The dark gray stone walls of the Dunedin Railway station seemed to be gleaming. Shortly before midday the northbound train from Invercargill arrived. It was the 20th of March 1968.
Jill was there to say goodbye. The daughter of a Pukekohe onion farmer, studying physiotherapy in Dunedin, we had fallen for each other a month before. Ainslee, my older brother’s wife was there to farewell me. Two beautiful woman to say goodbye. My family, friends, a secure job : everything I had was in this City, but something was pulling. I had to leave. Dunedin, the mountains of Otago and Canterbury made up my world; I needed to cut the chain. The prison doors opened.
A mountain mule pack and a battered suitcase I inherited from my Grandfather pasted with rail and ferry stickers and a cheque for One Thousand NZ dollars in my back pocket was my world, my future......
A feeling of euphoria swept through me on the smoke filled platform. A great expanse of grey and stiffled light silhouetted Ainslee and Jill. The loudspeaker crackled, announcing the trains departure. I kissed Ainslee and hugged Jill and a thrill ran through my body. I heaved my mountain mule pack onto by back and boarded the train. I didn’t look back.
This battered pack was the symbol of movement and adventure. For three years the smell of its duck canvass and tarry waterproof oilskin top, evoked excitment everytime I packed it for another weekend trip into the mountains, or a three weeks pass hopping trip in the wilds of Fiordland, or a peak bagging trip to the Mount Cook region. Sometimes it might be an Otago tramping and mountaineering Club snow caving trip in the Old Man Range or a skiing trip with a busload of nubile young women, always a welcome interlude from serious climbing. I thought of Michael Cooper, my cousin who died last year climbing Mt.Awful at the age of 18. No wonder my mother didn’t want me to go to Peru. The year before that two other young Dunedin climbing friends of mine died; Richard Tilley and Howard Laing.
This was the station my father had departed from in 1941 for four long years in Egypt and Italy, and in the first World War my grandfather’s two brothers ( John Henry and Walter McNatty), and Stan Hodginson my grandmother’s brother left with his horse for the Boer war in 1898. John and Henry never returned, their bodies lie in Gallipoli and France.
As I sank into the leather seat, I fingered the cheque for NZ$ 1,000. If I lose this, I would lose my dream. Dreams are what drive me ! Gaston Rebuffat’s book which I repeatedly borrowed from the Dunedin Public Library until it became mine, said simply, ‘ I prefer dreams to memories. ‘
My eyes were fixed on the platform and I marvelled at the name. The platform to where ? The platform to what ? .A platform to a new beginning.
The first hour of the trip out of Dunedin was emotional. These were symbolic places. My first holiday was at Waikouwaiti with the Marret family, At Seacliff Mel Munroe the then NZ 100 mile record holder taught me what endurance was, Long beach and Waitati was where I learned to rockclimb. With visions of being a world 800 metre champion in the footsteps of Peter Snell, I attended three annual athletic camps based out of Karitane run by my coach Brian Taylor. I became an Otago champion snd record holder for 800 metres but not the world. Dreams...... My legs were too short and and didn’t have the leg speed according to Bill Bowerman the famous US athletic coach..
Karitane and Mt. Watkins
Later Moeraki passed by in a Stevensonian flash; where my ancestors had lived two centuries ago. I had run most of this coastline on cold Saturday winter’s afternoons, across still frozen ground, with the Mornington Harrier Club with Mel Munroe and the O’Conner boys and my friend Chip Dunckley, who died in 1999 at Palmerston.where he was the local doctor for many years.
I knew this coastline well. This was my land and my spirit is firmly rooted in it.
Explorers, surveyors, blacksmiths, ploughmakers, shoemakers, labourers, clerks. sailors. miners, bushmen, coal miners and strong sensitive woman linked me through the past 120 years across the water to the highlands of Scotland, to the rivers of Prussia, the theatres of England. My Auntie spoke of having Maori blood through the village of Colac Bay in Southland and my family tree shows I am related to Buffalo Bill (William Cody) and Charles Laughton, the Shakspearian actor. Perhaps, the most famous connection is to King James V, who the reputed McKerrow historian says we have descended from.
I started my wayfaring in 1968 and I have never stopped.
Many of the beautiful mosaics at the Dunedin Railway station