Jeremy Roberts is a Kiwi poet with a strong connection to the humble town of Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Jeremy’s most recent poetry collection is Cards On The Table (Interactive Publications 2015).
Read about Jeremy’s wild Russell days then have a crack at the quiz competition below and enter the draw to win.
OYSTER FARMING DAYS by Jeremy Roberts
In ‘83 I lived up in Russell, working on an Oyster farm located in Orongo Bay. Not long back from a post-Uni journey to Canada & Europe, I was at a bit of a ‘loose end’ & owed my bank what seemed like an enormous sum of $2000. Having some trouble adjusting back to life in Dorkland (as I called it) I took a job ‘up north’, with hopes of getting out of debt. I achieved my goal, gradually slipping into a ‘Northland-state-of-mind’ – minus the dak. I really can’t remember anyone offering anything. The oyster-harvesting team consisted off a seemingly miss-matched American couple who I quickly fell out with, a young local Black Sabbath fan who suffered from severe migraines, & a lazy Aussie ‘supervisor’ called Noddy. We worked the tide-timetable. At low tide, we put on big rubber waders & walked between rows of fat ‘ripe’ Pacific oysters, heaving hundreds of the asbestos sticks upon which they were grown, onto a flat steel barge which we pushed along. After building a hill of sticks, we’d start up the outboard motor & move closer & closer to shore, on the incoming tide. Using axes, we’d chip the oysters off the sticks & shovel them into sacks. I chipped my ass off! The oysters were then loaded into a refrigerated truck & most of them were flown out of the country straight away, to Hawaii. The owner of the oyster farm was doing very well. It was one of the very best jobs I ever had – the ultimate outdoor job in the ‘winterless North’. I learned to drive a tractor & used a chainsaw – no safety gear in those days! In the months there, my hair grew quite long & was bleached pure blond by the sun. ‘You look like Jesus’, people said. You had to put up with constantly cut fingers & in fact I once had a piece of oyster shell trapped inside a healed gash, which required a trip to the hospital at Kawakawa to remove it. I stayed in a caravan on Brumby farm – 2 or 3 kms from town. Sometimes at night, big sheep would rub their coats against the corners of the caravan, making a steady earthquake-like motion. On days off, I loved to walk along the winding road through gorgeous mangroves, to pick up the latest New Musical Express, buy a beer at the local tavern, order volumes of Sylvia Plath at the local stationers, or just stumble around, trying to write poems. One day I was hitch-hiking & Sam Hunt’s controversial publisher Alistair Taylor gave me a ride, but I was too shy to try to get him to look at my stuff. Caravan life suited me. I had Watties Baked Beans. I had a radio/tape deck. I loved hearing ‘Sierra Leone’ by NZ’s own Coconut Rough. I had no TV & was starved for Radio with Pictures. My cassette tape of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ album ‘A Kiss in the Dreamhouse’ made me dream about being back on the streets of London. Friends would drive up from Auckland to visit me, & they were always greeted with a huge buckets of oysters. They cost me nothing, of course, & the fact that I could eat them directly out of the sea, meant that I could never pay money for oysters ever again. At some stage I returned to Auckland. Thinking about it now, there were many reasons why I could have stayed in Northland, permanently. There were many good friendships to be made & many good times to be had. Kia ora
BOOK GIVEAWAY COMPETITION QUESTION:
Who is the current NZ poet laureate?
Email your answer to Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Writers Up North book giveaway’ in the subject line and Jeremy will pick a winner