Story of remote idealism has appeal

Clark Isaacs reviews A Life On Gorge River.

New Zealand's remotest family
Robert LongRandom, $39.99, pbk

One month into his third year studying medicine, Robert Long left university.

In January 1981 the young man arrived at Gorge River in remote South Westland, where until this very day he has continued to live in harmony with the wilderness.

This book is subtitled "New Zealand's Remotest Family", for later Long married.

His wife, Catherine, gave birth to daughter Robin and son Christan, who, although returning every so often to their parents' humble home at Gorge River, have broken free to experience life in the hurly-burly of the outside world.

Long's account of his varied experiences as an inhabitant of one of the wildest and most isolated areas of New Zealand will surely appeal to readers attracted by the example of a man who has chosen to cut himself off from the comforts of urban living.

The author, however, is no hermit who shuns human society.

From his earliest days in the wild, he has enjoyed the company of his fellow man; and today the frequent comings and goings of visitors to his and his wife's snug abode, as well as his own frequent visits to the outside world, amply demonstrate that he enjoys companionship.

It is obvious that Long kept a diary that allowed detailed documentation of his doings.

The record of his various feats of athleticisim in challenging territory, dangerous undertakings, and of his impressive skills as a practical workman, command one's attention.

But detailed recording of his many journeys becomes monotonous.

Long is a man who aspires to be at one with nature.

But his prose style is often stilted and descends into bathos.


"I never actually feel totally alone since the spirit of creation fills my being and is my constant companion. The vast vistas that I daily gaze across give me strength and perseverance."

And: "During their peak these days seem invincible."

And: "The sense of belonging and being alive is a delight."

And: "What a magnificent day. The view from here never ceases to amaze me."

But Long, fisherman, pounamu carver, scenic painter, tamer of wild territory, husband and father, obviously is a talented man.

This account of his idealism and of his achievements will surely appeal to many readers - sometimes ill at ease with the confines of urbanity.

The book contains 19 photographs.

Clarke Isaacs is a former chief of staff of the Otago Daily Times.


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