Book Review: Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939, by Margaret Sparrow

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_risking_their_livesDame Margaret Sparrow, since qualifying as a doctor in the 1960s, has played a significant role in promoting the availability of reproductive health services in New Zealand. She openly states that it was thanks to her own ability to access contraceptives, and on one occasion a mail-order abortion drug, that she finished medical school at all. A prominent member of groups including Family Planning and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, she still makes appearances at pro-choice protests. Recently named Public Health Association champion for 2017, Dame Margaret has been speaking at various events recently, continuing to promote her causes and occasionally startling younger women with frank discussions about masturbation.

She has lent her collection of historical contraceptive devices to be exhibited at Te Papa. She displays a golden speculum-shaped trophy in her living room. In short, Dame Margaret Sparrow is a bloody legend.

Risking their Lives is the third in a series recording abortion history in New Zealand. The earlier books covered the periods 1940 to 1980, and the 1800s. Compiled from coroner’s reports, newspaper reports and some biographical information about key figures who instigated change, the book intersperses historical context with the sad stories of many women whose circumstances led to their deaths from abortion-related causes. This book covers the section of time in between the previous two, during which increasing awareness of deaths from septic abortions led to changing political priorities about women’s health. Eventually.

As shown in the book, women who were pregnant and did not want to be were really between a rock and a hard place: strong social disapproval of childbearing out of wedlock led people to desperate remedies that could kill them. Married couples also feature in these stories; some women who died from abortions already had young children and felt they could not afford another.

Unsurprisingly, this is pretty grim reading. Margaret Sparrow acknowledged as much at the book launch, thanking Victoria University Press for committing to publishing her work despite knowing that abortion death is hardly bestseller material. As she read out one of the narratives, in which a woman on her deathbed was being quizzed by police about which drugs she and her friend might have procured, I suddenly remembered the words on a painting about illegal abortion from 1978: This woman died, I care. This, I thought, must be part of the purpose: to tell the stories of these 90-odd women, who didn’t need to die like that. To show, however belatedly, that someone cares.

After a setting out of historical context, the book divides its stories by the themes of medical causes of death, contraception, the law, then the professions of people most commonly caught up in abortion-related trials and scandals (doctors, nurses, chemists and others). I eventually found this layout slightly confusing, as with each new chapter the stories would start back in the early 1900s and progress on to the late 1930s. Given the evolution of social and medical perspectives being shown throughout the book, I might have found it easier to follow a more strictly chronological arrangement.

The chapter on contraception provided a surprise highlight. Following discussions of contraceptives in the media of the day (disapproving editorials on the one hand, euphemistic newspaper advertisements for “remedies” on the other) the chapter goes on to describe and contrast three pioneering women in the field of birth control: Marie Stopes in the UK, Margaret Sanger in the USA and Ettie Rout in New Zealand. They come across as fascinating characters: they knew each other and had at various times collaborated then strongly disagreed. They all seemed, in their own way, to be rather eccentric. But given the strength of conviction needed to keep pushing their work through, against prevailing social norms, a touch of unconventionality might have been helpful.

The most obvious audience for this book might be students of social and medical history. The book is however a stark reminder to any reader about how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. It certainly made me grateful to be living with a female reproductive system now rather than 100 years ago. Abortion back then was dangerous, certainly, but naturally-occurring miscarriages could also kill women, and childbirth carried far more risks before modern medicine cut down the rates of fatal infections.

Reading these women’s stories may be an act of bearing witness: This woman died, I care. But we are also reminded that for any progress to be made, people like Margaret Sparrow needed to care. As she notes in her epilogue, we still have abortion in the crimes act, and while so much has improved for women’s health, there are still barriers. The connections between these kinds of stories and the present day need to be heard, because people need to keep on caring enough to keep pushing for change.

Reviewed by Rebecca Gray

Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939
by Margaret Sparrow
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561636

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Book Review: Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885, by Michael Belgrave

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dancing_with_the_kingGrowing up with the late night time sounds of the steam trains puffing their way around the Raurimu Spiral – a sound interspersed with the melancholy cry of the Ruru (Morepork) – I had no idea of the significance the main trunk railway line had to the politics of the post Waikato War and the shaping of New Zealand politics. That is until I read Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885.

Author, Professor Michael Belgrave, from Massey University, has an extensive list of titles, many of them related to the Treaty of Waitangi and has also has carried out much research and written many substantial papers for the Waitangi Tribunal. Understanding this background is to understand why this book provides an extremely authoritative account of the post-Waikato War, rise of the sovereign authority of the Māori King within Rohe Pōtae and then the gradual loss of sovereignty and influence 20 years after its birth. The fall was symbolised by the first sod being turned for the main trunk line at the aukati – the boundary – between Māori controlled King Country and the Victorian Empire conquered Waikato. As the main trunk line pushed into the King Country, it served not only to open up the Rohe Pōtae but create a wholly new relationship between Māori and Pākehā eventually leading to united New Zealand Aotearoa.

The story of what happened after the sod was turned is well told in Vincent O’Malley’s, The Great War for New Zealand, which traces the political consequences of the Waikato land confiscation, or Raupatu, right up to 2000. Within Belgrave’s 428 page masterpiece of research is an illuminating account of how the Kīngitanga established itself strategically, economically and politically and prospered in peace – for a time.

Dancing with the King opens with an account of the defeat of Rewi Maniapoto and his small band of supporters of the Māori King at the battle of Ōrākau, marking the end of the Waikato War. The second Māori king, Tāwhiao, led the defeated Waikato tribes into armed exile within the Rohe Pōtae, where the Queen’s writ did not extend and Pākehā dared their lives to cross the aukati.

They established towns such as Te Kuiti and Ōtorohanga. While there was much hardship and deprivation among the Waikato refugees, these towns had a degree of prosperity, even without the aukati, with trade from local Māori in wheat and kumara, even without the aukati and with Pākehā.

The book’s title is a reference to what happened next, described by Belgrave as “diplomatic history”. War gave to a long period of negotiations. “Māori leaders and colonial government negotiators both adopted, however reluctantly on the European side, the language of sovereignty and diplomacy in their dealings with each other”. But it was not just negotiations between two sides: there were many layers of interest on each side. On the Māori side, Tāiwhiao could only move as far as the many iwi, hapu and whanau would let him. The political structure of Tāwhiao’s kingdom can be likened to a federal structure with each different iwi chief having a part to play. Over time Tāwhiao’s power to call the shots became subdued.

On the Pākehā side, there were in fact two governments, the New Zealand Government in Wellington and the British Government in Westminster, and they were not always in agreement with regard to Māori issues While the British parliament had given the colony self rule in 1852 by way of the New Zealand Constitution Act, Britain was still the ultimate power. Tāwhiao quite often stirred the pot of argument between the two, especially when he and his band went off to see the Queen in London. He didn’t actually see the Queen but made a very good impression as to the rights of Māori with the people and government of Britain. The story of that visit is one of the highlights of Belgrave’s work, as it is a good example of how the British Empire was managing issues with indigenous peoples in many countries they had conquered, rightly or wrongly.
It is the detailed accounts of the negotiations between the various layers of the Māori side which for this reviewer proved fascinating. Belgrave’s research brings to full view the impact on traditional Māori land ownership. This was based largely on the establishment by an iwi by war of occupation, food gathering or conquest with collective ownership imbued within the authority of the chief.

On the European side, land ownership was established by survey and registration, sale and purchase with individual rights of ownership. The colonial government set up the Native (later Māori) Land Court essentially to establish, the European method of ownership by deciding among competing chiefs as to which iwi owned which areas of land. But within the Rohe Pōtae, no trig stations were allowed to be built for some time. Any attempt to erect them often met with them being destroyed. And there was great resistance to allowing the Māori Land Court to operate within the King Country. Much of this resistance was due to the involvement of lawyers and surveyors in establishing tribal boundaries.

This reviewer, as a young newspaper reporter attended a Māori Land Court hearing in Tokaanu in 1966 where the process of deciding on a dispute of 600 acres on the side of Mount Ruapehu was decided by the judge on the authenticity of the waiata (chant) carrying the iwi’s history. Whanganui and Tuwharetoa were the claimants. Tuwharetoa’s waiata was considered to be the most accurate and thus the title of the surveyed block of land was awarded to that tribe.

And so the dancing and feasting went on and the accounts of the four hui held between, former Governor and now Premier Grey and Tāwhiao between 1878 and 1876 are as colourful as any court ball.  “The dancing that took place did not involve traditional Māori haka or poi, but waltzes, Schottische, polkas and quadrilles.” But in the meetings before the dancing there was also the deep seriousness of political dancing with high stakes. Tāwhiao, as he always did, demanded the Waikato be returned wholly and Grey responded that that could not happen. But Grey did offer a settlement which according to Belgrave “Grey immediately went on to make what would be a substantive and detailed offer of peace, to settle the issues of King and Queen.”

There would be three more hui involving Tāwhiao and Grey and it would be a spoiler if the outcome was revealed here. Eventually though, the first sod for the railway at the boundary of the King Country was dug with three spadesful by Chief Wahanui on behalf of Māori loading them into a former children’s’ toy barrow which Premier Stout wheeled down a short plank “turning the sods onto the grass”. While the ceremony signalled the start of the opening up of the King Country it ended the independent sovereignty of the King Country.

A disappointing footnote: Having grown up in the Ohakune, this reviewer has always proudly stated as being from the King Country only to discover, while reading Dancing with the King, that the southern boundary of the Rohe Pōtae crosses westward over Mount Ruapehu’s highest peaks, Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga leaving Ohakune on the wrong side of the aukati.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885
by Michael Belgrave
Published by Auckand University Press
ISBN 9781869408695

Book Review: Today in New Zealand History, by Atkinson, Green, Phipps and Watters

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_today_in_new_zealand_historyOne of the joys of aging is picking up a book like this and recognising that nearly half of the events happened in my lifetime. I remember most of them too. This is not a highs and lows, shockers and disasters type of  book. Instead, we have a wonderful collection of events which include the quirky (introduction of Jockey Y fronts), the disasters, the political triumphs, cultural firsts (Anna Pavalova dancing here) and plenty of sports. My husband enjoyed the sports clips as they were often the lesser-known events. Interspersed with the events, are the birth of a variety of New Zealanders on this day. These little vignettes could be a book on their own, but included in the text and photos of the main items, they add another layer of enjoyment.

The collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library has resulted in a book that is both informative and visually captivating. There is a photo of Michael Joseph Savage on the steps of the Social Security building. It is all art deco and serious but captures the amazing introduction in 1938 of the Social Security Act. The photo of the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall also made me nostalgic, for I sang at the opening and attended a meeting there on the morning of the quake.

By uniting two such esteemed groups, this team have produced a book that rises above the usual coffee table pretty. I found the clear and easy to read text gave me enough information without boring me through detail.

As a teacher, I am constantly saddened by the lack of historical knowledge shown by my pupils. I feel that a knowledge of the past enables us to truly face the challenges of the future. As New Zealanders we have travelled a long way in a short time. This book would be a useful aid to help students focus each day, on an event. My husband commented that he would be able to do this using just sports as there are often 2-3 stories for each day, and sports feature often. There is a pupil like this in every class.

Add to all this a hefty hard cover and wonderful photos. What a great Christmas present for those baby boomer parents who can relive their childhood and educate the grandchildren at the same time.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Today in New Zealand History
by Neill Atkinson, David Green, Gareth Phipps and Steve Watters
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593003

Book Review: The Trials of Minnie Dean: A verse biography, by Karen Zelas

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_trials_of_minnie_deanKaren Zelas tells the story of Minnie Dean: the first and only woman to be hanged in New Zealand after she was found guilty of infanticide. However, Dean also seems to have been a compassionate character who loved and cared for unwanted children. It was the deaths and disappearances of some of these children that led to Dean’s death in 1895. In this biography, Zelas asks the question of how guilty Minnie Dean truly was.

In the poem ‘Where would they be without me?, Zelas writes Minnie Dean as a kind-hearted woman unlike the harsh reports that surrounded her. In this piece, Dean is someone who helps the mothers of unwanted children start again: ‘I sweep their mistakes like dust / beneath the rug so they / may dance upon it / in white linens’.

And indeed, where would those children and their mothers have been without Minnie Dean? By exploring Dean’s story, Zelas is also studying the story of many struggling women. In the poem The home for fallen women, Zelas further explores the difficult position that mothers with unwanted children held during this period. She describes how, after giving birth, ‘at last their shame takes human form / it’s whisked away… here the nightmare ends/begins.

So perhaps Minnie Dean was a saviour for helping to alleviate a burden on other women. In  the poemNothing in this world, Zelas describes a scene where Dean brings back a child on the train. But to her shock, Dean looks to the child to see that she has died on the journey. The verse becomes erratic and Dean thinks, ‘the child is dead / what shall I do?… dorothy edith / dead’.  I couldn’t help sympathising with Dean, so much that I felt a little pang in my heart reading her despair. However, Minnie Dean is also an obsessive character; her endless trips to find more children become progressively more hazy and frantic. Overall, Zelas recognises the importance of investigating Dean through both the good and the bad.

At the end of the biography, Zelas then brings out the story to a modern conversation. Breaking out of the immersion of Dean’s world did leave me feeling jarred, but this section was also important in its own right. When Zelas is asked to bring her own thoughts to the case of Minnie Dean, her background in psychiatry comes to the fore as she suggests a new perspective: ‘minnie dean was a confabulist / & a liar’. The two things Dean cared about the most were her reputation and her children. She lied when she felt threatened, but evidence shows that she could have been a caring mother as well.

The Trials of Minnie Dean is heartbreaking and compelling in many ways. At its core is Minnie Dean, a woman just trying to survive and perhaps doing it in the most compassionate way she can. But along with her are many others trying to survive: the fallen women. Whether guilty or not, Zelas asks us to step back and reconsider Dean as a complex character, as well as how Dean’s story would be seen from a modern perspective. Perhaps in another time, another system that worked to support rather than shame, Minnie Dean and all those fallen women would have turned out differently.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

The Trials of Minnie Dean: a verse biography
by Karen Zelas
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994129994

 

Book Review: You Do Not Travel in China at the Full Moon, edited by Barbara Francis

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_you_do_not_travel_in_china_at_the_full_moon‘The sky was clear and the moon brilliant. At 1 o’clock the urgent alarm went off and at 1.10 the planes arrived’, writes Agnes Moncrieff, known as Nessie, from Hankow in 1938, during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

From 1930 to 1945, Nessie served as New Zealand’s foreign secretary for the YWCA in China, an organisation formed in 1855 in England to promote ‘the welfare of young women’. The collection of excerpts from her letters and reports published in You Do Not Travel in China at the Full Moon captures a period of uncertainty, a time when ‘long spells of wet weather’ are welcomed during the full moon, as they hinder air raids. Ranging from observations of daily life through to thoughts on military tactics and accounts of epic journeys, the letters all share her delightful style.

The book is formed from two complementary threads – the stories of the letters themselves and those that the letters hold. The letters, subject to the laws of the physical world, survived not only the vicissitudes of war, but also travelled a great distance to arrive in New Zealand. Barbara Francis, the editor of this volume, became Nessie’s friend while boarding with her in the 50s, and much later discovered the existence of the letters by chance, through a conversation. A trip to the Alexander Turnball Library followed, and her efforts have ensured that Nessie’s experiences can reach a wider public.

These letters hold a tension. They are foreign in that they bring news from elsewhere, and from another time – one that has passed. But there is the intimate sense of person that the letter form enables, where the writer is free to express herself and unselfconsciously communicate thoughts to the receiver. Nessie’s voice is immediate; she translates this other place and time into something we can relate to through writing that is a pleasure to read.

Letters from her first four-year term working for the YWCA in Peiping (now known to us as Beijing) detail her life of running a hostel and helping women in need. In addition to humorous sketches, there are observations of political undercurrents, which we view through our own filters on the other side of history. In 1934, she wrote that she was pleased to ‘note steadily increasing interest of students in rural and social reconstruction as fundamental to the solution of China’s problem’.

After a furlough, she returns to Shanghai in 1936 to begin her second term for the YWCA. While she is on holiday up the Yangtze River, the Japanese take Shanghai. Here begins the accounts of epic train and road journeys, the constant worry, and admiration for the resilience of a people. Unable to return to Shanghai, she moves up river to Hankow, the seat of the Chinese government. This is quite a glamorous time, involving lunch with Madame Chiang Kai-shek, dinners with diplomats and a variety of people moving through the Lutheran Mission. But it is also heavy with the realities of war and an ever-present threat. She writes to her dear friend Eva Skinner: ‘Sometimes I can just not believe that it is possible that the things that happened in Nanking and elsewhere will surely happen here if the Japans come in. It is all too fantastic and terrible and so remote from the ordinary decencies of human life.’

28205-PA1-o-1191-11-2.tif

“Waiting for the train at Ch’u fu Station,” Agnes Moncrieff Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ. PA1-o-1191-11-2

Though the threat is approaching, she does not wish to leave, fearing for her Chinese female colleagues. Eventually she must and sets out on a journey to Hong Kong, in spite of stories of bombed trains and survivors having to hide in ditches or long grass. An epic journey via truck, rail and boat ensues, one that she records with her trademark reserve and dry humour. An air raid takes place during a stop, where she notes that the ‘green canvas did not seem very adequate protection against shrapnel, so as soon as the anti-aircraft guns came into action, I shot off the truck and got under it in company with the two Chinese men.’ She reaches Hong Kong only to learn that she had left Hankow just two weeks before it fell to the Japanese.

With a return to Shanghai in 1939, the strain of living with constant bombing raids and reports of horror begin to take their toll. Nessie writes in her understated manner to Eva of her profound fatigue and a visit to the doctor: ‘my reaction to her knee taps nearly knocked her out of the room, so I suppose the trouble is nervous.’ From here, another visit to Hong Kong for recuperation, a return to Shanghai and then another furlough.

The YWCA of New Zealand allows her to return to China for a third term on the insistence of YWCA China and Nessie herself. In order to arrive there safely, she travels through Burma, involving another epic journey of 3500km. She arrives 15 days before Japan bombed Pearl Harbour.

You Do Not Travel in China at the Full Moon allows insight into a dangerous time and Nessie’s extraordinary life, where engaging writing, a formidable personality and a turning point in global history intersect. In a tribute paid to Nessie upon her death in 1988 (six weeks before her ninetieth birthday), the YWCA of New Zealand wrote ‘Although she is no longer with us physically her spirit will endure’. It comes through time and time again in her letters.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

You Do Not Travel in China at the Full Moon: Agnes Moncrieff’s letters from China, 1940-1945
edited by Barbara Francis
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560882

AWF17: Behind the Scenes at Landfall

Another free session! Fantastic, and again 300 plus people. There was a real buzz of anticipation from this lively crowd. I suspect many were there to relive old memories of their association with Landfall over the past seventy years that Landfall has been in continuous publication for. The title of the session would suggest the exposure of numerous scandals and raking over the coals for juicy stories. A little misleading perhaps, as the session was really about celebrating this seventy year milestone. It would seem all old secrets are staying right where they are, in the Landfall vaults. But the session was lively and interesting, with no need for any salacious details, the history of the journal another intriguing morsel in the saga of publishing in this country.

landfall coversThe session was introduced by writer/editor/curator Peter Simpson who would also appear to be the unofficial historian of Landfall. Although never an editor, he has contributed regularly since 1977. Deeply immersed in NZ literature and its authors, he is very well placed as commentator on the story of Landfall and the place it holds in New Zealand’s literary development. Joining him on the panel was Ian Sharpe, editor 1985-1992, Chris Price who edited from 1993-2000, and current editor David Eggleton. I found it really interesting that each of these three editors were poets before taking up the Landfall mantle. I like to think that the poetry side of their lives provided a perfect outlet when dealing with the tumultuous life of being Landfall editor.

There were a number of themes to come out of each of the editors. Firstly, was the ongoing struggle for survival with rival magazines started up, firstly by Robin Dudding and Islands in 1972, then Sport from Fergus Barrowman in 1989. There is such a small pool of writers in New Zealand, and funding has always been very tight. The journal nowadays only survives thanks to a Creative NZ grant, and very generous funding from current owner Otago University Press. Plus, the goodwill of many contributors.

Secondly, there seems to have been a determined commitment to follow the principles set down by founding editor Charles Brasch. A magazine ‘distinctly of New Zealand without being parochial’, writers were to be paid, the perfect platform to show the world what the voices of this country were all about. There is no doubt that the high standards, level of professionalism and genuine care for New Zealand writing that defined Brasch’s legacy set the standard for the journal. In David Eggleton’s words, Landfall is a ’plucky little magazine, a prime mover of who we are’.

landfall covers 2Thirdly, the journal has always had to work hard at keeping modern and current. From post-war uncertainty around what exactly is New Zealand writing, to the post-modernism of the late 1980’s when Ian was editor, to the magazine being approachable and not too high minded for new/young writers, to recognising the increasing regionalism and cultural diversity of this country. Chris Price is particularly proud of starting the annual Landfall essay competition which is still going, having grown and developed to a high standard, contributing to the literature of this country. The latest winner of this competition is in the current issue, the 70th anniversary issue of the journal. David commented further that attracting new and young writers is a constant challenge, especially with the formidable and intimidating air Landfall has developed around it.

pp_david_eggletonThe fourth theme emerging was how damn tough these editors have had to be. A thick hide would appear to be number one requirement, to cope with being the critic of submitted work, managing writer egos, making suggestions for improvements, plus truckloads of stamina. So much going on all of the time in this 70-year history – definitely the little magazine that could. There is also always conflict over the final choices for each issue. David (left) commented that as editor, you may make mistakes in choosing what to publish, it is very hard to please everybody all the time with the content of each issue. But his final words were that each issue of the magazine ‘becomes a time capsule or a particular moment’. And really what else can it be, the fact it has lasted seventy years is testament to how it continues to be both relevant and controversial.

David spoke briefly on the impact of the digital revolution on the magazine. Landfall Review has been online since 2011, with six reviews of current New Zealand writing put up a month. It also chooses to do reviews of books that aren’t extensively covered by mainstream media, giving a much needed avenue to these lesser known books. David also says he does virtually all his communication by email, which has streamlined his job significantly, but has made his relationships with writers and reviewers less personal. He receives hundreds of submissions for each issue which is fantastic, even if it does require him to make some tough calls.

The session organiser did their cunning best to get the panel to talk about skeletons in line with the session title, but those lips were going to remain firmly sealed. There were glimmerings of the conflicts that followed Denis Glover and Robin Dudding everywhere, as well as Dinny Donovan being difficult. Landfall was always associated with factions – in Wellington the likes of Louis Johnson and Alistair Campbell; Auckland with Keith Sinclair, and Kendrick Smithyman; the North Shore with Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and Kevin Ireland; and continually stirring the pot with his meddling James K Baxter. Oh, such stories those walls could tell! Maybe we could do with a definitive biography of Landfall – it’s first seventy years.

Attended and reviewed by Felicity Murray on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Behind the Scenes at Landfall
featuring Peter Simpson, David Eggelton, Chris Price and Ian Sharpe
Auckland Writers Festival 2017, Friday, 19 May, 2.30 – 3.30pm

Book Review: The Mt Pisa Station Story, by Nicola McCloy

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_mt_pisa_station_storyOne of the pleasures of living in a relatively recently-settled country, is that we have only really started to record the history of the land and the people. That history is still recent enough for us to tell the full tale, to fill in the spaces, to join the dots. Add to that the wonderful scenery of the Inland South Island through the seasons and the ages, and you have a great book.

The Mt Pisa Station Story ticks all the boxes. It begins with the Māori settlement, or passing through that took place. Then came the hardy early men, explorers, Scottish travellers, younger sons. Gold brought a massive rise in population, but also an opportunity to provide the essentials of life to the needy miners. A series of managers ran the station for many years, some knew this land and flourished, others struggled with the terrain and challenges of weather. The introduction of exotic animals to provide food or to control pests is a story in itself. While we all know about pigs and ferrets and rabbits, I was less familiar with the cat. In 1888 200 cats were introduced to the station to make “bloody war on the bunny”. It is these details and the accompanying photographs which make this book so much more than a farm story.

Perhaps the most important part of this tale is the subdivision of the station into 10 lots to be won by ballot. So in 1924 the MacMillan family became part of the Mt Pisa story. This family still remains today and the second part of the book deals with the struggles and successes as the family grew and flourished. Again, this was not an easy task and the book chronicles the depression years, the impact of war, the Rabbit Board decisions and the hydro schemes.

I loved this book. It tells a real story about real people. It does not gloss over the difficulties of farming over the years, but instead celebrates the diversification and vision which is essential to adapt and survive in changing times. If you know the region, it will give you the back story to the places and the names. If you have never been there, you will be planning a trip sometime soon. This book is perfectly timed to make a great Christmas gift, combining story, family, beautiful photos and a tiny snapshot of the history of New Zealand farming.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Mt Pisa Station Story: A stroke of luck
by Nicola McCloy
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539467