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Farming under Aspiring, by Jerry Aspinall

4 August 2010

John and Amy Aspinall took possession of Aspiring Station up the East Matukituki in 1920, the homestead being vacated by the previous run-holders after Mrs McPherson’s tragic drowning. The event marked the start of the Aspinalls’ long association with the Matukituki Valley, which still lasts today. John and Amy were both from England; after John had served in World War I, they returned to New Zealand, and settled at Aspiring within one year.

Jerry Aspinall was born on 23 October 1921 – just over one year after his parents had taken ownership of Aspiring Station – and lived in the Matukituki Valley until his retirement in 1977. The only move was from the East Matukituki to Glenfinnan, 4.5km down valley, in 1969. Even after his retirement he didn’t relocate far – he spent the final years of his life in Wanaka, where he died on 12 February 1992.

The Aspinalls often gave hospitality to parties of trampers and climbers, and with some of them they developed life-long friendships. They went well beyond simple hospitality, and were always ready to help with rescue operations, getting parties across the flooded river, packing equipment and materials for the construction of huts up the valley, even cooking for hungry parties of climbers at the alpine club’s camps. The positive attitude of the Aspinalls towards recreation in the Matukituki Valley is something we can always be grateful for.

Farming under Aspiring is the story of a lifetime spent in the Matukituki Valley. The book starts with a chapter on the early exploration of the area, followed by a history of the early run-holders, and of the Aspinall Family. Life in the high country makes up for most of the tales. Home schooling, flooding rivers, the excitement of seeing visitors in such an isolated place, the weather, and the hardship of farming in the mountains, are all topics that come up over and over again. An interesting chapter is dedicated to the native wildlife of the Matukituki, and another one to introduced pests. A summary of the evolution of farming in the Upper Clutha is also included. Jerry started writing in the last year of his life, and the book was published by his family after his death. Memories and reflections are scattered throughout the book.

The chapter on the exploration of the Matukituki Valley contains a number of factual mistakes, and should not be relied upon as historical reference material. The mountain climbed by Jollie and Young for instance was Mount Motatapu, certainly not Mount Tyndall or Headlong Peak, and the peaks climbed by McKerrow and Goldie were Niger Peak first and Mount Alta next, while Hector’s party never actually reached the West Coast.

The book has its weaknesses in that it lacks structure, and contains a number of repetitions. Sudden jumps between topics, and the same anecdotes being mentioned two or even three times in different chapters, just don’t make for easy or pleasant reading. This doesn’t detract anything from the immense value of this book as a historical document – I believe that anyone reading it will do so to gain some insight into high country life and the history of the area rather than for simple pleasure. Entertaining stories and episodes nonetheless abound throughout the book.

The author shows the kind of attention and respect for the local fauna and flora that only someone who’s grown up in close contact with nature can develop. At the same time, he had to fight against nature for a living, and committed a number of ecological crimes.  He understood (and criticized) the stupidity of the acclimatization societies that introduced stoats to control rabbits, and yet, he planted willows to stop erosion of the river banks – up to 1000 poles per year. When I rafted the Matukituki in 2005, I was shocked after floating past 25km of river banks completely encroached by willows – now I know whom to blame. The practice of shooting kea – by the dozens every winter – would have also had a severe impact on the bird’s population in the region, since kea probably flew in from quite a distance to feed on the carcasses of sheep and cattle that did not survive the cold season.

Jerry grew up helping his father shooting rabbits, mustering sheep and doing all sorts of farm jobs. He took over the management of the station after John Aspinall’s death in 1942. During his life, he witnessed some remarkable changes in the environment around him: the evolution of transportation from horse-powered drays to trucks, the use of tractors, the top-dressing of fields and the improvement in techniques in pest control and, last but not least, the advent of helicopters in farming, to assist with mustering and the feeding of snowed-in cattle.

The last chapter was written by Jerry’s wife Phyllis. We learn how, in his final year, “The Book almost dominated our lives. Sue spent many hours typing, sorting photos and with Christopher’s Sue, listing them carefully. All the family shared in fulfilling his desires”. Well, writing more than 260 pages is no mean feat. We can be grateful to Jerry Aspinall for going to such an effort, and for documenting a piece of history that would have otherwise been lost forever.


Aspinall, J. (1993) Farming under Aspiring. Published by the Aspinall Family, Wanaka, 267 pages

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mtnspirit permalink
    10 August 2010 4:05 pm

    Hi Guys,
    I really like your blog, and would like to do post on it. Nice will be helpful to readers of our blog at Mountain Spirit Institute.
    R. Richards

  2. Anne McFadgen permalink
    3 June 2015 5:53 am

    Love the story that Edward Jollie & William Young nicknamed Mt Motatapu “Mt Perspiring” because they worked up such a good sweat during their climb.

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