Another tale from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘.
The Nicols, father and son. took a contract to build a bridge and an accommodation house at the Mataura River. Not having seen the place, they had to trust to the particulars given by the Government Department, and their estimates were made up from the information supplied, a good deal of which was misleading. Mr. Nicol, senr.. engaged men and a bullock driver, and. having secured a pair of first-class bullocks and sledge, set out from Dunedin for Mataura. Walter Nicol had now his first experience as a bullock-puncher, as the others of the party left him in charge. The road was only a track in many places, and in others there was hardly anything to guide the plucky new-chum driver. Nothing daunted, he set off, and after five days reached Caldervale, Kaihiku. then occupied by Alex. McNeil, where the others joined him, and the bullocks were handed over to their proper driver. The first day's trip had been as far as Saddle Hill; the next to Taieri Ferry; the third to Mathieson's. at Toko ; the fourth to Balclutha. and the fifth to Kaihiku. After leaving this place they managed, by taking a long day, to reach Trumble's place at Otaraia, but received a very surly welcome, neither food nor lodging being at first forthcoming. Ultimately they persuaded Trumble to give them food, and they lodged in the stockyard among the calf-pens. The seventh night found them at their destination the Bush about two miles below the present Mataura township, where there was a Maori settle- ment. Work then began. All the timber had to be cut in the bush and taken to the bridge site, a distance of about two miles. Soon a difficulty presented itself. The bridge had one span of fifty-two feet, and they could find only one tree in the bush which would square the size required. They had to go to Steel's bush. Edendale. for the other, and this entailed a great deal of extra labour. The bridge was a foot and horse bridge, six feet wide, and the spans were to rest on two Mat rocks, almost in mid-stream. It was found that the plans were here far astray, the proposed bridge being found to be twenty feet short, and some time was wasted in getting authority from Dunedin for the in- creased length. Provisions ran short, and the bullock team was sent to Invercargill for flour. It was away a fortnight, and then brought only one bag. The men were in a sad plight. Rich, a station-owner near, was away from home, and his foreman refused to sell them any meat, and if it had not been for the Maoris they would have starved. These Maoris gave them a few potatoes, and they managed to get some wild pigs. On Rich's return he soon had a bullock killed, and they were in clover. They then shifted camp to the bridge site, and were ready to start, when a flood came, and showed them that something would have to be done to prevent the bridge when built from being swept away, as the water rose right over the rocks where it was supposed to rest. The authorities were communicated with, and instructions sent to drill holes in the rocks and put in bolts, which were fixed by having melted lead poured in. After the work was completed, the river rose again, and the water flowed over the bottom of the bridge. Some time after- wards the bridge was swept away just when Southland separated from Otago and this accident made the sepa- ration complete. The accommodation-house was soon com- pleted, and the party returned to Dunedin.