It is amazing what people hear over a cup of tea.

But it was over cups of tea that Catherine Kennedy realised her partner's uncle, David Ferington Russell, had a story worth telling.

It took Ms Kennedy about a year to convince the now 84-year-old Mr Russell to recount his life to her but, when he did, it was the story of a man who really could say he had been there and done that.

Now it's wrapped up in her book Making The Most Of It - memoir of a Kiwi battler.


She and her partner were regular visitors to David and Jeanette Russell's Bastia Hill home.

"It was over those cups of tea that I was hearing all these stories. It was fascinating stuff. I decided someone had to write them down. He resisted me for a year.

"But even when I went up for the first arranged interview and record him and got to the front door he didn't want to do it. Once I started I couldn't stop him."

Ms Kennedy spoke to him once a week for a year, recording the conversations in the morning and transcribing them later. She even completed a diploma in proof reading and editing to help her put the book together before getting it published in the United States.

Mr Russell's life was different to most.

Abandoned as a 2-year-old, he was put into an orphanage but was later adopted by Vivian Russell who was then living in Marton but shifted her family to Wanganui.

His growing years were spent hunting and tramping, and he developed an abiding interest in the Whanganui River and its hinterland as well as the Kaimanawas. After World War II, he was driving bulldozers to break in land in the Tokaanu and Rotorua areas before he returned to Wanganui.

Ms Kennedy describes Mr Russell as a latter-day Barry Crump, an outdoors bloke but also a raconteur who could - and usually did - turn his hand to everything.


Told by his brother he needed to spend more time with his young family, Mr Russell bought a jetboat and became the first person to run the Whanganui River from the city to Taumarunui.

"That created an interest in the river and he was soon taking the family up there camping," Ms Kennedy said.

The jetboat connection later saw local identity Rod Coleman contact Mr Russell to join him tackling the Caltex jetboat marathons in New Zealand.

They did well and later competed in those ground-breaking jetboat marathons in North and Central America as well as other places overseas.

He worked for the Colemans in their marine shop and later handled the national distribution of Suzuki product.

Then came hunting safaris in the Wanganui area, hosting international visitors and using his vast knowledge of the backcountry.

Ms Kennedy describes his story as inspirational, coming from a difficult background. "He's a fearless man who's had an amazing life." Ms Kennedy's unsure of how well the book will sell but says it includes stories that will appeal to everyone.

"But all of them are told with David's laconic, dry humour," she said.

The book was also a social history of lives between the wars and post-World War II, focusing on the Wanganui area.

"Most of this story is told using David's words. I've just knitted the story together. There's lessons to be learned, history, there's humour and he was a bit naughty at times but it's such a wonderful story and journey," she said.

Ms Kennedy has another book already written but put that aside to finish Mr Russell's story.

And there's another book "in the works" as well.

It is on sale locally at Paper Plus, Aramoho Mags and Lotto and Paige's Book Gallery and she's hoping it will be picked up further afield.

Making The Most Of It - memoir of a Kiwi battler retails for $49.95.