Aspinalls in­spired by As­pir­ing

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES - By SUE FEA

Forty kilo­me­tres from Wanaka in the craggy back­blocks of Otago four gen­er­a­tions of Aspinalls have carved out a high coun­try legacy that be­gan with prim­i­tive be­gin­nings in 1920. Now lit­tle Johnny Aspinall, just 5-months-old, is the first of the fifth gen­er­a­tion to be raised on one of New Zealand’s most ma­jes­tic back coun­try play­grounds, Mt As­pir­ing Sta­tion. High Coun­try Legacy, writ­ten and beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by Alex Hed­ley, was re­leased last Fri­day. It’s the story of Johnny’s fam­ily, which has farmed this tough, rugged, moun­tain­ous en­vi­ron­ment since his hardy great, great grand­fa­ther Jack Aspinall and his English war bride first pur­chased the pas­toral lease­hold sta­tion in 92 years ago. Win­ters were tough – so cold that Jack used to heat up rocks on the stove and put them in his bed. Aspinalls have al­ways been at the mercy of the el­e­ments. To this day they’re at times very weary about cross­ing the Matuk­i­tuki River, known for its treach­er­ous boul­ders and quick sand. The noise of thun­der­ous avalanches and cataracts are also part of daily life on the sta­tion and snow up to a record 48cm deep has lain on the ground for as long as 70 days. The book is a trib­ute to John Aspinall, his par­ents, grand­par­ents and the two gen­er­a­tions of tough Scot­tish High­landers, the MacPher­sons, who set­tled there be­fore them. The sta­tion’s at times treach­er­ous wa­ter­ways claimed the lives of Hugh MacPherson in 1902 and later his daugh­ter-in-law in 1919. In 1957, John’s par­ents Jerry and Phyl­lis Aspinall vol­un­tar­ily sur­ren­dered 20,235ha to the Crown to help form Mount As­pir­ing Na­tional Park, which was cre­ated in 1963. These days more than 80,000 tourists and vis­i­tors pass through the stun­ningly beau­ti­ful sta­tion ev­ery year. Gen­er­a­tions of Aspinalls have al­ways be­friended vis­i­tors pass­ing through with a fa­mous high coun­try wel­come and cup of tea. Trag­i­cally John Aspinall died in Novem­ber last year af­ter a short bat­tle with leukaemia, leav­ing wife, Sue, son Ran­dall and his wife, Al­li­son, to pick up the ba­ton. He was renowned as the ‘‘cham­pion of pub­lic ac­cess’’ and a piv­otal high coun­try spokesman for Fed­er­ated Farm­ers, a leg­endary guardian of the en­vi­ron­ment. A keen con­ser­va­tion­ist, tram­per, fish­er­man and hunter, John’s de­par­ture was hailed as a na­tional tragedy. He was an in­te­gral part of the pub­lic ac­cess de­bate and land ten­ure re­view process and also served on the Biose­cu­rity Min­is­te­rial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee. His most fa­mous quote still res­onates to­day: ‘‘Sus­tain­able man­age­ment will not be achieved by rules, reg­u­la­tions, leg­is­la­tion

Ran­dall Aspinall and farm worker Struan Mehrtens watch the last ewes make their way across the Matuk­i­tuki. or plans. It is achieved by those work­ing the land with sweaty brows and dirty hands.’’ Sue said her late hus­band would have been very pleased about the book. ‘‘John had a won­der­ful gen­tle man­ner. He taught us so much. He was al­ways just happy to share the sta­tion, teach other peo­ple and all he asked for in re­turn was that they re­spected our prop­erty.’’ John’s par­ents Jerry and Phyl­lis farmed the prop­erty un­til John and Sue ar­rived back from their hon­ey­moon in 1977 to take over what was a new homestead built closer to Wanaka and mi­nus some treach­er­ous Matuk­i­tuki River cross­ings. Jerry, who served on the Otago Con­ser­va­tion Board and Mt As­pir­ing Na­tional Park Board, first took over the prop­erty, aged 20, with his mother when Jack died in 1942. Three gen­er­a­tions of Aspinall chil­dren have been schooled by cor­re­spon­dence on the sta­tion. For Sue, even as a trained teacher, it was al­ways a chal­lenge be­ing ‘‘mother and teacher at the same time’’. Whole­some cook­ing has al­ways played a big part in the his­tory of Mt As­pir­ing Sta­tion, with Sue’s mother-in-law Phyl­lis leg­endary for her home­bak­ing. Sta­tions recipes and help­ful hints are shared in the back pages of the book. Sue has huge ad­mi­ra­tion for ‘‘Grandad Jack and Gran Amy, whom she said must have had ‘‘won­der­ful char­ac­ter and tenac­ity to bat­tle on’’. ‘‘We are in­cred­i­bly grate­ful to them. ‘‘They left a legacy to us all.’’

Five gen­er­a­tions: Al­li­son and Ran­dall Aspinall with Johnny Aspinall, the fifth gen­er­a­tion of Aspinalls at Mt As­pir­ing Sta­tion.

Tricky cross­ing: Jerry Aspinall with his two sons John and Christo­pher cross­ing the Matuk­i­tuki River.

Ewe beau­ties:

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