THE RESILIENT FARMER: WEATHERING THE CHALLENGES OF LIFE AND THE LAND
DOUG AVERY (PENGUIN, $ 40)
in cases of women with Pakeha husbands who were able to use their wives’ help to secure land.
The compilers here acknowledge there is likely more material to be unearthed and this book will hopefully prove an encouragement to others to undertake that task. For those of us in the cities, droughts are clips on a news bulletin. For the likes of Avery, whose family has farmed drought-prone land in Marlborough for generations since 1919, it’s a daily fact of life. “It’s a ridiculous place to farm,” he admits. But that’s never stopped anyone from giving in to the call of the land.
Avery’s boyhood life was the standard rural idyll until his elder brother Eric died of a gunshot wound on the farm at the age of 13. Whether it was an accident or suicide remains an open question. Doug’s father, who had survived the war, fell to pieces over this tragedy.
There are other challenges through the years, notably wife Wendy’s diagnosis of breast cancer, which she survived. On his first day back at work after their honeymoon, he saw a worker and old friend killed in a tractor accident. Avery suffered from depression for 10 years before realising it. And then there were the years of drought, the removal of subsidies and just about everything that could go wrong on a farm. To be resilient and survive, as the book’s title has it, you have to be tough and able to handle such challenges.
Doug Avery has those qualities but also a gift for identifying and voicing the struggles his fellow farmers face. When he boldly mentioned the phenomenon of farmer suicides on a radio show, he was overwhelmed with the grateful response. He saved his farm when he discovered droughtresistant lucerne and its qualities as a feed – though not without a lot of painful trial and error.
A note of infallibility creeps into Avery’s writing as the book proceeds to its conclusion. Fortunately, it won’t be enough to alienate most readers.