Back country tales

History, landscape and the people of Molesworth

Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014
Harry Broad
MOLESWORTH TALES: Harry Broad will reveal all.

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The story of Molesworth is one of ruin to redemption, says the author of a book on the iconic high country station.

''It's sort of a heroic theme really and a lesson in fantastic land management,'' says Harry Broad, the journalist and conservationist behind Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand's largest high-country station.

Harry is one of the authors at next weekend's Marlborough Book Festival, where he'll share stories of the incredible history, landscape and people of Molesworth.

The 180,000-hectare Marlborough station was ''close to ruin'' by 1937, due to poor management, aggravated by low wool prices, a plague of rabbits and winters that could kill a third of its sheep.

''The owners never got on top of it and they walked off ... Lands and Survey took it over and had long pockets, and over 20 years, thanks to the legendary Bill Chisholm, could make a profit by 1960.''

Harry doesn't claim to ''know'' the station, saying he wouldn't dare ''but I've interviewed a lot of people who did''.

He compares himself to an old alluvial goldminer.

''You are sifting bucket loads of sand and then every so often you get a pennyweight of gold.''

And some of the richest results came from the most unlikely grounds. Like one of the old rabbiters, who provided three grunts in a conversation when Harry first met him.

But when he went to visit him again, thinking he might not get much out of him, ''he was gold for an hour and a half. Just like Shirl the cook''.

Shirl gave Harry plenty of great copy, including the statement that at her table, there was no boss eating steak at one end and boys eating saveloys at the other.

''She said, 'we all eat together or no bugger eats at all'.''

While some of the interviews took a lot of writing, others were simply about ''redecorating the paragraphs''.

These days Molesworth is public conservation land leased by Landcorp for farming.

Harry has gathered stories of those working the station now and in the past, and placed them against the landscape.

He talks of ''sitting of an evening and watching as the mountains turn from grey to dark blue and then fade off into the night, and thinking 'what a privilege to be on this wonderful landscape and to record the stories of people who made a huge contribution, but were often unsung'.''

Harry Broad, author of Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand's largest high-country station, will speak with Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point Vineyards at The Blenheim Club at 1pm on Sunday July 27.

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Tickets are $20 and guests will receive a glass of Dog Point wine on arrival. Five other authors feature at the festival. For tickets and more information go to www.marlboroughbookfest.co.nz

- The Marlborough Express

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