Outsiders in New Zealand

Among the living subjects of Gerard Hindmarsh’s new book “Outsiders”, the word “hermit” is almost universally rejected. While the book is subtitled “Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society”, these people who have chosen to live isolated from the rest of society have various motivations.
outsiders
Hindmarsh says the common thread connecting them is a desire for independence.
“These people really feel they have the right to live beyond the square,” he says. “They’re never necessarily hermits, and they all hate that term.”
The Golden Bay author became interested in the subject during the early 1990s when he began writing a series of articles for New Zealand Geographic magazine focusing on “extreme subjects”.
outsider 2
Among the people he visited in their bush homes were: Ross Webber, who lived on his own island in the Marlborough Sounds for 46 years; long-time West Coast eeler Bruce Reay; and the now well-known Gorge River Family.

“I did very full interviews when I went out to see these people,” Hindmarsh says.
“That kind of sparked my interest in it. And I realised that there actually weren’t many actual outsiders in New Zealand who warranted the term, the real hard case ones.”
For Outsiders, which is published by Nelson company Craig Potton Publishing, the author has broadened his focus, tracing a tradition that runs through post-colonial New Zealand history.

There are chapters covering earlier examples of people who fled society and lived happily in the wildness. There’s prospector Arawata Bill, amateur South Westland surveyor Charlie “Explorer” Douglas, Fiordland legend Davey Gunn, and self-imposed Cook Islands castaway Tom Neale.

“In the end, I’ve got it roughly historical, but it’s not quite like that because I skip back with some people,” Hindmarsh observes of Outsiders. “It’s more a wave of feeling that runs through the book. Some of them were mass admired and others hardly anyone knew about them.”

That was the case for years for the Gorge River Family – Robert Long, Catherine Stewart, and their children Robin and Christan. But in the last few years both Long and Stewart have published their respective autobiographies, making their story the most well- known of contemporary New Zealand outsiders.
gorge river 3
When Hindmarsh first visited their incredibly isolated West Coast home, his letter from months before hadn’t been delivered, but writing was often the best way of communicating with the people he hoped to interview. The first occasion he met Bruce Reay, the fisherman handed over letters he’d been carrying in a plastic bag for over a month in the hope he’d meet someone who could post them.

Perhaps due to such practicalities, several of the people covered in Outsiders are no longer living in the bush. “The time comes when they want a change,” he says. “But I don’t believe that they struggle. The day-to-day thing takes up a lot of mental energy I reckon. It becomes kind of comfortable, and territorial in a way. You just know your place so well. They’re some amazing people.”
http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/8278945/We-re-not-hermits

“Under the heading “The Isolationists”, Gerard Hindmarsh writes that even though few people actually got to meet him, ”Charles Douglas was a Scottish immigrant who became one of the most admired and loved characters in all of Westland”.
charles douglas
Douglas ”was an ardent isolationist who came to loathe the rat race with all its repetitive routines and incessant striving for security and possessions, not to mention its malaise of false sophistication”. Born in Edinburgh in 1840 to a noted family of bankers and painters, Douglas bought a one-way passage to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in 1862.
Arriving in south Westland in 1867, Douglas devoted the following four decades to exploring and surveying all its unexplored gorges and forest tracts. ”He lived a basic life, living almost entirely off the land and avoiding human company, preferring instead the company of his dog,” Hindmarsh writes.

Douglas is typical of the many New Zealand ”man alone” – and a few women – stoic characters living at the fringes of society, whose lives the author has painstakingly researched. ”Being geographically isolated by choice and living a solitary existence, often without the trappings of so-called civilisation and urban living, these characters have become etched in the national psyche of the country,” he notes.

I was particularly interested in Hindmarsh’s accounts of long-gone swaggers, for many of whom the reality was that they died along the roads, ”maybe curled up to expire in the shelter of some scrub or tall tussock”.

The author has cast his net widely and researched well to provide fascinating portraits of the lives of some of New Zealand’s most famous outsiders, many of whom died a long time ago, and some of whom are still alive today.
http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/books/238264/fascinating-portaits-outsiders
outsiders 3
“Outsiders: Stories from the fringe of New Zealand society” by Gerard Hindmarsh profiles 21 individuals and 4 families who in different ways came to live independently of mainstream society, often living miles into the wilderness, far from civilisation and all its comforts.
William_O'Leary
The book begins with the legendary nineteenth century prospector William O’Leary for whom two South Island mountain passes are named and whose life inspired Denis Glover’s sequence of 20 poems “Arawata Bill”. The final story in the book is of the similarly wandering lifestyle of Bruce Reay who decided he wanted to live in the bush after graduating with a degree in forestry from the University of Canterbury in the late 1970s. Bruce lives along the full length of the West Coast from Kahurangi to Fiordland, trapping and trading live eels and possum pelts for income and revisiting fishing grounds only once in every 10 years.

Others profiled include Tom Neale who lived alone on a tiny Pacific atoll for many years like a real life Robinson Crusoe, and Tim and Ngaire Te Aika who raised a family on Stewart Island at a time when it could take 9 hours to travel from their farm to reach the Mainland.

“Much of the time I found that the people I was interviewing simply wanted to stay out of the rat race,” says Gerard. “They wanted the satisfaction of fending for themselves, proving to themselves – if no one else – that they could do it.” “They’re inspiring stories, and a little bit cautionary too. It has lead me to reflect on my own life. I think a lot of people today are looking for ways to provide for ourselves, looking for ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. ”
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU1211/S00144/outsiders-stories-from-the-fringe-of-new-zealand-society.htm

“A Life On Gorge River: New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
by Robert Long (Random House New Zealand, 2010)
gorge river 1
Robert Long and his family – wife Catherine, and children Christan (17) and Robyn (14) – live in complete isolation, in a hut two days’ walk south of Haast in South Westland. Robert has lived there for nearly 30 years; Catherine for 20 and the kids all their lives. Their only contact with the outside world is a helicopter or plane once a month, and two trips a year to the ‘outside world. This is the story of how and why Robert – known locally as ‘Beansprout’ – came to live at Gorge River, and the family’s experiences there over the years, living self-sufficiently and forging close bonds with the natural environment. It is an inspiring tale of one man’s decision to ‘drop out’ of capitalist society and successfully establish a lifestyle most New Zealanders can’t even imagine, harking back to the days of the earliest pioneers.
http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/robert-long/a-life-on-gorge-river-new-zealands-remotest-family-9781869793302.aspx

“A Wife on Gorge River. Raising New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
By Catherine Stewart (Random House New Zealand, 2012)
gorge river 2
Life with New Zealand’s remotest family in a follow-on from the bestselling A Life on Gorge River by Robert Long. In 2010, New Zealand met its remotest family, through the writing of Robert Long aka Bean sprout and we were intrigued. Now Beansprout’s wife, Catherine Stewart, tells her story, and answers many of our questions. Why did she decide to join him on the wild West Coast, two days’ walk from the nearest road? Why and how did they raise their family there? Was it terrifying to be so far from medical help? How did she home-school the children? How have they all fared now the kids are young adults, forging their own way in the world? And what lessons are there for the rest of us from her experiences raising her family in such splendid isolation? In this entertaining bestseller, and with dry humour and fascinating insights, Catherine paints a vivid picture of her life at Gorge River and beyond.
http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Wife-on-Gorge-River-Catherine-Stewart/9781869799236

For Charles Douglas, see http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2d16/douglas-charles-edward and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Douglas and http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/research-on-charlie-douglas_10.html

For William O’Leary, see http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3o5/oleary-william and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James_O%27Leary

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