A new book traces the history of sport in New Zealand.
A new book traces the history of sport in New Zealand.
Editor Michael Barrett refers to Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City.—a compendium of projects by landscape architects Isthmus Group—as a “mix-tape”. And at one level it is. The 25 projects, mostly designed over the past decade, are loosely grouped according to the categories in the book’s title. Geographically, they range from the Mokihinui Gorge in the South Island to the Puketoi Range east of Dannevirke; and from Wellington’s Oriental Bay to Achilles Point in Auckland. The type of project is equally varied: from pathfinding a 200-kilometre transmission line route to marshalling evidence against a proposed new power-generation dam; and from designing a coastal walkway on the rim of the storm-swept Tasman Sea to seeding a new suburb on Auckland’s upper harbour. What rescues Coast from being a 450-page CV—albeit a beautifully designed and presented one—is the attention it gives to the philosophical underpinnings of the projects. In doing so, it becomes a meditation on how, as New Zealanders, we might best interact with the land, and through the built environment express and reinforce our sense of identity and community. It encourages, in Barrett’s words, “deep thinking about the nature of place”. Formed in 1988 by four graduates fresh out of Lincoln University, Isthmus Group from the outset challenged the status quo. Not everyone was impressed. The New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects fretted about the potential damage to what was still a young profession, and dashed off a letter suggesting that they cease practice and find work elsewhere. As Jacky Bowring of Lincoln University says in an introductory essay, intervening in the landscape is not something to be undertaken lightly, and nor should it be done reflexively. “As we are bombarded by the global flow of ideas through the internet, films and television, it becomes easy to mimic the look of other places. Pinterest boards become a mélange of placeless, cool things to be applied anywhere,” she writes. But nor should design succumb to a cloying and sentimental localism, which cynically appropriates and commodifies the characteristics of a region and sells it back to the people who live there. Coast testifies to the tightrope Isthmus walks, taking the best from international practice and incorporating it in design thinking that is sensitive to the natural, social and historical specifics of a site. Bowring offers a name for the process—Critical Regionalism. Allied to this is a desire to undercut the dominance of visual culture which, Bowring suggests, floods the world with seductive images of disembodied “perfect” places. By constructing pathways, structures and environments that expose people to the tang of a salt marsh, the full fury of a Tasman gale, or the vertiginous thrust of a cantilevered viewing platform, designers can accentuate the truly local. Transpower’s project to build a new 400-kilovolt transmission line from Whakamaru, north of Taupō, to Auckland presented unique challenges. The line, intended to assure security of supply to the country’s largest city, and to tap growing electricity generation from renewable sources in the central and lower North Island, involved figuring out the best way of placing 426 towering pylons and monopoles on a route stretching almost 200 kilometres. Isthmus was under no illusions that it could win the thanks of property owners anywhere along that route. Coast reminds us that the Dutch eventually came to terms with similar intrusions of technology (windmills) in their own landscape, thanks in part to sympathetic depictions on canvas by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others. But short of employing the Icelandic proposal of transforming power pylons into monumental striding figures of lattice and wire, art was unlikely this time to come to anyone’s aid. The 60–70-metre-high pylons were always going to be problematic. What Isthmus did do, was determine a path of least impact, then devise a scheme for planting trees at a distance to block the most contentious lines of sight. In all, 17,000 trees were planted on some 440 properties—an approach said to be a world first. Hobsonville Point in Auckland illustrates an entirely different design problem. How do you turn the site of an old disused seaplane base into a model 167-hectare suburb—one that will help mitigate the city’s housing shortage while meeting a range of social and environmental goals? Surprisingly, among the places Isthmus turned to for inspiration were the country’s Victorian and Edwardian suburbs. These suburbs were dense, with an average of 30–35 dwellings per hectare; they were “fine-grained”, with houses of differing size and type, varied streetscapes, and an admixture of commercial and sometimes industrial buildings; and they were “complete”, accommodating a wide cross section of society, and offering a range of amenities. Hobsonville Point attempts to mimic all this, by paying attention to the things that build community, such as locating schools, shops, bus routes and cycleways in manner that reduces reliance on the car, constructing open spaces that offer children “safe” freedom, introducing narrow carriageways that encourage slow traffic, creating a mosaic of house types, and producing building and landscape designs that dissolve the boundary between public and private, house and street. Hobsonville Point is a response to a housing shortage, but it is also the result of an enquiry into what makes successful suburbs appealing to live in. And here, as elsewhere, so much comes back to the land. “Land needs to breathe, to be given space to exist,” says Isthmus co-founder David Irwin. “If we tread lightly and pay respect, we allow room for other things to happen.”
Te Papa Press' publicist Elizabeth Heritage must have been cursing the richness of New Zealand’s fish fauna as she carried the 2000- page, four-volume, 11-kilogram back-breaker The Fishes of New Zealand up the six flights of stairs leading to New Zealand Geographic’s Britomart loft. The four-volume title catalogues all 1262 of New Zealand’s described fish species—only the second descriptive catalogue of our fish fauna. The first was compiled by Frederick Hutton and James Hector in 1872 and ran to just 148 (mostly coastal) species. This fact alone indicates the extraordinary scientific effort conducted in Aotearoa’s aquatic realm over the intervening 143 years. And yet it’s not complete, and will probably never be complete. For the sake of practicality, the cut-off date for inclusion in the book was June 2013, and since then, at least 14 new species have been discovered, while more than half of our four million-square-kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone remains unsampled. So this is a mile- stone, a summary of our knowledge to date from the minds of 44 specialist authors and generations of scientists. Together they surveyed the fish spectrum, from writhing hagfish to dainty triplefins, basking sharks to blobfish, cut-throat eels to sunfish—a myriad of bizarre body plans and bewildering life cycles. They were hauled out of swamps and scooped into sampling sleds in the abyssal deep, and many of these first holotypes are under the scientific gaze still, preserved in formaldehyde or printed in one of these volumes, with diagrams, distribution maps and biological notes, for the next generation of scientists eager to explore the remaining half of our liquid realm.
David Cameron's visit to Jamaica in September—the first by a British prime minister for 14 years—was intended, as he put it, to “reinvigorate” ties between the two countries. However, almost immediately on arrival, he was confronted with calls for slavery reparations. It remains a contentious issue in the Caribbean, where 98 percent of the population are said to be descended from victims of the slave trade. Cameron declined to apologise to campaigners or promise financial amends, preferring, as he said, to “move on from this painful legacy”. He did, though, remind his listeners of Britain’s role in wiping the scourge of slavery from the face of the Earth. That has been the prevailing attitude towards slavery in colonial New Zealand; that thanks to the tireless work of Protestant missionaries, supported by enlightened colonial administrators, Māori were gradually weaned off the barbaric practice of slavery and raised to something approaching a state of civilisation. But were they? And if so, was it thanks to the evangelical labours of missionaries? At a more fundamental level, is it even useful to see Māori social and economic organisation through the lens of the transatlantic slave trade? Historian Hazel Petrie is inclined to answer all three questions in the nega-tive. Her reasoning is set out in Outcasts of the Gods? The Struggle over Slavery in Māori New Zealand. In 1836, the missionary William Yate told a House of Commons select committee that about half of the Māori population in northern New Zealand were slaves, but that in the South Island it was more like one in 10. Samuel Hinds, who had never set foot in the country, told an 1838 select committee that by his estimate, 90 per cent of the population were enslaved. Whatever the true figures, the numbers alone are misleading, argues Petrie. The intertribal warfare of the early 19th century was transformed by the musket, and to buy these, tribes grew crops and produced trade goods in quantities that required the labour of captives. The possession of muskets, in turn, enabled capture on an unprecedented scale. Something of an aber- ration, this social dynamic was at its height in the 1820s when missionaries were becoming active and European mariners were making increasingly frequent visits. Their observa- tions, misunderstandings and calculated manipulations created a slave narrative that both simplified and distorted the Māori reality. In another quirk of timing, the international trade that Māori had earlier exploited began to change soon after. The market for hemp, which was laboriously prepared from flax, was eclipsed by a trade in timber that required fewer workers. And the increasing use of metal tools in agriculture further reduced labour. As a consequence, and quite independently of the Christian message of salvation, many captives were set free, first by Ngāpuhi, then by Ngāi Tahu and others. Indeed, Petrie argues that war-fatigued Māori may have even seized on Christianity as an excuse to lay down their weapons. They certainly found creative ways to skirt their own cultural precepts when relationships with Pākehā were put at risk. Britain banned the slave trade in 1807 and in 1833 emancipated its enslaved people with a state-sponsored payout of an unprecedented size—ironically, the money went not to the slaves but to British slave owners, to compensate them for “loss of human property”. The abolitionists’ view of slavery in New Zealand was coloured by the African experience—and not merely figuratively. Northern hemisphere slavery was racially defined and its modus operandi was clearly defined, unrelenting and often brutal forced labour. As Petrie explains, slavery among Māori was far more nuanced. Some slaves were taken as wives by rangatira. Others, when offered release from servitude, pleaded tearfully to be allowed to remain where they were, such were the bonds of attachment to their new masters. Yet others, through loss of mana, feared that the old life was forever closed to them. And rangatira everywhere testified that it was beyond their powers to compel anyone to work for them. Even a definition was hard to come by. Depending on the situation, war captives, criminals and refugees all took on the semblance of slaves. There were tales of unspeakable cruelty; of a slave being fed to guests or killed as a proxy in a revenge attack. Some witnesses testified to the mild nature of Māori slavery. The Methodist missionary Thomas Buddle, for example, declared of war captives: “It was not reduced to system. No grinding labour was exacted. They were not treated with cruelty.” Nor were they shut out of the afterlife. According to Māori belief, when a person died, their left eye became a star. “The brightest stars may have been those of the great, but war captives still shone in the sky,” writes Petrie. “Albeit more dimly.” While Outcasts doesn’t claim to have the whole truth about slavery—“there will always be limits on our understanding of the past,” says Petrie—it is a welcome corrective for anyone still tempted to use a template cut from the transatlantic slave trade on early colonial New Zealand.
Geoff Chapple is no stranger to the country’s topography. He spent more time than he probably cares to remember finding a route for what would become the 3000-kilometre-long Te Araroa hiking trail—a grand traverse of New Zealand that wends from Cape Reinga to Bluff through an interconnected series of shorter tracks and walkways. Seven days into a trek across the Richmond Range in Marlborough, Chapple caught sight of spectacular rust-red hills “glowing like a sunrise”. Informed by a geologist that they were “seabed rock that lay on the land like a wrecked ship”, he decided to find out more. In fact, that Richmond encounter sparked a larger enterprise, of which Terrain is the tangible result. Subtitled ‘travels through a deep landscape’, the book is the record of what Chapple calls his “year of geology”— a 12-month dance with Te Araroa in the company of an articulate medley of ‘rock’ people, a jeweller here, a sculptor there, and almost everywhere the interpretive sonority of geologists. Chapple’s earlier published guide to walking Te Araroa looked outward, at vegetation, landscape, the built environment. Terrain largely directs its metaphoric gaze downward and back, picturing the work of geological agents over unimaginably vast stretches of time. The narrative begins at Cape Reinga, on what Chapple calls “old oceanic floor”, and immediately geology is to the fore. A gravel path from the lighthouse is identified as red chert, trucked from a quarry on Karamuramu Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Flagstones are traced to a limestone quarry near Whangarei. Boulders in a rock wall are identified as gabbro, dolerite, and basalt, probably from Kaitaia. The point being that geology is everywhere. It is the stuff with which we shape our world. But it is also a thing of unimaginable power, size and duration. Chapple’s bigger purpose is to peel back the veil of familiarity and, with the help of some of the country’s leading geologists, report what is really going on beneath our feet. Two broad themes emerge: Scientific theory is in a constant state of becoming, and we are living on the back of something that has a frightening capacity for destruction and a capricious disposition. James Hector, the first director of the New Zealand Geological Survey, was blind to Northland’s allochthon—a vast, distantly formed intrusion of rock that began moving in 23 million years ago—because the evidence didn’t mesh with what he had been taught. An older stratum of rock appeared to sit above a younger one, but he simply left the offending layer out of his 1877 report and got on with the job of mapping coalfields. Northland’s low topography, vegetation and relentless weathering had made a mess of the clues and discouraged theoretical leaps. The allochthon was not conclusively acknowledged until the 1980s. The conceptual struggle was reprised further south as the long-cherished notion of the New Zealand geosyncline came under threat from an upstart theory of terranes. A terrane is a fragment of crustal material that has broken from one tectonic plate and attached itself to another with an entirely different geological history. Again, the new understanding was slow to supplant the old, partly because, as Chapple says, terranes couldn’t just be talked into existence, they had to be painstakingly “proved” through fieldwork. Science is also steadily recalibrating the ways in which we might meet our end. These include the Wellington Fault, a major rupture of which is estimated to occur roughly every thousand years so that, in the words of geologist John Begg, “one generation in 20 has to pick up the pieces”. Less well known is the Plate Interface Fault, 25 kilometres under the capital, which appears to be locked—and accumulating strain. What happens if and when that coiled spring releases is anybody’s guess. Then there are the volcanoes. Auckland sprawls above a 50-kilometre-wide hotspot roughly aligned with the city’s volcanic field. But the Taupo Volcanic Zone is in another league entirely. Mangakino darkened the skies and chilled the air for distant Homo erectus a million years ago. Okataina did the same for Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis 62,000 years ago. And British volcanologist George Walker calculated that Taupo’s biggest eruption, 25,500 years ago, pushed 530 cubic kilometres of magma into the sky. With the current odds of a rhyolitic eruption in the Taupo zone in any one year at just 900 to one, a question arises: When do you give a warning? After an earthquake swarm? A rise in lake level? And when do you give the all-clear to return? “Whenever scientists talk about giving warnings about this or that, have at the back of your mind, what are they warning against,” geologist Colin Wilson tells Chapple. After the first Christchurch earthquake, people were told the largest aftershocks would be about a magnitude smaller. No one said: it will be channelled on to another fault that will rip Christchurch apart with one of the highest peak ground accelerations ever recorded. “That is what’s missing from the whole hazards and warnings thing. A real appreciation of the cussedness of Mother Nature,” says Wilson. Terrain may lack an index, take anecdotal diversions that are not always relevant and, unavoidably, deliver explanations that require concentration, but Chapple is not short on arresting ideas.
“The first thing we need to change in the way we talk about the ‘man drought’ is to listen,” writes Hannah August. “The most recent population estimates, from March 2015, put the number of ‘extra’ women [in the 25-49 age group] at 52,920—roughly the same as the entire student bodies at the universities of Auckland and Otago, combined. Much of the existing characterisation of the ‘man drought’ overlooks the diversity of women’s responses to it, and the way some of these responses challenge the cultural norms perpetuated in most of the mainstream media. Both mainstream media and academic articles that consider ways women might change their behaviour in order to find a male partner miss the point: the whole premise of the ‘man drought’ is that, statistically speaking, a proportion of women will simply be unable to do so.”
“Mountaineers climb in pursuit of relaxation, emotional and spiritual refreshment, and the sense of achievement gained from reaching a summit. Though the activity of mountaineering is not always pleasant and is often dangerous, mountaineers climb for pleasure and to achieve self-realisation. These are different satisfactions from those sought by people who enter the mountains to find a new pass, discover gold, or admire scenery.”
Predictions of the West’s decline are nothing new. Mindful of how the mighty Roman Empire had imploded, observers on both sides of the Atlantic have long watched for cracks in their own cultural enterprise. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, first published in 1918 was, however, the first book to systematically investigate why civilisations collapsed. More recently, in Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond explained the historical dominance of Eurasia largely in terms of ecology. For Diamond, the West owed its rise not to inherent superiority but to the distribution of plants and animals and other accidents of nature. Diamond was followed by Ian Morris, whose magisterial Why the West Rules—For Now, elevated the importance of geography. ‘Chaps’ are essentially the same the world over, argued Morris. Which just leaves us with ‘maps’ to make sense of history. Jim Penman will have none of it. His new book, Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West, proposes a new key to understanding the rise and fall of civilisations: temperament. The notion that economic and political systems reflect the prevailing temperament is not original; what Biohistory introduces is the idea that different temperaments have a biological basis—one that changes over time, defining our culture and determining our identity. “Biohistory takes issue with the idea that differences between peoples can be explained by genetics, such as the idea that Europeans and East Asians are more intelligent,” says Penman. Genetically, humans are very similar, he says. What makes the difference is the way in which genes are switched on or off by the environment. “These epigenetic differences can make people more or less hard-working, rigidly dogmatic or open to change, peaceful or violent, timid or forceful, honest or corrupt, accepting or rejecting of brutal authority, and much more.” Drawing on studies of animals, including baboons and gibbons, Biohistory shows that, among other things, food restriction lowers testosterone, reducing sociability and improving learning and the drive to explore. Importantly, it also makes people capable of impersonal loyalties, and this is profoundly important—large societies will be more stable if people are loyal to institutions (such as banks) and distant rulers they have no kinship ties to. Successful societies are those that are able to mimic the effects of food restriction, even in times of abundance, says Penman. And one of the most effective tools for doing that is religion, with its emphasis on chastity, fasting and discipline. “Scientists such as Richard Dawkins preach that religion is the outdated superstition of another age, without value or purpose in civilised times. But a better understanding of the science indicates that religion is the essential driving force behind human civilisation, which would not be possible without it,” says Penman. “Religious teachings not only help people to cooperate better in large groups, they create the very temperament that is needed if civilisation is to flourish. That is why the decline of religion is a danger sign for any society.” But food shortage alone is not the full story. Dangerous environments in which food supplies are highly variable trigger further adaptive behaviour that proves useful to civilisation—chief among them aggression and a high degree of organisation. Penman claims that biohistory is the first explanation for the rise and fall of civilisations able to be scientifically tested. However, the twists and turns needed to fit theory to historical events is not always convincing. According to Penman, World War I was largely caused by a surge of testosterone across a highly patriarchal Europe, combined with the transmission of anxiety from mothers to sons. In support of this, he quotes Ernst Junger, whose Storm of Steel famously elevated war into a mystical experience. Buy why Junger and not fellow German Erich Maria Remarque’s harrowing All Quiet on the Western Front? Or any of the English war poets… all of whom have a contrary take on the meaning of war. World War II produced another generation of “stressed infants” growing up in peace time, says Penman, and he is obliged to find their aggression both in the Vietnam War and in the “massive and often aggressive student protests” (calling them largely peaceful anti-war protests would not serve his purpose). Similarly, he views Tiananmen Square largely as “a further surge of student unrest”, rather than as an impulse toward democracy. Economic and religious decline, a growing gap between rich and poor, disillusionment with politics, increasing obesity and infertility, and a loss of national identity all suggest to Penman that the West is in terminal collapse. The remedy? Perhaps, says Penman, individuals could take a “supplement” to reactivate the triggers of civilisation that no longer work. There is no doubting Penman’s seriousness of purpose, and Biohistory does offer valuable insights into human behaviour. But attempts to present it as a unified field theory of history inevitably weaken the argument. And the appeal to eugenics will, for some, make it a bitter pill to swallow.
(New Edition) Geoff Norman, Te Papa, $59.99
Shortly after the February 2011 earthquake brought down Christchurch Cathedral’s bell tower, staff member the Rev Craig Dixon came across a brief mention of Shigeru Ban in a magazine. The Japanese architect was making a name for himself building temporary emergency structures out of unlikely materials. Among his works: a church for quake-damaged Kobe which, said the magazine, was significant not because it was quick to build, but because “its beauty among the wreckage was a sign of hope, and brought the community together”. Dixon approached Ban for help in designing a stand-in Anglican cathedral for Christchurch, and the architect immediately offered his services at no cost. The result was a six-storey structure of exquisite lightness, fashioned largely from industrial-strength paper tubes, shipping containers and translucent polycarbonate sheets. It is undoubtedly true, as Andrew Barrie suggests in Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral, that Ban is one of the biggest names in international architecture ever to work in New Zealand (this year, he received the most prestigious award in architecture, the Pritzker Prize). More importantly, as Barrie also claims, the cardboard cathedral is likely to gain global recognition as one of this country’s most architecturally significant buildings. “The old cathedral was an essentially European building; the new one is essentially Pacific,” notes architect David Mitchell in the book’s afterword. “Some day we might see the Cardboard Cathedral as an architectural lighthouse, and thank Shigeru Ban for pointing us away from one past and into another.” Published on the first anniversary of its opening, the beautifully produced Cardboard Cathedral is a fitting celebration of this symbol of Christchurch’s rebirth.
The Celebrated New Zealand botanist Leonard Cockayne was one of the first to preach the benefits of swinging a boot in the Great Outdoors. “Mountains are the noblest recreation ground, the finest school for physical and moral training, a source of perfect health to those who visit them, and the place of all places for enlarging our minds by the study of nature in Nature’s greatest laboratory", he wrote in 1900. More than a century on, few would deny the reality of what might be called ‘the wilderness dividend’. Or of New Zealand’s unrivalled qualities as a trampers’ paradise. It has spectacular scenery, the world’s best hut and track network, easy access, an absence of dangerous wildlife, and no population pressure. And, unlike the European Alps or the Himalayas, New Zealand’s mountains have no inns and few alpine settlements. This, along with a challenging topography and unpredictable weather, forces a defining self-reliance. That list is courtesy of Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean, whose book Tramping: A New Zealand History charts the evolution of backcountry recreation. Drawing on personal experience, published accounts, notebooks and the photographs and recollections of fellow enthusiasts, Barnett and Maclean trace our growing love affair with wild New Zealand, beginning with the adventurous treks of the Anglican missionary William Colenso in the 1840s and culminating in the opening in 2011 of Te Araroa, a 3000-kilometre walking trail that stretches from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It was inevitable, in such a young country, that missionaries, explorers, surveyors and fortune-hunters would kick off the whole enterprise by “walking with a purpose”— to borrow one of Tramping’s section headings. Among the best of them were the indomitable Charlie Douglas, whose knowledge of Westland was unsurpassed, and fellow explorer Arthur Harper. Both found time for fun—Douglas recording his pleasure at climbing an outlier of Mt Ragan in socks (his boots were not up to the job) and naming the prominence Stocking Peak, Harper noting the satisfaction both men got when, delayed by fog, they passed the time by dislodging large boulders and sending them crashing down the slopes. Pioneer Work in the Alps of New Zealand, Harper’s 1896 account of his exploits with Douglas, is considered the country’s first tramping book. Many 20th-century trampers—prime ministers and labourers alike—saw themselves as successors to the early settlers: individuals as competent and at ease in the bush and mountains as they were at the beach. But it was nevertheless some time before tramping as a leisure pursuit was widely accepted. Perhaps this had to do with its apparent aimlessness, compared with activities such as exploring or hunting. Undoubtedly, it was also due to the appearance of the trampers themselves. As Tararua Tramping Club’s Tony Nolan wryly noted, “their hobnail boots clattered and struck up sparks from the pavements, while their waterproof ‘slickers’ stank of linseed oil and stale woodsmoke... Tramping men were disdained as members of ‘The Great Unwashed’, while females were viewed with open suspicion, snubbed and given a wide berth on public transport.” In the 1950s and 60s, tramping entered a golden age, reflected in the writings of John Pascoe, Geoffrey Orbell and the Dunedin publisher Alfred Reed, whose walking tours on “Maoriland byways” were related in a series of popular books. The number of national parks quickly grew from four to 10 within a few years of the passing of the National Parks Act (1952), and the New Zealand Forest Service entered the game in 1954 with the first of many State Forest Parks—Tararua. During these years, access to the wilderness became more affordable and the government embarked on a massive programme of hut building, track cutting and footbridge construction. In 1960 alone, the Forest Service built an average of one backcountry hut a week, for the use of both deer cullers and trampers. Between 1957 and 1972, it chalked up 680 huts and shelters, 166 footbridges and cableways, and 4000 kilometres of tramping tracks. Such was the success of all this activity that purists began to call for restraint, warning that the wildness of remote New Zealand was being tamed by over-development. The answer to what the New Zealand Alpine Journal called “the imperceptible whittling away of solitude” was the creation of ‘Wilderness Areas’, places free of huts and other amenities, without tracks or bridges or even the possibility of a helicopter drop. Today, we have what the Americans call a ‘Recreation Opportunity Spectrum’— choices for experiencing the backcountry tailored to every need and ability, from fully formed paths to unmarked mountain routes. Cockayne’s noble recreation ground, great laboratory and training school has never been more accessible—or, given our increasingly urban and sedentary lives, more necessary.
“Toys are the products of the society that makes them,” writes David Veart. “The traditional toys of my childhood—trains, trucks, cars and soldiers, dolls, dolls’ houses and play kitchens reflected a time when gender roles were more rigid and facilitated the acting out of the grown-up worlds of motherhood, work and warfare. Today... the worlds of play are infinite.” Hello Girls and Boys traces the greatest hits of New Zealand playthings, from early Māori kites, stilts, knucklebones and bullroarers through to toys made in local factories or imported in bulk. Running alongside this tour of childhoods past is the question of what each of these objects revealed about the people who made and played with them.
When James Cook rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific aboard Endeavour in January 1769, his first job was a scientific one—to observe the transit of Venus. But Cook was also under Admiralty instructions to search for a long-suspected southern continent—Terra Australis Incognita. In 1770, having spent six months charting the coast of New Zealand, Cook sailed west, convinced that it was not part of the continent he was looking for. Geologists Nick Mortimer and Hamish Campbell think he was mistaken, and they have written Zealandia: Our Continent Revealed to prove it. The great explorer failed, they say, because Terra Australis Incognita lay under Endeavour’s hull. “Imagine a typical continent with seemingly endless land in all directions. There are broad valleys and uplands, wide-open vistas across undulating plains and upstanding mountain ranges far in the distance... And there may be canyons, valleys, gorges, large depressions and basins. Now imagine this same continent under the sea, and largely drowned.” That, say Mortimer and Campbell, is Zealandia. The landmass of New Zealand straddles its centre and, away to the north, New Caledonia marks its visible tropical extreme. But, unlike Earth’s other six continents, most of Zealandia—95 per cent to be precise—lies beneath the water. A great deal of investigative work, using an array of scientific tools and centuries of accumulated knowledge, has been required to understand and map it. The most fundamental prerequisite, say the authors, is to understand—in terms of geology as opposed to geography—what makes a continent a continent. This hinges on its thickness, the rocks involved and, where it is below sea level, the depth at which it lies. Oceanic crust is largely composed of basalt, produced by undersea volcanoes. The thicker continental crust, by contrast, is more varied and includes granite, rhyolite, schist and greywacke. These rocks are less dense than basalt, and float higher on the soft part of the Earth’s mantle (the asthenosphere) than oceanic crust does. Marine geology and geophysics have been key in outlining the extent of Zealandia. Scientists have retrieved continental rocks far out at sea, measured the crust’s thickness and used bathymetry to trace where the edge of the continental slope meets the abyssal plain. A great advantage of this geological approach to mapping Zealandia is that its size and shape are not affected by changing sea level. The extent of Zealandia—and for that matter, of Africa, Australia and the rest—remains constant, come ice age or high water. Nevertheless, Mortimer and Campbell vividly picture how the newly discovered continent would have looked to Kupe and Cook if the waters of the Pacific had obligingly dropped to expose its full extent. It measures 4000 kilometres in length and is 17 times the area of present-day New Zealand. When mapped, it resembles a tilted and much enlarged Britain, with New Zealand as a mountain chain running through its waist and New Caledonia—serendipitously, given its name overlaying Scotland. A river system drains southeast beneath what the authors label the Chatham Peninsula, and another river, longer than the Colorado, runs north. Surprisingly, Charles Hursthouse, an early colonist, foreshadowed all this in his 1857 book New Zealand or Zealandia, the Britain of the South. Hursthouse was no scientist. He wrote before systematic geological surveys had begun, and largely to advance the cause of settlement. Yet he penned these astonishing words: “The geology of New Zealand adopts the theory that New Zealand is but a part of a great continent which has been submerged...”. A century and a half later, a United Nations commission accepted New Zealand’s claim to an extended 5.857-million-squarekilometre continental shelf. By then, the name Zealandia was increasingly being used—after the example of American geoscientist Bruce Luyendyk in 1995—to describe the continental crust on which New Zealand sits. All well and good, but why does any of this matter? Because, say Mortimer and Campbell, the shift from “islands” to “continent” has massive implications in terms of both natural resources and national identity. “Whether we care to admit it or not, what makes or breaks nations and allows them to celebrate, preserve and promote their culture and environment instead of simply surviving off them is largely to do with access to resources... Zealandia is of continental proportions and hence its potential energy and mineral resources are of continental proportions.” Perhaps, then, it is time for us to get better acquainted not just with the Chatham Rise, but with the vast expanses of the Campbell Plateau, the Lord Howe Rise and the Challenger Plateau. All we lack to profit from them are environmentally acceptable techniques and extraction technologies we can afford.
On a late spring morning in 1868, Henry Brett rushed down to Auckland’s Queen Street Wharf, where he quickly hired a waterman to row him out to the steamer Lord Ashley, newly arrived from the East Coast. Brett, the New Zealand Herald’s shipping reporter, had a formidable reputation for gathering newspapers and reports from such newcomers—“skinning the ship”, it was called—and getting news of distant happenings into print faster than his Evening News and Daily Southern Cross rivals. When he was at home in Parnell, his eyes seldom strayed from the Mount Victoria flagpole across the harbour, where a flag was run up to signal a newly sighted vessel. On this day, the ever-vigilant Brett was to get the scoop of his life. When he drew alongside the Lord Ashley, the ship’s purser appeared at the rail and tossed a parcel of papers down to him with the cry: “Catch this and pull for your life.” As the straining waterman made for shore, Brett opened the parcel and learned of a massacre in Poverty Bay just days earlier in which Te Kooti had killed some 50 settlers and local Maori in retribution for land crimes and false imprisonment. When Brett’s rival journalists reached the city—having been obliged to laboriously interview the ship’s passengers—it was to find a special edition of the Herald already trumpeting the sensational news on the streets. Brett embodied the verve and cut-throat competitiveness of early colonial news gathering. The young English printer had arrived with other immigrants aboard the Hanover in September 1862, intending to make for the nonconformist Albertland settlement north of Auckland, but instead he was snatched up by the short-staffed Daily Southern Cross. The Cross had gone daily just months earlier and, like all papers, was finding skilled workers hard to come by. Its generous pay offer could not keep him long, though, and three years later, the Herald lured him away. Extra! Extra!, David Hastings’ highly readable account of early Auckland’s pioneering newspapers, rightly makes much of Brett, whose career followed the evolution of the industry. Mid-19th century colonial papers had been meagre affairs—usually a page of advertisements, followed by the all-important shipping news, an editorial, a scattering of court reports, transcripts of public meetings, and a collection of news items gleaned from overseas papers. But by century’s end, the two that survived the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Evening Star (which Brett put money into in 1870)—had become recognisably modern: globally connected papers printed in large numbers on high-speed presses and carrying a broad range of domestic and international news. Though personalities loom large in Extra! Extra!, Hastings is keen also to correct what he sees as a widespread fallacy: that newspapers were instruments used by a ruling elite to shape and control public opinion. Admittedly, adopting a pro-government stance could secure valuable printing contracts, says Hastings, but the reality is that papers survived only if they were adept at giving the public what it wanted. In 1856, four new Auckland papers were launched but none survived long, says Hastings, because they all neglected the news. One seemingly existed to voice James Busby’s land grievances and all were “more like political pamphlets aiming to change the world” than satisfy public curiosity. If papers were instruments of control, then the Cross should have prospered mightily when soon-to-be colonial treasurer Julius Vogel became owner-editor in 1869. The newspaper loudly supported all of Vogel’s great—and popular—financial schemes, yet its size and circulation fell. Hastings puts that down to Vogel’s ignorance about what made papers viable. “As much as he was a man of the future in politics, Vogel was a man of the past in newspapers.” In the early 1860s, as part of his fight against the rival New Zealander, Robert Creighton had transformed the Cross into something of a news-gathering machine with an extensive and widespread network of correspondents—among them the Prussian adventurer Gustavus von Tempsky—who fed readers with every rumour and scrap of news on the deteriorating relations between settler and Maori. But by the 1890s, ‘the Maori question’ that had been at the heart of Brett’s dash to the Lord Ashley just 20 years earlier had faded from the printed page. Even the death of King Tawhiao in 1894 was seen as being of merely historical interest. New issues were to the fore, thrown up by the social and economic changes then sweeping the world; among them changes in the status of women and the intensifying struggle between labour and capital. What didn’t change, says Hastings, was the imperative for newspapers to serve readers’ interests. It was the readers who decided what was news and whether a paper would live or die. This fact makes them more valuable as historical documents than researchers schooled in the “instruments of social control” model may have realised. Television viewers could take this lesson: a society gets the news it deserves.
What was the main issue in last year’s election in the United States? You may think it was employment (American unemployment runs two per cent higher than ours), the weak state of the economy (US house prices have fallen by 20–40 per cent) or the war on terrorism... but you’d be wrong. It’s something much more arcane: philosophies of government. Republicans stand for individual liberty and freedom from too much government control. Democrats believe more in the inclusive society, with better government welfare programmes, and regulations to protect workers and the environment. I spent almost a year camping in the United States recently and was amazed at the venom with which many Americans wanted to get the “oppressive federal government” off their backs. For them, freedom mainly meant freedom from their own government, a notion I found quite astonishing, especially in the bastion of democracy that is the United States. Here in New Zealand, we’re not much concerned with those ideas. Sure, we have a fading Act party and a Libertarianz party which espouse such ideas much more explicitly—though the latter won just 0.07 per cent of the vote in 2011, seven times less than even the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party managed to win. While freedom is a big deal in America, in New Zealand we use the word but pay it little real heed. The thesis of Fairness and Freedom, by Boston history professor David Hackett Fischer, is that fairness has become our central creed, our guiding ideal, what freedom represents to the citizens of the United States. Fischer (who is aged 77 and has a number of well-regarded books and a Pulitzer prize to his credit) made several visits here in the mid-1990s and was struck by the similarities and differences between New Zealand and the United States. This scholarly volume is the fruit of his inquiries. Fischer attributes our differing national obsessions to our countries having been founded in distinct eras of the British Empire, when ideas in Britain about colonies were quite different. From the time Britons started going to the New World after 1630 right through to the War of Independence in 1775–83, Britain was concerned with keeping the new colonies in subjection. They were to benefit Britain. She sent oppressive governors, tried to mandate religion, and introduced restrictive laws and punishing taxes on groups of settlers who were struggling to establish themselves in a very different land. Fischer notes, “What is astonishing about the first British Empire is how many tyrants were dispatched to America and how incompetent were their tyrannies.” He quotes historian JR Seeley, “[Britain] claimed to rule the colonists because they were Englishmen and brothers, and yet it ruled them as if they were conquered Indians.” This maladministration established a yearning for freedom and liberty in America, and led to the United States Constitution, which enshrined freedoms in the new country and led to the establishment of myriad checks and balances in the American system of government. Why doesn’t the United States have a public health system? Many people I quizzed expressed fears about letting Washington into yet another realm. And most education in the United States is run and funded by local government. But what of New Zealand? By the late 1830s, the British Colonial Office was controlled by Sir James Stephen, a man of moral character who admired Maori. He wrote, “The two Cardinal points to be kept in view in establishing a regular colony in New Zealand are, first, the protection of the aborigines, and secondly the introduction among the colonists of the principle of self-government, to the utmost extent in which that principle can be reconciled with allegiance to the crown.” It was a perspective very different from that in the United States. We did not have to struggle much for freedom and liberty, but instead new ideals of social justice and fairness took root here. Fischer explores the development of freedom and fairness through detailed, expansive comparisons of American and New Zealand histories. Among subjects surveyed are treatment of Maori and Indians, land settlement practices, immigration policies, women’s rights, racist wrongs, progressive political movements, external relations, the Great Depression and reforms, military traditions, and the crises and challenges of the past 50 years. It’s vast in scope and surprisingly lively, but still a well-referenced history book with 70 pages of notes. His ideas explain how we have ended up with top-rating television shows such as Fair Go that celebrate the principle, an Ombudsman slogan that reads “Fairness for all” and the strapline for our Inland Revenue Department that once read “It’s our job to be fair”. And his digging has unearthed a central tenet of New Zealand society that we may be too close to really appreciate—that the principle of fairness remains at the core of our national identity. “Few Americans think of fairness as the organising principle of their open society,” writes Fischer. In fact, “Americans on the right believe the ideals of fairness and fairplay are hostile to capitalism, destructive of national security, and dangerous to liberty.” Fischer thinks that the world can learn something from us. Certainly we can learn something from him.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...
Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes