I got my discharge in Wellington, New Zealand, and drew £9 in wages for the three weeks’ work. My ticket was endorsed ‘Very good’ for sobriety and two other virtues.
Ned Holmes, my New Zealand soldier friend, got me a job at ten shillings a week with the manager of a farm outside Masterton, belonging to his father. Old Maxwell, the manager, was a big chubby-cheeked man, with a bushy moustache, and was considered a great man with sheep. I lived with the family, which consisted of Maxwell, his wife, and their daughter, a sweet little thing of about seventeen, called Olive, whose name somehow exactly fitted her face.
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Old Maxwell gave me the sack after three weeks; he said that with my bad sight I would not be able to spot the ewes when they were cast on their backs in the spring, when heavy with lamb, and unable to get up unaided. As a matter of fact, my visual accuracy with spectacles is not too bad; for instance I once shot two hares with two shots of a .22 rifle, the first was 145 yards off and the second, which bobbed up when it heard the shot, 95 yards away. Also, I shot five rabbits on the run one morning with a rifle, so I was not sure about Maxwell’s reason for getting rid of me.
I got a new job on a sheep station 38 miles from Masterton. There was no town or township (village) nearer than Masterton, and there were just two of us to look after a farm of 2,000 acres, with 3,000 sheep and about 200 head of cattle. I was in the saddle most of the day, riding round the hills attending to the sheep. When we were mustering a paddock, of which there were three, we would start off from the station house by moonlight at three in the morning. We worked the sheep steadily off the hilltops and down to the bottom of the paddock, where the dogs would keep them cornered while we inspected them. There were pens for drafting or sorting them.
Except for the shearing, the two of us, Arthur the boss and I the roustabout, did all the work on the station; dagging, which was shearing back legs and tails with hand shears, dipping, ear-marking and cutting the ram lambs to turn them into wethers. It was the custom for shepherds to toast the lamb’s testicles over a fire and eat them, but this was not for me. It was, however, my job as undershepherd to kill and dress the hoggets that we ate. I shall never forget how my knees trembled when I killed my first sheep and the blood spurted out in beats as I cut its throat. I think that few mature people would eat beef or lamb if they had to kill the animals first.
Arthur, my boss, was an excellent shepherd, and could work his dogs easily a mile away. Two thousand acres is a sizeable slice of country – three square miles – but the surface area is more in that part of New Zealand because, being geologically a young country, the hills are steep. The ground we were on was blue papa (volcanic mud), and the storm streams cut steep gullies out of it. Along the banks of the creeks grew clumps of lawyer vine, a kind of bramble but with hooked thorns of a vicious kind.
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