Sun, Jul 9, 2023 9:46 AM

Chapter and Verse



The Marlborough Book Festival 2023 will be held from Thursday 20 July to Sunday 23 July.

This year sees 23 sessions with a range of  exciting author sessions. Penny Wardle reviews Bushline: A Memoir by Robbie Burton.

Robbie Burton will be appearing at the ASB Theatre on Saturday 22 July at 3.30pm.

Reading Robbie Burton’s “Bushline” is like being holed up in a hut listening to a series of yarns from a good friend, while waiting for floodwaters to subside.

The book recalls tramping and climbing adventures, conservation campaigns and warm relationships with family and friends. It also tells the story of the Nelson-based Potton & Burton, publisher of exquisite books that capture New Zealand’s wild and remote places.  It’s also published risky material, most notably by Nicky Hager including “Dirty Politics” which laid bare politicians’ tactics for smearing opponents.

The section I most enjoyed recalls Burton in his early 20s, traversing the Southern Alps in northern Fiordland ending at Mt Robert carpark in Nelson Lakes National Park. Bouts of exhaustion and self-doubt, slow hungry days in the drizzle, the danger of crossing flooded rivers and scrambling up slippery rocks are captured along with the comfort of cooking scones and reading at a basic hut.

“Through the simple privilege of spending so long in a mountain wilderness, I came to know the unadorned pleasure of feeling the daily rhythms slow down as the weeks gradually passed. I developed an ease and a belonging in these often harsh places, and my eyes became far keener to both the magnificence and the detail of what surrounded us.”

There are also descriptions of climbing including Aoraki and a visit to Antarctica with Craig Potton, to complete a book of photographs on the Dry Valleys. There they experienced temperatures so cold that camera gear malfunctioned and the sole focus became survival. The trip was aborted and they returned when the weather was a little warmer.

Witnessing the felling of swathes of native forest at Patarau on the west coast of Golden Bay led to Burton’s first job with the Native Forest Action Council in the 1970s and early 80s. He was a “bit-player in a conservation campaign of international significance, one which led to a complete turnaround in attitudes towards logging native forests ….”

One of six children raised by their mother who worked hard but relished fun, “Bushline” also celebrates the importance of family. After a lonely marriage which ended in his 40s, Rob met Susannah, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. Today they have two children, “without doubt the greatest joy I have known”.

This is a joyously uninhibited read – appreciative of family and friends, and passionate about the energy and pull of wild landscapes.

To buy tickets and to find out more about the full line up of authors and guest speakers visit

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