Surplus to requirements

An old abandoned farm cottage, South Island, New Zealand.

If you drive far enough on New Zealand’s country roads you’ll stumble on a sight similar to this. You might assume it’s a sad reminder of rural depression, economic failure and abandonment. Somebody gave up and walked off the land. That scenario, while not impossible, is very unlikely.

Look around and you’ll notice the old house is sitting in a quiet corner of a working farm. It’s a sign of progress and changes in agricultural practice. Perhaps farm amalgamation or the introduction of modern machinery made the farm worker redundant. He would have moved on to another farm or a nearby town for work. If the cottage is old enough, and this one might be, it was the first house on the farm, with fruit trees planted in the front garden (this one is a pear), while the land was being “broken in”. As the years passed the owner moved up to a bigger and better home for his growing family. But if it has a roof, it has a purpose, so this old house has followed a familiar life cycle of home, storage shed, hay barn, and animal shelter before settling down as a picturesque ruin. The history of rural life in four walls.

An amphibious vehicle

G.L. Meredith writes home to his family in Tasmania from New Zealand’s North Island in the late 1870s –

I witnessed a novel crossing of the Akitio River by a bullock-dray loaded with fencing posts. I had ridden across the bar at the mouth of the river and was coming along the sandy bank to regain the inland bridle track, when a team of eight bullocks came into sight.


The dray to which they were attached was loaded with totara posts to a height of five feet above the bed. Totara is a light timber of the pine species, and floats very readily. To my astonishment, the bullocky headed his team straight for the river where it was about eighty yards across and quite unfordable. The bullocks took the water like ducks, making straight for the opposite shore. As the dray left the bank, the bullocky scrambled on top of the load, and balanced himself there cracking his whip. The opposite bank was shelving, and the bullocks gradually emerged; the bullocky jumped down and continued on as if it were an every-day occurrence. Of course, the weight of the wheels and axle acted as ballast and kept the dray right side up. I pulled up for lunch at a friend’s station near by, and was told that it was a common practice of the bullocky to swim his team over the river in this way.

Adventuring in Maoriland in the Seventies. G.L. Meredith. Angus & Robertson Ltd., Sydney. 1935.