• Renee Rowland

4/19 Visscitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

If you're hoping this is an early colonial iteration of the Barry Crump-esque trope of the great kiwi bushman, you'll be disappointed. Dugald Ferguson describes himself as 'an old colonist' and this novel is his autobiographical story full of fighting and farming, courtship, comradeship and self-help. First published in London in 1891 but covering 1850 - 1880 when 'energy, enterprise and thrift' were necessary qualities for success in the new world colonies.


"A raw youth of eighteen, I prepared to start for Australia to join a wealthy 'squatocrtaic' relative" and thus off sets Ferguson to begin his antipodean adventure. Many years pass unremarkably but for a few notable musters and many changes in fortune. Soon enough, he has spent enough time in Australia and decides to try his hand in New Zealand.


"I can hardly explain how it was that i had always associated an idea of dreariness with new Zealand. Whether it's unpromising name had anything to do with this or not, i cannot say, though probably it had, but on sighting land, on my voyage thither, and gazing at its wild, precipitous mountains and bare hills, my old prejudices returned full force".


Ferguson, hardly charmed by New Zealand, sets about making a livelihood, but remains beholden to ye' ole Dickensian visscitudes - more mustering, more murder, more unrequited love, more highway robbery. He is verbose and if tired, disinterested eyes decide to skip a couple of paragraphs of a lengthy dry family history, all of a sudden one has missed a kidnapping and a murder and a marriage, the 'exciting' parts of the story told in the same monotone as the dry parts of the story. But there a some rollicking anecdotes - driving Bullocks through the Otira gorge, chasing robbers through Hokitika, attending dances in Clutha, all with his trusty, perfect horse, Selim and sidekick, the multi talented god fearing Lilly. There are lots of baddies - an early colonial version of 'Bastards I Have Met' - but the pursuit of love, marriage and the 'refining company' of women is a consistent motivating factor for Ferguson.


I must admit that I did skim through parts of his Australia adventures, which mainly comprised of mustering cattle and horses and pursuing unavailable women, and was disappointed by the lack of descriptions of New Zealand people and land, but in between the stories there is something quintessentially kiwi brewing, a predecessor of the Gentrified Bush Man emerging, or perhaps a feature on the moodboard for the character of Wal Footrot.


Ferguson never returned to England, happily settling in 'dreary' New Zealand, burying his beloved Selim in his land. The first of the authors in this little project to do so, and perhaps this shows a greater love for the land that is less clear in the wrote and writ. But we must leave the 19th century, and begin reading from the 20th.


Many thanks to The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre for making this old story available to everyone - for free.

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