THE RE­SILIENT FARMER: WEATH­ER­ING THE CHAL­LENGES OF LIFE AND THE LAND

DOUG AVERY (PEN­GUIN, $ 40)

North & South - - Review -

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.

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