Topic: Anderson, Mona

Topic type:

Countrywoman and Author

Obituary:  Mona Anderson by Phoebe Falconer

 Author. Died aged 94.

The Wilberforce River in all its moods governed Mona Anderson's life for 33 years and was the inspiration for her best-seller "A River Rules My Life". Her introduction to the river came in 1940 when she arrived as the bride of Ron Anderson, manager of Mt Algidus Station. She had been looking after an aunt on the West Coast of the South Island when an old swaggie nicknamed John the Baptist called in for his regular cup of tea. He was taken with the young woman and surprised that she wasn't married. "I know of a man who needs a wife," he said, and gave her Ron Anderson's address. She first wrote to him as a joke, but when he replied she was impressed and the correspondence flourished. They met, fell in love, and married.

The 23,000ha Mt Algidus property lies in a fork between three rivers in the Canterbury high country. In the early 40s it was regarded as some of the wildest and roughest farming land in New Zealand. Access to the homestead, at 550m above sea level, was by horse or dray across the river, when water levels would allow. The young Mrs Anderson set about home-making with enthusiasm, energy and a good-sized sense of humour. "Before I was married I knew nothing about station life," she said. "I could have distinguished between a cow and a sheep and I could sometimes tell the difference between a lamb chop and a pork chop, but that was the limit of my experience, and I was determined to keep my ignorance to myself." She fed shearers and musterers, and established a garden which in that climate could flourish only during summer. She rescued stray animals which became her pets. Among them were hedgehogs, a kea and a muscovy drake. Communication with the outside world was difficult at best. A radio-telephone, installed in the 1950s, linked the station to the post office in Methven, and even when the station was sold in 1973, there was still no telephone line. Electricity was eventually provided by a diesel generator, and cooking was done on a wood-stove. Mrs Anderson quickly learned to keep a store of food and to order her groceries in bulk: a 90 pound chest of tea, a quarter of a ton of flour and sugar.

 Ill health led to a stay in hospital in the early 1960s, and the enforced idleness as well as homesickness led Mrs Anderson to resume her childhood hobby of writing. The writing paper soon ran out, so she continued making notes on the backs of get-well cards and flattened-out envelopes. When Ron came to take her home, she had a suitcase full of notes. Asked what she was going to do with "this rubbish", she replied: "That's not rubbish, that's my book". A River Rules My Life was published in 1963 and ran to nine editions and reprints.

A deep interest in the Mt Algidus Station then led Mrs Anderson to delve into its history, and she spent hours researching old letters and photos and jogging memories to produce her second book, The Good Logs of Algidus, in 1965. More books followed, including Over the River in 1966 and The Wonderful World at My Doorstep in 1968.

In 1973 western Canterbury was hit by the worst blizzard in 30 years. Seeking to learn how people in remote areas were coping with the conditions, the Herald managed to get a message to Mrs Anderson, asking her to report on how life had been disrupted in the high country. Once written, the problem was to get the story out. She explained: "My report left the station and went over the river by horse. "From the iron-store on the other side of the Wilberforce it travelled the next seven miles by tractor, then on to Lake Coleridge by 4WD vehicle. From Lake Coleridge to Darfield by private car ... from Darfield Post Office to Christchurch by the West Coast railcar ... then from Christchurch to Auckland by air. "So, although the story left here travelling on Duke [the station horse] at about one mile an hour, it gained speed as it travelled along."

The station was sold in 1973, and the Andersons moved to Darfield on the Canterbury Plains 45km west of Christchurch. A part-time job working behind the counter of a friend's bookshop inspired Mrs Anderson to try her hand at children's books. She based her stories on the animals and pets she had had at the station, and "The Water Joey" and "Home Is the High Country" were the successful results.

Mona Anderson was not a driven writer. "When writing becomes a chore I will give up. I only write when I feel like it," she once said.

Mona Tarling was born in Whitecliffs near Darfield in 1910. She and her two brothers went to the local primary school, where Mona was recognised as a scribbler and note-taker. She won several prizes for essays, including the then prestigious Lady Liverpool certificate for composition, which the little girl described as "ugly". Mona Anderson was awarded an MBE in 1979 for services to literature. Ron Anderson died in 1992. The couple had no children. 

Additional notes. Mona was the daughter of Alice Maud Holland b. 6 Jun 1887, d. 19 Feb 1974; m. 1908? William Tarling b. 17 Jan 1875, d. 17 Oct 1946. Her maternal grandparents were Frederick Holland, b. 1854, d. 4 Aug 1938; m. 26 Dec 1877 Margaret Wilson b. 1854/1855 d. 8 June 1888. Frederick was a cousin of Sir Sydney Holland, PM of New Zealand



Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Anderson, Mona

First Names:Mona
Last Name:Tarling
Date of Birth:11 March 1909 or 1910
Place of Birth:Whitecliffs, Canterbury
Date of Death:2004
Age at death:94
User Name:Selwyn Library