Deer culler and bushman, Bert Barra.
This story is from the Ex NZFS Deer Cullers book on Arete Forks Hut.
By Mike Grace, 2003.
Bert Barra Renowned deer culler and animal control expert, is a significant figure in both Wairarapa and 20th century hunting history. During the 1930s and ’40s, Bert shot for Internal Affairs, exceeding 24,000 animals over his career and often had the top seasonal tally for Government shooters.
He came to Wairarapa in 1935 as a Field Officer for Deer Control in the Tararuas, where he was responsible for the hunting programme. Retiring from the New Zealand Forest Service in the early 1970s, Bert lived out his days in a simple hut with no power at Kaituna in the Upper Waingawa, on the main route to Mount Mitre .
This is named the Barra Track in his honour. Hunters who passed Bert’s hut in his later years would often drop him a back steak. Bert was always most appreciative, proclaiming each offering as “the best bit of venison I ever had!” He was certainly well qualified to know. It is hoped that this story of what is thought to be Bert’s last deer will be of interest to those who knew him. He didn’t shoot it, in fact at nearly 90 years old with poor health he may not have been able to, but it certainly wouldn’t have happened without him. Kaituna farmer Chris Tait who owns the land on which Bert’s hut stands tells the story.
“Bert was a good neighbour and a great bush cook. If he ever caught me coming past from mustering late he would drag me in and feed me one of his stews with camp oven bread. I often wondered what he made of me, a non-hunter from Wellington —he could be pretty tough on “townies” as he called them. One morning in April 1986, I was coming in from town with some groceries for Bert when I noticed a strange looking cow crossing the creek near the home paddock. It was a young stag, a spiker, looking a bit lost. He wandered across the track and disappeared around the corner. We didn’t see many deer around there but as I’m no hunter and had never shot a deer, I didn’t think any more about it and went on up to Bert’s hut with the grub.
We were sitting there having one of Bert’s “ever ready” brews when he looks out the window and says “there’s a bloody deer in my paddock!” I started to explain how I had seen it down the track but he immediately staggered to his feet and lurched off to his bunk room. There was a lot of crashing and banging and Bert eventually emerged loading his old .303; the very same one with which he had shot thousands of deer. “Go on and shoot it” he growled slamming the magazine into the rifle. I started to say something about never having shot a deer before but he grabbed me by the shoulder, thrust the battered rifle into my hands and pushed me out the door.
The spiker had continued his wanderings and was now out of sight. I got into the Falcon station wagon, laid Bert’s rifle across the bench seat and somewhat uncertainty began my first deer hunt. As it happened, he hadn’t gone far and I managed to knock him over with one shot. Five minutes later I was back at Bert’s with the whole animal in the back. “You missed the bastard eh?” was Bert’s first query. He’d only heard the one shot and assumed I’d missed it. “No, I got it. It’s in the back of the car” I replied, beginning to feel a little proud of myself. “Where did you hit it?” he asked. When I responded in all innocence “In the head. Where else do you aim?” Bert laughed and laughed. I think he liked me a bit better after that. Bert went and got his knife.
He looked at the spiker and decided he wasn’t up to skinning a deer anymore. “He can still take one apart though,” I thought as I watched his bent figure astride the carcass grunting and muttering as he did the business. We chucked the lumps of deer into sacks for delivery to some of Bert’s mates in town. Bert gave me a list of names and asked if I would do the honours. “Who are you?” asked one old culling mate as he peered into the back of the Falcon. “I’m Chris,” I said thrusting a bloody sack into his arms. “This is for you. From Bert”. He smiled. “Good one” he said. “Good old Bert”.
In 1999, Deer Cullers Society Incorporated met near Bert’s hut and planted a totara in his memory. The plaque reads “In memory of Bert Barra. Deer Culler. Died 1993 aged 93.”
Bert's 15 point stag measuring 44 x 39 inches, taken in the Eastern Tararuas in 1935.
Special thanks to Glenn Richardson for these photos.
“This is Bert Barra. He was a friend of my father and uncle so I spent many hours chatting with him too. 1899 (I know) to 1993 (I think) legend has it he shot 93 deer in one day, would have easily gone the ton but for running out of ammunition.”
Bert's first biv.
Bert outside his home in 1986.
Jack Perkins talks with Bert about his life.