Book Review: Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand’s Largest High-Country Station, by Harry Broad, photos by Rob Suisted

Moleswcv_molesworthorth won the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards

This is yet another book from Craig Potton Publishing that you wouldn’t read in bed unless you were attempting to kill three birds with one stone: honing your intellect, bathing your senses, and toning your triceps.

Molesworth is the name of the book and of New Zealand’s largest high-country station. How large is large, how high is high? Situated inland from the Kaikoura Ranges, wedged between St. Arnaud in the north and Hanmer in the south, Molesworth occupies a land area greater in size than Stewart Island/Rakiura. Much of this land lies above 1000 metres; many of the peaks are closer to 2000 metres. ‘The overwhelming impression as you travel through it,’ writes Harry Broad in his introduction, ‘is one of hugely imposing landscapes that dwarf its rivers and dominate the horizons.’ Other writers have described Molesworth as a ‘sort of ghostly colossus, lurking in its mountain fastness.’

The station has long had considerable national recognition, for the above reasons, for its mystique — there was no public access until 1987 — and because of the transformation under inspired management from a ruined, rabbit-infested landscape in 1938 into a flourishing and profitable farm within a few decades, and so on into the present day.musterteam_w

Harry Broad has set himself the task of verbally mapping the history of Molesworth. His method of doing so, as the subtitle suggests, has been to present its history as a succession of stories, as told by the people who have created and contributed to the legend of Molesworth. Those whose stories he has recorded include the sometimes hapless buyers and sellers of Molesworth’s early history (1850-1938), the husband and wife teams who have successfully managed the place since the Government took over in 1938, the politicians, the stockmen and the environmentalists. To listen to their stories is to have no doubt which country you’re in:

‘“That’s where you were growing your tucker. I don’t think it will go a hell of a lot further.”’

‘“In response, he welded two crowbars together and told them to get on with it.”

“I was a bit in awe of him. He was one of those blokes you could put in some good days for and all you got in the end was a grunt and sometimes a bit of a grizzle.”’

‘“Thirty miles from the nearest telephone… the mountains around us and the stars, and there, I tell you, you know it’s New Zealand.”IMG_1161[1]

The central story of course is that of the land itself, the iconic high-country landscape of mountain and river valley, scree and tussock, snow, dust and willow. (image above is of the map included in the back of the book) Inevitably, the true sense of the vast, lonely, sometimes bleak environment and the people who live in it is captured best in pictures. This is certainly the case with Rob Suisted’s sensitive photographs, as he projects himself and his Canon into the action: riding the muster, getting up (too) close and personal with the beehives, astride the stockyard fences, up at dawn in the stockmen huts. From the cattle rises steam and dust. There is stormy light on the ranges, fire in the forge. There are dogs in motion and draught horses waiting patiently to be shod.

Though Molesworth the book is essentially a verbal and pictorial history of the place and its people, there is a throughline that captures the tension central to Molesworth’s past, present and future. Put simply, Molesworth is a large chunk of New Zealand that has generated a correspondingly large number of opinions from a variegated cast of stakeholders. The Government, Landcorp, a steering committee, DOC, Kai Tahu, Te Tau Ihu, the wider farming fraternity, anglers and hunters, environmentalists and almost anyone in New Zealand who values public access to mountains and rivers have a stake in Molesworth. It is a lightning rod for opinions on the basic function and value of land, a subject which is at the heart of New Zealand’s colonial history and ongoing self-perception.

What then is the reader left with, having laid Molesworth down upon the kitchen table for the final time? A mindful of intangibles: a sense of a vast unvisited New Zealand; a whetted desire to perhaps visit this part of it next summer when the storms have eased. An insight into farming practice past and present; a faint self-disdain when considering the easy comfort of metropolitan life. But most significantly, a sincere respect for the writer, the photographer and the publisher whose keen senses, hard work and artistic sensibilities have unearthed a shining stone.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand’s Largest High-Country Station
by Harry Broad, photographs by Rob Suisted
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781877517167

Book Review: The Bright Side of My Condition, by Charlotte Randall

The Bright Side of my Condition is a finalist in the Fiction category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards.cv_the_bright_side_of_my_condition

“Maybe next time I get it right.  Forget special.  Next time I come back as a whalefish breathing steady in the lovely deeps.”  So speaks Bloodworth, convict-narrator of Charlotte Randall’s The Bright Side of my Condition.  And Randall indeed seems to be grappling with just that − what is the point of our brief human lives?  When we eventually shuffle off this mortal coil, should we be remembered for, or remember ourselves as ‘special’, or should our successes instead be measured by the twin metric of beauty and enjoyment?  As Bloodworth muses, the penguins know:

… their useless stumpy wings that don’t fly, their duck feet that don’t walk, their bodies jes a starchy morning suit, but look how they contrive to free their selfs from their limits and enjoy their lives.

Look how they grin, he says.

Randall writes her first person narrative as the man of the time would speak.  The opening sections bloom with ‘I dint say a word’ and ‘I’m Bloodworth.  It aint a name I ever heared of before it were thrust upon me.’  This jars, to begin with.  But as the story progresses, it quickly becomes a an obviously strong narrative voice.  Bloodworth is hard to like, but he must have grown on me − the surreal change of form at the end of the book left me caring for his fate, and I was surprised by this.  He is not really a likeable character, but is richly imagined.  More importantly, his experience is an allegorical tale that explores issues of existentialism, freedom and choice. “And yer have to ask,” says Bloodworth, “… what even were I brung here for?  Jes to walk alone across these cliffs?”


The Snares islands

In three parts, the novel addresses ‘The Early Years’, ‘The Middle Years’, and ‘Eternity’ of the experiences of four convicts who escaped from Norfolk Island onto a sealing ship. The ship did not have enough food to feed the crew and the convicts, and so they were discharged onto one of The Snares, a group of subantarctic islands 200 kilometres from the South Island of New Zealand. The collective area of these islands equate to 3.5 kilometres squared. If it sounds foreboding and harsh, it is. The experiences of the four men are of the environment, each other and the self, for that is all there really is. Seals are murdered for their skins, and these skins hid away and counted as a measure of time passing. Interactions between Bloodworth, Gargantua, Toper and Slangam are brutal and bitchy. Imagine being stuck on an inhospitable island with three other law-breakers; a sack of potatoes, rice and rum the only provisions; the promise of rescue at least a year away. There is little to hope for except rescue. At least in a prison, your sentence, you would presume, would end. Here, on the island, the reader already knows that rescue is actually a decade away. And then what?

Gargantua believes he will be delivered as a hero to the literary circles of England, and that the story he has to tell of the experience will define him as ‘special’. Toper seems a bit stupid − his religion and natural inclination to follow rather than lead make him a prime candidate for manipulation. Slangam sees himself as boss, and so it is. Bloodworth eventually sours of interaction and heads out alone to a cave, rejecting company for penguin and albatross watching, and internal philosophising. ‘The Early Years’ and ‘The Middle Years’ follow these internal and external journeys.

Wandering Albatross Kaikoura 19 Nov 12_990

Copyright Stephen Burch Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 19 November 2012 EOS 7D & 400mmf4DO. 1/5000 sec f5.6 ISO 800

It is in ‘Eternity’ that things dramatically diverge. We still have our narrator, but his situation changes. This is the smallest section of the book − 30 pages − but the most interesting as far as form goes. Randall has talked about how the ideas in this part of the story actually prompted her writing The Bright Side of my Condition. Things end as they start – the bickering and bitching continues – and the questioning of self and others goes on.

And what of Bloodworth? He continues to grapple with the exquisite pain of living. At one point he asks: “But were there more of a plan for me? … Were I made special for a special life?” Randall’s response comes through words that swell from Bloodworth’s pre-convict life: “Living do the making.” We are as we choose to live, so choose to live wisely.

by Lara Liesbeth

The Bright Side of My Condition
by Charlotte Randall
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143570660

Creative book-building: How to create 17 video vignettes in one day

Last year during the Man Booker Prize run-up, the Booker publicity group came up with the great idea of creating Vines for each of the shortlisted finalists, and encouraging others to do the same. So I thought, why not? Never mind that there are only six titles on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, while we have 16 finalists, and three best first books… luckily two of the best first books are also on the finalist list.


The view at the beginning of our day, Friday 11 July

While what we ended up creating were a bit long for Vines as it turned out, but this is how we created them:

Step One: 
Decide how you want to use your footage, as this will inform your materials. We ended up deciding that because we will be using our video clips as illustrations for the finalists as they are announced at the ceremony, we would heed a professional photographer to create them on a hi-def camera. We also needed a cohesive plan for how to approach each book, from somebody a lot more creative than us. Which brings me to Step Two!IMG_0821

Step Two:
Come up with some great ideas. We had as our art director, Leon Mackie (right, in director mode). Leon and his wife (our former Awards Executive, Lilly Mackie) came up with the ideas over a glass of wine, and sent them through to us. This is their track record – we knew we were in safe hands.

Step Three:
Source anything extra you need for the shoot. In our case, there wasn’t a lot – but we did need some sound effects. Amie and I spent a fantastic morning on finding the appropriate sound effects – our most tentative search was for the sound of a man grunting, our most difficult was for some WW1 sound effects.

Step Four:
Early on in the piece we asked Mark Tantrum, our event photographer, to be part of this process, and he came in and shot all of the videos for us, rather awesomely. He acted as our Director of Photography, with his assistant Elias Rodriguez as his Best Boy!

From here, we convened on Friday 11 July to shoot our videos. Our only props were black backdrops, a gavel and one book display aid. We had LED lights of various sizes and a couple of fancy camera accessories to help with the effects – we also used a handy stack of Women’s Day magazines to get the height correct. Leon’s concepts worked with the books themselves, in stacks, groups, sculptures and patterns.

Occasionally, we had a moment of panic, like when our Totara fell after just one (luckily successful) shoot.

And when the original concept of ripping a books’ cover was agreed to be a little bit too damaging, we had to come up with something different.

Books as horses legs are difficult to get right.

But Leon’s dog was spot on.

And his Twiss sculpture was fantastic.

And we got the History of Silence perfectly quiet.

We will be carrying on rolling out these clips throughout the promotion period for the People’s Choice Award. For the full finalist list please head through here, for resources for publishers and booksellers here, and for the media kit, here is where you need to go.

Please don’t forget you don’t have to vote for a finalist or one of the bestsellers’ pictured – as long as the book was published in New Zealand from 1 June 2013 – 31 May 2014, it is eligible to win the People’s Choice Award.

By Sarah Forster

Email Digest: Tuesday 27 August 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews

Seraph Press have just sent this beautiful poetry collection by Maria Mcmillan in for review.

Author interviews

Robert Wade’s full interview with Max Rashbooke on inequality in NZ is now available online

Charming interview with Margaret Atwood made all the more charming by the inclusion of her thoughts on zombies


Go to this tonight: launch party for Tim Danko’s amazing comic Once (Wine Cellar, K Rd, Auckland, 6pm)

Not coming to the #nzpba tomorrow? If you are a Wellington poetry lover, pay tribute to Sarah Broom

Big Kathy Reichs fan? Live in Auckland? She will be at Westlake Boys 24 September

Book News

Attn: writers. Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition closes this Friday, 5pm. Fiction and non-fiction.
Caught being a good dad awards due to go to top dads
Got a penchant for historical reviews? NZ Books quarterly is now archived online. 

Does print and ebook bundling work? Is it the way of the future?

Awards News

Social Media at the New Zealand Post Book Awards #nzpba

Nice #nzpba display in the Arty Bees window

From around the internet

Typewriters belonging to famous writers on display in Boston

Take a peek into the rooms of famous writers

BIG BIG BIG NEWS: Kickstarter is soon opening up to NZ projects

Good idea Vic Books – want to keep your reading material to yourself without using an e-reader? Book covers!

Email digest: Monday 26 August 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
Scotland on Sunday reviews Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries – and a radio review on Nine to Noon

If you or someone you know likes fishing…The Trout Bohemia is trending right now.

John McIntyre reviewed Little Fur and Billionaire Boy for RNZ last Friday. Here’s the podcast

A review of The Travel Book – last week’s giveaway

Book News
The Digital Book Awards are open for submissions…

LIANZA thrilled to launch our new EBL elibrary service for personal members

Yes, printed books and libraries do matter

Irish publishing news that reflects on the kiwi situation

This is a fantastic article about Mark Rubbo and @ReadingsBooks in Melbourne. A great success story

Buy a book for your dad for father’s day

Michael King’s Writers Residency open for applications

Awards News
Here are all the finalist books for the #nzpba on our bookshelf display. Getting close now…

We will be a little occupied over the next few days…#nzpba

The finalists for the #nzpba People’s Choice Awards are…

From around the internet
Batman protects your page…

Famous works that were written in exile

All Blacks + Romance writers

Email digest: Tuesday 6 August 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews

(From Bite the Book) The Bookshop Strikes Back, by Ann Patchett…

FRIDAY BOOK CLUB: Danyl McLauchlan and Sarah Laing’s latest books reviewed. Plus a bit of what’s on in Palmy-bookland


Love live storytelling? Book now for True Stories Told Live the XX factor! 7pm, August 15 in Auckland

Book News

Auckland bookseller moves business to Dunedin – book, stock and barrel

Amie said it was a great ceremony…congrats to the winners of the LIANZA awards

The ‘Not the Booker Prize’ shortlist – Fancy a vote?


Win a Mo Willems take on Goldilocks and the Three…

Enter the L’affare competition to win some of the great books nominated for #lianzacba

Awards News

Did you know the #nzpba have a festival attached this year? Join us in celebrating our finalist book

Add your #nzpba People’s Choice vote to the mix & be in to win $1000 of book tokens…how many books is that?

From around the internet

Weird libraries…these are cool.

40 books you need to read before turning 40

Kate De Goldi and Kim Hill talked chapter books last Saturday. Here’s the podcast

Email digest: Wednesday 31 July 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book review
Book review: Alice in Bakingland, By Alice Arndell, reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming 

The book launch for Craig Cliff’s novel The Mannequin Makers is at Kirkaldie & Staines tonight

Meet the Author – Isobelle Carmody: Tue 6 August

Fergus Barrowman will launch Eleanor Catton’s much anticipated 2nd novel, The Luminaries, tomorrow night at @timeoutbooks

Page & Blackmore ‘Rumpus at the Bookshop’

Book News
PANZ AGM guest speaker Sandy Grant on the hammering the book industry has taken

The Nielsen bestseller lists for the week until 20 July

The Bookseller’s trial top 50 e-book bestseller list

Awards News
#nzpba New Zealand Post Book Award finalist taster: pages from The Meeting Place, Vincent O’Malley

From around the internet
Who is excited about Artemis Fowl being made into a Disney movie?

Real live paper books fill @PenelopeWhitson with a naughty joy unlike any other (aka. paper v e-books, the benefits of each)

What are your book deal-breakers?

Four designers of recent book covers compare their original concepts with the final version