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The Culler’s Lament

[lyrics Peter Cape, music Don Toms, c. 1962]

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Culler’s Lament on his 1984 Greenwich Village album A Rose From the Bush. He commented in his sleeve notes:

This comes from the singing of Danny Spooner, another strong singer from Australia, who in turn learnt it from the writer Peter Cape. It tells once again of the disruptions to family life caused by men leaving their women at home. But in this song the woman strikes back. The ‘culler’ referred to is the man who goes to kill the deer. A ‘Black Matai’ is not a rugby player, but a tree native to New Zealand.

Danny Spooner sang The Culler’s Lament in 2017 on his final CD, Home. He noted:

Deer were introduced to New Zealand’s mountains but quickly became a problem [because of the lack of natural predators], so cullers were employed. Folk icon Barry Crump was a culler from age 14 and wrote a book about the experience, A Good Keen Man. I didn’t know about verse four until Peter Garland showed me a book on the life of Peter Cape, and this good addition made for a more complete song. My thanks to Gladwen McIntyre for permission to record Peter’s song.


Danny Spooner sings The Culler’s Lament

What are you singing, black matai, black matai?
Snow’s on the tops and the fire’s burning down.
What are you singing, east wind in the matai?
Your love’s left the station, she’s gone to the town.

What are you chattering, tall mountain birches?
wind’s in the west, and the rain’s pelting down.
Flash floods are coming, I’m bound to keep moving,
But she’s gone from the station, she’s gone to the town.

The smell of these deer-skins, the weight of my rifle,
This eighty-pound pack that keeps dragging me down:
I’ll get out of the mountains, get back to the sheep-yards,
But she’s gone from the station, she’s gone to the town.

Wind on the high tops, what are you calling?
There’s deer in the valley a thousand feet down.
You cry on the cols, and you shout on the ridges
That my love’s left the station and gone to the town.

What are you whispering, wind in the snow-grass?
Combing the tussocks, and smoothing them down?
My love’s hair was golden as snow-grass in summer,
But she’s gone from the station, she’s gone to the town.