Feeling rather a failure, I packed my things and, crossing from North Island to South Island by steamer, I set off for the west coast. This meant crossing the Southern Alps by stagecoach, with five horses. We made our way slowly up the mountain range to the pass, sometimes walking to ease the horses. The glacier-fed rivers were full of milky blue-grey water.
At Greymouth, on the west coast, I joined my second trade union, the Timber Workers. I got a job at a new mill that was being set up in the bush. To reach it, I travelled on the company’s bush railway, running 10 miles into the virgin forest. I worked in the gang extending this railway farther into the forest to get timber out. I liked the bushwhacking, felling trees up to three feet in diameter with an axe. Even digging the cuttings, and laying the track had interest, but it was made dreary because nobody had any incentive and the gang slacked shamelessly. Most of the soil round about was goldbearing, and I used to amuse myself by panning off some of the dirt in a shovel. Every shovelful would produce a few colours of gold.
Visit to New Zealand Photo Gallery
My mates were a suspicious, dull crowd. They could not make me out, and treated me as if I was an enemy spy. We used to assemble in one of the wooden huts which each of us had to live and sleep in and would swop yarns by the light of the log fire at night, but no one became friendly to me. It was a dreary life, and when I got news of a gold strike in the bush, I packed my swag and made off.
Ten miles along a track through the bush brought me to a road of sorts, and I kept on walking until I got to the Blackwater Gold Mine at the terminus of another road. The Blackwater was a warm quartz reef more than half a mile below the surface. From here I took off into virgin forest following a blazed trail.
I was given directions that would take me to the strike. A blazed trail through dense forests, with a small nick on a tree every fifty or a hundred yards, may be easy to follow if you blazed it yourself, or if you first follow it with someone who knows it but not for a complete stranger to the area. I was trailing up a small creek trying to spot a blaze which would indicate where I had to leave the creek, but I could not find any blaze, and finally mistook a deer track for the right trail. I followed this for some time, but an hour or so later I had to admit that I was well and truly bushed.