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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 5 (September 1, 1932)

Pictures of New Zealand — A Copy of England?

page 53

Pictures of New Zealand
A Copy of England?

A good-natured American critic, over the water at Santa Barbara, Cal., has been twitting New Zealanders with being a mere small edition of England, and Victorian England at that, in homes and habits, forms and conventions. But he perceives, too, signs of grace in us. “Everyone looks with great interest towards the U.S.A., and knows it to be the most glorious place on earth.”

Indeed, and do we, and is it then? We are inclined to buy more of the U.S.A.'s surplus products than is good for us, from motor cars to vulgar films, but there are not many New Zealanders who will endorse the Santa Barbara man's so confident belief. We still set Britain on a very different plane from that of America. It may be brought under Santa Barbara's notice, by the way, that old England is still at the top of the world in railway speed and efficiency for one thing, and in aeronautics for another.

As for us, one is disposed to be amused rather than annoyed by the remark so often made that New Zealanders are “more English than the English.” That certainly cannot apply to the real New Zealand type, the native-born. The true colonial—I like the old term—is not disposed to call England, Scotland or Ireland “Home.” His homeland is here, and while he reveres and loves the memory of his father's and mother's birthlands, the magnetic pull of his own native land is far greater.

For the rest, New Zealanders really need not get restive under the occasional criticisms of tourists from America. We like our U.S.A. acquaintances, we love to hear them prattle, and we like to offer them the brand of hospitality that is not synthetic; but we really don't want to imitate all their little taking ways.

Food for the Singing Birds.

Plant honey-yielding trees and shrubs, is sound advice for New Zealanders who love to hear the notes of the tui and the bellbird. Not only our own trees, such as the yellow kowhai but the red gum, the most handsome of the eucalyptus family. The birds are fond of the nectar contained in the gum flowers, and lately the tui has been seen and heard in places around the towns which have not harboured it for many a day. Every landowner, no matter on how small a scale, can spare a little ground for tree-planting, and if he avoids the sombre and depressing pinus insignis page 54 and takes some pains to grow plants of food value, in berries and nectar, he will often be rewarded with bird-song and the lovely sight of the bush creatures flitting about his groves. The tui especially will travel a long way for the food it likes. It seems only fair to these sweet singers and other native birds that we should make some recompense for the destruction of their natural foraging grounds—the ancient forests—by providing for them nooks of fruitfulness in the settled lands and in the gardens on the outskirts of the towns. In this way we may preserve for many years longer some of the most precious wild things of our country.

Old Carbineers.

We still have a few human links, a few surviving frontiersmen, to keep the adventurous past of New Zealand close to our modernity, to remind us that the most eventful, even savage era of this country is not yet more than one lifetime behind us. The last of our New Zealand Cross holders, sturdy old Ben Biddle, still lives up Whakatane way, the last of twenty-three Cross-men, who won the rarest military decoration in the British Empire. Out at Petone still lives one of the last of Von Tempsky's Forest Rangers, veteran David Taylor, who was in the disastrous bush battle of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, in which Von Tempsky was killed, in 1868. Another old Ranger, one of Major Westrupp's men, lives in the Lower Hutt.

Old soldiers never die, they say. At any rate they are often tough lads, hard to kill. At the time of writing, the veteran Michael Gill, survives in Napier, one of the last two survivors of the famous “Die-Hards,” the 57th Regiment, of Maori War service. He is over ninety; so, too, is his old comrade, Sergeant-Major Bezar, of Wellington. Gill is one of the heroes of the defence of Turuturu-mokai Redoubt, in Taranaki, in 1868. In that warm corner ten out of the little garrison of twenty-two men were killed, and six were wounded.

Poets have written of the English dead who salted down the outlands of the Empire. As a matter of fact, some of the Imperial regiments which fought in our Maori wars were nearly all Irish. In that valiant defence of Turuturu-mokai against a large body of Hauhaus, nearly all the garrison were Irishmen. The boys from Kilkenny and Tipperary, Skibbereen and Athlone did their share to uphold the mana of Mr. Kipling's “English Flag” in this country. Michael Gill, tough old Die-Hard, is, as he would say himself, “wan of thim.”

Bush Fashions.

Other times, other clothes. The Imperial soldiers in their day in New Zealand did not take to the kilt like the later Armed Constabulary, but after 1868 practically all the military forces in the field left their trousers in barracks or other permanent camps, and took the bush trail wearing the waist-shawl, like the Highlanders' tartan array and the Maori rapaki. At a later day many of us, when bush-travelling, resorted to the kilt, in the form of a bit of blanket or a small shawl, and found it a capital fashion for rough work, and particularly river-crossing in such places as the King Country bush before it was roaded and bridged, and in the Urewera Country beyond the limits of the horse-tracks. But nowadays pleasure-trampers, as well as many bushmen and surveyors of the later generation, are seen in shorts that recall their schoolboy days. There is virtue in both rigs; perhaps a combination of the two is the ideal bush costume.

Praise for the Shawl-kilt.

Lieut.-Colonel St. John, in his book, “Pakeha Rambles Through Maori Lands,” thus describes the kilt undress worn by nine-tenths of the bush fighters in New Zealand in the later wars:

“A flannel shirt, sleeves rolled up, a shawl worn kilt fashion, shoes and long stockings. To this dandies added a blue serge jumper. Such a dress is at first rather uncomfortable for the knees when going through a bush full of ‘lawyers,’ or, a trifle worse if possible, through high burned fern, with the charred stalks, now sharp-pointed, preserving inclinations acquired page 55 when green, under the influence of constant winds, and bent down in opposition to one's progress. But then, in river work its advantages are palpable. You have to cross a river, say, sixty times in one day's march, and that is not an out-of-the-way number. The trousers-wearing warrior finds a baggy weight gradually increasing about his ankles as sand imperceptibly invades his nether garments, well tucked into the socks as they are. There is a drag about the waist, and perpetual are the hitchings up and halts to wring out the part flopping about his ankles. Not so with him of the kilt; on entering the stream he simply lifts up his garment, wades through, and ten minutes after is as dry as ever.”

St. John well knew the convenience of this costume, for it was in that garb that he led his kilted A.C.'s and Maoris up the Whakatane Valley in the invasion of the Urewera Country in 1869.

Man Who Wrote “Poenamo.”

Sir John Logan Campbell, the author of that racy book of early-days life in New Zealand, “Poenamo,” first set foot on these shores on one of the beautiful islands that shelter Waiau or Coromandel Harbour. There have been some refer ences lately to his arrival in Wellington before going on to the Hauraki Gulf; that was just before Auckland City was founded. “Poenamo” (the author's way of spelling “pounamu,” greenstone) is worth reading by every New Zealander, for its capital descriptions of old-time life and its humours and troubles of the pioneer days. It is not well known nowadays, but it is a worthy companion book to Judge Maning's “Old New Zealand.”

Twenty-Seven Years Ago (From the W. W. Stewart collection.) Members of the locomotive staff at Auckland, 1905

Twenty-Seven Years Ago
(From the W. W. Stewart collection.)
Members of the locomotive staff at Auckland, 1905

Years ago some of us explored, one glorious Christmas, the storied island where Campbell landed in Herekino Bay, where Big Webster the Yankee trader, had his store and held an important place as the pakeha-Maori of the local tribes. It was a lively spot then, and one of the first things young Dr. Campbell, as he was then, saw when he got on shore, was a party of young fellows from Sydney, land-buyers and what not, playing pitch-and-toss with gold sovereigns. The Scots doctor had far too much respect for real money to join them in their pastime. Soon the new town of Auckland took the wind out of Webster's trading sails, and Herekino was deserted. The island is known as Beeson's Island to-day; it is a little sheep farm.

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