Taking it all in on the ride back
By Carol Sawyer
I have just spent five days away, staying in sweet little Apple Blossom Cottage, built in the 1890’s, on the outskirts of Dunedin. This was during the heatwave: 34C was the highest temperature reached during the day, and it didn’t seem to drop below the mid twenties at night.
I drove back to Central Otago on Wednesday, in the same heat, and decided to take the slightly longer, but quieter, route through the Maniototo, via Middlemarch, Oturehua and Ophir.
It was too hot and lovely a day to do anything other than savour the countryside and the emptiness and peace and silence that still exists in that part of the world, and what is normally a 3 1/2 hour trip took me 6 1/2 hours.
Finding a graveyard in Hyde
When I reached the tiny township of Hyde, on the edge of the Maniototo, I remembered that almost 30 years ago down a long dirt road, I had discovered a little graveyard.
I adore old graveyards. Nothing else makes so sharp a point about our limited time on Earth, or the tragedy of the human condition.
So I detoured and drove down that same little road, and left my car to walk the last bit as the road was so rough. Not a soul anywhere, and the heat had even stifled any birdsong.
A lone white horse stopped grazing momentarily to look up, and then put his head down again.
Graves tell their stories
The gravestones tell their tales, as they always do. Every second gravestone recorded a death in The Great War.
This tiny town lost 12 men in their prime to the mud and horror and futility of that War – a world away from the burnt hills and schist stone outcrops of this region. The telegrams – how did they arrive? In New Zealand, next-of-kin typically received the news of a soldiers’ death by official telegram, delivered by a telegram boy on a bicycle.
Imagine the dread one would feel at the sight of that bicycle !
(I have included a photo of one of the telegrams delivered in New Plymouth.)
There were drownings recorded, as there are in every early graveyard. Drowning was known as The New Zealand Death.
There were not many bridges in those early days.
Many children died in infancy too of course, from Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Typhoid and Tuberculosis.
But somehow for me it is these deaths from the First World War that move me the most as they died in vain, and so far from home.
The casualties of war
Ever since 1917, Passchendaele has been a byword for the horror of the Great War. In terms of lives lost in a single day, the failed attack on Bellevue Spur on 12 October was probably the greatest disaster in New Zealand’s history. The toll was horrendous – 843 New Zealand soldiers were either dead or lying mortally wounded between the lines.
I stopped in sleepy Oturehua for a coffee.
The publican and I talked about the Hyde cemetery and he said I don’t think people realize the toll the Great War took on small rural communities. Indeed!
He then warned me to watch out for the tourist drivers, as if I needed to be warned!
I think they come here to learn to drive! he said.