Little Owl Gully
Graham R. Cooper
Graham R. Cooper’s personal journal about modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully.
What’s in a name?
Te pakohu o te ruru iti
I’d love to be able to look you in the eye and tell you that the place has been known as Little Owl Gully from the very beginnings of human habitation in the area. That in pre-European times it was called ‘Te pakohu o te ruru iti’ by Maaori who travelled through the area. (I’ve probably gone awry with the Maaori translation. What I think my transliteration says is: The gully of the owl little.)
As for our association with the name ‘Little Owl Gully’ , well it began only a year ago. The previous seventeen years, the sign had displayed our felting business logo: ‘Heartfelt’.
And before us? Well, the place as we know it didn’t exist. Just a ten acre paddock with a shallow gully and an old farmhouse (built circa 1912), at one end.
In 1912 it was ten acres of a 326 acre farm that had recently been purchased by Andrew Archibald. I imagine him sitting on his south-facing verandah and gazing out across the river flats: mulling over the scale of the 9,000 acre Allandale Station homestead block across the way. The land he now farmed once part of a sprawling Allandale Station which had embraced an even greater acreage.
Sitting on the verandah myself in what used to be my Dad’s favourite chair, it’s a pleasant and not too fanciful notion to think of farmer Archibald’s daytime reveries broken into now and then by the screech of a Little Owl. I say this because, according to my Collins Birds of New Zealand reference book, it’s probably the German subspecies vidalii introduced to the South Island in 1906. Not in the least pre -European but it could well have been in South Canterbury by 1912.
A Maaori place name?
I have a yearning to belong in a place with a rich history and pre-history that stretches back thousands of years. A Maaori place name associated with where we live would help me wing my way back into the dim mists of time.
The ornithologists rein in my flights of fancy; they give the Little Owl other names: Screech Owl, German Owl, and the scientific name Athene noctua. Not a Maaori name amongst them.
Do I want the owls that reside in our gully to be endemic to New Zealand? Do I wish they were Moreporks? The gully at night coming alive to the repetitive, haunting call of a bird asking for ‘more pork, more pork, more pork’. A fair dinkum Kiwi owl with the Maaori name ‘Ruru’ and a scientific name that confidently pronounces it one of ours: Ninox novaeseelandiae.
Not really. June and I are not tangata whenua (the indigenous people of the land). We’re not even first generation Kiwis since we were both born as poms. Using the English language and naming the place after an introduced species of owl seems appropriate. Any cultural appropriation in that seems in keeping with who we are and where we came from.
No name again
Calling the place anything at all after we took down the ‘Heartfelt’ sign was not a sure thing. We’d been quite happy having a place with no name for the first ten years of living here. We only put up the ‘Heartfelt’ sign to give the business a more established look. We never felt it was synonymous with the place itself.
When it came down we were left with a sign post all forlorn. In our minds, the whole place seemed to take on something of that forlorn and vacant look.
Not only that. It had been a bloody mission getting the sign post, putting it in, and sprucing it up with a coat of paint. I’d made the sign board out of a sheet of 17mm ply and sealed, primed and undercoated it before giving it a final coat of gloss white.
The post had hung devoid of sign for a few years in a local’s roadside paddock. She didn’t want any money for it but said she’d like to come round sometime to chose one of our hand-dyed, hand-felted gossamer scarves in exchange.
It was a stinking hot summer’s day when I went round to get it. The heavy clay soils were baked hard and I had to chip away for ages with a crowbar before the post and the slab of concrete it was set in began to budge. I hauled it out and used a sledge hammer to smash up the thick slab of concrete that encased the below ground section of the pole: there’s no way that I could have lifted it onto the trailer with the concrete still attached.
Of course, I had to pour concrete into the hole when I put the post in place near our roadside gate. You can imagine my not wanting to remove the structure yet again.
June did a stylised drawing of an owl: the power of suggestion enough to satisfy us that it looked sufficiently like a Little Owl to pass muster. I found a font online – should go down well with those of you who like lemons and jelly – Lemon Jelly.
We both decided that some encircling lemon jelly lettering was just what was needed to get the owl image gelling in the minds of our audience. Enlarged to a font size of ’72’ and printed off, the letters were ready to trace onto the paper template.
Little Owl Gully
We worked out what size of image looked right and June then enlarged the owl drawing and encircled it with ‘Little Owl Gully’. She had used thin newsprint paper so that the outline was visible on the reverse side. Once she’d done a soft pencil rubbing over the outline on the reverse, the paper was turned right side up. A pencil trace of the outline then transferred the graphite underneath onto the white board.
The assistant at the Resene paint shop in Timaru had assured us that the black enamel paint in the 60ml test pot was for both interior and exterior use. Armed with this knowledge and the gloss enamel black test pot, June used a fine artist’s paint brush to produce the sign that now graces the approach to our place.
Owl logo and icon
I use a photo of the sign as the logo for my website. I like to think of it as gracing the approach to our Internet home. And I end each blog with an owl icon of our own devising inspired by the owl on the sign.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about the owls in real life: The ones that screech out every now and then to remind us that this is their home too. Check it out next Monday. Thanks for your company and bye for now.