Throttling a Tui


I was first introduced to Tui beer one summer at the end of my first year of university. My father had got me a job as a rousie in a shearing gang working on sheep farms east of Dannevirke. I was 18, skinny, unfit, at the bottom of the pecking order, but accepted with good humour as the only pakeha in the village.

This was at the end of of 1970 and Tui East India Pale Ale was little known outside what is now the Tararua district – northern Wairarapa and Southern Hawke’s Bay. But for my gang at least, run by the late Peter Lawson and Herb Chase, the beer was the single alcoholic beverage available after our 12-hour days and also the hydration of choice for the shearers during their shifts. Most shearers would take a single bottle of Tui at breakfast at 7am after the first two-hour run – these were the old-style bottles that held over a pint – and then they’d down two bottles with lunch. Lesser mortals – the presser, rousies and cook – drank only in the evenings and made do with big mugs of strong tea during the day. I don’t recall anyone drinking water.

The traditional invitation to drink was to “throttle a Tui”, something I did with alacrity whenever I got the chance. The beers were kept stacked in wooden crates on the verandahs of the shearing quarters. They were never refrigerated (the small amount of fridge space was reserved for the vast quantities of mutton that sustained the gang).
The Tui was warm, sweet, sickly yet strangely insubstantial. Craft beers were decades away, yet to my uncultured palate it still tasted pretty awful.

Probably the best aversion therapy for drinking Tui at all was starting a run at 5am, hung over with dry horrors, thumping head and heaving stomach. The fumes of last night’s beer mingled with the smell of sweat and sheep shit. It was a powerful lesson on the folly of trying to match hardened drinkers twice my age and one I repeated often.
The rest of that summer was wonderful, but the smell and taste of warm Tui linger like stale onions more than four decades later.

Which is why I’m especially distressed by the choice of beers at the new Pavilion Bar in Westpac Stadium: Tui light, Tui dark and just for variety the anaemic and joyless Amstel Light. Really? Isn’t Wellington the craft beer capital of New Zealand? Surely we can do better. I admit the food in the Pavilion is a little better than the soggy chips and foul burgers in the concourse and there are plenty of good food carts now. But shouldn’t we have left the rubbish beer behind to accompany the rubbish food downstairs?

These days 10,000 is a good crowd at a Super rugby match in Wellington. Alas, Tui is throttling the fun out of the rugby. Unshackle the stadium from the tyranny of Tui and I reckon you’d win some of the crowds back. Well, at least three of us anyway.

Out for a duck

This billboard from SAFE popped up near work the other day. Normally I’m irritated by this organisation, which collects money from the public but doesn’t seem to do much for animal welfare. This poster is fairly standard SAFE hyperbole. Where did they get those numbers from? And don’t they know shotguns aren’t usually equipped with telescopic sights?

SAFE's anti duckshooting billboard
SAFE’s anti duckshooting billboard

In years past I’ve been fairly dismissive of this kind of criticism but there’s no doubt that a fair chunk of the population is becoming less tolerant of pastimes like duck shooting (where did “duck hunting” come from?). And there’s no denying that a good many ducks are left painfully injured or don’t have an especially quick death.
I grew up with duckshooting. Until I was old enough to weild a shotgun – about 12 or 13 – I would avidly follow my father around as we stalked the various farm dams, usually coming home with a few ducks that I would be left to pluck. It was a bit of a chore, but I did enjoy the last part where we singed the plucked carcasses.

Kids' work
Kids’ work

I was never a great shooter but I usually managed to bag a couple, first with our little single-barrel .410 shotgun and then with a rather elderly Damascus-barrel side-by-side shotgun that probably presented a greater risk to me than my prey. My father surprised and disappointed me one day when he admitted he didn’t particularly enjoy shooting ducks any more. I was about 15 and still bloodthirsty for small game around the farm – rabbits, hares, possums, ducks and the occasional turkey. He was in his late 40s, becoming more reflective and starting to realise that wild animals are more than just a problem to be solved.
After my parents sold their farm my opportunities for shooting pretty much disappeared. My last outing was on my cousin’s farm in the late 80s where he, my father and I did the rounds of the dams. We got half a dozen or so between us, plus an unfortunate turkey that got in our way during a quiet part of the day. It was nice to relive old times with family but it didn’t leave any of us hankering for more.

Some ill-directed shooting during my final outing
Some ill-directed shooting during my final outing

These days I find myself on the fence when it comes to the rights and wrongs of hunting. Neither side of the debate cover themselves with glory. The animal rights advocates have little understanding of the positive side of hunting – the skills learned, the enjoyment of passing traditions down the generations, the appreciation of the outdoors and of course the opportunity for a good feed if all goes well. And the hunting and fishing lobby are often both aggressive and overly defensive, lashing out at anybody or anything that might stop them exercising their birthright. They each talk past each other.
From on top of the fence, I have sympathy for both sides – to a point. I’d like those SAFE people with their fluffy rabbit costumes on street collection days to realise that humans and animals have a long, complex history that includes a predator/prey relationship that’s present in all cultures. Hunting is no longer necessary for our survival but the instinct is still hard wired into most of us. And I’d like the guys with the camo gear to realise that what they do is a privilege, not a right – to respect not only their opponents’ viewpoint but also the welfare of the birds and animals in their sights.