Book records station’s history
Kereru Station: Two Sisters’ Legacy has just been published by Phantom House Books. Project managed by Tessa Tylee, the book features photos by Grant Sheehan and words by EIT journalist Mary Shanahan. John Ireland talks to Mary about the writing process and the book’s evolution.
What’s your writing background?
My background is print journalism, writing for newspapers, trade publications and magazines. I’ve worked at EIT for nearly nine years.
What’s the book about?
The history of Kereru Station, which is, I hope, a lively account of one of Hawke’s Bay’s original and most iconic sheep stations. Sited at the foot of the Ruahine Range west of Maraekakaho, this strikingly beautiful property was developed by James Nelson Williams after the 20-year-old purchased the land from the Crown in 1857. Nearly 90 years later, the farm was restored to family ownership when sisters Gwen Malden and Ruth Nelson – JN’s granddaughters bought what was, by then, a rundown farm. Idiosyncratic, artistic and astute businesswomen, the pair employed managers who ran the station well, ensuring good profits to support the sisters’ charitable causes.
Did you know much about Kereru Station or the sisters before you started the project?
Probably like many people, I didn’t know about the connection between Gwen and Ruth and the station. Nor did I appreciate how that benefited education, health and the arts in Hawke’s Bay. It’s gratifying the charitable trusts that now own the station had the vision to commission this history.
They appear to have been quite the characters.
It was a delight getting to ‘know’ the sisters. Growing up in a well-heeled family, they had the means to match their strong commitment to helping others. Ruth co-founded New Zealand’s first Rudolf Steiner School in Hastings while Gwen supported a wide range of charitable causes, with a particular interest in the arts.
You interviewed a number of people who had been involved with the station. How did that go?
Without exception, everyone interviewed was enthusiastic about helping with the book. Plugging into that energy, I’ve used many of their anecdotes as breakouts that pepper the main narrative. Many of those who worked on the farm or knew Ruth and Gwen are getting on. Several interviewed were into their 90s. All expressed their passion for Kereru Station and admiration for the sisters’ achievements.
How long did it take to write the book and how much of that time was consumed by research?
I wrote the book over a year, averaging two days a week. The research accounted for about a third of that time. I was blessed to have Tessa Tylee as project manager – she was an enormous help every step of the way.
Tell us about your writing process.
There are many similarities in writing as a journalist and as an author. Both involve gathering information, framing that up, writing and finally reviewing the work.
Can you describe the feeling the first time you held a printed copy with your name on it?
Handling an advance copy of the book was a thrill. It represented the combined efforts of so many different people and organisations, including the publisher Phantom House and photographer Grant Sheehan, who has so ably captured the station’s dramatic landscapes.
Are you working on another book project?
I was warned this question would be asked even as the book was being launched! I’d love this to be the first in a run of like books. Tessa and I would welcome the opportunity to work together again. Hopefully there are other books just waiting to be written.
* For more info, or to purchase a copy, go to [www].kererustation.co.nz
Photo caption – WRITE WAY: Mary Shanahan provided the words for Kereru Station: Two Sisters’ Legacy.