At the end of 1965, which was my form six year, I joined a group of Gore High students on a tramping trip down the lower Hollyford.  With great expectation we set off in late December. There were about a dozen students accompanied by three schoolteachers from the school.

The weather was fine as we set out from the end of the road below Gunn’s Camp.  We made good time to Hidden Falls, the first hut.  I thought the provisions for the first night were a bit light, but didn’t complain.  By agreement I had been given prior permission to bring my rifle and fishing rod so spent the evening unsuccessfully checking the handy clearings for a deer to supplement supplies.  The next morning set the pattern for the undernourished  trip.  A small portion of porridge was produced and we were on our way to Lake Alabaster.  The trip was pretty uneventful to Lake McKerrow and I had managed to catch about half a dozen fish which had helped allay the hunger pangs somewhat.  On the return journey as we left Lake Alabaster, a heavy Fiordland rain had really set in.  We reached the Hidden Falls hut, and as we were completely out of food by this time and our teacher supervisors elected to head for the road and cars, some two and a half hours away.  I was starting to get a bit concerned that we were wading through water on a regular basis.

After about an hour we came to a place where the river, now in full flood, had broken its bank and was roaring across the track making it completely impassible.  There was only one thing to do, retrace our steps and head back to the Hidden Falls Hut.  The river – still rising – had now cut us off from behind and we were trapped on an island of bush which was diminishing in size visibly before us as the rain pelted down and the river increased in volume spectacularly.

The sound of rushing water with trees crashing along in the torrent of water was a grim illustration of Mother Nature flexing her muscles.

What followed is now a dim memory, but after five days of poorly planned malnourishment and some very bad decisions about choosing to go on to the dire consequences we now found ourselves in it was time to take charge.  I recall that our team leader was in some sort of shock.

I organized a rope up a leaning tree in case our piece of land disappeared under the swelling river, and we needed to find some place out of the rising water. We checked gear and erected some small sodden pup tents and try to create shelter where we could.  As the rain started to ease just after midnight, some hope  of survival appeared a possibility.  I was getting very concerned about one member of the party who was showing signs of hypothermia.  About 4.30am,  I took my tomahawk and attacked a dead log of wood.  With the help of a piece of bike tube, which I had in my pack for a purpose I don’t now recall, I got a smoky spitting fire going and we started to thaw out.  It was over 24 hours since since we had eaten anything and some time longer since we had something hot in our tummies.

Fortuitously, an inquisitive wood pigeon appeared.  Obviously amazed at our presence, it eyed us curiously from a nearby tree.  With the help of one of the teachers, who I used as a rest, by sighting a shaky rifle over his braced shoulder I nailed the pigeon.  As our fire was struggling to get enough heat to dry and warm bodies cooking the bird was beyond its capacity.  We sort of singed strips of the flesh before devouring it.

The river was dropping rapidly and by about 8.30 we were on our way.  The trip to the parked cars was uneventful though famished trampers took their time.  There were clearly some thoughts about incompetent leaders and consequences on my mind and I suspect those of others.

I thought this was the end of the matter and counted us lucky to have escaped the ordeal so lightly.  This was a short time after two high school students has perished on the Routeburn track.

I was completely taken aback when a couple of weeks after the event I received a visit from the local policeman, and two employees of the Department of Internal Affairs to serve me with a summons for killing a protected bird.  I sought some advice from my parents’ lawyer, the teachers who had supposedly been supervising our trap ran for cover.  Nothing to do with them they assured me, even though they had assisted with providing a rifle rest and consumed some of the ill gotten gain.  In the end this was a time for direct action, and as a 17 year old I got an appointment with my local Member of Parliament, the Hon Brian Talboys.  He listened to my tale and asked a few questions. Then changed the subject to ask me a number of questions about my aspirations and what I wanted to do.  At the end of the appointment he informed me the he would have a chat with the Minister for Internal Affairs, the Hon. Mr Seath.

Within a week I received some letters.  One from the Department of Internal Affairs advising that that matter would not be proceeded with.  One from Mr Talboys informing of the actions he had taken, wishing me well and noting how he had enjoyed meeting me, and one from my father’s lawyer, a bill for forty quid for services rendered?  At least my first political experience turned out more successfully than my first school tramp.