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Interview: Dick Tripp talks about The Hero From Nithdale Station


Dick Tripp was born on Nithdale Station in the south of New Zealand. He attended Cambridge University, where his father and grandfather had attended before him. He is on the Board of the family farm, now owned by one of his sons. He has written many books and considers it a privilege to honour his father and mother in this collection of true stories. He talks to NZ Booklovers about The Hero from Nithdale Station.


Tell us a little about the book.

The original title was Stories of My Father and Mother as we were only thinking of doing it for extended family and friends. 100 or perhaps 200 copies. The first half covers stories of Dad from Cambridge through to buying a rundown farm in Southland, and through the depression years, and making a great farm out of it.


He became one of the best known farmers in Southland. Also Mother’s upbringing on one of the largest sheep stations in New Zealand with 10 brothers and sisters and an eccentric father about whom some amusing stories are told. Some interesting stories of my paternal grandfather. The central section has some well chosen photos. The last half contains the stories of the First Commando Fiji Guerillas, which Dad set up and commanded in World War II, stories that explain why they were so much help to the Americans who awarded him the Silver Star, and the British the DSO for the same activity, which wasn’t normally allowed.


What inspired you to write tis book?

I was only 12 when Dad came back from the war and I didn’t really appreciate all that he, and the men under his command, had achieved. Dad didn’t speak much about the war unless he got together with his mates, but every so often, when we were together out on the farm or in the house, he would come out with a story, and I remembered them all. There was one occasion when I was a teenager and had the flu. Dad came in and sat by the bed cleaning his pistol, which had saved his life on a number of occasions. I got him to tell me all the events of the night on patrol when he had five narrow escapes, four of which I would regard as miraculous. One of these was being shot at point blank range and being saved by what was in his pocket. Immediately after this he spent a few hours walking through the Japanese camp in the early hours of the morning, pretending he was a Japanese.


There was an early book Pacific Commandos by Colin Larson, but it is well out of print now, but it did have a few inaccuracies. They were only 200-300 men and you won’t find the story in any detail in war histories. A war historian at Dunedin University said he would write a book on Dad, but I was disappointed he never did, as it was such a great story. I learnt more through attending several of the Commando Reunions after dad’s death.


I never dreamed that I would write anything when I was young. I have been diagnosed with Asbergers Syndrome in recent years and English was my worst subject. I wouldn’t write a letter unless I had to. However, I taught myself to type when a student and when I retired my wife dragged me into the computer world, which made it so much easier. As a result of my Christian ministry and numerous discussions about the purpose of life with parishioners over the years, I felt there was a need for booklets on the Christian faith and ended up publishing 20 booklets and 5 books, which proved very popular and can be read on my website and downloaded free from iTunes. So I had learnt to write some things! I would be useless with fiction as I don’t have the right kind of imagination. I deal in facts!


About three years ago I told a New Zealand diplomat, who had married into our extended family and had written a book on the Tripp Family, some stories about Dad and he encouraged me to write them down. So that started the process and with my wife’s help, who is good at such things as layout, proof reading and photos, we eventually published 100 copies of the first edition entitled Stories of My Father and Mother at Digital Print. A lady there suggested that it could possibly have a wider circulation.


I did a little research and was recommended to try Ray Curle of Wild Side Book Publishers. Ray was very taken with the combination of pioneering farming in Southland and then the war stories, both of which he said would appeal to Kiwis, and he offered to publish it. As the first edition would not have sold well in bookshops, his wife Janet designed a new cover and they gave it the new title. Since then it has been all go, and it has now been widely promoted through New Zealand bookshops, libraries, RSAs and churches, by Wild Side and Nationwide Book Distributors, promoted by Lighthouse, and marketed overseas by Ingram Spark.


What research was involved?

There was a book written about Mother's family on Glenaray Station, the early book on the Commandos, and a booklet Mother published on Dad. But much of it is just stories told me by Dad and others who knew him. I think it is the personal stories, some of which are quite amusing, and other quite dramatic, that make it so readable and reveal the unique couple they really were.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I am not musical and only listen to news on radio. I think my Aspergers makes me a little allergic to sound anyway. However, my wife, Sally, suggested Count Your Blessings, as it was Mother’s favourite hymn, and the Fijian song, Isa Lei, which was Dad’s favourite song. The Fijian treated him with the same respect they gave their senior chiefs, and on the evening they farewelled him they were on a hill overlooking Suva Bay and they formed two lines down the hill on either side and sang Isa Lei. One of my sons, who is very musical, sang it with his wife and guitar, at his funeral.


What did you enjoy the most about writing the book?

The chance to tell the stories about my parents because of what they meant to me and I think it is just a great story anyway. I felt I owed it to them and especially the Commandos.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

All the focus was on getting it published and promoted, but perhaps you could count the wonderful book launch we had in the Gore RSA, my parents home town, when, after the official speeches, and voluntary public stories, people sat around tables and told more stories till it was time to go. My daughter-in-law wrote notes and typed them out for me. There were a significant number there who had known either Father or Mother or both. They were certainly a unique couple.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I have been ploughing through Bill Brysons’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything and enjoying it very much, particularly the science, but I have just left it to read The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, deputy editor of New York magazine. It is a best seller in New York, London and on Amazon, the most comprehensive of many books I have read over the last two or three years and right up to date. Should definitely be read by all politicians!


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I can’t see me writing anything else unless I get inspired to write another booklet on the Christian faith. I have covered most major doctrines and their application. I am kept very busy giving support to my wife, walking the dog, and weeding old man’s beard and sycamores once a week. I like doing creative things, practice a little magic for personal entertaining when time permits, my favourite hobby, keep reasonably fit for 86 and am open to whatever turns up during the remaining years the Lord gives me.

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