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Life, legacy and living well
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Life, legacy and living well
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Life, legacy and living well
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
17 March 2016

Life, legacy and living well

A good dose of hard work and the nourishment of Mother Nature keep 89-year-old George of Motuek living life to the fullest.

Written by Briar Hale

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

For someone who doesn’t get out much, George of Motueka sure knows how to live well. He never pops out to the supermarket and hasn’t been to the doctors in living memory, so you could be forgiven for thinking George’s life is somewhat constrained. But au contraire, George finds his wellness by working the land and enjoying the pleasures of home. At 89, George still works a full day on his farm, doing an impressive four-hour stint either side of his midday siesta. Health and vitality, as well as joy in his labours, make his old age a beautiful balance of keeping busy and slowing down.

A quick look across the valley at the organic farm George has kept for the last 60 years offers a glimpse of the rich cornucopia that provides all his nutritional and medicinal needs. He swears by stinging nettle tea and unafraid of a little pain, uses the nettle itself on his skin to alleviate joint pain. Following the same idea, he bee-keeps barehanded as the bee-stings offer respite from arthritis. George was hardly perturbed by being stung by a swarm a few years ago; although he became unconscious, he proved his point when he woke up with no pain. A big drum of walnut whisky is used as a medicinal tonic to clear mucous in the lungs. He eats raw garlic every day and seeks the sun – knowing the warmth and rays are best for his ageing body.

He’s feeling the cold a bit more now, and so splits his time between his farm on the northern tip of New Zealand’s Southern Isle, and the summer months in his homeland Macedonia. The rigour of hard work is his constant though; as a 14-year-old he was conscripted into the army to drive the German invasion north, then exiled from his homeland during the protracted Balkan unrest. He made his home in the furthest corner of the world, the South Island of New Zealand, after escaping the army through the Greek mountains and into Greece. George took with him just the shirt on his back, and a work ethic instilled from childhood: getting up before dawn and barefoot ploughing with oxen, before the 40-degree midday heat.

In the 1950s, he found himself some swampland, at the base of Mt Arthur, a renowned source of alpine water. It became his farm, his life’s work and is now where he spends the warmer months in New Zealand. Parts of the swamp he filled with local seashells and over time as they broke down, it became the rich lime and calcium substrate of his lush citrus orchard. The farm is still being utilised for a whole host of growing uses. Macedonian fig is his favourite fruit and to allow it to grow in the cooler South Island clime, he plants them beside packed tyres that hold and radiate the heat. His micro-climate nurtures other rare exotics, grown from Macedonian seeds brought back in his socks in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Getting old means that George is accommodating a slower, weaker body. He’s responsive to this by allowing a little more sleep and eating more gently, preparing simple foods, always in season. Aging for him is a slower, albeit rich season, and his connection to elders is seen in the portraits of Maori chiefs that adorn his sitting room wall. He sparks up at the mention of the local Indigenous people, deeply respectful of their natural rhythmic connection to the land. George worries about the loss of these rhythms and especially of practical skills by younger generations. “Doing things for yourself” is his philosophy on the importance of our connection to the seasons and rhythms of life, and the reward of self-sufficiency. He speaks of age-old cadences and living the liturgies of life, sun and moon.

In recent times, he took great pleasure in helping a grandson hand-graft 200 rare heritage apples in the orchard, ready for a cider venture. George wants to leave a legacy. He’s now repairing the old half broken stone house his father built in Macedonia and is hauling stones from the river himself. When it’s done, it’s his gift to his family, in the hopes that they will visit and treasure the place too.

He’s finding it tough now that he can’t work as long or hard, as he likes nothing better than a good day’s work. But George is not unaccepting of his slower pace and is not afraid of shuffling off this mortal coil. For now, he’s keeping to his wise rhythmic gestures and graceful slow rhythm. George at home is a picture of agrarian idyll – and hard work.

Briar Hale

Briar Hale is a teacher and writer based in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

All photographs by Samuel Kristofski

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