murchison afternoon

murchison afternoon
for my father gold-mining
december 2011, revised 2021
murchison – westport

Matakitaki Bridge
Matakitaki Bridge after the 1929 earthquake; photo sourced from RNZ & attributed to John Spencer

its heyday already
over, the place
shaken to a ghost
of itself, when the
hills caved in*,
wouldn’t have
gone ahead by much
in your days here,
a man of the mountains
come down to the town
for flour, a beer,
a look through the
general store
never bargaining
on prices, at most
just shaking your
head with hat
in hand.

in the pub
getting a coffee
i saw a photo of
a local hero with a
name like a sailor’s poem,
‘George Fairweather
Moonlight’, a man
you might have
heard talk of
in your days here,
shadow piled up
those pine slopes
into late sun
on branch
flanks eastward
now stood
down in dark,
looked up that
road the sign
‘matakitaki valley’
points at in the
sluice of sun,
remembering bits
and pieces of what
you might have
told us, a gold
nugget fixed on
a tiepin all you
kept over you
told us, yet
your words
the same over
years went
much further
than you’d ever
have thought,
have brought me
to this country
intersection of a
late afternoon
made of sky
and river stone,
an afternoon
you might have
ridden straight
on through,

*Murchison was almost completely devastated in the earthquake of 1929 that struck the South Island. My father searched for gold up the Matakitaki valley during the Great Depression.

Copyright © 2017 Peter Le Baige. All Rights Reserved

The music for the reading is from the third movement of Bach’s violin sonata in A minor, BWV 1003, in a performance by James Ehnes.

2 thoughts on “murchison afternoon”

  1. well here’s an odd coincidence: my son just now sent a text telling me about an earthquake in Iran and reckoned it must be an earthquake weapon, and I clicked on a random post, testing my log in access, and read this! also the ‘ late afternoon/made of sky/ and river stone’ is such a South Island image to me


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