At last it was all decided. The Riddell family were to leave "Annani" and the hills of Waverly and go to live in the Waikato.
"There're 2433 acres, and it's all flat," young Tom told his sisters, bul none of them could really imagine so much country without hills.
"How, do we get there, Father?" they asked excitedly.
In 1905 the Main trunk railway had not been completed, and the Waikato seemed as far off and as inaccessible as the moon. Mr. Riddell explained that they would go by train to New Plymouth where they would get on the steamer to take them to Onehunga. Another train ride down to Taupiri, and a waggon would be needed to take them the last eight miles to the Woodlands homestead.
"You girls will have to help your mother pack," added the Father gruffly. "Baby Don is only a year old, and Jessie's just four."
He was realising how many things were still to be considered. The four eldest children could hardly sleep that night as they thought of the exciting changes; none of them had ever been to New Plymouth and now there was a night in the steamer too. But in the morning as he was milking the cow before getting ready for school, Bili had another idea. "Father," he said, " What about the cows? Can we take them on the boat with us? Mr. Riddell had already given the matter some thought. He was rather proud of the line of roan cows he had bred, and of course the horses would be needed on the new place.
"Jim and I coulc drive them up," suggested Bill, ready to tackle any adventure, but Maggie said, "Don't be silly. There isn't even a road most of the way."
''There's a coach road up through Taupo," said Mr. Riddell thoughtfully, "but of course you boys could not attempt it without someone older with you.''
"Alex Howie took a herd of cows up to the Waikato last year," someone told him. "Go and see Alex Howie."
Alex had recently taken up a block of land near WaverJy, but when James Riddell discussed the problem with him, he said, "It is not safe taking a herd up through the Taupo way now, but I've been up the Coast route three times with stock. Its a tough trlp, takes about three weeks. I need money to start our farm here, so I'll go with your stock if you like."
It was decided to take 15 horses and 9 heifers. "The old cows won' l travel very well," Alex commented, "but Blossom's foal is old enough and she is still feeding it, so we will be able to use her milk for our porridge and tea."
"Mare' s milk!" ejaculated Bill. He was still disappointed that he was considered too young to go with the horses, but Alex Howie had engaged another drover, Roto Piti, who had made the trip before and Jim, the oldest Riddell boy, was to ride also.
On that exciting morning, everyone at Annani was early astir. Carefully Alex checked the packs; flour, oatmeal, tea, salt and sugar were put in waterproof bags and tied securely on Blossom's broad back. A billy and camp oven, difficult to carry but essential for good travelling were added. Jess, the other big bay mare, carried the tent, while some of the others were loaded with oats for the horses and cows on the hungry part of the trip, when they had reached the end of the road at Awakino, and followed the old Maori War trail along the beach.
Mrs. Riddell felt a little afraid for her eldest son as the group clattered out of the yard and down the road-it was such a lonely route they were to travel, but she had no time to worry. The waggons that were to take them to the station were already loaded and they too had left the old home by 8 o'clock.
"We'll have to try to keep them moving," said Alex as they reached the main road. "If we can reach Patea tonight we'll stay with my friend there. It will be a more comfortable bed after our first day in the saddle.''
The eight draft horses plodded along steadily, snatching a mouthful of grass as they went, with Billy the foal poking his nose into everything that he saw and then running after his mother with a little squeal and a buck. After the first hour or so, the heifers went easily too, all except Rosie, who tried to dodge down any side track she saw thinking that grass she could not reach was much sweeter. It was the two carriage horses, Lady and Kitty, which gave the most trouble. At first they tried to dodge back, and then when Alex spun Black Diamond beside them, they galloped past Roto who was riding in front. When he tried to stop them, the whole mob was upset and scattered across an unfenced burn where half-buried logs lay in all directions. Jim held his breath. Surely one of the horses would break a leg as they half-jumped, half-slid over the obstacles. What a start to their journey! Billy, the foal, took a header over a tangle of rata, and, half-winded, scrambled to his feet to stand trembling. His anxious mother came quickly to him, and the other big horses stopped to eat. So did the heifers and even Kitty and Lady decided it was not much fun to run by themselves. The boys switched their saddles onto the two troublesome horses, hoping their ponies would follow more obediently.
An excited family caught the train at Auckland to come to Taupiri, then by waggon to "Woodlands".
It was almost dusk when they reached the home of Alex's friend where they were gladly welcomed. Jim and Roto stared in surprise. There were no candles - only little round lights covered in glass. There seemed no way to blow them out. The boys were even more surprised when they were shown a cord that you pulled to make the light go off and on. "It's electricity," explained their hostess. "25 men in this district helped to build a power house on the stream to make electricity, and it seems more wonderful every day. You know, they say they can even make stoves that don't need firewood. Fancy not having to cut wood." As he fell asleep, Jim wondered if the rest of the journey would be as exciting.
Two glorious days followed and they made good progress, in spite of the muddy, unfenced track, even the heifer Rosie becoming less troublesome, though they had to remember to look for her after each short rest. But on the following afternoon it began to rain, and an icy wind blew from the Mt. Egmont they could not see. Suddenly, they came upon a waggon stuck to its axles in a deep mud hole on the road. One of the wheelers had panicked, kicking over the chains, and now seemed likely to upset the waggon. Quickly Alex and Roto were off their horses and with hand and voice steadied the terrified one. Wet and cold though they were, they quietly went about harnessing their own team to the waggon too, and soon it was on firmer ground. The plucky little driver, scarcely more than ten years old, was splattered with mud from head to foot and shivering with cold.
"We live just down this lane,'' he said as he stammered his thanks, "Would you like to stay at our place tonight?" Gladly the travellers accepted the invitation, very pleased to sleep in a dry shed and thankful indeed for the mother's offer of a hot meal. "It wouldn't be easy to cook outside in this pouring rain." thought Jim, realising that this is just what they would have had to do if they had not come across this isolated farm. "It's all this rain that makes the grass grow so well in Taranaki," sighed their hostess, "but I wish it didn't make so much mud. Inglemud, I call this district." and she suggested they come up to the house for a hot breakfast before starting off next morning.
Several days later they had reached Mt. Messenger. The cows found the winding track steep and difficult and even Lady and Kitty were too tired to dash ahead. The joyful song of countless tuis and bellbirds filled the air, but in many places the tall trees nearly met overhead and Jim felt overawed by the grandeur of the bush. "The first time I went this way, we had to go over the top," Alex told the others." That really is a difficult climb, but there's a tunnel now. When we get through, we'll stop for lunch."
Black Diamond threw up his beautiful head and danced a little as he came to the mouth of the tunnel, but the others were too tired to bother, just plod on and on, why they did not know. "I smell smoke,'·' said Alex suddenly and as they came round a corner onto a little cleared patch they saw a group of men, a billy gaily boiling and several horses feeding quietly near by.
"Lunch is almost ready," called a voice, "Sausages and new bread. One of the men came over and introduced himself.
"I'm Jennings, the member of Parliament for Mt. Egmont," and he repeated the invitation to lunch. Those sausages were good. And baker's bread! Everyone was busy eating when round the corner trudged a couple of children, followed by two cows and father and mother and four more children, all carrying fairly heavy packs. As they joined in the fun father explained that he had drawn a farm at Totaro. "We are so glad to get started on our own land, that we couldn't wait till there is a proper road. so we are carrying everything we can ourselves."
"I've got my own clothes," piped up five-year-old Joan busily eating a sausage, but Daddy's carrying the most."
They explained that they intended to put up a tent until they could cut and split enough slabs to make a hut. "Before it gets too cold, I hope," said the mother, though many did spend more than a year in a tent.
''I've got lots of seeds in my pack," one of the girls said proudly, "Vegetables and flowers too. We are going to have a pretty garden soon."
Everyone was so enthusiaistic about the new farm, each expecting to take a share in the work and anticipating the thrill of achievement. It was a pleasant break in the journey, but soon Alex, Roro and Jim saddled their horses again, and collected their mob together for the downward climb, the children and parents shouldered their packs once more and off they went leaving Mr Jennings and his friends to clean up the site and ride away too.
"You know " said Roto as they crossed the Tongaporutu River, "if we were really following the ancient war route we would go down the White Cliffs on vine ladders, but now there's a road as far as Awakino, so we don't go down to the beach till then".
They reached Mokau early one morning and came down to the waiting punt. Everyone near came to help. At least the heifers were all aboard: the ponies went on sniffing suspiciously not really giving much trouble, but when Billy the foal came jostling and snorting beside his mother, the punt master called angrily, "that foal will have to be tied up."
"But he hasn't been broken yet," said Alex.
"Can't help that. Won't have him on unless he's tied up," snapped the master, "A stupid colt near1y upset the punt last week."
When they attempted to tie the foal he struggled so fiercely that the punt master angrily told them to "Take that animal off and teach it better manners."
There was nothing for it but to unload the whole mob; then the horses were hobbled and Billy tied securely to a tree while Alex tried to make him understand that he must stand still. Roto and Jim, glad of the unexpected holiday, went to catch fish, delicious cooked over hot coals on the beach.
By the following day, Billy would stand as quietly as his mother, and they all crossed in the punt without any more trouble.
The journey up the coast taxed all the men's ability as drovers. The firm sand was perhaps not as difficult as the mud of Taranaki roads, but there was no grass for the animals to eat, and soon they began to think they were hungry. Sometimes steep cliffs came down to the water's edge and sometimes sand-ounes stretched as far back as the eye could see. There was a loneliness that was frightening.
I'd never find my way," thought Jim with a shudder, and was glad that Alex ano Roro seemed to know just where they could camp for the night.
At last they turned inland."My cousin lives here at Kinohaku," said Roro,"Let's stay here."
They were welcomed in true Maori fashion, but they did not get away very early next morning, and evening saw them pitching their camp at Oparau. Now there was a formed road to follow and they made good progress till they reached Raglan. Here they picked up the waggon which had been unloaded from the scow which the Riddell famify had travelled from New Plymouth.
"We should do it in two days from here," said Alex optimistically as they waited for the chops and potatoes to cook in the camp oven. Alex was a good camp cook and the food was usually well done. After the evening meal he soaked the oatmeal in the camp oven, and in the morning covered it with a hot manuka fire while preparing the horses for the day's journey. Then the porridge was just the thing for a hungry man.
The sun had barely risen over the horizon before they had left the camp site and started up the valley towards hills. They had been climbing through the bush for hours when suddenly Jim said, "There are only eight heifers. Has anyone seen Rosie?" No one could remember when they had last seen the troublesome cow. They counted; they called; there was no reply; no roan head poking out from behind a punga.
"We' d better go and look for her," said Alex despondently. "Jim, you stay with these, and Roro and I will go back down the road."
It seemed a long day to Jim, waiting there in the lonely bush. Alex and Roro rode slowly, seeking, calling, but they had nearly reached Raglan and were beginning to despair when they heard an angry moo. There was Rosie, stuck fast in a little swamp, covered with mud and sinking deeper as she floundered. "It serves you right," said Alex but he untied the rope that was always on his saddle and threw it over the head of the unfortunate cow. While Roro cut branches to throw on the mud, Alex tightened the rope on the horn of his saddle and Black Diamond pulled her free. With a squelching of muddy water the cow stepped onto the firmer ground of the road, shaking her head angrily. Too cross to be careful, Alex slipped off the horse to untie the rope, but with a bellow the cow knocked him flying, then tore off up the road. "Keep up with her," yelled Alex, as Roro came anxiously to help him, "For goodness sake don't let her out of your sight." So Roro rode on, Alex following more slowly as his bruised leg and side stiffened. But he dared not linger in spite of the pain. Even so darkness fell before they could find a clearing in the Bush where they could camp for the night and the animals could feed. There was no water either. "This will have to do," Alex said at last. "We'll light our fire in the middle of the road, and put the tent just beside it. Tie some of the horses to the trees."
Poor Alex could hardly stand up, and was grateful when the two younger boys cut the fern for his bed. That night there was a heavy frost and it was bitterly cold even under the trees, the most unpleasant night of the journey.
"The horses seem strangely restless this morning," said Roro as they helped Alex onto Black Diamond, "I think I'll ride Kitty and put Lady on the lead."
An hour's riding brought them out into a sunlit cutting where a couple of years before the road had been straightened and widened. Now the banks were thickly covered with a shining, green-leafed plant, its long flowers hanging over the road. Blossom took one sniff and stalked on, little Billy prancing beside her, but the other horses snatched at the leaves so close to their heads. Then they started to grab great mouthfuls, pushing each other out of the way to get more. Roto urged the heifers through the cutting to where Blossom had found a patch of clover, but Rosie turned back to try the leaves. At once she was grabbing and stuffing her mouth even more viciously than the horses. "They've gone mad," muttered Jim in dismay. "They take no notice of me. They only want to eat that stuff."
Suddenly Rosie gave an agonised bellow and fell to her knees, her whole body shuddering in a violent fit.
"That weed," shouted Jim. "It's poisonous. Get the animals away." "It's tutu. It must be tutu and I did not recognise it," said Alex with a sob in his voice, and all three men tried to move the horses away from the danger.
Rosie bellowed again. As if it was a signal, seven of the horses fell to their knees in violent convulsions. Alex whipped out his knife. "I am going to bleed them," he said and he ordered the others to take Black Diamond and all the animals that could move, down the hill to the first farm they could find. It was a nightmare journey. The horses that had. tasted the tutu tried desperately to reach more; two others had to be left on the road foaming at the mouth and twitching in every muscle, but at last they reached a gate, and the farmer himself was standing there wondering at the unusual noises on the hill. They had hardly told their tale before he, too, took out his knife. "We'll bleed them," he said, and sent Jim up to the house to get lime water to give to those that would drink.
"Tutu poisoning doesn't usually effect a whole mob unless they have been overdriven, but it. is probably because they haven't had enough to drink, and the frost on the leaves didn't help."
In spite of all the men could do, only seven horses and eight heifers reached Woodlands, and those horses that had tasted the tutu did not recover enough to be of any use. Most of them had to be destroyed, but Kitty lived for several years, her muscles so twisted that she could hardly hobble, but producing a healthy foal each spring.
Mr Riddell was very upset. Horses were absolutely essential on the Woodlands farm. Every year about 100 acres had to be ploughed and sown in swedes; then rape planted for Autumn feed, as well as oats to make into chaff. For all this work, horses were needed. He had to buy new horses, a necessary expense, he felt.
What an unfortunate start in a new district.
Rushes ‘an Raupo, To cows an’ Clover by Edith Williamson