Aspinalls inspired by Aspiring
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.