the most prominent features are the great granaries and stores of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company. They seem to be ubiquitous. The company provide weighbridges and platforms for their cus­tomers at all the large stations free of charge. The neat churches, too, are a constant feature. Here is a malthouse; there a flour or saw-mill. Here again is a granary; there is a woolshed. Seed-cleaning machinery is of frequent occurrence; so too are steam ploughs, traction engines, reaping machines. Indeed, all the most modern forms of agricultural labour-saving appliances are common sights. The faces we see are ruddy and fresh and brimful of intelligence. Corn-ricks and farmhouses stud the plains.

Through the Rakaia Gorge we get a peep beyond the snowy barrier into the inner mountainous country. The gorge discloses ever a grander succession of snowy peaks and glistening glaciers. A region untrodden by human foot, and sacred to the sway of nature's mightiest activities. It is a sealed workshop, where Titanic forces are cease­lessly at play.

Now, far ahead, the white buildings of Ashburton gleam in the sun. It is verily a City of the Plains. We find it a busy, thriving centre of a populous farming district. There are numerous plantations of blue gum, and the town itself is very scattered and rural-looking. Poplars are prominent; and, indeed, this regard to tree adornment is a very pleasing feature of all New Zealand towns. Would it were so in New South Wales.

Twenty years ago I rode through Ashburton. It was then a bullock-teamster's camp. There was a "bush pub" and a blacksmith's shop and a police hut. These constituted the township then.

Now, look around ! See the tall brick chimneys, the gas-works, the wide streets well lined with spacious shops and public buildings, hotels, churches, institutes, and even a theatre. Hand­somely laid-out reserves and well-wooded parks, enormous wool and grain stores, coach factories, wool factories, butter and cheese factories ; public library. I may well rub my eyes! It seems all a dream to me, that memory of the lumbering bullock team, ploughing its weary way over shifting shingle and through boggy hollows.

Across the sprawling river, where many a foot­sore bullock has been swept down to sea in the gone-by times; and many a swagsman has found a watery grave; we now spin gaily along over another very long wooden bridge—past gardens, nurseries, farms, plantations, hay-ricks, and thresh­ing-mills, we dash. Mile after mile is left behind, till at Ealing, some seventy miles from Christ­church, we dip towards the bed of the fierce Rangitata, which we cross by another of the characteristic timber viaducts. The milky water, treacherous and swift, comes dashing down from its snowy source amid the glaciers, carrying its rolling burden of shingle with it. The bridge is protected by flanking buttresses running up stream. These are simply wooden coffer-dams filled with shingle and boulders. What a wild waste of shingle bars and drifted wrack fills the valley! The stream runs now in myriads of silvery threads ; but in flood-time what a mad surging rush of foaming water is here ! It is then fully two miles across and resistless in its might.

The snowy peaks are now shrouding themselves in misty mantles, as if to protect their hoarded crystals from the Sun-god's seductive touch. The plains below are bathed in sunshine, but far out to seaward, Heaven's murky battalions are gathering, and the air is hushed and still, as if presaging an impending storm.

At Orari, with its snug farms, and belts of plan­tations, the train disgorges a vulture-like crowd of betting-men. A little ramshackle erection, which local pride has dignified with the title of grand stand, decorated with bits of bunting, sufficiently discloses the attraction which has brought the jackals hither.

Betting and gambling blights the kingly sport here, as it does so much all over the colonies. The degrading influence of the betting-ring lowers the moral tone of the country, and vast sums are withdrawn from legitimate uses to keep in luxury a set of unscrupulous parasites who batten on industry and clog the wheels of healthy progress.

On we hurry through a splendid farming dis­trict Past Winchester, with its neat villas and trim gardens ; past Temuka, with its handsome white-spired church and Gothic schools, its well- stocked farms and plethoric corn-yards; past Arowhenua, with its Maori village, and another mountain stream brawling over its bed of shingle. On, with accelerated speed, through magnificently cultivated farms, rich swaths of stubble, and ample evidences on every hand of rural wealth and thriving settlement. I have rounded sheep over every mile of this country in the olden time, when there was little else but flax, raupo, tussock, wild pig, and unbroken ground. Verily the times have changed—and happily. Men are surely better than wild pig, and smiling farms than lonely shepherds' huts.

I am fairly lost in delighted wonder, and we are glad when the train rolls into Timaru, and we get housed in the comfortable Grosvenor Hotel, and find time to draw breath, and try to realize the infinite alterations which have taken place in twenty years of busy colonial life.

* * * * * *

Time has indeed made many changes here. When I last visited Timaru, I sailed up from Lyttelton, in a small coasting tub of a steamer. There was a terrific ground swell off the open beach of shingle, and the breakers rolled their curling crests landwards with a roar and crash like thunder. All landing, both cargo and passengers, was done in huge unwieldy surf-boats. And it was a very rare experience, indeed, to get ashore with a dry skin. The boats—big and heavy as they were—were not unfrequently tossed aloft like chips, and sent rolling up on the shingle, bottom upward like so much driftwood. Lives were not unfrequently lost and goods often sacrificed.

The village boasted then of only a few shops, one or two warehouses along the beach, and less than half a dozen inferior hotels. The Timaru Herald of that date was published in a very small weatherboard hut, quite detached, and perched on a waste hillock overlooking the ocean. The very hill itself has now disappeared, to make room for the railway, and the Herald is much more suitably housed. At that time the streets were fearfully and wonderfully made. Bullock teams might be stuck up in the main streets until the townspeople came to the assistance of the teamster to dig them out. All the houses were of wood, and were set down very much at random. When the annual races were held, the young bloods and station hands "from all the region round about," "The boys" from the Mackenzie country, the sawyers from the Waimate, the half-breeds and "cockatoos" from Temuka and the Arowhenua Bush, and all the "flotsam and jetsam" from every accommodation-house within a radius of fifty miles used to come into town, and for a lively week or two high saturnalia used to be held.

At that time Timaru had the reputation of being the fastest, most racketty, riotous township in the South Island. Verily, I could a tale disclose of some of the mad, harebrained escapades of "the boys" that would scarcely be believed in these more prosaic, steady-paced, and orderly latter- days. It certainly was a rough time, and a rough place then. But now, how changed !

Timaru has grown into a city. Solid blocks of stately shops, warehouses, and offices now line the principal streets. The hotels are quite up to metropolitan form. The very hills, as I have said, have been levelled, and stately churches, a theatre, convent, schools, banks, mills, a massive post and telegraph office, and countless cosy homes and handsome villas now stud the slopes where I have erstwhile seen the peaceful sheep quietly browsing among the tussocks.

When I first recollect the place, the post­mistress has been heard to say to the young telegraph clerk: "I hear you had a telegram through this afternoon ; why didn't you tell me?" Yes, in the primitive time the advent of a telegram was quite an incident. Now in the palatial post- office the service is conducted by an army of clerks and messengers. The hospital is really a magni­ficent stone building, and second to none I have yet seen in the colony. A great part of the bleak hill, on which stood the Royal Hotel, has been cut away to form the railway-station and shunt­ing-yards, and quite, a large area has been re­claimed from the relentless surf.

Now, had any one twenty years ago told me that those shifting masses of shingle, those travelling acres of rattling roaring boulders could be arrested, and that the fury of those terrific surges and angry waves could be tamed, I would have laughed the idea to scorn as the vain imagining of a foolish visionary. And yet the seemingly impossible has been accomplished.

Timaru, owing to the genius and skill of Mr. Goodall, her harbour engineer, can now lay claim to being a safe port, and big steamers and stately ships can lie close alongside her wharves and dis­charge their passengers and cargo in ease and safety. How has this been accomplished?

If we saunter down to the beach and look around at the massive blocks of concrete, we will see how the fury of the angry surf has been defied, and how man's genius and perseverance has com­pletely conquered some of the mightiest forces in nature.

The long-reaching pier, or breakwater, is indeed a triumph of constructive skill. The problem of forming a secure harbour on the face of an open coast, is difficult in any case ; but when to the usual difficulties have to be added

"The long wash of Australasian seas,"

as the billows of the Pacific come thundering in on the strand of shifting shingle, which makes the New Zealand coast one of the most baffling and unpromising sites in the world for engineering operations, the immense arduousness of the task which Mr. Goodall had before him, will be recog­nized at a glance. Does it not say much for the energy and pluck and public spirit of the community which had set its heart on having a secure harbour, in defiance of shingly drift, and roaring surf, and all the antagonism of wind and wave and treacherous coast combined? Verily, the lesson of such courage, and resolution, and inventive resource might well be applied by more highly favoured communities nearer home.

Fortunately, material for the manufacture of concrete blocks was plentiful and handy. The shingle was forced to become the instrument of its own subjection. Vast wooden tanks were formed along the beach, and cement and shingle were shovelled into these, and in time the embracing wood was knocked asunder, and giant blocks of concrete stood revealed. Some of these weighed upward of thirty tons. An enormous travelling crane was then moved up, and the block was gripped in its Titanic clutch, and slowly carried outwards and dropped into its assigned position. The whole was then cemented together by more concrete. In vain might the angry surges dash against that callous mass. In vain might the shifting shingle with a snaky hiss, seethe and toss around the unyielding block. Bit by bit the solid rampart grew, side by side the mighty blocks showed a firm immovable front to the baffled waves. It boots not to tell of the numberless con­trivances brought to bear on the task by the cunning skill of the engineer. Amid interruptions and partial breaks and a ceaseless war with the forces of nature, that properly viewed, completely eclipses the fabled battles of classic mythology, the good work went steadily on; and now, after the lapse of so many years, as I stood on the broad massive immovable rampart, listening to the hungry surge as it rushed impotently against the majestic buttress of the protecting pier—as I saw the sheltered ships idly rocking in calm security, and remembered the surf-boats and tossing cockle­shell of a steamer of the former times—I felt indeed that here was a triumph worthy of the age —a prodigy of beneficent achievement that sheds a lustre on the name of humanity.

Mr. Goodall, in his own modest way, thus writes me regarding the great work which will henceforth be associated with his name:—

"It had always been the wish of many of the leading residents of Timaru and neighbourhood to construct a safe harbour for Timaru, the hindrance to which seemed to be in the great force of the waves and the large quantity of shingle travelling on the coast. An experimental groin was constructed by Mr. Balfour, and reports were obtained from many leading English and colonial engineers. The experimental work was first buried in shingle, then washed away shortly after it was constructed; and the reports of the engineers were directly opposed to building a solid structure from the shore. The Harbour Board were not satisfied, and, as a last resource, called for competitive plans for a. harbour scheme. That of the present writer was chosen, and was approved of by a Government commission. This scheme proposed to construct a solid breakwater of concrete blocks thirty-six feet wide, reaching to half-tide in height; then capped with a monolithic concrete block of about five hundred tons in weight. This wall was to extend to about 1000 feet from low water­mark in a north-east direction, and then turn in a northerly direction 700 feet or 800 feet; it was to be six feet above high water spring tides, and would have twenty feet of water at spring low tides at the extremity. The work was started and succeeded, withstood the force of the waves, and was not swallowed up by the travelling shingle, which was swept back by the backwash of the waves. This backwash is caused by the reflec­tion of the waves from the face of the mole; it sweeps back the approaching shingle, or retards its advance, and by its action the shingle line adjacent to the breakwater has been stationary for the last four years. When the works were carried out 1000 feet, its success was so self-evident that the Harbour Board determined to extend the mole another 400 feet, and the cant to the north to 200 feet, and also to strengthen the section. It is also proposed to build a mole from the shore on the north towards the extremity of the cant, and so produce a nearly enclosed harbour. The area of this harbour will be 180 acres, and when completed, will be perfect and commodious. Now, although only a small portion of the cant has been built, along with the straight mole from the shore, ac­commodation gained is already invaluable. Vessels of 1000 tons can anchor to the lee of the break­water in perfect safety, can also come alongside the wharf attached to the breakwater, and load and unload with perfect ease and great dispatch, even when there is a heavy sea running and breaking over the breakwater. All this has not been ob­tained without some trouble, for at times the angry seas have knocked about the concrete blocks as if they were of wood, and on one occasion threw down 100 feet in length of the mole, distributing the blocks over the bottom to forty feet from the line of works. This portion of the work had not been capped with the monolithic block, which would have bound all together. It is notable in this work that whatever has been finished with the coping, has in no instance ever given way or subsided, in spite of the many violent seas that are so prevalent. The concrete blocks used, weigh about thirty tons each, and are placed in position with perfect ease and expedition by a large travel­ling steam crane that has been tested to forty-five tons. This crane weighs 120 tons, and is worked by one man. There are two of these cranes in the works. They were both manufactured in the colony.

The works will cost, when the present contract is completed, extending over 180 feet further, 210,000/. The Board are applying to Parliament for another loan, 100,000/., for prosecuting the works ; but this will not complete the works as designed.

The success of this work has tempted Napier, in the North Island, to try a similar scheme, the con- . ditions of sea and travelling shingle in the two coasts being almost identical. During last session of Parliament, powers were obtained for 300,0001. for the works, and a start has already been made."

* * * * * *

To resume my personal narrative.

At fitful intervals during my world-wide wander­ings, I had now and again heard a scrap of news about some of my old companions of the long ago Timaru life. Of the kindly group which used to sit round the table in the old station, in the peaceful and prosperous squatting days, how many had gone down under the waters of oblivion. Of the rollicking old hands that used to applaud my songs in the vast shadowy woolshed, when the busy day was at an end, and the flickering light from tallow pots with some blazing rags in them, cast a Rembrandt-like glare on the swarthy faces around, how many had "pegged out" in the game of life! How few survived ! Thus I pondered as I idly strolled down the street, when suddenly I bethought me that one of the old station hands had found an anchorage in Timaru, and was now reported to be a wealthy burgess and a well-to-do livery-stable keeper.

Away then I hurried to King's stables. There sure enough, with, I could almost have sworn, the same Glengarry cap, though hair and whiskers were now frosted and grizzled—there stood old Jim King, the "orra man" of the station in my younger days. Jim was a douce shrewd ploughman from, I think, Donside, and many a day he and I had pushed and pulled the heavy cross-cut saw, or wielded axe and maul together in the Otaio bush in the olden days.

Jim's astonishment when I greeted him by name was very amusing. He did not recognize me; but remembered me when I asked after the young cadet he had known so long ago. My interview with poor Jim was worth all the pil­grimage, and before I left Timaru he brought most of the surviving friends of my early days to see me.

Ah me! these meetings in after life; are they not full of pathos ? What a record of deaths and failures, as we call up the muster roll which memory suggests.

How essentially colonial, too, these chance meetings. How quickly the comradeship is formed. How soon, may be, to be sundered, and yet "once a mate always a mate" in the colonies. We had not seen each other for over twenty years, and yet the old bush, the wool-shed, the whare, with its idle group of Crimean-shirted, black-bearded stockmen, shepherds, bullock-pun­cher, horse-breakers, fencers, and general rousetabouts, as they used to muster on the quiet Sunday, all came back to us ; and as naturally, as if no time had since elapsed, big with changes to both of us, we reverted to the old days ; and long- forgotten names and incidents came to our lips, as eager query and rejoinder passed between us.

"Old Donald; you remember him?"

"Oh, man; poor old beggar, he's still alive; but over eighty. Living with so-and-so."

"And old Jack, the bullock-driver?"

"Oh, he went to the diggings. I lost sight of him."

"And George A?"

"Went to Australia. I hear from him occa­sionally."

"What became of Harry?"

"Man; he went all to the bad. Broke his neck one night coming home from a spree."

And so we called the roll. Some were drowned. Some lost sight of. Very, very few had been prosperous. Many were dead. Some had left the country. How strange it all seemed to recall the past, and for the moment feel as if all the busy years had not been, and that we were shapely, active youngsters once again.

Alas! I saw that poor Jim was a cripple on one leg from a fall, and he surveyed the uncom­promising rotundity of my substantial middle age, and we felt that

Limbs grow auld, and hair grows grey,
However young the heart may be.

There is good hunting round about Timaru. Three packs of beagles are kept. The hares are enormous in size, and the jumping is good. There are a fine set of hearty fellows in the Timaru district; and,' for a change from the sweltering heat of New South Wales in summer time, a month or two's residence in Timaru would be delightful.

In a street leading up from the post-office is a monolith, which is sure to be pointed out to the visitor. It is commemorative of a gallant act of British daring and generous self-sacrifice, and is worthy to be recorded. On the tablets, which face three sides of the pillar, you read:

This Monument is raised to commemorate the generous and noble self-sacrifice of those who gladly encountered the peril of death in the

heroic endeavour to save their fellow-men on Sunday, the 14th May, 1882, when the City of Perth and the Benvenuc were wrecked at Timaru.

" Greater love hath no man than this That a man lay down his life for his friends."

From the other tablets one learns that nine of the noble, self-sacrificing band perished, including Mills, the harbour-master, and Blacklock and Gardener, first and second mates of the City of Perth.

Timaru altogether was an intense surprise to me. I could scarcely realize the changes. The village had become a city. Nothing more forcibly brought home to me the marvellous progression of the age in which we live, and the resistless vitality and boundless resources of our race.

And what a contrast—to turn from the throng­ing streets, the crowded pier, the hum of commerce, and din of busy industries, and lift one's eyes to the calm white crests of the Eternal Hills. There they stood, ever the same, solemn and majestic in their changelessness. They blazed up their burnished pinnacles like pyres of flame in the still air, amid their drapery of mists, and trailing wreaths of cloudlets, and the intense vivid­ness of their immaculate whiteness, is the memory of Timaru that is now most indelibly fixed on my mind.


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