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West Coast Story
By Hugh Smith


Many years after her death, Hugh Smith, 'The Bard of Inangahua', told Biddy's story in verse ...

Old Biddy of the Buller
Was a wonder to be sure;
Wore a pair of moleskin trousers-
Not because she was so poor-
With a leather belt around them
For to keep her firm, she said,
And the pockets were so handy
When her finger-tips were dead.

Old Biddy was an adept
At the cooking of a hen
Of any sort-at "Maori" ones
She was a chef in ten;
Kept the dripping for her "water-tights,"
Or other kinds of boots,
And to ease acute rheumatics
Or sciatic pangs and shoots!

A story goes that Biddy brought
A pigeon to the ground,
But when she ran and pick'd it up
No injury was found;
For when the poor old pigeon saw
The one who held the gun,
The shock was quite sufficient so
He tumbled down-said one!

Old Biddy had a husband, but-
There were no legal rights,
To define their plan of living
Or the number of their wights;
But none was ever kinder-
In the world than poor old Jack,
And Biddy was the queen that ruled
The realm in that old shack.

On Sunday mornings Biddy always wore a wincey skirt,
With a body-piece of print stuff,
But without a speck o' dirt.
It wasn't in her plans and styles
To wear a satin gown,
The wincey and the bit o' print
Were good enough for town.

They combed the Buller beaches
And its tributaries too,
And many said that Biddy had
A safety roll or two.
She took a hand at euchre
Now and then at old Berlins'
And if a chump got ropey
She would send him off his pins.

For each, for both-for one, for two,
Seem'd fixed and plann'd throughout,
And if there wasn't quite enough,
Well, both would do without.
From early morn she'd rock and rock
The cradle * to and fro,
And Jack would keep it half-way full,
With grit from down below.

And Biddy had the "comber's" art
Of panning off a dish-
The little twist, the little lilt,
The little noiseless "swish"
That brought the "colours" up to sight-
Sometimes the "rough" stuff too,
And Jack would say, "Well, well, old lass,
We'll see this corner through!"

She would sit upon a sand bank,
Whether things were right or wrong,
And smoke an old clay cutty
With stem two inches long,
And while she rock'd the cradle
By the well-worn handle grips;
Her old black pipe for certain,
Would be hanging from her lips.

They'd sit within the shelter of some overhanging scrub,
And have a bit o' lunch at noon,
Two equal bits o' grub-
And talk of where they would be
At the middle of next week-
Somewhere about the "willows,"
Or "Ohika-nui" creek.

At Inangahua Junction,
Or a little lower down,
Where the Buller flows by "Walker's,"
Then they'd have a day in town,
When they'd stock their simple larder,
Get a pair o' socks for each,
Or a "butterfly"* to shade them
From the rains out on the beach.

Every waggoner knew Biddy,
From the wharf to Jim McKay's,
There were no 60 milers-or
And Biddy would be waiting
When a waggon came in view
With a pannikin of cocoa-
And a butter'd scone or two.

I met her some years later,
One cold, bitter winter day,
At a corner up in Reefton-
Near the hearse-shed by the way.
Poor old soul, she look'd so lonely,
With a cloth tied on her head,
And she shiver'd when she told me
That her poor old mate was dead.

The shack that was their shelter,
Went away in some big flood,
And got stranded down at Westport,
Filled with driftwood, weeds and mud.
Biddy pined away and wither'd,
Long the sport of cruel fate,
And they laid her in God's acre
Near her old, kind, helpful, mate. (1)

*The cradle here referred to was a type of pan used in gold-washing.
*An oilskin coat


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