Down a Country Road

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Book Review

"Down a Country Road” 

by Tony Orman,  published by New Holland, Price $29.95 Reviewed by Graham Carter


What makes New Zealand’s back country so endearing to many? Certainly hunters, trampers and trout anglers know the warm attachment.

Outdoors author Tony Orman has sought out a collection of short stories on the personalities who have made the often remote back country their home. This book celebrates the indefatigable and resilient settlers and a lifestyle and connection with the natural environment that Kiwis still strongly identify with today.

When Tony set out to collect these stories he followed leads from friends and at other times just stumbled across people while hunting or trout fishing. These people spoke of their environment sometime aghast at the destruction and damage inflicted by outsiders on their patch. Jim Morris looked up at the Ahuriri Valley. ‘Sustainability!’ ‘What do they mean by sustainability? They talk of economic sustainability in treasury double-speak, then the academic greenies talk of resource sustainability. What about the good fair dinkum high country definition?’ The hypocrisy rankles men of the land, ninety per cent of high country farmers are more conservation minded than some of the do-gooders in cities.

There’s often a strong message against “anti-wild animal phobia”, 1080 and other environmental injustices. Betty Rowe the protector of Marlborough’s Arapawa Island sheep and goats fought a vigorous battle with bureaucrats who wanted the “introduced animals killed”, despite the wild animals having a likely high genetic value as they were probably liberated by Captain Cook. Betty bravely confronted the government shooters and partially won. While many Arapawa’s goats and sheep were slaughtered and left to rot others were saved from the brutality dished out from Wellington. The attitude of the government bureaucrats was wasteful, ignorant and chilling, cold and callous.

Rex and Rona Gorman lived and hunted in the wilderness behind Lake Brunner on the West Coast. Deer were then regarded as pests but the government overlooked the fact that moa, kereru and other native birds had browsed vegetation for millions of years. Deer competed for food with high country sheep and the overstocking of sheep led to deer being blamed. By a miscarriage of justice deer had the death penalty handed them at the 1930 “Deer Menace Conference”. Ivor Scott farmed the Karangarua Valley and witnessed “in every clearing after a 1080 drop there were dead or dying birds. Before the drop Ivor used to delight in taking his grandchildren up the valley to hear the weka and kiwi. But afterwards Ivor never heard a weka or kiwi again.

Joan and Murray McIntosh were possuming for over sixty years. I’ve done about 7000 a year on average which is about 400,000 possums. In the case of Bovine TB Murray reckons the percentage in possums is very low. “TB is virtually zero” Any spread of TB is caused by stock movement. As due to the inaccurate error prone skin test used. OSPRI’s claims are totally wrong. We should be viewing the possum as a valuable fur resource, earning export dollars.

There are others such as a woman pig hunter, a high country poet, a champion blade shearer, a champion dog trialist and others who epitomise the backcountry spirit. That spirit has been around for centuries and there is an intriguing chapter on a Maori chief called Bloody Jack and another on the original good keen man, 19th century Westland explorer Charlie (Mr Explorer) Douglas.

Tony wrote this book due to his admiration and respect for their individual way of life. The result is a fine collection of absorbing varied stories, that make the book difficult to put down. This book should resonate for those who work the land, hunt, fish, tramp or hike or just have a strong connection to the back country.

Highly recommended.