GEYSERLAND GUILD OF WOODWORKERS

Short stories by Bob Collins

In 1988 Bob was asked if he would write some short stories to be broadcast on the radio. The following are some of those stories.

“THE ODYSSEY OF AN IDIOT”

BOB COLLINS 1956 - 23-06-2006.

After the 1956 Ranger Training Course where I graduated top equal with about sixteen others in such vital subjects as alcohol consumption, seduction (I got myself engaged) and baiting the bosses, I returned to Kaingaroa Forest as a cable logging crew boss, the same job I had previous to the course. I did have a change of designation; from a total failure 4th grade ranger to a brand new Assistant Ranger. Note: I said a change. In 1957 I married Betty Heffeman with a bloke called “Daddy Pash” Perston as best man (Okay Scruff, just remember who is typing this story!!). Betty proved to be a steadying influence on my rather flamboyant lifestyle-shooting deer and rugby, in fact she, plus two children (1958 and 1960) probably salvaged my later auspicious career path from early demise.

Three months later, the only cable logging crew boss suffered a very serious and permanent injury, so I was put in charge of both gangs, mainly because I was the only dude, stupid enough to be a rigger, left in the outfit. This job later expanded when I became 2IC of Kaingaroa Clear Felling. I hasten to point out that this was, in those days, a very small job. There were only 5 clear felling crews in Kaingaroa and our only customer was Waipa Sawmill.

In 1960, Reg Fell had opened the Murupara Pub. One night the famous bush boss of Minginui Forest, after overindulging in the pub, broke his neck on the way home by way of a car crash.

Yep! My golden trail of fame seems to be punctuated by the misfortune of others. The Officer in Charge of Minginui didn’t know how to top trees, raise spars or to rig them and anyhow, wanted to go off on a prolonged holiday. I was sent by my masters to Minginui for two weeks to set up and rig two skyline log loading skids. I stayed on there for thirty two years. I can’t recall but I guess the prolific number of deer queuing up to be shot and the shoals of trout in the Whirinaki River, slowed up the rigging of that second skid!

The O.C. of Minginui never came back to Minginui. After breaking his leg in California, he returned to Wellington to continue his logging career. As a result of this misfortune, I became O.C. of Minginui, a wonderful career opportunity which included a mighty pay rise (about 3 pence a week). With this level of authority, I began making life a bit easier for myself. Besides, I needed more time to attack the rampant deer population!

In 1964, I wrote a long and detailed report with maps, diagrams and graphs, stating that I was tired of rigging monstrous loading systems when some dude in America had invented a machine called a Hough 90; rubber tyred, self transporting, roadside working, haul distance reducing and, in tiny print, saving time to shoot deer. Forest Service magnanimous Engineering stuffed white shirts were finally beaten into submission and, with huge generosity, granted permission for me to hire a Hough 90 for a two week trial-and they would pay for it!

Sadly, after eight and a half months, Engineering Division had a financial blowout and file resulting audit revealed they were still paying for Minginui’s log loading cost. (In that period, my own audit showed my deer control success had increased by 20%, thus offsetting Engineering’s deficit). To cover their backsides, Engineering declared the trial a success. Minginui got a Hough 90 and I got a double increment and, at last, a decent pay rise. The deer population (decreasing) were not amused.

Previous to my arrival, the holidaying O.C. had planted in exotics, most of the flat indigenous cut-over and scrubland, so I was obliged to tackle the steep and broken hill country. Burning “heavy fuel” indigenous cut over requires some careful planning and I quickly learned that these fires had no intention of being controlled by firebreaks or men. I also realised that, because Minginui is isolated, nosy F.S. personnel rarely visited and that Minginui Sawmills would accept blackened logs. Reporting escaped fires in written form reduces deer shooting time, not to mention fishing, so I used my initiative when it came to reporting. This wonderful time saving ploy was shaken when, on one occasion in the 1980s, a neighboring District Ranger, bludging a ride on the Fire Spotter plane which was violating MY airspace, detected a wisp of smoke in a patch of rimu growing just outside our fire perimeter. I had to report that one which I did by way of stating, at the End of Burning Season meeting, ”Whirinaki’s burning programme for next year’s planting season had achieved 120% success”.

In 1967, the resident District Ranger (Te Urewera) retired and, shortly after, died. He had had failing health for over a year, so I had been helping him out with his work- between deer hunting sorties. Well, I was Johnny On the Spot, knew the job and was given it along with the hoped for pay rise. Still cashing in on others’ misfortunes!

In 1970, the Vietnam war arrived at Minginui. I got a visit from the SAS who had just been refused permission to hold warlike exercises in Te Urewera National Park because it was deemed that they would “disturb the tranquility of the bird life”. Being the son of a WW1 soldier, I had sympathy for them, so said “How about this forest?” and showed them some of my favorite deer hunting spots. They accepted the invitation with enthusiasm and solicited my assistance to set up heavy forest navigation exercises, live shooting ranges with pop up targets, defense of horse tracks used for foot traffic and the ambush of the same. I also had troops working in the crews with the tree fallers, so they could cut helicopter pads in Asian jungles. When they asked me to help set up a “Deep Penetration Navigation” exercise, I demanded more detail, explaining I had no desire to influence the sexual preferences of their troops. Shortly before they departed overseas, they presented me with their unit “One Ranger SQN N.Z.S.A.S. plaque, telling me that it was the first one ever going to a civilian. I am very proud of it, even today. S.A.S. still use Whirinaki Forest for training. The rest of the military got in on the act too, using the forest to train new recruits, signals units and to test new transport. Of course, I had to answer to complaints from D.S.A., visiting hunters, trampers and even our own Conservancy DPF outfit. It is amazing how many reports I had of deer escaping because a big bang occurred just as the sights were coming to bear. It didn’t worry me, I just kept on knocking over one or two each week.

My District Ranger duties included control of a village of 92 houses and all the Forest Service interests throughout the Urewera. This included control of logging off Maori owned blocks from a boundary protection, catchment protection and log sales point of view in both Ruatahuna and Maungapohatu regions. Just to keep me busy, staff training, safety, fire control, search and rescue, wild animal control etc., also came my way.

Selection logging replaced clear-felling in Whirinaki Forest on 12 May 1975, the first North Island forest to do so as policy. This brought in a whole new set of skills, techniques, methods, roading engineering and standards, and equipment. This wreaked havoc with my already declining deer tally. At the same time, because of rising unemployment, the area of unoccupied Crown Land called Te Papa, was roaded and planting was started.

In 1976,the Te Whaiti-Nui-a-Toi land lease was taken up by NZ Forest Service and roading and planting of that forest was also started. Minginui personnel rose to 22 staff and 165 wage workers. The deer thought I had gone on holiday but they had a new problem. The venison export trade really took off and so we ended up with approximately 20 full time meat hunters along with an equal number of opossum trappers and poisoners, all of whom had to be allocated areas of activity, controlled by Minginui staff. All those hunting fellows were dedicated poachers, permit swappers and womanisers but very likable rogues. The village population exploded with an unprecedented number of fatherless babies and about 37 pack horses, all of which caused huge problems.

After all this settled down, came the helicopters. Cowboys in the sky!! The great Gods of Forestry issued an edict that “District Rangers, yes that means you Collins, control them!!” Many of the cowboys were ex deer cullers, previously employed in the Urewera. I had to deal with all sorts of crafty slinters and tricks, poaching, angry ground hunters, thieving of traps and equipment with complaints from D.S. A., Te Urewera National Parks and others. Things had just started to settle down when New Zealand’s farmers got into the act. They started deer farming but had no stock. Minister of Forests sent a directive for Forest Service personnel to actively aid and abet live deer capture. So, the wild merry go round started all over again - more mayhem and funerals, both of which interfered with my personal huntin/fishin activities.

Also, in 1976, we started a woman's gang at Minginui to plant podocarp seedlings where natural replacement of selectively logged trees failed. Selection logging was taking up most of my time, a situation which remained, one way or another, until the decommissioning of the Forest Service in 1987.

By 1978, we had only got this new endeavor working smoothly when along came the greenies to stuff it all up!! Yes, they arrived in force just after they had closed up the Pureora operation in January 1978. I found myself at the tip of a very sharp stick, guilty before proven, of every misdemeanor the Forest Service had committed in the past 35 years. I was the most hated man in all of greenie land. The battle raged in Whirinaki Forest for two years. Minginui won the battle but history, however, relates that we lost the war, betrayed by politicians in 1984!! The Bastards!! I will say no more about the Battle; I have already written a book about it, but I was fully occupied with it for two years and did little else.

The deer population thought I had died but in 1981, I got back into knocking a few more off From 1982 to 1984 Whirinaki staff and workforce worked to prepare Whirinaki Forest to be gazetted as a “Forest Park”. The Forest was opened as a Park on April 29th 1984.

By 1984, I had long been a member of Forest Service Industrial Fire Brigades. In that year I was awarded the “Queen’s Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct” in a disciplined organization of which, in New Zealand, there are only five Army, Navy, Airforce, Police and Fire Service. I also got a bar to the medal, well I certainly had long service (28 years in total) but I am not too sure about the good conduct bit as the Minginui brigade was the most ill disciplined outfit I ever belonged to.

Well, as we all know, the parliamentary lepers decommissioned the Forest Service in 1987 which was a sad time for me. Between 1984 when the new Labour Govt came into power and stopped selection logging in a flash, we had we had steadily reduced the staff from 22 to 4 and wage workers from 165 to 10.

I had three years left before retirement. So, out of the shambles, I applied to the brand new Dept, of Conservation to run their new District, covering the whole of the Urewera tract and extending out to the coast from Mahia Peninsular, almost to Napier. To the shock of the Greenies and, to my complete surprise, I got the job. Te Urewera National Park Authority, its staff and advisory committee were not too happy either. When Forest Service wound up, I held the rank of Principal Forest Ranger. The new job went with a much more important name. I was now a “District Conservator” wow!! But it didn’t come with a big rise in pay.

In this new job, I was obliged to change from the “Butcher” of the forest to “Protector” I went out and knocked off a couple of deer to celebrate my success! I was very pleased because I knew I had stuck a very sharp and barbed arrow fair up the-the-the nostrils (whew) of the greenie fraternity who still hated me.

My district boundary was pushed out to the east coast, so I found myself still living in Minginui village but responsible for whale stranding's on Mahia Peninsular. I didn’t know much about whale standings because in my time at Minginui, not many whales ventured that far up the Whirinaki River!

Well I drifted on in DOC, set up the new district and staffing, now not only the administrative head of Whirinaki Forest but also of Te Urewera National Park where the arch enemies of my anti greenie days still worked. It was interesting!!

During this transition in my working life, along came a bloke called Rabuka who pulled a coup in Fiji. You may well wonder how he could influence my life. It happened this way: NZ Army were caught with their pants down over this coup, so did a training exercise to counter any future island coups. They set up the boundaries of a mythical island which encompassed the Port of Napier, State Highway 5 as far as the Pohokura deviation, a large portion of eastern Kaingaroa Forest and the whole of Minginui Forest. Minginui Village was chosen as the stronghold of the rebel forces who were attacked by the NZ Forces plus a bunch of ill disciplined Australian troops and some South-east Asians (Thai, I think). This force was landed in Napier This "Island" was called "Conchise". The army sent, into Minginui, a group of about forty soldiers to be rebels, both male and female and Minginui villagers were given the choice of being Loyalists or Rebels. Well Minginui villagers are rebels to a man so all, including myself, opted to join the Rebels. In the spirit of the exercise, the community gave the visiting Rebel troops civilian clothes and jobs. They became forest workers, carpenters, meat hunters and road men. The women set themselves up as schoolteachers, a dental nurse and shop girls etc. Some were billeted with our own families. We also gave them private and departmental vehicles to provide them with mobility. The advance to the village by the Loyalist troops was even observed by the Sergeant-in-Charge of the Rebels from a live deer capture helicopter.

Of course, superior numbers won the day and they captured most, but not all, of the Rebel troops. At the time of the attack, we had one empty house in the village with a cave dug under it to store a dope crop. The previous house holder had been caught and, at the time, was spending a two year holiday at taxpayer expense. The villagers stuffed six Rebel troops into this cave, just before the village was occupied and liberated?! The invaders missed them in the clean-up. Next day, the victorious army lined up at the end of our football field, in front of our famous Working Mens Club, in parade ground precision, and twelve members of the Army Big Brass flew in on two Iroquois helicopters to inspect them. All the community went down to the field for a “look see”, taking with them the six uncaptured Rebel troops with their guns hidden under Swannies. Once the Brass stepped onto the grass, the community moved in close and the Rebel troops tapped all the Brass on their shoulders with the words “You are dead” It was beautiful to watch.

(In 1992 I met the Lt. Colonel of the Big Brass at a social function. He introduced himself to me. I reminded him that we had met before and, where. His reply was “And you killed the lot of us!!)

In 1989, DOC decided to restructure the Department again. From memory, I believe this was the third restructuring in three years. This time, they would disband the districts and administer the territories from regional H.Q.s. By this time, I had had a guts full of restructuring and I was only six months away from retirement, anyhow. One of the options offered to ageing staff was "Enhanced Early Retirement". Rumor had it that this was a carrot held out but nobody would qualify to get a bite of it. I decided to have a go but to get it, I reckoned I would have to do something special.

The DOC personnel officer in Wellington was a hard bitten, Irish ex Forest Service officer whom I knew very well, so things looked pretty grim. The restructuring programme and options were written up in a booklet by DOC's departmental Head who, in it, confessed that he had come up with this idea while walking on a Gisborne beach where he had met and talked to some unknown woman who had given him the idea!! I was sort of bitter-my future being determined by some unknown woman!! The Head of Department was about six foot six tall, totally bald with a narrow face, heavy eyebrows, close eyes, a long hooked nose, thick black mustache and a goatee beard. He had a head and shoulders photo of himself on the front page of his booklet. All he needed was a pair of short horns to look just like Satan!! I cut out the photo, pasted it onto a sheet of foolscap paper, added the horns and then wrote, on the day before my district was disbanded:

Satan has laid his heavy hand, square upon my head.
The district I was once so proud of, has been axed and now lies dead.
I am growing old and senile, I am ready for the tip.
But still I’m captain of this wreck, I wish to go down with the ship.
Satan made his decision, on a beach beside the sea.
Careless the shell he trod and broke, just happened to be me.
My career is over now, all the deeds are done.
So I stand alone on the sloping deck, and watch my setting sun.
The ship is sinking quickly now, tomorrow she’ll go down.
And I’ll leave my beloved forest, to try my luck in town.
Farewell ancient mountains, farewell rivers clear.
I’ll leave you all for busy streets, and I’ll weep into my beer.
So I beg you, give me enhanced retirement, tho’ I’m not a begging guy.
But with self respect and dignity, Tis the only way to die.

I sent that along with my application for enhanced early retirement. Two days later the phone rang. That personnel officer who knew me very well, did not greet me. His first words were “You bastard, you nearly made me cry”. I got my enhanced early retirement which was worth nearly $30,000 to me. I shot a deer to celebrate.

Betty and I retired in October 1989 and moved to Rotoma. Betty’s health was not good, so we lived pretty quietly. In my years at Minginui, I had collected from the sawmill waste fires, about fifteen tons of totara, rimu and matai burls and decorative woods, some from other species. I have spent my retirement wood turning and selling the products. It keeps me active and brings in a few dollars I don’t really need.

In 1991, I was invested with the Queens Service Medal. The citation says “For my Service to New Zealand”. I don’t really know what I got it for, perhaps it was for shooting one or two deer. I still go out to the forest at regular intervals. There are still a few trees I haven’t talked to yet. I dodge the village which has fallen into disrepair and that is too sad for me now. In 1999, Betty passed away and I thought my life was over.

In 2001, I did an unknown Thai family, a favor after they had a car accident while visiting New Zealand. The next year, the daughter of the Thai family phoned me from Auckland saying she was returning home to Thailand to bring her eight year old daughter back to NZ and that I had better go with her to meet the rest of the family. I went. I did a couple more visits by myself and on 3 November 2003, married the lady’s sister in Thailand. Sudawan, my wife, has since lived in Rotorua with me and has been granted permanent residency. We do make regular trips back to Thailand together. We are very happy. She is now a citizen.

I still go back to my old haunts in the Forest even though, at my age, even the flats seem to be pretty steep!! I haven’t shot a deer for a couple of years now, but heck! in my day I got my share. My last horse has now died of old age, any body want to buy a packsaddle? It knows exactly where to go to find a deer.

I reckon that a month short of being seventy six, I must be the oldest survivor of the 1956 Rangers Course and so I should be. After all, I was the oldest member of the course when it ran.

Good luck, whoever reads this bull. Visit me if ever you make it to Rotorua, I’d be happy to see you again.

Regards,

Bob Collins.

Footnote from a new member to the Rotorua club.

Bob is still going strong with his wood turning and telling his stories, a very interesting chap to talk to.

GEYSERLAND GUILD OF WOODWORKERS