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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (November 1, 1934)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 29

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

The Real New Zealand.

BY far the most graphic, witty and altogether satisfying picture of New Zealand life that has yet come from a novelist's pen is Alan Mulgan's new book “Spur of Morning,” which I have just read with intense enjoyment, and many chuckles. Town life, sport and politics, and the life of the open air, of bush and tussockland, are blended in a narrative that preserves perfect fidelity to conditions as we know them in New Zealand. The period in which the story is set is thirty to forty years ago, and the manners and ways of a community somewhat less sophisticated than it is to-day are reproduced with a particularity that betokens thorough knowledge and a quick eye for the little comedies of life.

Mr. Mulgan has a lively and whimsical wit. But there is more than that. The writer knows his native New Zealand; he describes the free-handed hospitality of the people in the out-back, particularly the big sheep station people and the heroic toil of settlement, and there are perfect little vignettes of shore and hill and forest-charm, this with an economy of adjectives that betokens a thorough artist in words.

The political portraits are amazingly well-drawn. Seddon is there, and W. P. Reeves and many another—how good! Their disguises and names do not avail them much; they are there to the life.

Mr. Mulgan certainly has an original way with him. Nowhere in the book, not even in the preface, does he mention the name New Zealand; but the identity of the Southern land described is, of course, perfectly clear to many besides New Zealanders. It cannot be mistaken for any other! I can find only one New Zealand place-name in it and that is Hikurangi, which Mr. Mulgan has apparently dropped in, in the spirit of a detective-story writer who thinks his readers are fairly entitled to a bit of a clue here and there. But the cities of “Eden” and “Wellesley,” there is no need to puzzle over their identity any more than there is over the masterful premier Braxton, who knew exactly what the people wanted and gave it to them with both hands.

Hard Riding.

Recently some old Colonial hands recalled certain long-distance horse—back journeys in New Zealand. Our modern roads discourage both horse and rider; but the horse will return to a certain extent, and fortunately for those who delight in a good mount, there are many districts of travel to which the polished bitumen and the high-power car have not yet penetrated.

What is the record speed for a cross-country gallop, or for a long highway ride? is another question that those interested in horseback work have discussed. I do not know that any record has ever been kept, but I have heard (from comrades of the rider) of a dashing ride on very urgent business which may take first place until someone brings evidence of a faster performance. The rider was a young settler of Mauku, South Auckland, and the occasion was a desperate fight between Maoris and the farmer-soldiers and Militia on the Titi Hill, not far from the historic Mauku Church, in the war of 1863. The Militia and the settlers (the latter were enrolled as members of the Forest Rifles Volunteer Corps) were hard-pressed by the Maoris and were outnumbered, and had to fall back, fighting a rearguard action, towards the church, which was the fortified garrison-house. Soon after the skirmish began Lieutenant Lusk, the Forest Rifles commander, despatched young Heywood Crispe, one of his neighbours and fellow-volunteers, to the nearest British camp, Drury, to ask for reinforcements.

Crispe was a lightweight and well mounted. He rode at a gallop all the way to Drury, thirteen miles, and covered the distance in less than an hour. Good going, along a rough, new road, nearly all the way through the bush.

Heywood Crispe fulfilled his urgent mission well, but he had a rather exasperating reception at Drury. The Imperial officer in command of the camp declined at first to believe there was any urgent need for reinforcements.

Some of those pioneer settler families still farm the good lands of the Mauku country, among them the sons of the despatch-rider of 1863.

Trees of Story.

The news that a historic karaka tree at Wanganui is to be preserved for its age and its associations, prompts a suggestion that there must be many other large and beautiful trees of various species which should be regarded as tapu because of their size and their stories. In my own mental survey of fine old trees and groves of trees which should be saved from destruction, there are many besides kauri, and some of these are on private land. It is probable that most owners of land who have uncommonly large or historically interesting trees, whether introduced or native, on their properties, are desirous of preserving them.

There are in particular, pohutukawa trees of great age and much beauty, around the coast and on the shores of some of the North Island lakes. Around Rotoiti there are many of these trees, whose legendary and poetic associations have made them sacred to the Maori. I have gathered lore of this kind from the old people, whose homes are on those Rotoiti bays. Fortunately, the generous Maoris of the Ngati-Pikiao and other sections of the Arawa tribe have made over to the Crown as tapu sanctuaries most of the headlands on which the ancient pas stood, places where almost every old tree has its tales of the past.

But, unfortunately, the pakeha bush-owner is not always so thoughtful as the Maori. One could wish to see Lord Bledisloe's recent appeal to New Zealanders taken to heart by those who are now engaged in turning into boards the greatest rimu and totara timber areas in various parts of the country. His Excellency urged that exceptionally large and beautiful trees should not be sacrificed for commercial interests. Timber-millers, please note and spare some of the trees that were growing centuries before you were born, and will live centuries after you—if you will only leave them alone, with a sheltering fringe of what you call “scrub”!

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