Edmond Slattery came to New Zealand from Ireland for the gold, like so many others. When the gold ran out for the working man Slattery became a swagger. Swaggers were not tramps. They were the essential, moving seasonal workers who were vital to New Zealand farmers. Woe betide the farmer who became known by the swagger community for breaking the tradition of always having a bunk and a meal for a man on his way through the countryside. When harvest time came his farm would be shunned.
Slattery, known as "The Shiner" was a swagger like no other. He was, as John A Lee called him, the "anti-dynamo." His famed ability to trick hard-nosed publicans out of a bottle of gin or a half-crock of whisky made legends grow out of anecdotes and a myth grow out of the legends. Lee's biography of Slattery is kept in the Fiction section of the Dunedin Public Library. Many of the stories were told to John by his father, an old friend of The Shiner.
There's a reason why, in a university, the History Department is in the Arts and not the Sciences.
|Ned Slattery and his dog - taken around 1920|
Slattery's legend has been told by better writers than myself and much of interest is only a Google search away. Here is just one:
On another occasion, when surveyors were busy in the country, and boundaries were not very clearly defined, it is related how "The Shiner " and a number of his mates imposed on a rather too credulous hotelkeeper, whose wit was not a strong point. One fine morning "The Shiner" manufactured a theodolite out of an old alarm clock and three flax sticks for a tripod, and explaining his intentions to his mates, they proceeded to make surveys in 'the vicinity of the hotel in question, driving pegs in in an indiscriminate way in all directions. When "The Shiner " and company commenced to drive pegs in his garden the hotelkeeper, who had been an interested spectator of the preliminaries, wanted to know what it all meant. "I am the head surveyor for the Government for this district." replied ''The Shiner," "and I am defining boundaries, and I find your hotel is 4ft over the road line. There is no doubt but that it will have to be shifted." This alarmed the landlord somewhat, and the whirr of the old alarm clock on three sticks, still further alarmed him. "Is there no way of arranging things with you. Mr Surveyor?" Of course Mr Surveyor was very indignant at the suggestion of his palm being greased, but by means of a few liberal presents to the chief and the members of his party a fresh "survey" was made which was much, more to the satisfaction of the landlord. "The Shiner" is now an old man, but he is still very erect and young in appearance. He has a quiet, humorous look, and hours might be spent listening to his tales. ...
I am, however, able to add just a tiny bit to the story of The Shiner - or rather his final resting place. Ned died in the Benevolent Institution in Caversham, Dunedin in 1927. He was buried in a pauper's grave at Andersons Bay Cemetery and a group of Dunedin journalists passed the hat around to raise money for a gravestone. Gravestones are not permitted on paupers' graves. Stories I've read from 2001 and 2009 state that there is no gravestone. But a stone appears in the 2014 photos taken of Dunedin graves and and available on the DCC Cemeteries search site.
A visit to local monumental masons resulted in a consensus - it is a professional job done by none of the masons working today. The installation is not professional. I've read about "guerrilla gardening" - the stealthy adding of plants, usually edible, to plots in public places. Shiner Slattery's stone is an example of "guerrilla monumental masonry." The 2001 story in the NZ Geographic Magazine had the writer finding it appropriate that there was no stone on The Shiner's grave. I think Ned might have chuckled at the thought of someone sneaking a piece of granite in at night.