Writer's generosity had no bounds

20:31, Nov 20 2012
Arrowtown author Alma Stevenson
Arrowtown author Alma Stevenson.

Much-loved Arrowtown author Alma Stevenson not only left a legacy of delightful children's books and family farming history, but the former Southland farmer's wife's on-farm catering was also legendary.

Mrs Stevenson died last month at her Arrowtown home after a courageous battle with cancer.

She was best known in the Wakatipu area for the six books she authored, including five children's books. The other was Waggoner Jack and Us, a colourful account of her father-in-law Jack Stevenson's farming days on the Crown Terrace, near Arrowtown.

But her family say that was only a small part of Alma's life. After nursing her late husband Noel in his own battle with cancer until he died in 1999, Alma was determined to make the best of life. She discovered hidden talents of painting and writing books.

Water aerobics became one of her favourite social gatherings after her husband died and Alma adored Shotover Country Music Club gatherings and was active in the local garden club.

She enjoyed some great overseas holidays with her family, the most memorable was a trip to Stronsay Island in the Orkney Islands off the Scottish coast to honour her late husband's family heritage. To her delight, the publican retrieved a £5 note pinned behind the bar. Noel's friend Ray Dennison, of Arrowtown, had left the note to shout his mate, who was sick with cancer at the time, a whisky if he ever made it over.


Alma's motto was "it's not what happens to you in your life, it's how you deal with it - do not waste your journey". This was her catchcry right up until her death.

Even when she was ill herself, Alma was always concerned about helping everyone else.

A dedicated farmer's wife and mother of four, Alma and Noel worked hard farming at Mokotua in Southland for 30 years, before moving to the Wakatipu. The Stevensons were a resourceful bunch, Noel's father Jack Stevenson towed the old Reid and sons' office from Speargrass Flat Rd Mill to a site near Lake Hayes. Fittingly, Alma and Noel turned that into the successful Walnut Cottage, a craft and gift business.

The couple also had a love of vintage cars and the family enjoyed many an outing and rally in Alma's 1927 Chev and Noel's 1939 Buick.

A talented floral artist and tutor with a love of decorating and celebration, Alma was in her element. The cottage store became a local hit until it was sold and is now run as a cafe.

Alma, grew up in Tisbury, near Invercargill. Her parents Bill and Ruth Wilson later owned the Hi-Way Diner on Frankton corner, near Queenstown, where Alma and Noel first met. Their dating days consisted of a trip to the local movie theatre, but Alma never saw the endings.

"Mum would have to leave Dad and rush back to the diner before the movie finished, ready to make the milkshakes for all the movie goers," said daughter Hayley Stevenson.

Alma was very involved in the Mokotua farming community during the Stevensons' years on the farm. An active member in Federated Farmers Women's Division and later Country Women's Institute in the Wakatipu, she also did a lot of work with Plunket, created amazing flower arrangements for the Mokotua Hall and was on the local hall committee.

"Mum and Dad were the most amazing dancers and they taught dances like the foxtrot and gay gordons at the Mokotua Hall," said daughter Julie Hughes.

Nobody in need was ever turned away: "Sometimes a woman and child would just turn up at home and stay for a few days when we were younger. We never knew why, but we know now that was Mum helping people in need," Ms Stevenson said.

Mrs Hughes said her mother was "always there with a cup of tea".

"If someone was in need she would whip up a batch of scones or drop a casserole at their door. She and Dad were so giving - they made us want to continue that."

"Mum just brought us altogether and made everyone feel like her best friend," she said.

Son Johnny said his mother always put her own feelings aside to help other people.

He has fond memories as a boy of his mother's wicker basket arriving packed with perfect club sandwiches and scones with jam and cream - "smoko" for up to 10 when working on the farm.

Everyone knew there was always "a good feed" at Alma's and in between catering and feeding up to a dozen for dinner, she would be out milking, feeding pigs or calves, and other farm work.

"Mum touched so many people in so many ways. Friends of mine have been inspired to write books. She was very motivational in such an unassuming way," Ms Stevenson said.

Alma is survived by her four children, Johnny, Debbie, Julie and Hayley, a daughter-in-law and three sons-in-law and eight grandchildren.

The Southland Times