Celebrating 150 years

23:00, Nov 12 2011
Some of the publication team were, from left, Rosanne Marsden with a copy of the book, Graham Brooks holding one of the photographs that never made it onto a page, editor Cynthia Brooks and contributor Barry Holdaway.

A unique identity shaped by magnificent scenery and its people is the claim for Marlborough in a book launched in Blenheim this week.

Marlborough – Celebrating 150 Years is a 504-page collection of stories and photographs about the people in Marlborough since it gained independence from Nelson in 1859.

"It's a social history ... by the people, for the people," says Cynthia Brooks, a Renwick writer and book editor who was employed to find, collect, select and fill gaps in the book's chapters. It was funded by the Marlborough District Council which wanted to record the region's history for present and future generations.

Cynthia is a fourth-generation Marlburian and usually knew who to approach to suggest, provide and verify stories. She is quick to emphasise the work done by others, however. Steering the project was former mayor Leo McKendry and Dave Olliver, the former Blenheim Borough Council's first planning officer.

"Leo is a very dogmatic man," Cynthia laughs and points her finger at an imaginary prospective contributor to give a short impersonation: "I want 500 words – by next Friday!"

"OK," people would say. "And bless them, they did it!"


Thousands of photographs and hundreds of stories arrived to fill the chapters, listed at the front of the book with subtitles and page numbers for quick reference. Among them are tangata whenua, Marlborough's separation from Nelson, local government, war time, aviation, transport, farming, viticulture and community matters.

"The book is not a complete definition of Marlborough," Cynthia warns. "It's a collection of stories, an aspect of life in Marlborough over 150 years – but mostly since the 1930s and 1940s, because the earlier years have been well recorded."

The book ends with an eight-page index naming everyone who features in the book and the pages on which their names appear. Their stories paint often vivid pictures of their lives in Marlborough.

One example that caught this reporter's eye was Shirty of the Muller, born John William Shirtliff in 1869 at Nelson. He came to Marlborough as a farmhand for Charles Watts at Lansdowne in the Wairau Valley, then bought the Muller in 1896. His story in the book says he battled rabbits, snow, isolation and low wool and meat prices for the next 60 years to become a high country legend.

Stories were edited so all script in the book had a uniform flow, then contributors were asked to re-read the new versions for any errors.

"Everyone was asked to check everything very, very carefully: each name, each date, ensuring we had things correct," Cynthia says.

Independent readers who know Marlborough well did the final checks.

Cynthia is grateful to council employee Brenda Burr, who transformed handwritten or manually-typed scripts into spreadsheet copies. Her local knowledge made her a "built-in proofreader" and photographs used to illustrate the words were often ones she suggested or found.

Cynthia and Graham's daughter, Wendy Russell, was the graphic designer and Blenheim Print was selected to publish it, thanks to sponsorship from the Marlborough Electric Power Trust. "The convenience of being able to drop in and check on copy was huge," says Cynthia, and having everything done locally makes the book a totally Marlborough product.

Copies of Marlborough – Celebrating 150 Years can be purchased from Bookworld, Magazine Shop and Perrys Book and Map Shop, Blenheim, Take Note, Picton, or the Marlborough District Council.

The Marlborough Express