Poronui History - Punchie Wallace RIP
For over 40 years, Punchie Wallace lived on the outskirts of Poronui in a magnificent clearing fringed with giant beeches, along the eastern fringes of the Kaimanawa Forest Park. He recently died in a nursing home in Whakatane, where he had been in increasingly bad health.
Poronui would like to credit much of this content to Hans Willems who wrote an article for Rod and Rifle describing his visit with Punchie in 1997.
Punchie’s home in the bush was a simply constructed hut, with several sheets of plastic over the top of a simple manuka frame. It was divided into two areas: a living / sleeping area and a separate kitchen / storage area. The interior was lined with old curtains and would have been cosy and warm. There were minimal decorations: photos of his sisters (referred to as under-handers because they lived in Australia) and a few innocuous pin-up girls. There were four bunks constructed of local wood, a table and a comfortable armchair covered in deerskins, which also covered the pieces of linoleum on the ground.
The top layer of the roof was a special piece of heavy-duty plastic that Punchie had hoped would withstand the sharp claws of the local possums. He slept with his trusty Savage .243 rifle in a sling next to his bed, and the taped up bullet holes in the roof were testimony to the fact possums didn’t have any respect for his new roof. Still it was one way to source the ingredients for his favourite possum and pork stew.
According to Punchie, he started coming out in the mid-fifties when the spot was a bivvy used by hunters. When his wife died he decided to make it his home, and he lived there almost until he died.
Punchie was always a bush man, working as a wood splitter, deer culler and private hunter. He shot over a thousand deer in his time, mostly sika, and his biggest is still on display at Deer World in Taupo. It is a near perfect symmetrical trophy shot in 1957 on Poronui that scored 203 7/8 Douglas. The head was penalised for over-spread, and would otherwise have been a world record at the time. This trophy also appears in Bruce Banwell’s “Great New Zealand Deer Heads, Volume III.
A tough man, Punchie fought in World War II in North Africa and Italy and then turned to boxing, fighting some 20 professional bouts on the late 40s and early 50’s. In fact boxing is the source of his nickname ‘Punchie’. In 1949 he knocked out Jack O’Leary in Hamilton to claim the New Zealand middleweight championship, but his world domination plans came to a halt in 1950 when he himself was knocked out by famous Australian boxer Clem Sands while challenging for the Australasian championship. That loss made Punchie give up the ring and go back to the bush: “I wasn’t as good as I thought I was and I didn’t feel like being beaten up and dying before my time.”
Punchie spent many happy years living on Poronui. He hunted a lot, and in winter would usually stay in the sack the whole day, only getting up for food and to ‘answer the call of nature’. He did the same in mid-summer, when the bush flies made life unbearable outside. His time was mostly spent listening to the radio, sometimes 18 hours a day, and talk back was his favourite. This enabled him to keep up his general knowledge and extensive vocabulary - useful for a very occasional discussion on politics when he visited the Rangatikei Tavern to get supplies and have a drink – velluto rosso was a favourite tipple.
In the bush, time is something you are blessed with. Punchie was a long time without a watch, and used strategically placed beech trees to tell the time – there was a ‘morning tea’ tree, and an eleven, twelve and one o’clock tree. His system didn’t work so well with the low sun in winter, when there was only a 12 o’clock and four o’clock tree.
His most horrendous experience as a recluse was the time a fierce cyclone struck and huge beech trees surrounding the clearing snapped off like match sticks. Large beeches fell across his access road and these took some months to clear.
He took pleasure from simple things: a pet pig called Lightening who kept him company - until Punchie tired of him digging up the clearing, attacking visitors and wrecking the hut. Lightening then became bacon Punchie pickled himself, and was replaced by a tomtit called Tittie who used to flutter around Punchie and perch on his cap.
Punchie’s most disappointing experience was someone stealing a rifle and chainsaw when he was out hunting. The gun he never replaced, but the chainsaw was an essential and set him back a month of his superannuation.
Punchie saw the bush as his backyard and never felt the need to leave. He wanted to die on Poronui but his Alzheimers progressed to the point where hunters would often find him sitting in the middle of the track and he was persuaded to move by some good friends who cared for him before he was moved to a private nursing home in Whakatane.
These are just a few of the stories about Punchie. We wanted to share them with you because he was a special part of Poronui history and his photo album is currently with us on loan from his daughter.