Memorable yarns

These stories were told to me by Lucy Moore, Al Hamilton, Mervyn Morrison and Frank Hudson – all old friends from the Warkworth/Kaipara flats area and all now deceased …

During the First World War, spinster Phoebe Southgate lived in a villa, now 24 Pulham Road, Warkworth. Her bachelor brother, Walter, a carrier by trade, lived down by the bowling green. However, Walter drove his cart up the hill each evening to  dine with his sister.  When Lucy Moore and her sisters, Hilda and Beryl, were walking home from the old Percy Street school, they would sometimes call in to have a chat with Phoebe. This was well before electricity came to Warkworth. Phoebe was often to be found stirring a pot of stew on the Shacklock wood stove. A drop of moisture would tremble on the end of her nose, and the girls would wait on tenterhooks for the inevitable to happen. They were rarely disappointed!

One time, Phoebe had hurt her leg and Mrs John Morrison, on hearing this, decided to pay a neighbourly visit. She found Phoebe propped up in bed with her legs stretched out in front of her. Mrs Morrison patted the nearest leg and said, “Oh, you poor dear! Your leg is as big as a bucket.” Great was her embarrassment when Phoebe told her that she was patting the wrong leg!

Another pair of unmarried siblings, Walter and Bella Bowman, lived in the valley sweeping down from the base of the Dome. Walter once caught the evening steamer from Warkworth to Auckland. When the boat cleared the Mahurangi Heads, the seas became choppy. A passenger coming up on deck saw Walter emptying his stomach over the side. He questioned Walter about his reaction to the rolling vessel, and Walter replied in sepulchral tones, “I drank a gallon of milk today, and it’s a-a-all tu-u-urned to cu-urds!”
One day, Fred Dill was driving from the Kaipara Hills to Warkworth in his Model T Ford. After turning onto the highway at the corner, now known as Keith Hay Corner, he saw the figure of Bella Bowman, clad in voluminous black skirts, walking along the side of the road. He pulled up in a gentlemanly way and asked if she would like a lift. Bella looked him up and down in a suspicious manner, then climbed in. She opened her bag, took out a small hand gun, and laid it on her lap. There was no mistaking the message she was sending.

During the Depression, unemployed men would walk the highways and byways, looking for work. Fred was fixing a roadside fence on his Kaipara Hills farm when one of these men approached him and asked if he had any work. Fred asked him what work he could do. “I could help with the shearing.” “It’s not shearing time.” “ I could help with the lambing.” “It’s not lambing time.” “Well what time is it?” “It’s tupping time.” “Then I could help with the tupping.” Tupping referred to the period when rams are sent out to impregnate ewes. Fred always told this story at the annual RSA dinners, and it kept the local people in stitches of laughter for several years.

When Arthur Hudson was clearing the bush on his Kaipara Flats farm he would employ Wenzl (pronounced “Wince”) Wech to pull out the logs with his team of bullocks. Wenzl kept his savings in a tobacco tin, which he would leave on top of a fence post while he was working. Arthur’s young son, Frank, would often take the notes out of the tin and count them, thinking longingly of the motorbike that he could buy with that sort of money. Somebody once convinced Wenzl that he should put some of his money in the bank to keep it safe, so Wenzl reluctantly deposited £5. Sometime later he went to withdraw the money and found that most of it had disappeared in bank charges. “I knew dem bloody banks was like dat!”
Kae Hepana was an old Maori gentleman who lived for quite some time around Kaipara Flats.

One evening, just on dusk, he and a mate were riding their horses home when they came to the Grave Bridge. They stopped and held a confabulation on whether or not they should cross the bridge, or ride home the long way. The trouble with the bridge was that a bushman had once been buried nearby after being killed by a falling tree, and at night time the kehua (ghost) came out. The result of the discussion was that they would take the risk and ride across so, said Kae, “We pulled our hats over our faces and we gallop. Hori Mighty, how we gallop!”