“Personally it’s hugely satisfying to have recounted memories of so many people born and raised in the Clarence – and those who have come to love it.” Tim Fulton

By Tony Orman

Plenty of twists and turns in the valley

If ever it falls to your lot to be driving south of Blenheim on State Highway One, after about an hour’s driving, you will cross a sweeping bridge spanning a big river – the Clarence River.  From the highway bridge the river is about 230 km to its source in the cool, clear waters of Lake Tennyson, high in the Spenser Mountains.

The river from its source follows a complex tortuous course, twisting and turning its way through rugged mountain country of a desolate, but impressive kind.   Farming editor and journalist, Tim Fulton, spent three years researching a book on the valley, its history, farming and people.

The author’s background

Tim grew up around farming in Canterbury’s Waimakariri which taught him much about rural people and issues. “And a career of more than 20 years as an agricultural journalist has taught me even more,” he added with a smile. Tim’s name will be familiar as editor of the New Zealand Farmers Weekly for 10 years and he also had an insight into politics working on the Parliamentary press gallery as well as working for the NZ Farmer and Straight Furrow.

“Rural journalism exposes you to a huge variety of people and issues, from farm management concerns to international politics. It’s also a job that requires patience, an analytical outlook and good people skills,” he says.

As an author he’s had three books published – a family memoir Straight off the Tussock (2005), Kiwi Farmers Guide to Life (Bateman Books, June 2021) and now The Clarence – People and Places of Waiau Toa.

A long history of settlement

“Everything about the Clarence is daunting,” he writes.

Long before European settlement, the Clarence Valley had an important Maori settlement, firstly by the Waitaha people who reportedly pre-date the great migrations of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. 

They were peaceful people, mainly moa hunters and kumara growers but were dispossessed in the 16th century by an invading tribe, the Ngati Mamoe, from the North Island. The Ngati Mamoe were subsequently attacked and conquered in the 17th century by Ngai Tahu and driven off to the south. 

Often dominating the skyline is New Zealand’s tallest mountain outside of the Southern Alps, commonly known as “Tappy” but more exactly Tapuae-o-Uenuku. Captain James Cook as he sailed through Cook Strait, noted “a prodigious high mountain.”

A fine book based on extensive research

Tim Fulton’s three years of research, interviewing and photographing has resulted in a fine book enhanced by Bateman’s typically quality publishing.

Tim Fulton touches on the tension between private and public land management in the high country. There’s intriguing reflections on the last big sheep muster on Molesworth in 1937, the history and culture of Maori settlement including a long lost kumara growing area near the mouth of the Clarence – but above all, profiles of the farmers and their families are the main focus.

It’s been a labour of love for Tim over three years of research and writing. “Personally it’s hugely satisfying to have recounted memories of so many people born and raised in the Clarence – and those who have come to love it,” he says.

With informative text and often breath-taking photos, The Clarence: People and Places of Waiau-toa is highly recommended. It is published by Bateman Books; RRP is $79.99