We found our way up here the very first day we walked the property. That was in 1919, just after Tom got back from the Great War. He hired a horse and gig to bring me out—I’m no horsewoman, and it was too far from town for me to bounce along behind his saddle—but we had to leave the horse to its own devices when we got to the boundary.
Every inch of flat land was swamp, and the patch of higher ground beyond it was choked with manuka scrub. A memorial to another man’s failure, it seemed. Whoever he was, he had burned the bush, trying to turn it into pasture, but the land defeated him. When the Long Depression persisted into the 1890s, he walked off the property and the bank took it for the mortgage. Tom was the first man since then to see any possibility in the place.
I was nervous of the swamp, all oily pools and black mud that sucked at my boots if I took an incautious step. But Tom picked out a path and coaxed me along, leading me by the hand. He scooped me up and carried me the last few yards. Perhaps that was a little improper in a couple not yet married, but no one was there to pass judgement.
‘All this mud, Tom,’ I said, eyeing the foul mess from my awkward perch. ‘Surely it’ll never grow crops?’
Tom was in higher spirits than I’d ever seen him. The land wasn’t dead under that stagnant water, he insisted, it was just asleep. All it needed was to be free to breathe.
‘See the colour of it. Look how rich it is.’ When I was safely on solid ground again, he snatched up a handful of the oozing black stuff and held it out for me to examine.
It smelt dreadful, and he couldn’t persuade me to touch it. But I saw it through his eyes—I saw that whole unlovely sprawl of land, and I believed him. I believed he could bring it to life.
Even the lowest of the manuka bushes reached my waist. Tom went ahead of me up the hill, snapping off branches and stamping down the weeds to make a path. Near the top I blundered into a patch of gorse, thoroughly snagging my skirt in the process. Tom’s hands were threaded with blood by the time he’d disentangled me.
The last of the scrub was above even Tom’s head. We pushed through it and emerged blinking into the light, here on the Pinnacle. The sun struck sparks from every pool of water below us, turning the swamp into a thing of beauty, and the horizon was so bright it hurt my eyes to look at it.