The Northerner, September 1975
Hick kid on a full platform,
Palmerston North emblazoned
on a smoked stained sign,
empty cups of tea on seats
where passengers sat,
the cold at 8.30pm evident
as Mum and Dad wave me off,
Mums tears hidden by a warm smile
back to Auckland for me,
young sailor heading back to work.
The sounds of carriages graunch together
as the locomotive takes the slack
and pulls out of the station, slowly
then building as city lights give in to
scattered splatterings of farms, dark
in the night, I sit on hardened worn
leather and wood, sparse, uncomfortable
my bed for the night, and the smell
of diesel fumes waft down the carriage
and starts to drift people off to sleep.
All the carriages are full, young, old
and all those in between, and I am in
a carriage of quiet, not my scene
for the long journey ahead, so I stand
and walk back first, back to the rear
carriages and the party buses, the "gats" out
the songs flowing with amber fluid
and the harder stuff, to fight the cold,
I sit, unfold my prize, 26 ounces
of black gold, Coruba rum, and they strum,
strumming songs from the Maori Hit Parade,
Ten Guitars, Sheryl Moana Marie, and we
are all friends on the journey of night,
cold night and soon the bottle empties
warming my vocals and the freindships,
and a mad dash for all to the Taihape Hotel,
fighting your way through the Ten O'clock melee
of Holden V8's and Black Power boys
crowding the pub with their ever presence,
their place, but we nightly invaders struggle
always a struggle, to do it in the 14 minutes
those who drank tea took to eat a pie
and down their Railways Cup brew,
but we all seemed to make it, tea and booze
and the rest who spent the time to snooze.
and the cold hits you, as soldiers came and went
round the vast darkness of a mountain asleep
and Ohakune, the compulsory stop
where crews changed, northbound/southbound
and the party went on, liquid fire.
I had never seen it , until I drove it one day,
years later on the daylight railcar,
Raurimu Spiral, feat of engineering
and kiwi ingenuity, round and round
and up and down, a splendour once viewed,
towns that existed due to the very rails
that passed through them, stock towns
heartland New Zealand, but darkened by
the night trains ritual, and sleeping,
yet the party wore on as the grog dies,
and the clickety click of bogeys on the bridge
over the mighty Waikato soon had sleep
burgeoning and the rest of the trip was
one of comfort, booze addled comfort
and to this day I look at those seats, and wonder
places I slept through, and never met,
and then the stop, the silence, Auckland
and the early morning bustle of light and
commuter traffic, life again, and work so soon
and I have survived another trip on the train.
The Northerner, may you rest in peace, New Zealand Icon
Tucked into my tuna salad,
peered from the wide window vista
onto a northwest wind whipped landscape
of the North Canterbury Plains,
spied snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Listened to the sonata of the clickety clack
of steel wheels on a steel track, a lullaby
time flew by, soon the wide reaches
of the Waimakariri passed underneath
and rata trees and beech greened the view.
Craned my neck, left and right,
tall mountains of the Southern Divide
made this ride pale into insignificance, soon,
the little settlement of Arthurs Pass
my old hometown, way back when.
Twenty minute stop, walked a round a little,
visited the old school, the ranger station,
and the house at number two Sunrise Place,
skipped stones across a once dammed creek,
gawked at the sight in the little chapel, magic.
All aboard, and through that long, long tunnel,
slept a little, lulled by the dark, and the wheel song,
jumped alert at the other side, bright western light,
the ghost town of Otira now rotting away,
the occassional life styler, and hermit walking.
Across the broad green water enriched reach
of the West Coast plains, beech forested mountains
slipping behind, and the train rolled into Greymouth,
coastal city, flooding river, flooded beer halls,
and a population born hard to be hard, secluded.
and written before the Earthquake.
Picton to Kaikoura, the coast road
enveloped in green hills and blue waters
Picton, jewel of the sounds
stands alone in simplicity,
small town, big outlook.
I drive on, the ferry behind,
churning whitewater for Wellington
and pass the gap into Marlborough,
into the flat expanse, the Koromiko
cheese factory closed long ago, shame!
Journey on to Blenheim
a small place trying to be big, never!
supporting a rural diversity, wine and crop
cattle and sheep, and fishing too
stop for KFC in case I get hungry.
Now out on the highway, southbound
past farms and houses and people
going about their daily commerce,
down to the Awatere River and that crazed
bridge, one way, rail on top, makes me smile.
Through King Dicks town, and Ward;
little farming places where even the petrol
companies have withdrawn support,
ever onwards to the coast and the lure
of green seas and gulls flying in the breeze.
The loneliness draws in, as do the might
of the Seaward Kaikoura's, imposing
in their might so close to the ocean,
I admire the rockiness, and stony beaches
the raw power of nature not yet whittled.
The road narrows, and trucks inch past at speed
on their daily milk runs to and fro,
unlike me, cognisant of the seals
and large beds of sea kelp swimming in unison
with the rough waves and ebbing tide.
Offshore, leviathans of the deep roar
in their abundant playground,
diving to depths not measured and for food
never exhausted, Southern Wrights, Sperm,
and Orca all frolic for tourists to admire.
Through tunnels, and past railway lines etched
deep into cliffs and scree escarpments,
little towns that exist for the pleasure
of passing motorists, and life that is simple,
and their it shines, journeys' end, Kaikoura.
I have travelled that road many a time,
and always, I see the same things, but different
somehow, and I know that I will have to travel again,
that stretch of tarmac, gravel and scree, I yearn
for that road, for that pleasure, as do my kids.