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Johnny Currie, a bloke with a spirit as wild as the West Coast.

West Coast legend Johnny Currie.

In the early 80's Johnny Currie, a bloke with a spirit as wild as the West Coast itself, reckoned it was time he gave the city life the flick. He made himself scarce, deep into the Buller hinterland. No power lines or running water for him. He embraced a life drenched in the untamed essence of nature, a choice he'd sooner stick to than trade for all the gold in them hills.

The city folks in the local council, they must've had some grand plans to civilize old Currie. But soon enough, they got wise to the futility of their efforts. They threw in the towel on that endeavor, knowing you can't tame a man who's cozy with the bush like a possum in a hollow.

Currie shared a yarn, about the last time the council tried to put their noses in his bushy business. "We were just moseying around, back and forth, when we reckoned it was high time for a cuppa," Currie said with a glint in his eye. "So, we strolled into the hut. I plonked the billy on the fire, steam curling up like forgotten dreams. And then, wouldn't you know it – in walks this council bloke, smacks his shiny noggin on a chunk of wood, a 6 by 2, and quips, 'Reckon this place has a proper building permit?' 'Nah,' I fires back, 'And it never will!'"

West Coast legend Johnny Currie.

The first hut of his got swept away in a flood, just like a page ripped out by the rain. But Currie ain't the type to sit and whinge. He set up a new digs, his second hut, and keeps on thriving. He's got a knack for rustling up grub from the wild, even nurturing his own whitebait, all in the name of self-reliance.

At 76 years young, Johnny stood sturdy as a buck rat, with a mind as sharp as a possum's claws. He's had a lick of every slice life's dished out – farming, logging, deerstalking, mining, caving, and even guiding lost souls.

He's got a whole kingdom sprawled over 1800 hectares, a regular Garden of Eden that'd make even Hagley Park look like a backyard. It used to belong to the timber outfit Hardie & Thomson, but Johnny took it over in 1980 for a measly $26,000. His roots go as deep as them valleys, stretching back over a century to the settler days. When he was just a nipper, he'd chase wild goats with nothing but a trusty dog and a pocket knife. By the '60s, he was leading bush gangs, cutting through the mighty rimu like a hot knife through butter.

His son, Curtis, who has his own separate hut, turned down a handsome offer for $1,000,000 from DOC, knowing the worth of this sacred land. It's a patch that deserves guarding against foreign claws.

West Coast legend Johnny Currie.

Currie's valley is full of wild red deer, descendants of those brought over from Scotland in the 1920s. Johnny put a ban on hunting these magnificent animals years ago, declared this realm of rejuvenating native forest and babbling streams their sanctuary.

Once Currie ventured into the city hullabaloo, hopping aboard a bus bound for Wellington. Just that one ride was enough to show him the chasm between his rugged world and the urban rat race. "There's this young fella who hops on," he says, his voice tinged with amusement. "Sets himself down, pulls out this tiny mirror with a blinking light, a wee bag, and a powder puff. He's daubing his mug like he's painting a masterpiece. I thought, 'Well, I've seen it all now. Time to head back to my neck of the woods.' He's primping up like a sheila, a sight that left me gobsmacked."

Johnny continues living off the grid. No modern frills for him, just nature's bare essentials, the pristine Awakari River flows right by his tin-roofed abode.


1 comment

  • A great story of a true West Coaster

    Peter Styles

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