Book Review: The Wideawake Hat, By Amanda Giorgis

Available at The Twizel Bookshop

cv_the_wideawake_hatFrom the Scottish highlands to the South Island of New Zealand, life was harsh for early pioneers, but Sophia and George McKay had hopes for a better future when they stepped ashore on Boxing Day 1848. The reader takes the journey with them as they travel inland to begin a life farming sheep in the Mackenzie Basin.

In her preface, author Amanda Giorgis explains ‘the area takes its name from James MacKenzie, who with his black and white collie dog Friday, famously rustled a thousand sheep and took them into the basin in mid-1850’. Living in the area she has explored much of the area so has been able to portray vividly the landscape and conditions to which the early settlers would encounter. The story of James MacKenzie caught the imagination of Giorgis and a friend as they were discovering more and more places associated with his name, and so the seed of this story were sown. ‘Here is my interpretation of James’ story born from the other sets of footprints found when he was arrested with the sheep.’

I love this area of New Zealand and have enjoyed a number of trips and holidays there, but this book brought it to life for me again with the strong historical storyline which had me engrossed from the first page.

It is an interesting read as it is pure fiction with solid, resilient characters ideal for the pioneering adventure they set out on. The author has woven historical details cleverly into the book. The interaction of the new settlers with local Māori has also been skillfully incorporated and the use of the Māori language adds intensity at appropriate times.

Amanda Giorgis was born in Somerset, England, emigrating to New Zealand in 2008. She lives in the MacKenzie district. I look forward to further writing by this author as The Wideawake Hat is her first novel , and the first in the Applecross Saga. It will be of interest to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some suspense as well as those with an interest in farming.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Wideawake Hat
by Amanda Giorgis

No ISBN recorded

Book Review: High Country Stations of the Mackenzie, by Mary Hobbs

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_high_country_stations_of_the_mackenzieTourists flock to New Zealand’s shores because they contain some of the
most stunning scenery in the world. The Mackenzie Country, nested beneath Mt Aoraki/Cook is one place that draws them. The combination of snowy mountains, placid blue lakes and yellow tussock combine to produce a picture-postcard scene. But behind this iconic image lie wonderful stories. These are the rich treasure which Mary Hobbs uncovers in her book.

Mary Hobbs is a local writer and as such she has access to many stories from the Mackenzie; some oral, some written. She has already published local stories and her style is both informative and readable. From this strong background she takes us on a trip around 11 of the stations in the area. Her research has uncovered tales of courage, hospitality and tragedy.

The account of the Mary Range Station includes the amazing journey which John Hutcheson took from Scotland to Wellington, then Wanganui, Nelson and Banks Peninsula. Along with Captain Sinclair, John Hutcheson helped transport the Deans to Canterbury, the Hays to Pigeon Bay and finally he with his new wife Mary, to the shores of Lake Pukaki. There are interesting asides in each tale, such as the discovery of many Moa bones in the Mackenzie. These were described by John as being so fresh he kept a wary eye out for the birds. At that time the struggle for survival was more important than extinct bird remains. The Birch Hill Station has an equally interesting history including links to the Crimean war (Mt Sebastapol) and the sadness of losing young children, now buried in the Burkes Pass Cemetery.

Where the Hermitage currently stands amidst the Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park, was once Mt Cook Station. The heroine of this tale is definitely Catherine Burnett. To her fell the task of entertaining the many visitors and celebrities wishing to view or climb Mt Cook. In the words of one traveller she was,”full to overflowing with the happiness of her life while discussing all sorts of plans for our comfort, and descanting on the hygienic properties of the air and the sunshine”. While this may have been his view, she also gave birth to 8 children, and was known for the help she gave to others in need in the area. Obviously the writer was a man!

I have been visiting the Mackenzie for 40 years and have always enjoyed hearing of, or reading the local stories. This book is a treasure as it contains both the early history, the intervening years, and the more recent status of these stations. So many of the names in the area come from people or events from the past.

Mary Hobbs has produced a book that works on many levels. It provides good historical facts, entertaining asides to events of the past, and a sense of the vision and courage of those who settled here. The photographs, both old and new, and the maps add to the visual pleasure of the book. However, do not be deceived into thinking this is a coffee table bauble. It is a superb piece of research from someone who truly loves the tales she shares.

I have already bought 2 copies to give to friends from Twizel for Christmas!

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

High Country Stations of the Mackenzie
by Mary Hobbs
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213513