Last night my brother Myles rang me from New Zealand to say goodbye.
It was crunch time. He was heading down the Waitotara Valley Road at Taranaki and then hiking into the rugged wilderness for ‘however long it takes’.
‘Check it out on Google Maps’, he says. ‘Satellite’s best. Those ravines are hell steep and in the rain you’ve got to watch for flash flooding. Debra Crump calls it a c… of a place. And cold too.’
Thin as a pipe and just as hard, Myles is going to be killing some of the 30-odd million possums in New Zealand, using cyanide and harvesting their fur for socks and jocks. He knows his vegetarian Animal Libber sister hates the idea of “possuming” but he tells me DOC (The Department of Conservation) wants to drop 1080 poison in the remote pristine forest.
He hates that stuff. It’ll take out everything, he reckons. Deer, birds like fantails, insects, worms.
‘Bastards’, he growls down the phone to Australia, where possums are protected.
He reckons New Zealand is the biggest user of 1080 in the world.
‘Stick that on your fucking Hobbit billboard in LA and see how the eco tourists like it.’
He’s warmed up now.
‘That’s the problem with Greenpeace. What’s the use of protests and waving round placards. As I said to some dickhead rattling a can at me the other day, why don’t you go out and just shoot somebody?’
Back to 1080 and common ground: I agree it should be banned. They use it here on the south coast of New South Wales and I’ve seen a fox leaping in the air and twisting and yelping with pain as her guts were burnt out. Possums diehard too. Between 6 and 18 hours to get the job done.
He tells me those plying the fur trade don’t skin possums anymore. They pluck them, but some hunters don’t wait for the possums to die because it’s easier to pull out the fur when they’re warm.
‘You won’t do that will you,’ I say plaintively.
‘Nah’, he says. ‘I actually like the little fellers, not like some . . .’ he trails off.
He has regrets about using gin traps in the past and says there are some bad movies playing in his head sometimes.
So he’s off to a place of Jurassically thick bush and green steep and slippery ravines to sleep under beautiful cold skies and grind out a living not out of place in the Middle Ages. Why? Because he has to pay his 21st century mortgage and the chips are down. He’s done muscle jobs for years but the body’s getting creaky and he wonders if the tendons will hold out. His shoulder’s wrecked from years of shepherding—just another working class boy who mucked up at school and has paid the price for it ever since.
‘I’d love to take some feral young blokes in there with me – some fuckups from the city. It’d straighten them out. Be good for them. But who’d give me a cent to do that,’ he sighs.
If Myles ever read a book I reckon he’d like Joe Bageant’s ‘Deer Hunting for Jesus’. And I reckon Joe’d like Myles. As Joe says, “In all likelihood, there is no solution for environmental destruction that does not first require a healing of the damage done to the human community. And most of that damage…has been done through work, our jobs, and the world of money. Acknowledging such things about our destructive system requires honesty about what is all around us, and an intellectual conscience. And asking ourselves, ‘Who are we as a people?’”
Joe Bageant died last week. He smoked too much.
Under my questioning I elicit that Myles is going bush with just a plastic sheet, a hammock and not even a Billy and some tea. ‘What about Milo then?’ I ask. He laughs at the absurdity of that suggestion. He loves Milo.
‘Nah I’ll eat beans and rice—and possum’.
People like my brother wear out. They can’t get a foothold on the slippery pole that sees some Kiwis doing it tough in far less visible but no less painful ways than when a slumbering fault line opens up and swallows your dreams in a terrible earthquake.
‘Gotta go, see you at Kirk’s Bush,’ he says in his customary breezy sign off.
‘Be careful won’t you?’ I say.
‘Not a bad place to die,’ he says, ‘but a helluva place to get stuck with an injury.’
So if there’s anybody out there could drop Myles some cash or supplies at the end of the line, somewhere over the rainbow near Taumatatahi via Waitotara Valley Road, it would be choice.