I was born in 1930 and grew up on a farm called Mackford, eight miles up-river from the North Taranaki township of Mokau. In the early days our home had no electricity and was only accessible by cream launch. As far back as I can remember I enjoyed being involved in the whitebaiting season on the river. When I was twelve, my parents opened my first Post Office Savings account and I could deposit the earnings from my whitebaiting. My best year was 1944 when my sales totalled over £400 pounds. At fourteen I began to dream of owning my own farm.
I was happy beside the river. I could relax and absorb the peacefulness of the flowing river and the natural beauty all around me. The willows were sprouting green shoots and the plump native wood pigeons dined on the new spring growth softly cooing with satisfaction. Across the river a kingfisher sat on a branch just above the water and sometimes screeched. It’s sharp eyes were always scanning the river and when it dived the whitebait scattered everywhere.
The herrings occasionally caused more problems. Just as a shoal was about to enter the net there would be a flash of silver and the whitebait were gone. When the odd herring got trapped in the net I felt avenged and later our cats were incredibly happy. The most thrilling part of catching whitebait was monitoring the progress of a shoal. I would hold my breath as the shoal approached the net and and then when they streamed through the trap opening I felt elated. When the front of the net was frothing from the frantic efforts of thousands of little fish struggling against the wire gauze and still more were entering through the trap, I knew a bumper catch was assured. That was whitebaiting in the Mokau River in 1944, and I haven’t even mentioned the taste of fresh, fresh whitebait turned into mouthwatering fritters.
Adapted extract from The Boy from Mokau River: A Memoir (2010) by Colin Radford