Jocelyn asked me if I had enough egg salad sandwich fixings to feed a fourth person and I said yes—and so 75-year-old Marcus Ward, a good friend of the Strongman family, joined us for lunch here in Coromandel Town.
I had heard of the Ward family before when I had taken a tour of the north end of the Coromandel Peninsula with Jocelyn. She told me about this extraordinary farming family who live on their own stations yet join together in a communal farming effort along the northwestern shore of the Coromandel. Unlike my family they are able to work well together and so they have prospered. A rare family indeed and so I was especially interested in meeting a real Ward close up. Thought I could learn something from this gentleman and I did.
One of the things that I learned is that not all stories can be illustrated with photos. Some stories are so vivid when left to the imagination that there is no photo I could possibly take to add to such a story and this is one of them.
As we socialized over lunch, the stories we shared veered off into our experiences with wild animals.
One of the pests that came with mankind to New Zealand in the canoes and sailing ships was that king of pests, the rat. Dealing with this pest is a job that has taxed the ingenuity of many folks throughout human history but in the tale that Marcus Ward told me, I got an interesting lesson in Kiwi* ingenuity.
When Marcus was young, his Uncle James took an 44-gallon (200 liters) oil drum and put it to good use in mankind’s fight with the rat. He cut off one end of the drum and turned the drum on its opposite end. At first he filled the bottom of the drum with just enough water to drown a rat but as time went on, he decided it wasn’t worth the bother to keep the drum filled. The drum was a far more effective trap without any water in it.
Marcus’s uncle did put something nice and smelly up in the top end of the drum to attract the attention of any rat that happened to pass by. He also put an access bridge to the top and then placed a narrow (6-inch wide) louvered glass platform over the bait—just enough to tempt the rat into crawling out onto the glass but far enough away from the bait to make it impossible for the rat to reach it. As the rat went further out onto the platform in a vain effort to reach the bait, it’s weight on the glass would cause the glass to collapse and drop the rat into the drum and then pop back up again to await another rat foolish enough to try his luck in checking out this tantalizing smell. Meanwhile the trapped rat would find itself in the battle of its life with another rat who had preceded him into the drum trap. That other rat more often than not was very hungry and so the new arrival had to fight to avoid becoming lunch.
This battle to the death might not happen immediately but in time, hunger would take over and without any other food, cannibalism became the name of the game and so over time, Marcus’s uncle knew that what he had sitting down there at the bottom of his barrel was the Hannibal Lector of Rats. Once he was sure he had such a monster, he simply let it go.
Because by then, this rat had acquired a taste for other rats and could be counted upon to go forth and kill more rats.
Marcus’s uncle would then reset the bait in the drum and start all over again.
As for the Ward family, now I know it’s not only a remarkable degree of cooperativeness in working together that has caused the Ward family to prosper, it’s also a high degree of cleverness in dealing with life’s problems as well.
* For those who aren’t familiar with New Zealand and New Zealanders, a Kiwi is not just a flightless and feisty bird or the name of a green, hairy fruit that’s very good for you but New Zealanders are proud to call themselves Kiwis.