The Story of a Rural Family, 1927 - 2007
By Margaret M. Bowater, 2007
Jim Weatherly was a paradoxical man in many ways: the only child of an English professional couple, but founder of a large extended family on the opposite side of the world; a scholar of literature and classics, but a practical man who worked with his hands as a farmer and builder; a young man who read Homer’s Odyssey while he was living in a shepherd’s hut; and an old man who used to study the original Gospel in Greek before reading it aloud in English to a rural NZ congregation. Yet he never showed bitterness about his loss of higher education. There was no use railing against Fate.
"The moving finger writes and having writ / Moves on", he used to say, quoting one of his favourite poems, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
In June 1986, a year and a half before he died at 80, I interviewed him on tape about his life. His memory was still clear, his voice expressive, diction precise as ever. When I asked him whether he wished he could go back and change any of the decisions he had made he thought for a moment and gave a firm No. He spoke instead of his pride in the family he and Olive had raised. I think his happy childhood, his deep faith in God, and the grounding he had received at school in classical philosophy and virtues, made him resilient in face of the big disappointments in his life; he simply re-adjusted his goals to fit the new reality, and maintained an optimistic outlook.
When he first arrived in NZ in 1926 he began to keep a small notebook of items for reference. The following year he chose a mini-diary. In 1928 he was given a proper Farmer’s Diary as a present, with half a page allocated per day, in which he could keep a record of each day’s work. It served him as a resource for the letters he was writing back to family and friends in England. From then on he renewed it every year, filling each day’s space with neat handwriting which diminished in size according to the amount he wanted to fit on the page.
What follows is a tapestry of information about his life, woven together from interviews, books, letters, diaries, and my own experience of growing up as his eldest child. The main text from 1928 to 1987 is based on his Diaries, but once the pattern of his daily work has been described, I have omitted most of the routine detail. He and Olive worked long and hard to provide for their family and serve their community through much of the twentieth century.
My purpose in this is more than family history, or even the depiction of a self-sufficient rural New Zealand lifestyle through a large part of the twentieth century. It is also the story of how a well-educated, enterprising but penniless immigrant survived the Depression and the War years; the struggle to establish himself as a farmer and then as a carpenter-builder; his commitment to his wife and children, including a paraplegic child, his role as a hands-on father in raising his family, and the development of a pastoral faith. And ultimately it is a study of growth in character through the vicissitudes of a down-to-earth life.
No doubt New Zealand was built on the lives of many good people like Jim and Olive; but very few practical men kept a record of their work and home life every day for sixty years.
Margaret M. Bowater, 2008.
2 volumes, 240 A4 pages, spiral bound, b/w photos on most pages.
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