Northern Advocate Column

5 weeks delivering the morning paper

27th January 2018

The ad said earn some extra money over the holidays and get fit. Yep, I thought, both of those things would be good right now.

“Own car required to deliver newspapers in the morning.” I could do that. And it would be kind of amusing to be working both ends of the industry. “Here’s your paper… by the way, check out my column on page 5.” So I phoned the number and said I was interested. 

“We start at 1.30 in the morning.” Gulp, earlier than I expected. But since I’d talked it up so much with my partner I couldn’t back out now. “Fine,” I said. 

“It’s minimum wage plus an allowance to cover petrol.” “OK,” I replied, hoping it might have been more. 

The first morning was a training run. I was desperately tired at the end of it, as I hadn’t slept at all before the alarm went off. Having major second thoughts.

Next day I was on my own, delivering papers to the Riverside area of Whangārei and part of Onerahi, about 200 addresses. 

A difficult morning, as I struggled to find letterboxes in the dark and took a wrong turn, delivering papers to the completely wrong street. Still managed at least to get the papers delivered by 7am, before the phones started ringing. 

Because you get paid a piece rate, I’d effectively worked for less than minimum wage. The per paper payment is worked out by the average amount of time it’s supposed to take. At this stage I was sceptical about it all. 

However, after a couple of days, and fewer mistakes, I saw that it was possible to do it on time, even quicker if I ran between the car and letterboxes. 

One of the things it was interesting to realise is how computers are speeding up tasks like newspaper delivery. Each morning we got a printed sheet with all the addresses in the exact order you should deliver them. Using Google Maps a computer programme has worked out the most efficient route.  

For the most part, things were going well, in the first week I only missed a few letterboxes and delivered an Advocate instead of a Herald once.  

Once I started back at my normal day job after Christmas, however, boy was I tired. Some mornings I felt like giving up mid-run and lying on the back seat of the car to sleep. Please just let me close my eyes! 

The BP on Riverside Drive was my saviour on occasions, though it hurt to eat into what I was earning. I can say that a beef roll has never tasted as good as at 4am, feeling somewhat sorry for myself. A coffee was just heaven. 

Today was my last day, after five weeks. It will have felt good delivering this final paper. In the weeks ahead, when I wake up at a civilised time, hopefully I can spare a thought for the army of people in New Zealand who work through the night to do the things that, as consumers, we demand. 

On 1st April, newspaper deliverers, like tens of thousands of other hardworking Kiwis, will be getting a pay rise, with the minimum wage going up to $16.50 an hour. More increases are meant to follow, so that by 2021 the minimum wage will be $20 an hour. It’s the least the Government can do. 

To those delivering the papers in Whangārei this morning, I now have some understanding of the job you’re doing. Though not, it must be said, on a cold, wet winter morning. I was only a fair-weather and temporary colleague. Kia kaha. 

Northern Advocate Column

How do I get this possum killing done?

20 October 2018

In my garden shed there’s a wire cage, a trap actually. I saw it for sale at the local second-hand market and thought, yep, time I did something about my possum problem. Singular, as far as I can tell, living in the neighbour’s Norfolk Pine. It scampers down at night and helps itself to the fruit trees. Or the tomatoes, like it did last summer. 

The trap sits in the shed unused, however, because of my dilemma: what do I do with the possum once I’ve caught it? Take it on a road trip? Like I remember my father—an animal lover—doing when I was young, and he had a similar backyard invader. Out of sight, out of mind, but hardly in the spirit of culling these destroyers of native bush.

I’m going to have to kill it. I should kill it. They’re pests, they deserve to die… Don’t they? 

But how should I do it? My mother-and-law, very matter-of-fact and practical about most things, says drown it. There’s a pond on the farm over the fence where this killing could be done. Just drop the caged animal into the water. It’s a shallow pond, not a lake, there would be lots of flailing and noisy splashing about. The suffering might be a little too much to witness. 

There is the hammer method. That’s how my rural-living, hunting and fishing cousin used to do it when he was trapping possums to make some pocket money. This was the early eighties when you could get good money for possum fur in New Zealand. As a kid, three years younger, I remember many occasions going into the bush to check gin traps, those terrifying rusty jaws of death (or so they seemed then). The trapped possum was dispatched with a viciously swung hammer blow to the head. I was in awe. My cousin always pressured me to have a go, but I never did. 

Could I do it now? Seems like plenty of room for error, I don’t want to be clumsily dealing multiple blows like some deranged Mr Bean. 

I have killed before. Many fish. A couple of sick chickens. And some ducks. We got the ducks for their eggs and to eat. Appleyards they were, good for both. After searching the internet for the most humane killing method, it was apparent guillotining the duck’s head with a cleaver was actually the best option, if you could stomach the blood. 

Cleaver duly purchased. Kids banished from the backyard, two big nails hammered into a piece of wood, neck quickly placed between nails and cleaver swung with a heavy heart. Truly, each time, I was sad for the rest of the day. We haven’t purchased any more ducks. 

I still have the cleaver. Could I chop the head off a struggling possum? I’ve visions of a horror scene… a half-decapitated possum clawing at my arm, blood everywhere, and me falling over the wheelbarrow screaming. Maybe not. 

There’s poisoning. Can you even buy 1080? It’s one thing to support 1080 drops done by faceless other people to faceless furry marsupials in a forest far away, but feeding poison to single animal through the bars of a cage? 

I shouldn’t be so squeamish. I’d be doing a good thing. No different to what DOC’s doing. They’re the good guys, right?

I read recently that the kererū, New Zealand’s bird of the year, has a lower population in Northland, in part because of possums. I like kererū. 

One way or another, this killing’s got to be done. Why do I keep hearing the lyrics to that Bob Dylan song in my head? (Abe said, “Where d’you want this killin’ done?” God said, “Out on Highway 61.”) Killing a possum isn’t the equivalent of a biblical infanticide. End this melodrama. 

I need to borrow a gun. I’ve never fired one before, they scare the hell out of me. But I’ve got to summon the moral gumption and just do it. Killing this damn possum will be good for the environment. 

I’ll do it for the kererū! 

For my tomatoes!