Amanda Giorgis

Christmas in the Mackenzie 1858


Freddie, Edmund and Benjamin had been reluctant to perform in front of their families for Christmas Day, but Clara Nicol was a strict teacher to the three boys and insisted that they learned their lines by heart.

Now eight years old it had been a case of muttering the words to themselves over and over, a line at a time, until they could say it all at once. At least it was a bit more interesting than the bible passages that Mrs Nicol usually gave them to learn. It didn’t matter that the words made little sense to them, it was just a case of learning by rote.

Freddie thought it was unfair that the girls, all of whom were younger, just had to do a dance while his mother played the old wooden piano which had been bought second-hand from a furniture dealer in Oamaru. His mother played beautifully, well at least Freddie thought so. He loved to listen to the music she played, especially if she sang along. Lately she had been playing their favourite Christmas carols in order to practice for the church service on Christmas morning. Why was it so much easier to remember the words to those carols than it was for some poem?

But he had better concentrate now. Standing upright in his Sunday best, with Ben and Ed either side of him, all full to the brim with a dinner of roast lamb and potatoes and a huge piece of steamed plum pudding, they would much have preferred to lie down and sleep. Especially as the sun streamed through the window into the parlour where everyone had gathered after their huge feast. 

The three boys, growing so tall and strong, brown as berries, began together, almost in unison :-

‘Lo, now is come the joyful’st feast!

Let every man be jolly,

Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,

And every post with holly.

Now all our neighbour’s chimneys smoke,

And Christmas blocks are burning;

Their ovens they with bak’t meats choke,

And all their spits are turning.

Without the door let sorrow lie,

And if, for cold, it hap to die,

We’ll bury it in a Christmas pye,

And evermore be merry.’

Their mothers listened in enrapt silence, Sophia wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. How proud she was of her son, and how much was he beginning to look like his father, George, these days?

Nancy, bouncing Adey Rose on her knee in time to the rhythm of the words, broke into a cheer at the end of the poem. 

James, Edmund and Samuel raised their ale-filled mugs in a toast to their families and a thank-you to Job and Clara Nicol who had joined them once their church duties were done.

The boys, reluctant to stand still more than was absolutely necessary, reached the last word of the last line and broke free, loosening their collars as they ran outside. The girls followed giggling to each other. And the grown ups were left to take another mug of ale and cut the madeira cake.

Kurow Museum

Sometimes, while I am doing some research, I come across a real gem. One such is the Kurow Museum where you will find an impressive display dedicated to Richie McCaw as well as lots of information about the history of the area. If you are driving between the Mackenzie and Oamaru on SH85 please don’t just pass through Kurow. Stop for a coffee at the excellent Wild Sage Cafe and cross the road to the Kurow Museum.

I will leave you to decide whether Kurow is a candidate for Marytown in The Wideawake Hat. All I will say is that a traveller may reach the wide Waitaki River as they go north and decide to go inland until a suitable crossing is found. One such place could be Kurow!

The book launch

Press release

A night to remember with Twizel’s very own author: Amanda Giorgis

On Wednesday 12th December, the people of the Mackenzie met the author of ‘The Wideawake Hat’ in The Musterers Hut Cafe in Twizel. Amanda lives in Twizel and indeed, has served many of us with coffees at the very same cafe. Who knew such a talent was waiting to reveal itself?

Amanda told us that she had been inspired by the awesome landscape, impressed by the tenacity and courage of the early settlers, who made their way here, and intrigued by the story of the enigmatic James Mackenzie. Was he a rogue or an honest Scot, destined to make his life in this new land?

The novel is a clever mix of fact and fiction and is set in the 1850s. It tells the story of how the early European settlers made their way to New Zealand and into the Mackenzie Basin to try to make a better life for themselves and their growing families. Of course, James Mackenzie makes an appearance and his story is woven into, and plays a vital part, in the lives and future of the Mackenzie people.

The evening was a huge success, people were enraptured by the story telling: books were signed and purchased and everyone had a great time.

‘The Wideawake Hat’, the perfect Christmas gift, can be purchased directly from and from The Twizel Bookshop and The Musterers Hut Cafe in Twizel.


What’s in the box!

Haldon Station

Tonight’s ‘Country Calendar’ on TVNZ1 showcased Haldon Station in the Mackenzie Basin, where fine merino sheep, beautiful beef cattle and skittish herds of deer are farmed.

I will not be drawn on the real or fictional location of Applecross Station, but suffice to say it cannot be all that far from Haldon and Grampian stations (both mentioned tonight), with the same stunningly beautiful views of the basin.

Have a watch of this episode – can you spot a Friday lookalike, perhaps?

Country Calendar