Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Event - 'A Fabled Land' - Mesopotamia Station

Book Talk Event:
Thursday 11th October 2012
Timaru District Library, 56 Sophia Street, Timaru
Free Admission
A Fabled Land - Bruce Ansley and Peter Bush
Legendary rugby photographer and celebrated journalist team up to tell high country station’s legendary story.
If anything could rival Peter Bush aka Bushy’s love of rugby, it’s Mesopotamia — the magnificent and historic South Canterbury station which lies in the Rangitata high country, hard against the Southern Alps.
Bushy first crossed paths with the Mesopotamia runholders, the Prouting family, almost 50 years ago, when they ended up rescuing his brand new rental Land Rover from the clutches of the mighty Rangitata River. He and a hunting mate had pitched their tent on what they thought was a track, the heavens had opened during the night, and they’d got caught in a flash flood. With the water level rising, they had to abandon the submerged vehicle until it could be towed out once the water level had dropped. Despite this ignominious start — he’s been the butt of endless "North Island townie" jokes ever since — Bushy has remained firm friends with the family.
Bushy’s photos — taken on a series of visits over the years— beautifully capture the great musters of days gone by, the dignity of the shearing gangs, the majestic country, and the distinctive and determined characters who’ve been part of the great Mesopotamia story.
In this stunning new book, A Fabled Land, celebrated journalist and Cantabrian, Bruce Ansley has teamed up with Bushy to reveal a vivid portrait of this truly special, awe-inspiring and seductive place, where 150 years of station life have been played out within the great amphitheatre of the mountains.
Ansley has brilliantly captured the spirit of this great sheep station: from the early pioneers who first braved its harsh winters and searing summers to the ingenuity and drive of the present-day owners, the Prouting family. His description of the landscape is at once poetic and immediate and magnificent, taking the reader right to the heart of the high country and offering a rare insight into the highs and lows of high country life.
This is a man’s country, where the women who wish to stay have to hold their own; a country where the past is echoed in the present and in this fascinating book we ride the ‘curious tide of extremes’ that farming embodies: the heartache, the exhilaration, the grandiose, the bombastic, the gracious, the laconic

In this epic country, the mountains have as much personality as the station’s various owners, from the Proutings, who have now been there for the past 70 years, stretching right back to the station’s founding in 1860 by Samuel Butler in 1860. Escaping the demands of his over-bearing English vicar father, Butler arrived full of wanderlust in 1860, just 24.

The vast, empty and silent landscape cast its spell over him, as it has done with the subsequent custodians. Butler was soon to purchase a large holding, which he grandly named Mesopotamia, the Greek word for the land between two rivers. Butler did well out of ‘Messie’, as the Proutings call the station. When he sold his holding of 24,000 hectares three years later to return to England, he doubled his money. Butler immortalised
Mesopotamia in his novel, Erewhon, which he wrote after returning to Britain.
And, A Fabled Land features another ‘character’ too: the Rangitata River, which flows like a rogue throughout the book. Ansley says that he, like generations of southern folk, grew up captivated by the intoxicating romance of the vast and remote high country stations and the rich stories that lay in the land. He’d wanted to write the Messie story for some time butwould only do it with the Prouting’s blessing. “I knew about the Proutings as masters
of their mountain kingdom, successors to Samuel Butler, and I knew too that they were a very private family, wary of outsiders.

“Bushy had once produced an unpublished photo essay on the Mesopotamia muster and I asked him whether he’d be interested in a book. He jumped at the chance. without mentioning that he’d known the family for half a century. When I eventually spoke to Laurie Prouting about a book he said, “If you’ve got Bushy with you it’ll be OK by me.” And that was the first I knew of Bushy’s history with the station. So, in hindsight, it was meant to be.”

Ansley says that he also had a strong sense of how the book would come together. “I didn’t want the book to be a straight, linear history. It needed to also to relate the modern Mesopotamia to Butler’s embryo station, retracing his footsteps, comparing his life with the present, constantly referencing the station’s history while dealing with its present. ”

The new generation’s fight to restore the station’s fortunes against the backdrop of hardship and this harsh, beautiful country is a dominant theme, he says. “Last year current run holders, Malcolm and Sue Prouting returned a razor-thin profit of $13,000. They were delighted: they were back in the black."

Books will be available for purchasing and signing on the night.

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