Author pours six years into Ohau valley history

FAN CLUB: Eileen McMillan signs a copy of her new book, Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots at its official release.
FAN CLUB: Eileen McMillan signs a copy of her new book, Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots at its official release.

A reunion of more than 100 identities from the Lake Ohau valley took place for the release of local resident Eileen McMillan's massive 508-page history.

High country station owners, farmhands and musterers mingled with skiers, mountaineers and fishing hut owners at the Lake Ohau lodge on Saturday.

Mrs McMillan's book Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots outlines the history of the valley since the first European settlement of Benmore and Ben Ohau Stations in 1857, through the breakup of those landholdings in 1916 and 1920, up to the present day.

Mrs McMillan said the book took nearly six years to complete.

"The book's title comes from Dougald Matheson, who ran Freehold Creek for six years in the 1890s," she said.

"There was a big snow and he lost all his stock. I thought it was a fabulous phrase, it was so evocative."

Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots weaves archival facts and maps with stories told by later settlers and others who have worked and played in the valley.

"Archives New Zealand had so much invaluable information and material," Mrs McMillan said.

"There were some incredible old photos, and newspaper articles, which really provided me with a sense of the stations' history."

Mrs McMillan said it was important to capture many of the memories of some of the older residents before they died.

"No-one had ever done a proper history of the Lake Ohau catchment before," she said.

"People have been incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. I've met people who I would never otherwise have crossed paths with."

Mrs McMillan said she particularly enjoyed researching the chapter on the avalanche of 1968, which nearly ruined the Lake Ohau lodge. "The managers walked away from the place, the lodge was only saved thanks to the community's support."

Mrs McMillan was pleased that many who contributed to the book were able to attend its release, including the family longest associated with the valley, the Sutherlands of Benmore Station, who were represented by Bill and Kate Sutherland.

"James Sutherland was a boundary keeper on the Benmore out-station of Lake Ohau Station in 1886. He eventually became station manager, and on the breakup of Benmore in 1916, gained the homestead block, which his great- grandsons Bill and Andrew Sutherland still own," Mrs McMillan said.

Although there was enough material gathered to start another book, she hoped the current book would be regarded as definitive.

"It's been wonderful capturing these memories."

The Timaru Herald