Elephant on Main Street
When the circus came to Palmerston North.
… Yes? You were talking of elephants?
Every so often, right through New Zealand, the circus would come to town. Every decent sized town got a visit. They’d go from town to town. We’d hear the news when they arrived.
‘THE CIRCUS HAS COME TO TOWN!’ That was the catch phrase — ‘THE CIRCUS HAS COME TO TOWN!’
The whole show would travel by railway, and they’d take their wagons to and from the railway yard to the place they’d set up. Of course it was a real treat for us kids to watch them setting up — lots of blokes putting up the Big Top. They’d set up in Devine’s paddock, in Main Street. It was a huge tent, just like the mission tent for gospel meetings.
Now the thing was that they had to get the circus wagons from the rail siding to the paddock, so they’d hook them up in the rail yard, but instead of a tractor, they’d connect up the elephant to do the job. It worked, and was all part of the excitement.
It was a real lump of an animal, and it had a reputation for having a good memory, and was known for its wisdom and knowledge. Of course we knew very little about elephants, but did know quite a lot about what horses could do. On one occasion it was very interesting to watch this beast at work.
The wagons had iron wheels — they weren’t into pneumatic tyres, those circus people. And the little iron wheels were very strong, but easy to get stuck because of the size. And I saw, on one occasion, a wheel sink down into a hole, and the whole shebang came to a standstill. A dead stop. And this elephant, it turned and took a look, and it seemed to me to be actually thinking, to be figuring it out all by itself. What’s holding up the progress?
So all by itself it decided a bit of extra effort was needed. It took a good look. Got a feel of it all, to see exactly what was needed, and applied the force.
Pretty smart animal.
Years later I worked with horses, and Dad and Old Phil had horses and wagons, but that elephant beat them all for working things out.
Did the circus put on a good show?
Oh yes, we loved it. We always enjoyed going to the event. But we played the same trick as kids have always done. It was a big tent — held lots of people — time for the show, and we’d sneak in under the tent, or in through a side flap. We never paid to see the circus. Never. They pegged the wall down very well, all around, but we’d crawl in, we’d find the weakness. The last thing to do was go through the main entrance!
But the best thing was the elephant. I was a bit astonished to see an animal that could see both the problem and the remedy.
Talking of animals, did you have pets at home?
I’ve always been a dog man. I’ve been astonished what dogs can do. I’ve been keen on them. I’ve never had time for cats, not that I’m antagonistic toward cats, it’s just that with my history of asthma and bronchitis, all that dandruff and cat fur — it’s not good for me.
But I’ve had a lot to do with dogs, hunting and that. They can surprise you too.
On one occasion I was with a group of church people. Church of Christ. Sunday afternoon. And someone had organised an outing — a walk — down at the Otaki Forks. Anyway, the chap in charge — the organiser — he gathered everyone together when we got there, and gave us a bit of a pep talk. He spelled it out that were going for a walk, and pointed out the way. And he emphasised that the young ones should go slow on account of the old ones, and the old shouldn’t dilly-dally too much.
And while he was doing his talk I noticed a dog sitting with the people, and it was listening intently to the speaker.
Then away we went, and the man thought he was in charge of the party, but in fact the dog took charge. That dog took complete control — it took over. It would bark and hurry along the stragglers. If the young ones ran ahead it would head them off. If they wandered away it would round them up and herd them back.
Of course some breeds have been herding sheep for hundreds of years — thousands perhaps. It’s all perfectly natural for them. That day the dog switched from sheep to people.
Like the elephant, it sized up the situation and did what was needed. Very effective.