Mangaparua was one of the last areas in New Zealand to be opened up.
George Malder and his new bride, Catherine, take up a newly surveyed bush section in the back blocks between Raetihi and the Wanganui River. As a returned World War I soldier George won the right to create a farm with a government grant and the promise of further assistance. They endeavour to establish a home and turn the virgin bush into a productive sheep farm.
They are joined by other discharged soldiers, all of whom battle demons. The community bonds quickly, these friends made for life, accepting each person’s oddities.
Already damaged by the war George struggles to be the man society expects of him. He is stoic in the face of the adversity he experiences daily and he is optimistic in the extreme.
Catherine, bewildered by the isolation, finds strength in her faith in George. Of special consolation to her is Iris, Catherine’s sister-in-law and best friend.
Gender roles are firmly established when the first babies arrive; the men farm and the women keep the home fires burning. There are no options.
The isolation of the fledging settlement challenges them in ways they never expect as tragedy after tragedy unfolds. Omnipotent behind the personal stories is the struggle to turn the land into the farms that the government expect.
George wrestles with feelings of despair as he realises the inadequacy of his efforts. But George is reluctant to sever the ties he’s made with this land.
The book draws on events surrounding the ballot farm scheme in this beautiful back country. Nowhere, in the whole of New Zealand, could it have been so difficult to make a farm.