John Irvine stands at the top of ‘The Gutbuster’ track in the Orongorongo Valley near Wellington. He learned some hard lessons on this first expedition into the hills.
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Contributed by John Irvine of Coromandel.
1957 was a darn good year. When I turned 17, I was invited on my first deer-hunting expedition by my friend Tommy’s father, Bob. He took us two enthusiastic but raw recruits into the Orongorongo Valley, near Lower Hutt, armed with his reliable 1883 .303 single shot Enfield Martini.
The tramp from the roadside up a track aptly named ‘The Gutbuster’ almost did for Tommy and me. The old bloke had to keep stopping for us, and smirked a little. After a brief rest at the top we set out for an old hunter’s whare [shack].
Scrambling down a steep part of the track the old feller called back, ‘Watch your step here boys!’ I didn’t take any notice and leapt calf deep into a putrefying goat carcass. My new tramping boots, jeans and Naenae Soccer Club footy socks were engulfed in pungent, liquefied entrails. Our mentor didn’t bother to hide his amusement.
I rinsed out my stinking socks, jeans (no spares) and boots in the freezing river. As there was a light breeze in our faces, I was asked to bring up the rear.
Bob set a fire and boiled the billy as soon as we arrived at the hut. Downing several cups of hot tea strong enough to strip paint and sweetened with dollops of condensed milk, we unpacked and had a look around. Bob advised us greenhorns to relax for the remainder of the afternoon as we’d be away well before dawn.
The strenuous exercise tramping in, plus my adventure with the deceased goat, had stimulated my system, and I asked Bob about how to ... you know, get a load off my mind.
‘Well, son,’ he said slowly, looking up sagely from his rifle and oily rag, ‘just wander away downwind somewhere, find yourself a convenient fallen tree and hang your bum over it.’
I frowned an ‘OK,’ and disappeared into the thick bush, muttering unhappily at the prospect of sitting across some rough ant- and spider-infested log. Not far into the ferns and trees I found a fallen rimu. It had been there a long time by the looks of it, as there were clusters of loathsome psychedelic fungi growing all over it. One limb, three feet or so from the ground, had a slight downward bow. It looked as suitable as anything could be under the circumstances.
Clambering up onto the branch, I lowered my jeans and took a deep breath. I had to admit that it was quite comfortable, and I could hang onto a thin branch on either side.
I heard a tūī calling, and a kererū creaked close by at high speed. I found myself relishing the solitude, and even hummed a few toe-tapping bars of ‘Rock around the clock.’
The single, invaluable, unforgettable lesson I learned that first day was: ‘Never swing your feet underneath you when hanging your bum over a bush lavatory.’
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