A life well lived

Latitude Magazine - - Nature - WORDS Mark War­ren

Known by many, Mark War­ren is a larger-than-life char­ac­ter and in his re­cent book

Many a Muddy Morn­ing he re­calls grow­ing up in ru­ral Can­ter­bury be­fore find­ing him­self sin­gle-hand­edly man­ag­ing a muddy Hawke’s Bay farm in his twen­ties, just as Roger­nomics was in­tro­duced and the re­moval of sub­si­dies would change the face of

farm­ing for­ever. We take a peek into an early chap­ter.

In 1964, when I was about four years old, Dad was ap­pointed vicar of Geral­dine, re­plac­ing Bob Lowe, who would soon be­come very well known through­out the na­tion as a writer, broad­caster and racon­teur.

Back then (ac­tu­ally, lit­tle has changed), Geral­dine was a small coun­try town nes­tled un­der the fer­tile green foothills of the South­ern Alps. It was a typ­i­cal ru­ral ser­vice town, and the main street was filled with farm sup­ply stores such as Pyne Gould Guin­ness, Wright Stephen­son’s, Dal­gety’s and the Na­tional Mort­gage Com­pany. On any given day the street would be lined with muddy Land Rovers and the odd Bed­ford truck, as those who farmed the sur­round­ing dis­trict stocked up on sup­plies. For a small boy with a Land Rover fetish, it was heaven.

Al­though I was still liv­ing in a vicarage, Geral­dine was very dif­fer­ent to where we’d been liv­ing in ur­ban Christchur­ch. I got in the habit of but­ton­hol­ing the farm­ers who rolled up to church on a Sun­day morn­ing, and ask­ing if I could go home with them for the af­ter­noon and help to feed out or open gates for them on their lamb­ing beat. Long-suf­fer­ing Chris­tian gents such as Tony Roberts – an easy-go­ing, hard­work­ing salt-of-the-earth Kiwi bloke if ever there was one – would nod, and af­ter the ser­vice I would climb into (or onto) their car and be driven back to the farm.

In Tony’s case, the farm was in the aptly-named Beau­ti­ful Val­ley, one of the last lush tracts of low­land grass­land be­fore the road climbs up into the high coun­try. Af­ter the typ­i­cal Can­ter­bury farmer’s Sun­day lunch – roast lamb and veges – Tony would take me out on his Ford­son Dex­ter trac­tor. It wasn’t long be­fore he be­gan giv­ing me lessons in driv­ing the thing. He had the pa­tience of a saint, which came in handy as he ex­plained over and over the in­tri­ca­cies of let­ting the clutch out smoothly. ‘Ease it more gen­tly, lad­die,’ he would mur­mur. ‘There’s no hurry.’

Or I might get a ride with dear old John Bold­er­stone, a larger-than-life man of the land, who would take me back to his farm with him af­ter a church work­ing bee on a Satur­day and in­te­grate me into his fam­ily for the week­end. John had a heap of in­ter­est­ing ma­chin­ery on his hill-coun­try farm – a Ford­son Su­per Ma­jor trac­tor, a D2 Cater­pil­lar bull­dozer, a short wheel­base Land Rover and a Mor­ris Com­mer­cial truck. Lucky!

I re­mem­ber one oc­ca­sion when I was out on the lamb­ing beat with John and his sons, Ge­off and Mark. As we ap­proached a gate lead­ing into a steep pad­dock, John stopped the Land Rover, pulled on the hand­brake and got out. ‘Ge­off and I are go­ing to go for a bit of a walk around the hill to move a mob. Mark, do you reckon you can take the Landy

back home?’ His younger son’s eyes shone, but John was look­ing at me, at seven by far the older and more re­spon­si­ble child. His Mark was about four. ‘Ooh, yes!’ I said with­out hes­i­ta­tion. ‘I can man­age!’ ‘If you get in trou­ble, just turn her off and walk,’ he said. As John and Ge­off plod­ded off into the pad­dock, I set­tled my­self into the driver’s seat, with lit­tle Mark of­fer­ing ad­vice as co-driver. It was a stretch reach­ing the ped­als, but perched on the edge of the seat, I could just man­age it. I gripped the Bake­lite wheel, still slightly warm from John’s cal­loused hands, se­lected sec­ond gear – even then I knew the golden rule of Land Rovers: if you can’t get there in sec­ond gear, you won’t get there at all – and eased the hand­brake off as I slowly let out the clutch.

With a lurch, we were in mo­tion. John didn’t even look back to check how I was get­ting on. I crept along in sec­ond gear, surg­ing for­ward in lit­tle bursts. Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing a few steep-ish hills, a creek cross­ing and the odd bog, and with­out hit­ting a sin­gle gatepost, we ar­rived back at the home­stead, where I took par­tic­u­lar care to park the Land Rover neatly in the house pad­dock. ‘Where’s Dad?’ Nan Bold­er­stone asked Mark when we came inside. Mark ex­plained, his mother look­ing at first as­ton­ished, then out­raged. When John and Ge­off fi­nally got back, she gave him a piece of her mind. ‘What do you think you were do­ing, leav­ing the vicar’s son to drive him­self home on his own? He could have bro­ken his neck!’ she said.

‘He was fine,’ John shrugged. ‘If he’d got into dif­fi­cul­ties, he knew how to turn her off and walk home. Didn’t you, lad?’ I beamed back at him.

LEFT / Mark with his first go-cart, built of wood and hand-mower me­chan­i­cals, 1970. BE­LOW / A ski group, packed into ‘Truckie’, a 1956 Van­guard ute, head­ing off for a ski week in Tekapo, 1976.

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