“In those days our family had a round, thatched wharerau on the island, with a pit fire in the floor and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. We’d put ferns on the floor and our kapok mattresses on top for sleeping.”
Arrival on the Muttonbird Islands was always two weeks prior to the official start of titi hunting on April 1st. It was a time used by each family to tidy up their house, chop wood and make repairs. They would have gathered kelp from the beaches back home, dried it and taken it with them to the islands where it was made into pouches to preserve the titi (see above). When April 1st dawned, everyone would be up early, walking through the bush to their own area, their manu. “We’d get down on our stomachs and reach into the nest holes. In my grandfather’s day, he used a strip of fern and he’d turn it in the nest and entangle it in the young bird’s feathers to tug it out,’ says Robin.
“As kids it was our job to cart all the birds and do the plucking with mum. On an average day we’d get about 100 birds so that was a lot of plucking. In those days we bagged up the feathers and they were sold as down for mattresses, but they don’t do that now.”