Making Sheep Country


Making Sheep Country: Mt Peel Station and the transformation of the tussock lands

First the squatter, then the runholder, after that the farmer… From the 1840s to the First World War, the South Island of New Zealand was transformed as runholders claimed large tracts of land, burned off the native vegetation and initiated large-scale sheep farming for wool and, later, meat production. In Making Sheep Country, Robert Peden focuses on one case study in particular, John Barton Acland and Mt Peel Station in South Canterbury, to explain how the pastoralists modified their environment. Taking us inside the world of the farmers - the sheep they bred, the rabbits and droughts and floods they fought, the fires they lit, the grass they grew, the risks they took - Peden offers a sweeping portrait of the economic and ecological transformation of New Zealand.

Making Sheep Country was published in May 2011 by Auckland University Press.

Making Sheep Country was jointly awarded the Ian Wards Prize for 2012 by the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ).

They awarded the prize:

in recognition of an outstanding piece of published writing which makes imaginative and constructive use of New Zealand archives and manuscripts.


Mike Crean, The Press, 9 July 2011:

It fearlessly but fairly tackles the myth of pastoralists as rash, ignorant, unprincipled and greedy.

Brad Patterson, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 10 (2011) pp. 201-4:

[Peden] exhibits a deep understanding of, and sympathy for, the South Island tussock lands and those who first settled them.

Vaughan Yarwood, New Zealand Geographer, 110 July/August 2011:

Peden’s account is vividly evocative.

John Horrocks, NZ Books – A Quarterly Review, Dec 2011:

[Peden] skilfully holds together a complex story of leases, land development, market collapses and the recurrent search for money to keep operations going.

Jim McAloon, Archifacts, October 2011 – April 2012:

This book is a significant contribution to New Zealand rural and environmental history.

Paul Starr, Australian Historical Studies, 43, 2012:

Chapter by chapter, Peden confronts the received account of pastoralist impact and questions its veracity.
…as a historical study … Making Sheep Country is entirely satisfying. It is a very clear, well-written description and analysis, sparing but sufficient in its detail of the principal case study, and appropriate in its selective sampling of data from other localities. Through its careful revisionism this book contributes significantly to New Zealand environmental history.

Jonathan West, Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network, November 2012:

Peden’s arguments are undisguised, and his narrative is driven by a sustained analysis and excellent harnessing of evidence.