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

Book Review: Women of the Catlins: Life in the Deep South, by Diana Noonan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_women_of_the_catlinsThis wonderful collection of stories from the women who live in New Zealand’s deep South are treats for the soul. Each woman bestows on the reader a sense of peace as they share the day-to-day stories of their lives. It’s fascinating to read of the way they have built their lives in the Catlins – a wild and isolated natural, beautiful part of New Zealand.

The Catlins is known to some of us as a place you drive through on your way from Dunedin to Invercargill, others may not be entirely sure where it is. You may wonder what the fuss was about as you drove past on the main highway, but the secret of the Catlins lies beyond this highway. You need to make the time to turn off and head down those back country roads to see the rolling green farmland interspersed with native bush, and cold, windswept wild beaches abundant with penguins, seals and seabirds. With no-one in sight.

Catlins resident Diana Noonan shares some of the best, the worst and the most fascinating things about the lives of these 26 women, none of whom would think they were remarkable in any way, but for the magical place they’ve chosen to build their lives. Through Women of the Catlins, we sneak a peek into their lives. Their stories are the kind that you might get if you were lucky enough to run into them at the local store, share a pint at the pub, and get into conversation with them about the history of their place.

Rona Williamson may tell you how seafood was abundant back in the ‘30s, the water was clear and clean, and flounders lay flat and plentiful in the beds. She’d walk all the way out to the mouth of the river spearing them as she went – some were so large they wouldn’t fit in the pan.

Christine Mitchell grew up farming, shearing and horse trekking, far away from anything and anyone – an hour this way, an hour that, sometimes the travel can be annoying. She notes that it can be a lonely sometimes, but on the flip side, she wouldn’t trade the amazing bush and ocean views out of their living room window, plus the kids love it down on the farm. Christine says they don’t need things, she knows and feels they have all they need, with a warm house and a loving family.

What is particularly notable about these women is the reflections that make up their lives, as they live among the woodland, flowers, native bush, animals farmed and wild, coast, sea and hillsides, in weather warm, cold and windblown. Each of the women has a rich knowledge of local people, community, neighbours – concerts and dances in halls, farms, views and peace and quiet. It’s a kind of charmed life for those of us that live in the hustle and bustle of the city, and its not for nothing that many of us crave a simpler life more connected to the earth and the elements.

I wish to thank these women for sharing a piece of their lives with us, and Diana Noonan and Photographer Cris Antona for bringing it to life. This is a wonderful book for anyone who relishes the dream of a slower, more connected life – taking the time to smell the roses, and the fresh baking.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Women of the Catlins: Life in the Deep South
Edited by Diana Noonan, Photography by Cris Antona
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578977

Book Review: Maungawhau – A Short History of Volunteer Action, by Friends of Maungawhau

Available in local bookshops within the Maungawhau area.cv_friends_of_maungawhau 

Friends of Maungawhau (FoM) has been in existence since the 1980’s as an informal group of local residents. It began as a sub-committee of the Mt Eden planning group. Under Sue Bulmer’s leadership, the FoM was formed. She built a close relationship with various people including Ngati Whatua heritage advisor Ngarimu Blain and historian Pita Turei. FoM was incorporated in 2002. This book is a history of the work of this group, and more broadly, a history of the industrial background of the region.

FoM’s objectives are to preserve and protect the natural and cultural character of Maungawhau and to defend it against harm and unsustainable use. FoM’s focus is on practical volunteer action and care for the natural environment and advocacy for co-ordinated management.

Maungawhau was once the site of a large terraced Pa, one of the three largest in Tamaki
Makaurau. From the 1840’s onwards, Maungawhau  was used by settlers for grazing of cattle, horses, goats, pigs and geese. In 1930 this ceased, following grass fires during the long hot summers, but it was to resume in the 1940’s. This was seen as a way to control vegetation. From the 1960’s Bob Linton leased land on Maungawhau; with his son taking over the leases in 1995. They grazed Hereford-Friesian crossbred calves for a year, removing them at eighteen months of age. Concerns were beginning to surface over the impact of the cattle on archaeological features. Also weed control was becoming a major problem with erosion after spraying.

In earlier years at least five pits were quarried on the flanks of Maungawhau – something I am familiar with from my own family history. Erosion is now a huge problem in all areas.

Invasive plants have also been a major issue, because early plantings of areas of Maungawhau included plants that are now considered noxious weeds. Native planting was done intermittently. Of more recent times, public planting days were held.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s a few keen people largely working independently began to take practical steps to show what could be done with sustained effort. Experiments were carried out with different species with some successes with canopy and understory planting. 2000 – 2006 Kit Howden supervised public planting days and regular volunteer weeding sessions.

Throughout New Zealand, groups such as the FoM, are maintaining areas such as this, in a state that all can enjoy. The amount of work that groups such as the FoM do is phenomenal.

This is a very detailed book which also outlines FoM working closely with Council and Iwi to define strategies and solutions to the problems of the area. This has resulted in some successes, but it is evident that considerable work needs to be completed to achieve the FoM’s objectives.

This book was a real eye opener to me – the dedication by this particular group is astounding and because of this and other similar groups archaeological and historic sites all over New Zealand are being preserved.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Maungawhau – A Short History of Volunteer Action
Written and published by the Friends of Maungawhau (Mt Eden)
ISBN 9780473298470