Jack Perkins talks to Bert Barra, a high country musterer and deer culler.
Bert Barra lives about an hour from Masterton, near the Tararua Forest Park. He shows Jack Perkins around his home and garden. He came to the area before the war in 1935, it is where he shot his first stag. He lives in a hut made from corrugated iron. He finds it very peaceful, and wouldn't live anywhere else. Hunters on their way into the Tararua Range often stop in on him for a chat.
He grew up on his father’s farm near Milton, in Otago. At about the time of the first World War, Bert found work as a high country musterer on Coronet Peak Station. He speaks about his first November shearing muster, with merino sheep. Conditions were harsh in the Winter. He speaks about working in the snow, going out into it to rescue stranded sheep. Sometimes kea would come and kill the snowed-in sheep.
There were gold miners at the Shotover in around 1916-1918 - Bert recalls the sluicing claims. He then talks about various characters in the area at the time. In about 1930-1931 Bert became a government deer culler. He took the work on because of the Depression. He started with culling an area near Murchison – he describes the work. He was paid 3 pounds a week, and was given three rounds of ammunition per deer killed. On his best day he shot 92 deer, and ran out of ammunition.
He also did some hunting in the Mount Cook area, mostly for chamois. He had to watch out for avalanches during the thaw. A number of hunters were killed in the area, trying to recover thar heads. He also spent some time in South Westland. Bert tells of a time he got washed out of his tent one night, then it started snowing. They had to battle high rivers to get out, and to the Burke Hut for a Christmas beer (five gallons for three of them wasn’t enough).
There is discussion over whether deer culling is slaughter. Bert says it is good for the deer too – too many deer in an area means they starve. He then talks about accidents he’s had over the years, including a time he nearly drowned – he was crossing a dry riverbed, when the floodgates of a dam were opened further up, and the water came rushing down. He has also had ribs broken seven times.
The last time he went after deer was about three or four years ago, he stopped hunting when he was about 80. The deer are scarce compared to the old days. He says he can’t shoot deer anymore as he has no fridge to keep the meat.
The interview concludes with Bert commenting on what he loves about living in his hut – the views and scenery, and the fresh water.