Early Days in Norsewood

Early Days in Norsewood
S Brabazon

Today October the 3rd is the anniversary of my landing in Wellington New Zealand in the year 1873 at 3 P.M. a bitterly cold afternoon anyway.  I felt it as having come from the warmer climate in New South Wales after a 13 months droving trip from the north of Queensland with twenty thousand sheep for Jandra Station on the Darling River five miles below the town of Burke.  There were then no railways in New Zealand, it was dense bush land from Takapau right round to Masterton, all the clear land was in the hands of big sheep farmers who employed men to burn off fern and manuka shake grasseed fence and improve the runs for the carrying of sheep and cattle.  The bush land was reserved for later comers and in this way Norsewood became opened up and settled on.  The railway track was surveyed where it is now but nearer to Norsewood and afterwards altered the sections were surveyed into forty and fifty acres some a little more and some less.  In 1872 or earlier there arrived in Napier many emigrants from Norway Sweden and Denmark and these families were allotted the surveyed sections about Norsewood by an official named Friberg, a gentleman who could speak three or more languages and he had sufficient authority to hand over each surveyed section to each individual settler.  I will give an instance of what Mr Friberg could do in this matter, amongst the emigrants were blacksmiths carpenters bricklayers tailors and even a maternity nurse – Mrs Johansen – whose services were required on numerous occasions in the early days. Well a Mr Mortensen a carpenter on finding that his allotted section was situated in an out of the way locality decided to forfeit it and tramp right back to Napier and work at his trade, happened to meet Mr Friberg who

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asked him where he was off to.  He told him he would not take up the section and gave his reasons. I shall place you on another one said Friberg which he did and this proving satisfactory the settler felled his bush improved lived passed out and to use a scripture phrase his son reigns in his stead.

The early settlers had a strenuous time, their greatest difficulty being unable to speak the language of the country or do the work as it is carried on such as shearing fencing bullock driving and so on but they soon learned especially those who went to work on sheep stations, then provisions were dear having to be hauled from Napier in bullock drays at a slow gait.  There were no grass paddocks in those days but there were bells in all directions and whenever you had a bell there was a cow bearing it and these cows did remarkably well in the under scrub but there was often a difficulty in tracing them. Thanks to the bells there were none lost.  There was much work for the settlers in the way of road making, there were branch roads leading from the township in all directions and the Road Board which was soon formed saw that formation and mettaling was properly carried out either by contract or day work at 8/- per day and this was the ruling wage on road and railway there were no unemployed.

When a settler would fall and burn off a portion of his section it was quite common for him to chip in or free a piece for rye corn and potatoes – and there was a splendid growth on the newly burnt ground inside of a temporary fence, the rye corn would be ground in a small mill kept in each house for the purpose also for coffee beans, the early settlers had a great liking for rye bread and preferred coffee to tea.  The men when working away from home on roads or railway left the homestead in charge of their wives and these wives did an immence amount of work in the way of under scrubbing burning off and a deal of outside work of that description, after a time the slab houses gave place to

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comfortable houses and instead of going to the creek for water to boil the kettle and wash dishes tanks were erected and much preferred to well or creek.  There were no motor cars in those days but there was a primitive four wheeled wagon the wheels of which were merely sawed off the log and the axel shoved through, the wheels when iron bound would last a very long time, one of these vehicles was used by a settler on the German line for many years.  And talking of the German line reminds me of an industrious old settler – Jacob Neilsen who deserves a chapter to himself.  Jacob was emphatic in trying to convince me that forty acres of land was enough for any man in this world on which to live and bring up a family, he had a large one well fed healthy and strong.  Here I am said Jacob having everything I want, I grow my own rye potatoes vegetables and fruit eggs and bacon.  Jacob had always a fat pig to kill or sell a young steer and numerous fowls for which he grew enough and did not buy, he had the largest shed in the district of his own work. Slabs and shingle roof.  There were no Jersey cattle in those days.  Jacob kept a shorthorn bull for the use of his herd to which his neighbours cows also had access of the payment of a small fee.  Whenever I brought a cow up to Jacob’s place I always had to go in and partake of some rye bread and coffee.  Jacob was hospitable.  As work went on in the country in the way of bush felling burning off and getting into grass the township progressed slowly a few business places came into being – blacksmith shop hotel store, the latter in charge of Mr Alfred Levy, proprietor Mr Drower Waipukurau merchant.

As grass paddocks increased cows did likewise and butter became plentiful and cheap, so cheap that when taken to a store the price offered would be 5d or 6d a pound and then goods would have to be taken instead of cash.

The early settlers would not go in debt what they could not pay for they went without and the low price of butter led to the erection of a butter factory but this brings us down to our own time when no bush is left and only a few old settlers.   S.B.

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  • Alfred Levy
  • Jacob Neilsen
  • Messrs Drower, Friberg, Mortensen
  • Mrs Johansen

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