Tales from the bush: That’s life but not as we knew it, 2.

With winter coming, our next job was to close in the space between the huts and put down a level floor. Our son – in – law helped with the floor and we turned the space into a living room. The walls were filled in with old windows and a ranch slider. For a long time the exterior cladding was silver paper with newspaper stuffed into the gaps to keep out drafts, not strong enough to withstand the wind that occasionally sent missiles flying through it.

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Kitchen part of the living area with chip heater at the end of the bench.

Over Easter we replaced the leaky tarp with a corrugated iron roof and we were closed in. We covered the floor with old bits of carpet, the chip heater was moved indoors and we were ready for winter. Yeah right!

In early May, the frosts started. It was so much colder up in the hills than down on the Rangitaiki Plains where we came from and our home was utterly uninsulated. Every morning the top edge of our bed covers was wet where our breath had condensed in the cold. Winter had arrived like someone flicked a switch; from mild and sunny to squally south east showers and cold overnight. On Queen’s Birthday weekend, the pipes froze and we had no running water until mid morning. We stuck it out for about a month then we bought a log fire. But because we didn’t have any seasoned firewood, that first winter we created a lot of smoke and not much heat. It was the winter of long johns and woolly hats in and out of bed.

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Life had radically changed. It took longer to do everything because we had no power. Lamps had to be pumped and lit and water boiled for dishes and showers. It was like permanent camping. When we got the chip heater, it had to be lit every day in summer and winter and with long hours of work off the farm we often had to do our home jobs in the dark.

One night at 9.30 we put the letterbox up. The neighbours must have wondered what we were up to. (The letterbox is 6km from home at the end of the road, where most of the neighbours live.) Another night we were collecting firewood from across the road when a police car turned up. The local constabulary were doing a quick pass to check on illegal horticulturists, not firewood collectors. It didn’t take long before neighbours and police accepted our nocturnal activities as normal.

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The Man of the House was always making improvements to our home, trying to make life easier. He reduced the need for kerosene lamps by rigging motorbike indicator lights that ran from a battery. I became quite good at cooking with the camp oven on the gas top. I made pies and cakes and cooked roasts, anything to vary the menu. We were sick of fried everything and even though nothing browned on top, it was still edible.

Life settled into a routine. We were happy and for fun we had 200 acres of bush to explore.



  1. I wish the level of insulation on your place as an unusual NZ building feature…but I wear a hat in winter for bed in Auckland…and it rarely even frosts here. 😄 You guys must have one heck of a persistent nature to go through what you did!


    • Oh Graham, houses must be so much warmer in the UK. Older homes are cold, that’s for sure, but things are improving. I remember growing up how cold it was in my bedroom. Our house had a very good fire that heated the heck out of the living room but down the long dark passage the bedrooms were freezing. I don’t know why. Maybe it had something to do with the building material, mostly wood.


      • Wood has advantages though…I’d rather be in an earthquake zone in a wooden house, that’s for sure. It’s a tricky one as the NZ winter up north doesn’t last long…but down south it must be horrendous by comparison. Good excuse to get outdoors. 😄


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