On the opening weekend of duck shooting season last year, Dad and I stood on the small deck of our historic family 'batch' as he looked out at Lake Rotoehu and said, “I’ve shot that pond, I’ve shot in that pond, I shot round the corner there and there, and now I'm down at our end.” Every opening weekend seems to have a story or two to go with it, and there has definitely been plenty of weekends. Dad has shot opening weekend at this lake for 50 years in a row as of 2022. This photo series documents our return to Lake Rotoehu to mark Dad's big milestone, where the same activities of the past 50 years take on a new meaning.
He first visited Lake Rotoehu when he was five years old and started shooting when he was ten. "The first year I shot with my Grandad on opening morning, it was 5.30am and the whole place was covered in ice," he told me. "He made me strip down to my undies and put the decoys out. Froze my ass off.” I asked him why he kept coming back after that and I only got a laugh in response. When he didn’t feel like trout fishing with his parents, my grandparents, he took the .22 rifle to shoot rabbits by himself for up to four hours at a time, walking all the same hills he knows so well today.
In 1983, Dad and Grandad erected our small batch on the side of the lake. It was once an old single workman’s hut in the forestry but got a new life when they took it apart, floated it across the lake on dinghys, and assembled it again bit by bit. It started as a mai-mai for a few years. Even though it was small to begin with, a wooden sign above the threshold announced its name as “Taj Mahal” - a bushmans palace. Over time it has also been nicknamed the “Hill Billy Batch”.
It’s still all about family. Each year after our decoys are set up, Dad drives the boat past his uncle’s batch, and a simple, “anybody home?!” into the bush baits a response of “hello!”. No phones are needed. Everyone catches up over a beer and talks about past stories, both common knowledge and those that are for the lake's ears only. Although I’ve never shot an opening weekend with Grandad, I love coming down with Dad and experiencing the family history that’s all over the lake. It’s sticking with tradition and passing it on. One of the strictest traditions is a cold beer after the boat is back on the trailer Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t even mind when our end of the lake is quiet or we don’t get as many ducks as I used to. It’s about the tradition now and making it to 50 years."
Although it's a commemorative year for Dad, it also became a celebration of life for my Grandad who we lost only months before this year's opening weekend. Even as some lights go out, the stories around the campfire will always illuminate the night.