A Wife on Gorge River by Catherine Stewart

A Wife on Gorge RiverWhile writing my PhD I’ve found it hard to do any extra reading. By the end of the day all I want to do is watch a predictable crime show and go to bed. I was starting to feel guilty about all the great books that were dusting away on my shelf (and I can’t buy any more until I’ve read these!) so I’ve started to read a little bit each evening. I find once I get into a book then I don’t have a problem picking it up at night.

The book I’ve just finished is A Wife on Gorge River by Catherine Stewart. It is the story of Catherine’s life living in an old DOC hut on the remote Gorge River in South Westland, and bringing up her two children — Christian and Robin — with her husband Robert ‘Beansprout’ Long. Their home is two days tramp from the nearest road. Catherine’s story is one of how to live with little (with a small income from Robert’s art they grew most of their own food, and for many years didn’t have power!), while feeling like they had a lot. It’s also a powerful story about how to creatively parent children. Personally I have to fight the desire for constant improvement (I’m much happier when I want what I have, which really is quite a lot), so I found Catherine’s story inspiring.

Here are a few things Catherine says: “At the worst times I’d look up at the dead rata tree on the top of the hill across the river as it held its last branches up in the air, defying the sou’west wind. I always took strength from the sight and promised myself that I, too, could do whatever I had to. So far, I haven’t found anything I’d prefer to be doing.”

And, “I may not earn much, but I figure I’m richer than anyone with a mortgage and an outstanding credit-card bill … I treasure the serenity I find when I am surrounded by the beautiful, untouched, sub-tropical rainforest that clothes much of the west coast of the South Island.”

Inspired by Catherine we went on a little family holiday to Aotea Cottage (a tiny cottage built in the 1880s) on Ngaipui Station in the Wairarapa. It was the first time that Sam had been on a farm (or seen farm animals), sat by an open fire, spiked himself on barbed wire, and tried to skip stones along river. Here are a few pictures:



5 thoughts on “A Wife on Gorge River by Catherine Stewart

  1. I read this book over Xmas. There was something very compelling about her story, though at times I felt like a peeping tom at the window of her family’s life. I have a bit of horror at this aspect of biographical writing.

      1. I didn’t mean to be picky about her – it’s more my reaction when I read a book where the writer is very open and I suppose in her case, not versed in literary traditions of biography and memoir. That’s probably more the point, that my reading is full of fiction writers shaping biography, this was like raw material. I too was impressed with her determination!

      2. Agreed! It was like having a conversation with her down at the pub. It raises the question, how much of biography (or autobiography) is actually biographical and not a sort of fiction. Or is it all fiction (which is how I tend to see it, on continuum with totally fictional at one end and biography at the other)?

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