“I caught the bloke who nicked your traps.”
Worzel is an excellent storyteller, and he is also a bit on the shifty side. That's how we came to meet in the first place.
I was doing a control job for the Department of Conservation in the Te Urewera’s. My home sweet home was a tarp covered tent tucked up in the hills.
I was running around 200 traps, so sleep came easy at night. Some people are afraid of the bush, especially at night, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Take my camp for example. It was over an hour from the nearest track, tucked into the sunny side of a spur. The chances of anyone discovering my tent or doing me any harm were next to zero. Apart from the occasional rat or possum I was left unmolested at night, sleeping like a baby.
Now let's think about towns for a bit. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry knows where you live, what you drive, and the stuff you own. Your only protection from crooks is a few sheets of glass and a couple of locks that any aspiring crook can open after watching a YouTube video or two. I have no idea how townies sleep at night. I’m rambling; let's get back to how I met Wurzel.
My trap line had been out for a couple of weeks and was catching a lot of possums. The decaying corpses filled the air with pestilence, drawing pigs, blowflies and as it turned out, Wurzel, to my block.
The smell of rotting possums is intoxicating to pigs bringing them in from miles around. At first, this is great, as fewer corpses mean fewer blowflies. The trouble comes when the pigs run out of carrion.Having acquired a taste for ripe possums they now find their traditional tucker about as attractive as a plate of stewed cabbage. Before long they started pulling live possums out of my traps, annoying me and no doubt the possums.
This meant war, so I started carting my 44 Magnum around my trap lines (which probably explains the constant ringing I now have in my ears). My faithful rifle did its job and possums stopped disappearing from my traps, which was great, but then my traps started vanishing, which wasn’t. Maybe towns not such a bad place after all!
A two-legged thief was now on my block, and he was nearly as cunning as the pigs, only taking every 4th or 5th trap, making me think I was losing my marbles. After 30+ traps had disappeared, I knew it couldn't be my forgetfulness.
The ground was dry at the time, and the thief knew I wasn’t able to track him. They did, however, leave a size 11, Red band gumboot mark, in the mud of a small creek. No, I didn’t know it was a size 11 at the time, (I’m not Barry Crump!) I found that out a bit later.
One night the heavens opened, and we copped it. I spent the night catching the water leaking into in my tent. By morning my frying pan, billy, cup, and plate were overflowing, and there was enough water in my sleeping bag to re-float the Titanic. I wasn’t a happy camper and spent the morning grumbling to myself as I checked my lines.
I spotted the boot mark on a spur about a kilometre north of my camp. The rain had softened the ground well, leaving a nice trail for me to follow. After a couple of hours, I found myself on the edge of someone's camp.
Hiding in the scrub I had a bit of a look around. Sitting on an old beer crate was a scrawny looking individual butchering a possum. He was wearing a black swanni and had a pair of the knobbliest knees I have ever seen. On his head was a floral woollen hat pulled down over his ears (I got a better look at it later, it was a tea cosy, Worzel didn’t get many visitors). Hanging from an old Rimu just to his left were my traps. It got my blood up. “Afternoon,” I said, stepping into his camp. Wurzels reaction was impressive. He leapt into the air like a startled hare, scattering bits of possum all over the place.
“Ah, yeah, oh, right” He gasped, looking helplessly at my traps.
Then, hardly missing a beat, he looked me in the eyes, an inspired look on his dial. “I caught the mongrel and was just about to head over to your camp!”
“I caught the bloke who nicked your traps.”
“Who was it?”
“Ah, yeah, I don’t rightly know. I just yelled at him, and he dropped the lot and took off.”
“How did you know they were my traps, I’ve never met you before?”
“Look, I’ll tell you over a brew, come and sit down.”
And like a rat following the Pied Piper, I found myself sitting in his bivy, mesmerised not by a flute but by one of Worzels yarns.
That’s how I first met him, and yes he was wearing a pair of size 11 Redband gumboots.
More on Worzel in the next blog.