Wednesday, May 2, 2012

High Country Woman - a review

Title: High Country Woman: My life on Rees Valley Station.
Author: Iris Scott with Geraldine O'Sullivan Beere
Year: April 2012

The first thing that struck me about High Country Woman: My life on Reeves Valley Station was just how beautiful the book is.  It’s a lovely hardback with glossy pages chock full of photographs of one of the most stunning parts of New Zealand – the Otago high country that Iris Scott calls home.  What a remarkable place to live and what a remarkable story Iris has to tell.

She came to Rees Valley Station at the head of Lake Wakatipu in 1967 to do work experience as a young veterinary student – in fact one of the first females allowed into the degree at Massey University.  Iris was immediately captured by the untamed landscape but it took another four years of patient letter writing by the station run-holder’s son Graeme to capture her heart.  The pair were married in 1971 and began their life together working this remote and demanding land.

It’s an undeniably tough job and Iris, already an accomplished horsewoman – a vital skill in high country farming - immediately settled into farm life as well as establishing her own veterinary practise, servicing the isolated farms in the surrounding Glenorchy district.  Over time Iris and Graeme began to take on more responsibility for the property from his ageing parents, riding out the lean years, investing back into the property in the good ones.  And then in 1992 tragedy struck; Graeme was diagnosed with cancer. Just six weeks later he was dead and Iris was left with three young children and 18,000 hectares of farm to run on her own.

Rees Valley Station has a proud history of women at its helm and it was in keeping with this spirit and her own passion for the land that Iris stayed on the farm, despite few woman running farms at that time, let alone enormous ones like Rees Valley.  It is her love and understanding of the country, born over years of experience and hard physical work in all seasons that is responsible for the success the farm is today.

Intertwined with Iris’s personal story is that of the origins of the station, its ill-fated mining and gold rush days and the life of the early settlers, the day to day realities of high country farming and the importance of their exceptional (and hardy!) merino sheep.  It’s a fascinating and rich history that makes enjoyable and quick-page-turning reading. 

It’s in a distinctly high country style that Iris tells shares her stories.  Despite the many hardships and heartaches she and the property have faced, she does not dwell on them and you get a strong sense of the down to earth woman she is – and how this pragmatism has stood her in good stead.  She also shares her views on ensuring the future of high country farming, how vital conservation is and the importance of this unique land to all New Zealanders.  She strikes me as an immensely wise woman and one we would do well to listen to.

High Country Woman, with its gorgeous photography, captivating story and rare insight into a piece of New Zealand’s heritage, is a very special read and one all Kiwis who love our country will enjoy. 

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