Pay  To Play

 Mt Whakapunaki – the scene of a thousand kills

I am looking forward to hearing the details of how the new Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager position is going to work. I am especially interested in how Steve Johns and Gary Francis explain away the decision to continue operating a Swimming New Zealand competitive training squad. Because for as long as that program exists Swimming New Zealand will continue to be a threat to every club program in the country. There is a lot more to be written and said about that decision.

I am also looking forward to the Commonwealth Games. We will soon know whether Steve Johns was right when he said, “We are confident in the swimmers who have been selected and know that they are up for the challenge.” Not that you can read much into what Steve Johns says. Before the World Championships in July 2017 the NZ Herald reported that, “Swimming NZ expressed delight with the performances of its elite athletes allowing it to select an expanded group to race at Budapest.” And we all know how that turned out.

While we wait for further news on these issues I thought I’d write another post on my swimming career. I have already described my training in the Hangaroa River using Arthur Lydiard’s book “Run to the Top” as my training manual. That worked well. From my Te Reinga river I won Auckland and Wellington Championships. I was always beaten in Hawkes Bay by, my mate, Greg Meade, but I did have a box of second place medals. At 14 years old I decided further improvement meant going to Australia for summer holiday training.

I contacted Australia’s leading coach, Don Talbot, and asked if I could join his squad for six weeks. He agreed. My parents also agreed but said I would need to earn the cost of my airfare and accommodation. In Te Reinga that is not easy. There are no paper-runs and no shops. And so I became a professional killer.

If I shot three wild goats each weekend for our dogs my parents agreed to pay me the equivalent of Williams and Kettles purchased dog food. In addition my parents agree to take any wild pigs or deer I managed to kill, 30 miles into the Wairoa butcher. He was offering one shilling a pound for wild game. There were however rules.

Because I was only 14 years old my father was concerned that I did not turn my hunting ground into World War 3. Therefore I was not allowed telescopic sights or a magazine of bullets. Kills were going to require normal sights and feeding one bullet at a time into the rifle. He was convinced that would make me a better and more cautious hunter. I think he was right. And so the magazines were removed from my Diana 22 and my cut-down Lee Enfield 303. It’s called cut-down because much of the wood on an army Lee Enfield is removed.

And so every weekend for four years, from the age of 14 to 17, I hunted the length and breadth of Mt. Whakapunaki. I raised enough money to pay for three trips to Australia. In fact I had funds left over that I used to pay personal costs associated with a USA scholarship I won at the end of high school.

Hunting every weekend might sound like a lot more fun than doing a paper-run or working at Count Down. And on a nice day in summer that is probably true. However not all days are nice days in summer. There are many better things to do than wandering around searching for wild goats on cold, wet days in winter. And of course there is more to it than shooting the goats. They needed to be skinned and gutted and carried home. About 650 goats must have met their end to feed our dogs and get me to Don Talbot’s squad in Sydney.

Deer and pigs however were the real money earners. My record was three deer in one day. But perhaps my most memorable hunting moment was early on when a mate of mine, Kahui Duncan, and I were hunting together. We were walking along a high cliff and saw a deer below us. Kahui and I decided we would fire together in order to improve the chances of a kill. Three, two, one, fire and the deer dropped. It took about fifteen minutes to climb down to the dead animal. An inspection revealed that just one bullet had found its mark. Kahui claimed that it was his shot. I, of course, said it was mine. We split the payment 50/50 but continued to debate whose shot had done the damage. After high school Kahui and I went our separate ways. Kahui stayed in Wairoa while I went to University and lived in the UK, the USA and Wellington, New Zealand.

Thirty year later I stopped in Wairoa on my way to the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Swimming Championships in Gisborne. I called in at New Zealand’s best bakery, Oslers, for a pie and a cup of coffee. And there was Kahui.

“David,” he said, “It’s been 30 years. But you do know, don’t you, it was my shot that got that deer.

Wild pigs are a more difficult hunt. Because we relied on dogs to find and trap the pigs, it is almost impossible to shoot a pig. Getting in close and stabbing, they call it sticking, is the preferred option. Normally we had to run following the dogs and the pig. I could not help but notice how much faster Kahui was at running through the bush. That puzzled me because in high school track and cross country events I could beat Kahui; no problem. I asked him one day why he was so much faster in the bush.

“Ah,” he said, “That’s because you pakeha run around the trees whereas Maori run through them.”

I never kept count of the pigs and deer that met their end in order to pay for my swimming trips to Australia. My guess is a combined total between 150 and 200. And that’s how I paid to play.

Oh, and it was my shot that got that deer.

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