All posts by Putatara

Dawn Service Address: Dannevirke 25th April 2021


Dawn evokes
in the soldier
powerful memories,
powerful images,
powerful feelings.

Imagine if you will
the soldiers
whose names are engraved
upon this memorial,
and hundreds of thousands of others
from Gallipoli and the Western Front,
through WW2, Korea, Malaya, Borneo Vietnam, East Timor
and on to Iraq and Afghanistan,
in their blankets asleep
as dawn approaches,
only the night sentries

An hour or so before dawn
the soldiers are roused,
the word is passed quietly along the line,
Stand to,
Stand to,
Stand to.

Bleary eyed still,
the soldier rolls out of his blankets,
laces his boots,
puts on his equipment
and takes up his weapon.

For this is the time of day
when the combat soldier “stands to”
on high alert
in shell-scrape, pit, trench or bunker,
weapon at the ready,
eyes straining, focused to the front,
as night turns slowly into day,
peering through the gloom,
ready to fight,
to repel a dawn attack.

Dawn and dusk are dangerous times for soldiers in the front line, for they are the most likely times for attacks to be launched against them.

From Gallipoli to Afghanistan soldiers have “stood to” on high alert from an hour or so before, to an hour or so after both dawn and dusk.

Among us today
are returned soldiers
who have spent
hundreds of dawns
in that state of readiness,
high alert, hyper-vigilance
forever engraved
deep in the recess of memory.

a special time.

The dawn too was when that same soldier might sometimes be called upon to summon his courage, to rise out of the protection of his trench or bunker, to go over the top with his mates and to attack into and through the artillery and mortar fire, machine guns, rifles, wire and mines of the enemy, advancing steadily, into what for many, would be certain death.

It is said that the Dawn Service itself came about to commemorate the dawn landings of the first ANZAC troops to assault across the beaches at Gallipoli.

Thank you for coming out this morning
to stand to in remembrance
of those who have marched off
to their last parades.
To honour those
who have served
and are among us still.
And to honour servicemen and women
who stand to still
in the service of their country.

Na te po, ki te whaiao, ki te ao marama.
As night turns to dawn
and dawn into day
and as danger passes,
clearing patrols go out
to check the enemy
is not hiding out there.
The vigilance and tension subside.
The day sentries
and early warning patrols

And the word is passed along the line,
Stand down,
Stand down.
Stand down.

© 2021, Ross Nepia Himona

A Longhouse in Borneo

Day Whatever + 8.


There were 14 people queued outside the Four Square, a dozen more than usual, and some of them metrically challenged. I didn’t bother to count the cars at New World. There were well over 100, and the queue was over 100 metres. This contradicts my earlier unfounded conclusions but there is a confounding factor.

It must be benefit day. I think I read earlier this week that the government was bringing the payments forward because of the Easter staycation. I made the mistake, soon after I arrived in Dannevirke, of doing my grocery shopping on benefit day. Vowed never again.

I’m off to the hospital this morning to get my influenza vaccination. We’re supposed to queue in our cars outside the hospital and drive into the carport at the front entrance to get jabbed through the car window. I told the receptionist it would be quicker for me to walk than to get the car out of the garage. She said that would be OK and I could stand in the car queue.

I’m thinking I’ll pretend I’m a car just to see how the nurses react. I’m off shortly.

Bye for now then.

But before I go. On Day Whatever Robin Payne commented that she was “still waiting for all the chapters on Borneo”. So this is a bit of memoir I wrote a few years ago about my time in Borneo in 1966. It’s quite a bit longer than these daily musings. But you might find it interesting.

A Longhouse in Borneo

Conspiracy Theories

Day Whatever + 9

Freezing out there this morning. Forgot to take my gloves. Bear with me. This edition was a tough assignment.

So I got vaccinated yesterday. You all need to get it done if you haven’t already. Mind you, you need to be aware that it doesn’t immunise you against being infected by my daily dose of mindstuff.

The mangled sign has been removed from the signpost. Whether by the COVID-19 infected signpost vandal or an essential signpost maintenance worker I don’t know.

By now of course you’ve all bought into and are totally convinced by my theory of viral induced signpost vandalism. I’ve done it through storytelling, through homespun secular homily, and oddball humour. I’ve slipped it past your intellectual defences while you’ve been enthralled by my recollections of family, and while you’ve been laughing, distracted by my strange sense of humour.

Some of you have been distracted by your own focus on the autobiographical nature of it.

All the while my purpose has been to slip ideas into your unconscious minds unfiltered by the conscious mind. To ensure that those ideas are embedded in the metaphorical arsehole of opinion and belief and that they remain there.

There is madness in my method.

The pandemic has provided a golden opportunity for just that. The viral-like spread of conspiracy theory. The effects of the pandemic and lockdown on the mental balance and well being of liberal democracies, and social cohesion, could well be as damaging and longlasting as the effects on economies.

The anti-vaccination conspiracy is an obvious example.

As is the conspiracy theory linking 5G cell towers to the spread of the virus. It has taken hold around the world and is becoming rampant in New Zealand. I’ve mentioned earlier that 5G radiation is non-ionising and not harmful, whereas the sun’s radiation is ionising and potentially harmful. The science means nothing however, in the face of belief. We have already witnessed an attempt to burn down a tower. Many believers, being ignorant of which towers are 3G, 4G or 5G-capable have focused their attention on all towers. Ironically they actually spread their conspiracy theories through the very communications networks they rail against, and on which we all depend for our health and safety in these trying times.

What most people don’t know is that these conspiracy theories have been picked up and are being widely and actively promoted by the same groups that infected the mind of the Christchurch mosque killer, with the purpose of sowing discord and creating chaos in the liberal democracies of the world. They have become very active in the pandemic for it has created the perfect climate of alarum and despond in which conspiracy theories flourish.

The methodology was trialled by Russia in it’s 2016 online meddling in the Ukranian elections, and deployed again soon after and with some effect in the USA elections. Cambridge Analytica used the same methodology to manipulate voters in the Brexit referendum in the UK, and in elections elsewhere. Sowing scepticism and discord, and creating a climate of distrust in government, in science and other expertise, is at the core of the methodology.

Coincidentally or not, soon after Steve Bannon was ejected from the White House the QAnon conspiracy theory appeared in the USA. It is an all enveloping theory thats enfolds within itself a variety of other conspiracy theories like deep state fearmongering, satanic pedophilia, New World Order paranoia, and anything else that can be attached to it.

It uses essentially the same methodology as that developed by the Russians and Cambridge Analytica, without the need for the same level of financial backing.

It had its home in a webportal called 8chan, which hosted a range of Alt-Right, neo-Nazi, racist, white supremacist, anti-semitic, anti-muslim groups, and was instrumental in the promotion of hate crimes and mass shootings, including the Christchurch massacre.

Qanon is essentially a white nationalist alt-right indoctrination movement that has poached and continues to poach serious concerns and conspiracies, from right across the political spectrum, and to suck people into its mire. The central purpose of the movement is to cause hyper-isolation of its members. Phase 2 is desensitisation, and the final phase is direct violent action in support of the white nationalist agenda.

Which is to disrupt and throw into a state of chaos the liberal democracies that are the target of their indoctrination, in order to instal a new white nationalist order. Sounds hopelessly utopian and it might be, but they are nevertheless trying, and they are very good at what they are doing. It is a sophisticated operation.
The Christchurch shooter had been caught up in the same hyper isolation and desensitisation on 8chan before he went into the two mosques and murdered 51 people.

8chan was ripped offline by concerned online activists last year. But the movement has moved on and flourishes still, especially so during the enforced isolation of these times. The pandemic has achieved for it the physical and mental isolation necessary for the promotion of its further aims. The pandemic has provided the ideal climate for the spread of its aims camouflaged within whatever concerns and conspiracies are appropriated to its own use.

QAnon ideas have now made their way into Maori political discourse. It is hugely ironical that this white nationalist alt-right indoctrination movement has now enfolded within itself an increasingly large number of Maori, as well as other New Zealanders. As at this morning the “Kotahitanga Movement Aotearoa NO 5G” group on this platform has 12,890 members. It is not the only New Zealand based anti-5G movement being manipulated at arms length by QAnon activists who are providing the fast circulating memes picked up and adopted as reality by unsuspecting folk on social media.

This particular 5G conspiracy theory has also leaked into the network of military veterans.

As a conspiracy theory in New Zealand it is at first glance hard to see how it might be linked to a white nationalist agenda. And it isn’t directly linked. 5G activists however are already becoming involved in actual and threatened acts of arson. Some in my wider network have been abused and threatened with violence for opposing the conspiracy theorists. We have countless thousands of vulnerable folk sitting at home, isolated and vulnerable to insidious mindstuff. Many of them becoming more and more agitated and angry at being cut off from their perception of themselves.

Where might it end? With social and economic disruption assured, what are the chances of this becoming a serious problem. We have already seen how it motivated the actions of just one person in Christchurch.

Having already let you in on the secret that I myself have been attempting to infect you with my own conspiracy theory, I won’t be offended if you interpret all this as another.

Walking On Out The Door

Day Whatever + 12

Wind and rain when I got up this morning. Quite fierce too.

And I made the tragic mistake of wondering whether I really would head out the door. Heading out the door you know is a matter of faith not rational decision making.

I’ve been heading on out the door into rain, hail or storm all my life. Snow even. From early days out milking the house cow morning and afternoon in freezing Hawke’s Bay winters, as an Infantryman getting out and getting on with the job regardless of weather, season or terrain, as a cross country runner and coach splishing and splashing and sploshing my way through endless Wellington winters, and on into the winter of my own life for the last 30 years or more, just coating up and heading on out the door.

I annoy people by telling them that weather is all in the mind.

In a harrier club in Wellington for a few years I coached junior runners, teenagers and young men and women under 21. The cross country season began in late autumn and early winter. My favourite early season run was to take them all out into the teeth of the first southerly storm. They got it. To train and race your way through a Wellington winter you needed to be able to ignore the weather. To enjoy it even. And they would quickly get into the swing of it, playfully jumping into puddles, splishing and splashing each other, and laughing defiance in the face of the storm.

I thought about all of that. It’s an enjoyable memory.

But having made the mistake of wondering whether I would head on out the door I sought inspiration on You Tube. I did. I kid you not. Silly old bugger. I watched a video of Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain. Twice. And then I thought to myself, “You dopey bugger Gene Kelly”, and decided not to get wet. And to work out indoors. But admitting, even to myself, a deep sense of guilt.

10km on the exercycle, 5km on the rowing machine, 30 minutes of kettlebell and dumbbell free weights, and 15 minutes on the Swiss ball still didn’t assuage my guilt. And the wind and the rain didn’t last very long anyway, making me feel even more guilty.

But don’t worry folks, I got this, I can handle it without wallowing in it. I’m a former soldier after all, nostalgically imagining that I’m still rough, tough and dangerous despite the passing of too many seasons and too many decades. Why else would a 76-year old dopey bugger still be heading on out the door into freezing cold, wintry wind and rain, year after year, after year.

Winter’s not yet upon us but this pandemic lockdown is like an early onset winter isn’t it, sending us all scurrying and sheltering indoors, lest we succumb.

And although it’s not yet winter I thought I’d share this with you in this pandemic winter. I wrote it a long time ago. I do enjoy winter in a capricious sort of way.


The Old Man arrived today,
rushing in from over the Strait,
across Tapu-te-Ranga, and
sweeping all before him,
sand-blasting cars and lawns,
making new dunes behind
fences far from shore, and
in my hair and down my neck;
Winter’s here.

Saw your clouds gathering,
and quickened my step Old Man,
remembering you do this every year,
hiding out there behind the horizon,
your version of humour no doubt,
to spring your blustery ambush,
on summer clad runners (and walkers),
telling us who’s boss around here;
Now you’re back.

And I sprint for home but not before
you plummet the temperature,
and try to freeze my balls off, then
with sand in my hair and icy crutch
you send it down in buckets,
knowing you’ve only got five minutes
to finish the job before I reach refuge,
and laugh at you behind thick windows;
And chattering roof.

Welcome back Old Man, you’re late.

That drenched young girl down the road said,
“Isn’t Winter terrible”, but I said, “Not for me.
He comes every year, and at my age,
he’s an old friend, and even though,
he’ll try to overstay his welcome, for a time
there’s comfort in his presence, and
anyway, your friend Spring is not far away”.

She thinks I’m mad.

Great Great Great Grandparents

Day Whatever + 11

54 cars at New World. Longest queue yet for that early in the morning. Snaked right across the back of the carpark, out onto and along the street. Be a good idea to borrow a wheelchair before joining a queue like that. There was an essential worker out there filling in for the Easter Hare and handing out Easter eggs.

Apropos of nothing. But adding a little off-beat perspective to COVID-19. I tweeted this yesterday.

“Every year worldwide about 75 billion animals are killed for humans to eat”.

Went down like a lead balloon.

Moving on.

Dannevirkians could be forgiven for thinking I was a little harsh yesterday, on them and on our town. But it’s all about perspective.

You see, all of us, yes all of us, have “murdering, enslaving, raping, looting, burning, thieving, pillaging and plundering” ancestors. In those times they weren’t really “all-round historical criminals of the worst kind”. It was just the way it was in the dim dark past. Except of course for the “musket armed thugs from several northern criminal gangs who came marauding through our region” in the early 19th Century. I’ll make an exception for them.

The philosopher A.C.Grayling wrote that we are all probably descended from both slaves and slave owners. Victims and perpetrators. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in Great Britain as late as 1833. It abolished slavery in Britain and in her colonies. That was about the time that slavery came to an end in Aotearoa.

Human slavery after all had been the main source of energy before and alongside the elephant, the horse, the bullock and whale oil; and before steam, fossil fuels and renewables. Although before renewables became a thing wind and water had long been sources of energy.

We avoid acknowledging that human flesh was a source of food energy in most if not all cultures at one time in their evolution, and that infanticide was a widespread form of population control especially in times of food crisis.

We consign all of that and much much more to the Great Forgetting, until academic historians and hard-wired iconoclasts like me tip it out of the dustbin of cultural forgetfulness and annoy the hell out of people.

Cultural evolution is about forgetting and about remembering, mostly about forgetting. We conveniently forget that which doesn’t accord with our perceptions of who we are, and we sanitise, reimagine and reconstruct our remembrance, the stories and narratives that shape our culture, and our image of ourselves.

Novelist Daniel Quinn described culture as “a people enacting a story”; and to enact a story as “to live so as to make the story a reality”.

Dannevirkians in their “unhealthy obsession with Vikings” mirrored within their settler museum are enacting a reimagined and reconstructed story so as to make it a reality. We all do it.

This morning as I powered around Dannevirke I remembered another of the stories told in my whanau.

It has long been told in our whanau that as a young girl our great grandmother, the one in the museum, tasted the flesh of a white man. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. I knew her when I was very young and didn’t hear it from her own lips. I’ve heard the same story said about a lot of others’ ancestors who lived in the early days of settlement and colonisation. So it could just be a bit of reimagined whanau mischief making. My great grandmother was known to make a bit of mischief herself.

But if it is true it would indicate a very close link indeed between my whanau and the early Scandinavian settlers.

That story led me to remember another that happened about the beginning of the 19th Century, quite a while before the Vikings invaded. It happened right here in the middle of Dannevirke, except that Dannevirke wasn’t here already of course.

A war party of people from a tribe to the near north, from Ngai Te Whatuiapiti led by one Marangaihenuku, raided us here at Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua and killed two brothers, Te Hokitonga and Tuhakoria. Our tribe Ngati Rangiwhakaewa quickly deployed our own war party, then closed with and engaged them in a battle called Te Whakarapaki. The aforementioned Marangaihenuku was captured. The grieving sister of the two who had been killed, Wheraka-i-te-rangi (Wheraka for short), called out that he was not to be killed until she arrived.

She killed Marangaihenuku herself, ripping his still beating heart from his chest.

Her enemies composed this song-curse about and against her.

Kati, kati, tu ai taku kai nei a Wheraka
E utu ana koe tohou matenga
Koia i aranga na ko Te Whakarapaki
E kai e te hau ki runga I nga iwi
Tatau e te kohu ki roto o Kahotea
Ka maunu hoki ra te ika I tona rua.

Kei te komaingomaingo oku rau e rua mot e upoko, e,
Mohou e Tioirangi e herepu mai na kei tou hemihemi.

Behold there stands my food, Wheraka.
You are avenging your loss
Which gave rise to Te Whakarapaki.

Blow, o wind, on the hilltops,
Descend, o mist, on Kahotea,
The fish has come forth from his lair.

My two plumes are yearning for a head
It is for you, Tioirangi, to bind them in your hair.

Wheraka-i-te-rangi is my great-great-great-grandmother.

I discovered years and years ago that holding a grudge, historical or personal, is a total waste of time and energy. The grudger is the one infected, and the grudgee totally unaffected.

It wouldn’t make sense in this case anyway, for the biological and peace-making imperatives of lust and multiplication have conspired some generations later to land me on both sides of that exchange, Ngati Rangiwhakaewa and Ngai Te Whatuiapiti.

Some years later another tribe from south-west of here was trying to impose itself upon and install itself in our lands here at Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua and further north in Hawke’s Bay. They captured Ngarara, a member of our tribe Ngati Rangiwhakaewa, and took him off to their place called Paranui, near present day Foxton. They killed him and consigned him to the oven. Ngati Pakapaka, one of our tribes here in Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua was then named in remembrance of that foul deed. We don’t forget.

Ngarara was the husband of Wheraka-i-te-rangi. He was my great-great-great-grandfather.

You will remember that I don’t bear grudges, historical or personal. But I don’t forget. At 76, not yet anyway. So although I’m a forgiving soul, my great-great-great-grandmother was not so inclined, and you would be wise Ngati Raukawa to be careful not to cross me anytime in the next 25 years.

I must investigate whether the Vikings brought with them their own propensity for tribal and family feuding. This could be a dangerous town.

O Dannevirke, Dannevirke

Day Whatever + 10.

73 cars at New World. They must have run out of toilet paper already. Stands to reason. People have got nothing better to do in lockdown than eat and drink and eat. And you know what.

As you drive into and out of Dannevirke, when you’re allowed to, you are welcomed and farewelled (Farvel) by a giant cartoon version of a murdering, enslaving, raping, looting, burning, thieving, pillaging and plundering all-round historical criminal of the very worst kind – a cartoonist’s representation of the marauders of the Viking Age in Europe from the 8th to the 11th Century.

Mind you, my Rangitane ancestors who were here several hundred years before the Scandis arrived were not averse to a bit of biffo themselves. But the murdering, enslaving, raping, looting, burning, thieving, pillaging and plundering crims were from other tribes of course. Especially so in the early 19th Century, before the Scandis arrived, and during the so-called Musket Wars when musket armed thugs from several northern criminal gangs came marauding through our region.


There’s another cartoon character in the middle of town. These Vikings are actually representations of modern Viking mythology, not historical fact. The cartoon characters wear horned helmets when there is no evidence whatsoever that they actually did. The word “Viking” in popular mythology comes from a poem, “The Viking”. It was written by Erik Gustav Geijer and it propagated the romantic mythology of the Viking, a version that was far from historical fact. The poem was written at the beginning of the 19th Century, not long before the Scandinavian settlers came to this part of New Zealand. They brought the popular romanticised modern mythological version of their history with them.

Or perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps it’s their modern descendants in Dannevirke who have latched onto the mythology and transported a relatively modern mythological Viking mindscape into the midst of and surrounded by our ancient Rangitane landscape; now devoid of the magnificent forests it was once clothed in, thanks to the Scandinavian tree fellers, or fullas.

Anyway. Some Dannevirkians seem proud to pretend to themselves and to the world at large that they descend from these mythologised and sanitised criminals. But their ancestors who came to New Zealand were actually law abiding woodsmen and labourers, and other economic migrants.

I’m not the only one to note the incongruity of it. A tongue in cheek author has this to say about Dannevirke:

“Tararua eyesore Dannevirke has just two points of interest: a sewerage system clogged with rats and fat, and an unhealthy obsession with Vikings”.

– Author unknown, “Sh*t Towns of New Zealand”, Allen & Unwin, 2018, p 96.

Well Dannevirke did have a clogged sewerage system a while back.

And this:

“Dannevirke is one of the only places in New Zealand where you can buy second-hand dentures.”

Which I haven’t been able to confirm although I’ve been looking for a cheap set since I arrived in town a couple of years ago. There are quite a few second-hand shops and op shops in town. But no dentures.


I went into the Dannevirke Museum a few months ago, out of curiosity. It’s a settler museum. It celebrates a Danish heritage, Danish and other Scandinavian settlers, and generations of notable and not-so-notable citizens of a not-so-quaint country town and surrounding district. It’s pretty much like any other settler museum in rural townships across the nation, except for its focus on Danish origins. It seems that it is a major attraction for minor visitors from Denmark.

But I was mistaken about its ethnicity. Slightly mistaken. For there was actually a single display case with a small number of photographs of Maori, and a few Maori artefacts.

The tangata whenua here are the Ngati Rangiwhakaewa people of Rangitane origin. We have offices in town but our three marae are all on the margins just out of town; Makirikiri (Ngati Mutuahi), Kaitoke (Ngati Pakapaka) and Whiti Te Ra (Ngati Mutuahi). Our people have been in and around the whole area for countless generations before the Scandinavians arrived to cut down the forests. And we are still here, comprising some 30% of the population of the district I’m told. But about 0.003% of the museum display.

And looking at me, from inside that lonely display case, was my great grandmother. It was a photocopy taken from an out-of-print limited edition book of pastel drawings by a local artist. My revered great grandmother of high noble birth who raised my father here in Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua.

She looked so lonely and out of place in that place. Did anyone ask permission to put her in there? I wonder. Does anyone know or care that she lived to be 100 and now lies just south of town in our urupa at Tahoraiti, alongside her daughter, my grandmother, and amongst her many descendants and kinfolk. Or that her parents, siblings and numerous descendants were and have been around before and since the arrival of the folk from Scandinavia. And that not a single one of them is featured on the walls of that museum in the row upon row upon row of big and small notables.

None of our Rangitane chiefs, church leaders, professional men and women, holders of high office, artists, All Blacks, and other sporting greats. Not one that I could see.

We call ourselves Ngati Rangiwhakaewa after our eponymous ancestor. We call our district including the town Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua. Others call the district Tararua. We live in Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua. And in Dannevirke when we’re engaging with people who don’t know where Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua is. Confused?

To make it even more confusing, up in the Dannevirke Services & Citizens Club on Princess Street is a large glittering sign, “Dannevegas”. It’s quite a common name these days, a far cry from the Scandinavian one. Seems we’re also some sort of entertainment destination. Perhaps they come from far and wide to look at the cartoons on the roadside. Or to gamble on the pokies at the Saigon Hotel on the corner of High Street and Barraud Street. To call in momentarily at any one of the many fast food joints on High Street. To join the Viking latte set in one of our up-market cafes. Fine dining at our restaurants. And to drink, dine and be entertained at the Club of course.

So if you’re passing through Dannevegas do stop awhile and partake. You won’t be disappointed. True. Cross my heart. Visit the museum even. Even if just to check out the truth of my one-sided observations.

I’m not totally biased though for I do have a Scandinavian link myself you know.

My beloved godmother Aunty Sylvia was born to Swedish parents at Ngamoko, west of Norsewood, up on the headwaters of the Manawatu River.

She married into another of my hapu up in Hawke’s Bay. Her husband and one of my two godfathers was the great-great-grandson of Te Hapuku, chief of Ngai Te Whatuiapiti and Ngati Rangikoianake.

Aunty Sylvia befriended my mother, daughter of Grandfather Fred and Grandmother Galloping Gertie, when she was still single and working at the Te Aute Hotel.

Before I came along.


Day Whatever + 7 ?

Passed by this mid-sized carefully coiffured dog taking her mid-sized carefully coiffured huwoman for a walk. Looked as though they’d both been to the same expensive hairdresser. We call the female of her species a bitch. So what might they call the female of our species.

Dangerous territory. Let’s not go there Ross. But you did didn’t you, you dopey bugger.

73 cars at New World. And it looked as though the curve might have been trending downward. Goes to show that you really can’t draw valid conclusions from limited datasets.

A truck and a car at Mobil. A truck at BP and a tanker again, delivering fuel. Going to need more data to populate this dataset before some of us can draw invalid conclusions even.

No one at the Pharmacy. A youngish woman waiting for the dairy to open so she could get her nicotine fix. She was definitely a smoker. This ex-smoker being smugly judgemental.

And so to today’s theme. Sheepshit.

What? I said it for you.

You already know that I grew up in a shearing gang. Us and the cousins of varying degree plus a few others. We referred to ourselves as the “Gang”. This was long before we fell into line and called ourselves “Whanau”. Well, we always were whanau but you know, we were the gang. A tightly knit work bubble gang.

The background odour to my childhood and teenage years was the sweet smell of sheepshit. Grass fed sheepshit.

And we worked on farms during the off-season. One job from an early age was helping to dock the lambs. Unlike the pelleted sheepshit of the adult, this was immersion in the sweeter smell of runny milk fed lambshit. Juvenile sheepshit as it were.

We kids raised orphaned lambs. Everyone did. The smell of lambshit at the back door. We didn’t consider them pets and give them names. If we did give them a name it would have been “Christmas Dinner”.

I suppose I was in and around the shearing shed from about the age of 10. Spent most of the Christmas holidays at the shed. Drew a good wage from about 12. At some point I became a member of the Shearers & Shedhands Union. Left the gang at 18 and joined the Army. For my first four years in the service I would go home on Christmas leave and head for the shed. Was still a member of the Union. Had the Brass known that they had a Red in the bed they might have had something to say.

In Australia during that time I had nothing to do with sheep. Other than during Christmas leave back home. Except that the Australians used to refer to us as sheepshaggers, and they had an endless repertoire of sheepshagger jokes. It was the pot calling the kettle black actually.

After all, listen carefully to the lyrics of “Waltzing Matilda”. I’m convinced it’s really an ode to a sheepshagger.

I’ve got this superb sheepshagger joke though, that totally turns the tables on any Australian that indulges in sheepshagger tales in my presence. It’s only mildly crude so I might tell it to you one day. Not today though.

After I was comissioned I left the shed and the smell of sheepshit behind me except for occasional visits to catch up with the folks back home. Until my dad died. I flew home from Singapore to see him off, then took a few weeks leave to help tidy up his affairs. I didn’t tell the Brass that meant taking the gang back out to the shed to finish the shearing run for the season. That was pretty much my last experience of the sweet smell of sheepshit.

“The Green Green Grass of Home” is running though my head at the moment for some reason.

That was until I moved to Dannevirke two years ago. Why Dannevirke? Well, it’s where my dad was raised by his grandmother, it’s half way to everywhere, in the middle of my many hapu / tribes, the house prices were good, and it was time to move back home to sheepshit heaven.

I knew I was back home almost from the moment I arrived.

State Highway 2 runs straight through the middle of town. Trucks of all types and cargoes rumble down the main street on a regular basis. Including lots of sheep trucks, leaving behind them wafting along the street the lingering sweet odour of sheepshit. Any day of the week, except Mondays when the cafes are closed, you can sit at a pavement table outside a cafe drinking a soy hot chocolate with the sweet aroma of sheepshit up your nose.

I told you. Sheepshit Heaven.

Even during lockdown. Well, not at a cafe any more, but the sheeptrucks are still rolling, only not as many as before. One went by when I was outside the dairy this morning.

In the absence of sufficiently populated datasets at New World and at the petrol stations, the sweet smell of sheepshit is as good an indicator as any of the economic health of rural Tararua. It ain’t as sweet as it was but it’s still working..

Who in his right mind would write a discourse on sheepshit.

The Easter Bunny

Day Whatever + 6

I missed my grocery pickup from New World yesterday. They had a bit of a snafu over the weekend and have rescheduled me for 2.30pm today, touch wood.

Great to see that yesterday Jacinda Adern declared the Easter Bunny to be an essential worker, but there are no Easter eggs in my order. There are a few dark chocolates though. Looking forward to an after dinner chocolate tonight, with my McGuigan Zero alcohol-free Shiraz. Or maybe an Edenvale alcohol-free Shiraz. Wonderful to have choice in the Season of Lockdown.

E hoa ma, do you know why the Easter Bunny brings Easter eggs wrapped in brightly coloured foil?

Well. Let me tell you. No bullshit. This is the true story.

In springtime in Europe, around about Easter time, hares gather together in open grassy fields for their annual ritual of courtship and mating, to put it politely. What would it be like if we did it only once a year?

Anyway, the Jack Hares compete with each other for the favours of the Jill Hares. Such is the strength of their lust that when humans venture into the same fields randy Jack Hare stands his ground. He’s not going anywhere. Not for anything.

And from time immemorial those human interlopers noticed that the hares were often seen standing alongside nests of coloured or variegated eggs. Those naïve folk put the two together (correlation) and concluded that the hares laid the eggs. Don’t scoff too soon. Because today we celebrate Easter with bunnies, and chocolate eggs wrapped in coloured foil.

The alternative and real explanation (or confounding factor in scientific terms) is that at springtime in Europe the lapwing lays its eggs in nests on the ground in those very same fields. The lapwing doesn’t stand its ground when humans come canoodling or whatever, but quietly disappears, leaving its eggs to be seen in the care of hares (or rabbits if you don’t know the difference).

We celebrate a tradition based on faulty reasoning about cause and effect, confusing correlation with causation. The transposition of rabbits and hares is another matter, probably to do with marketing. Easter Hares. I don’t think so.

Why don’t you tell the kids that the Easter Bunny tradition actually celebrates the fornication of hares. No. On second thought tell them it’s about the lovemaking of bunnies. That’ll make a good lockdown story to keep them amused.

Of course we adults see that correlation is not causation. Blind Freddy can see that the bloody hares don’t lay the eggs.

But Blind Freddy and most everyone else does confuse corrrelation with causation. All the time. Like vaccines cause autism. Like 5G causes cancers. And COVID-19 infection. Like windmills cause the birds to die (that one from the Cockwomble-in-Chief in the White House). Like COVID-19 causes street sign vandalism (that one from some mad lockdown scribbler).

I saw a family of three out today wearing Hi-Vis. Yep. Hi-Vis protects against the virus because they haven’t got it.

The anti-vaxxers are going to be out in force when the scientists do create a vaccine for this one.

43 cars in the New World carpark this morning. A short queue. Could be the beginning of a trend but not enough data yet.

There were three people at the Four Square on High Street. Uncle Lui Paewai’s corner shop used to be on that site, a long long time ago. You know. Uncle Lui. The All Black.

Three people at the Pharmacy. The dairy wasn’t open already.

There were three cars at the Mobil petrol station and one at BP. Insufficient data to draw any conclusions yet.

But those instant experts out there are hard at it advising us of their expert conclusions drawn from bugger all data.

My roses are looking great.


Laughing My Way Round Dannevirke

Day Whatever + 5

Beautiful sunny morning in Dannevirke.

Couldn’t wait to get out the door. For some, walking out the door at the end of lockdown might be like getting out of prison.

Watched a video last night. My friend Tame Iti. Mentioned in passing that although his nine months in Waikeria Prison was good preparation for the lockdown, he’d much rather be in lockdown. I reckon. It’s all relative, as Albert Einstein might have said. Or might not.

Anyway. The sign at Waterloo and McPhee is still mangled. I suppose street sign maintenance is not an essential service. Pity that. Street sign maintenance is important.

A few more people on the street today.

Passed by one dude who was all covered up and wearing a mask. Maybe he thinks that you can catch COVID-19 from sunbeams. Or maybe he’s discovered that the ionising radiation of the sun can be dangerous, and that the non-ionising radiation from 5G towers is absolutely harmless.

Where the hell did that random loose thought come from?

Or perhaps he’s the street sign vandal responsibly covering up to prevent the spread of that virus.

I know, I know, I know, I hear you. You’re being a dopey bugger Ross. Well, one of the joys of life you know is allowing yourself to be a dopey bugger from time to time. Particularly in times like this. When you’re trying to think of something to write. But of course it’s really important to KNOW when you’re being a dopey bugger. That ability alone might disqualify you from becoming a politician you know.

Heading up a very small hill on Ruahine Street I passed this middle aged couple and dog. They were obviously not seasoned streetwalkers. Like me. For they were dressed like walkers in a hiking magazine. He had one hiking pole and she had two hiking poles. On the bloody paved street in town the dopey buggers, neither of them actually using the hiking poles to propel or steady themselves. But they looked the part, if only they’d been a few miles west in the Ruahine Ranges.

Then as I turned the corner onto Guy Street I came up behind a couple of middle aged guys walking and talking in formation, one in the middle of the footpath, the other out on the street itself. About four metres apart. Very carefully observing the correct social distance.

The one out on the street was dressed in shorts and T shirt. On the back of the T shirt were printed the words, “I didn’t do it”.

So I looked back to see if there was a turd in the middle of the street.

Satisfied that he wasn’t discarding infected faecal matter I joined the formation and completed the right triangle with the blunt end leading and me at the trailing sharp end. And so we progressed with me at a good fifteen metres social distance. Until I got sick of that and crossed the street and powered on past them.

Still wondering what it was that he claimed he didn’t do.

Quite a few dogs out this morning taking their humans for a walk. On leads of course. Responsibly. In these times when we are discovering that we humans (and huwomans) don’t actually rule the world, it might be time to question whether we domesticated the dog, or whether the dog domesticated us.

I didn’t dream that one up by myself. I read it somewhere a few years ago.

There was this one dog that looked exactly like his human.

Reminds me that a long time ago I tried to convince my children that the other animals invented zoos so that they could observe the human version.

One car at the BP petrol station, and a tanker delivering fuel. One young woman came out of the dairy on High Street with a bottle of Coke. Really. A corpulent young guy came out with a pack of cigarettes. At over $40 a pack I thought how glad I am that I gave it away on ANZAC Day 1983. Took me about 34 years to fully live up to Grandma Galloping Gertie’s advice about health.

Three people queueing at the Pharmacy. Two mobility scooters (and their drivers) on the street. Hadn’t seen them about since Day Whatever minus Whatever. A while ago, when there used to be lots of them on the street.

Only 42 cars in the New World carpark and three people in the queue. Seems like there might be a downturn in the curve. But of course one swallow does not a summer make.

Nor one dopey power walking scribbler a literary giant. But I enjoy it. And it keeps me sane. Mostly.

The Rhythm of the Crosscut Saw

Day Whatever + 4

Daylight saving over. Woke up an hour early. Or was that actually the same time but earlier. Time. An invention of humankind that doesn’t have much use in lockdown, except to drag out the boredom, if you’re inclined to boredom. As a septuagenarian I’m inclined to measure life by the passing of the seasons, this being the season of lockdown, although my garden says it’s Autumn.

But if you look across the millennia you’ll see that the seasons of Plague and Pestilence have long been with us, only not as regular and predictable as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Today in the Coronavirus Chronicles. Musings on rhythm. No, not the rhythm family planning method. But the rhythm of lockdown. Mind you, the lockdown might require some careful family planning. It’s like living next to the railway isn’t it.

52 cars in the New World carpark this morning. A short queue. Sunday. Dairy closed. I might have been a bit early. Pharmacy closed. No cars at the petrol stations. Street signs intact. All’s well in Dannevirke.

Grandfather Fred, he who brought home the power walking war bride, was a bushman. Before and after WW1 he cut down trees for a living. He was a master of the crosscut saw. He taught me the rhythm of the crosscut saw, and the rhythm of the scythe. I was far too young to be of any use on my end of the saw, and dwarfed by the scythe, but he taught me that rhythm was the key, not muscle.

One day, when he was well into his 70’s, he arrived at my aunt’s place on his bicycle with his crosscut saw and axe, ready to help the son-in-law cut down and turn a big old tree into firewood. The uncle-in-law muttered under his breath that the old bugger would just be getting in the way, but they got to work.

At the end of the day the uncle-in-law was stuffed. Grandfather Fred had hardly raised a sweat, and he stood leaning on his crosscut saw in the middle of piles of firewood, with a wicked smile in his eye. He’d delivered to the son-in-law the same lesson he’d taught me years earlier. Rhythm, and a few other things besides.

Later I was to witness and learn the rhythm of other forms of labour. In the shearing shed, out on the fenceline, on the chain at the freezing works. Rhythm rather than muscle made the work easier and the working day flow on by. There was rhythm and harmony in the whole way our whanau shearing gang worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. But a few shearers in our gang were inclined to muscle their way through the long day. The best of them flowed through the day.

The crosscut saw and the shearing gang as metaphors for life.

There is rhythm in everything. The athlete in the zone has found her rhythm. The artist in the act of creation has found his rhythm. There is rhythm in the way of the soldier, the merchant, and the artisan. There is rhythm in the whole of life, and there is rhythm in the Void. Rhythm is everything. Disturbances in the rhythm are the source of much of the chaos in society.

We have been advised to establish routines in the lockdown. But more than that we need to find rhythm in the lockdown. The unconscious mind is hardwired to fiercely resist change and shifting from the rhythm of before COVID-19 and finding rhythm in the lockdown may not be easy for those inclined to muscle their way through life. It will not be easy for them after Lockdown either. The whole world is changing and we will need to change with it.

The pathogens are showing us that humankind is not the only musician in the band. We resisted that truth in our collective denial of climate change. There is no resisting the virus.The rhythm of our lives is being changed for us. Best we use the lockdown to find that rhythm.

An American colonel of my acquaintance once observed that I march like a drummer in a rock band.