The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 6 (September 2, 1935)
New Zealand Journey
The finest thing in Nelson (and indeed one of the finest things in New Zealand) is the Cawthron Institute. This is a cluster of buildings containing laboratories for the purpose of research into the primary industries of this country. With that essentially scientific patience which attracts no limelight and calls for no applause, the specialists of the Cawthron quietly pursue the tasks of ridding the land of blights and pests, bringing barren country to fruitfulness, advising and helping farmers in all their problems.
I met most of the experts of the Cawthron Institute and learned a little of what they are achieving. The Director of the Institute, Mr. Theodore Rigg, very kindly showed me round. Tall, thin, roughly hewn as to countenance, this man has always been a servant of humanity in one capacity or another. During Russia's worst years of agony—1918 to 1921—Mr. Rigg, as secretary of the Friends' Relief Party, worked amongst the sick and starving peasants of the Soviet Union.
But his real life-work is that of an agricultural chemist—a soil chemist. He devotes his time to the manurial problems of the orchardist and farmer. One of his outstanding successful experiments was that in connection with the Moutere Hills apple orchard soil. The soil was deficient—not sufficiently productive—and Mr. Rigg undertook to diagnose and cure the trouble. He succeeded so brilliantly that comparison now shows that blocks of land brought under his treatment yield 200 bushels of apples more per acre, than blocks not so treated.
This, of course, does not solve all the difficulties of the apple-grower. One Nelson lady invited me to come and see her “orchards.” When I got there, after a long drive in her car, I found, to my surprise, that the “orchards” consisted of hundreds of acres of young pine trees.
“All this used to be apple-trees,” she said, “but the bottom fell out of the fruit market, so I had a forest planted instead.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Rigg's attempts to make the wilderness blossom as the rose are worth examining. His conversion of the pakihi wilderness, on the barren West Coast, into fine agricultural land was something I felt ought to be explained, and I asked him to tell me how it was done.
“When I first took it in hand,” he said, “I thought it the most formidable and depressing task I had ever been given. I don't know if you ever saw the land, but it was simply a barren wilderness covered with umbrella-fern and ti-tree; hardly a blade of grass to be seen.”
“But you knew you could change it,” I said, thrilled.
“Not at all,” he returned. “I thought I never would. It seemed hopeless. I had over two hundred small plots laid out for experiment. Surface weeds were burned off. Then some sections were ploughed deep and some were ploughed shallow; and some were not ploughed at all. But the worst and most forbidding feature of it was the land's natural resistance to percolation of water. It had a hard pan, past which the water could not sink.”
“Now I can guess how you won through,” I said. “You had it ploughed very very deep, with one of those swamp ploughs.”
“Wrong again,” smiled Mr. Rigg. “In the end I abandoned ploughing altogether.”
“But if the soil would not let the water through—“
“Then manuring processes, which alter the nature of the soil, must be devised. This was done. Then I tried all sorts of grasses and clovers until I found the most suitable crop. That was three years ago. Now the experimental stage is over. See these photographs. There you see a six-acre field of pakihi land carrying fourteen cows, and even then there was difficulty in keeping the growth down. Pastures established three years ago now yield three tons of hay to the acre.”
But this is only the beginning of what the Cawthron does for farmers. Let me now introduce the reader to Dr. Kathleen Curtis, quiet, modest, slender and brown-eyed, whose task is investigating the fungus diseases which attack our commercial plants. Black spot in apples, brown rot in peaches, virus in tobacco, tomatoes, hops, tulips and sweetpeas; these are the enemies against which Dr. Kathleen wages unremitting warfare. Most of these blights are attacked by means of spraying, but the sprays have to be carefully prescribed and applied at the right time.
“How do the farmers know when it is the right time to spray?” I enquired of her.
“Well, we tell them.”
“And how do you know?”page 33
“By keeping specimens of the diseased plants growing in the gardens here. When the dangerous spores are being liberated by the plants, we put an advertisement in the papers telling the farmers it is time to spray.”
“And may any farmer, any farmer at all, come to you for advice?”
“Yes, indeed. We get letters and specimens from all over the Dominion.”
“And is the advice given free?”
Dr. Kathleen is a very distinguished scientist. She is an M.A., D.I.C., D.Sc. To me she seemed totally absorbed in her work, upon which she speaks with authority and complete assurance. On other subjects, however, she was diffident and did not readily express an opinion. She is one of those rare persons who insist on thinking before they speak.
Leaving Dr. Kathleen in her laboratory I made a trip across the road to interview the chief entomologist, Dr. David Miller. Dr. Miller talks with a birl; that is to say he is Scotch—Scotch as Hamish, Scotch as porridge. I asked him to tell me all about his work.
“Well, I must explain,” he said, “that these laboratories are devoted to the extermination of insect pests. We breed parasites to kill pests.”
Dr. Miller went on to tell me of some of his experiments. The most spectacular success he has had in this line has been the extermination of woolly aphis, that sinister white parasite that spreads a leprosy of white wool all over the apple trees. Another parasite, named aphelinus, was bred in the laboratories and sent out in test tubes to the affected farms. All the farmer had to do was uncork the test-tube and hang it up in his tree. And, Hey Presto! In a few short months the aphelinus had eaten up the white woolly horror and the trees were clean once more.
Another successful experiment was the attack on the blow-fly maggot which affects our sheep. To combat this dreadful creature, which costs New Zealand sheep farmers many thousands of pounds per annum, a parasite was introduced which would attack the maggot of the blow-fly. I saw this little warrior in the laboratory. He looks rather like a flying ant.
“What I don't understand,” I said, “is how you get him to attack the maggot. Do you take him and put him on the sheep's back, or what?”
Dr. Miller laughed at this naive idea.
“No, we send them out in the crystalis stage,” he said. “Then the farmer has to scatter them on the grass where the sheep are. Soon the parasite emerges from the crysalis and settles on the sheep.”
“But why does he? Has he the intelligence to do that?”
“Well, you see, he is a blow-fly maggot parasite. He must live on the blow-fly. That is all he can do if he is to survive.”
One of Dr. Miller's most diverting stories was about his search for an insect which would destroy the biddy-bid, one of our worst weed pests. To find this useful beastie, Dr. Miller journeyed to South America and took a pioneer's march inland to where the fierce Auracanian Indians live in their primitive savagery. In approaching them he was certainly risking his life.
“However did you manage to survive your first meeting with them?” I asked him. “Did you threaten them with a gun, or impress them with conjuring tricks?”
“Neither,” he replied. “I have a theory and it always works. I believe that if you treat a man as you would like him to treat you you will be safe anywhere. As a matter of fact they were awfully nice to me.”
When the savages saw Dr. Miller grubbing about in the hills for insects, they concluded that he wanted them to eat. He rejected this suggestion. He was no insect-eater, he told them.
“He will make ointment out of them,” suggested a big chief.
“No, no. I just keep them in these little boxes,” said he, showing them his neat Cawthron cases.
The big chief wagged his head sadly, and drew the others aside. “Poor fellow, he is mad,” he said. “We must take care of him.”
From this time on they were most solicitous of their protége, “the Mad Stranger,” as they called him.
But we have already lingered too long in beautiful Nelson. The West Coast awaits us, and we must push on. We take a service car—a luxurious seven-seater — and leaving the charming little township behind we thread through the beautiful orchard lands of the province. The apples are ripe and the trees are heavy with their decorative burden. But soon we run out of this domain of genus homo and come to long stretches of native bush where nature reigns in all her pristine beauty.
At the top of the Hope Saddle we exclaim with delight as the magnificent panorama bursts upon us. We see the distant ocean, the mountains surrounding the Sounds, the forest-clad hills behind Nelson, and tier on tier of green and blue hills rising up to the distant snow-clad peaks of the Spencer Range.
From the Hope Saddle the car curves and zigzags down again until we reach the Hope Valley, with its pellucid waters singing their everlasting song as they rush to join the Buller River. We pass through the little town of Murchison and enter the famous Buller Gorge. From now on the scenery ascends a scale of increasing grandeur, rugged forest lands succeeding to the sparse bush of the first few miles. The road twists and turns, dives into unexpected tunnels, skirts along precipices, winds beneath overhanging cliffs. At last we enter Westport, a little town huddled close to the sea as though the mountains were pushing it into the water. These mountains are the reason Westport stands there, for they are full of coal. It is here that we spend the night.
“Well, we call him ‘Ugly Mug’,” he said. “But his mother doesn't like it, so you'd better call him Herbert, that's his real name.”
“Ugly Mug” came sidling up to me.
“Can ‘oo smell cat?” he asked.
I sniffed the air, horrified.
“No, son; I can't.”
“I can,” he squeaked triumphantly.
“C.A.T. smells cat.”
The next day we made the 68-mile journey to Greymouth. This road provides some of the weirdest and most impressive scenery in the Southern Hampshire. After a twenty-mile run we come to the Fox River, and from thence to Punakaiki. For many miles now we strike patches of glorious bush which gives a semi-tropical effect, the principal trees being nikau palms and tree-ferns. Punakaiki itself is a geologist's paradise. We stop here and make a little trip up Dead Man's Creek to inspect the famous Blow Hole. This roaring blow hole appears at first to be a geyser. Every now and again a column of water shoots up into the air to a great height. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that it is caused by the sea running with great force into an underground cave and thus forcing the water up through the cavity. On stormy days, our driver tells us, the Blow Hole booms like a cannon.
At Punakaiki, too, we saw the curious Pancake Rocks with their horizontal layer formation exactly like a giant's batch of newly-baked pancakes piled up in heaps. A very queer geological phenomenon, this; I would like to have heard some scientist explain it. But there was no time for explanations or conjectures. We had to rush on. From time to time we passed little ghost townships, deserted villages which were once booming with the prosperity brought by the gold-rush of last century. A few ramshackle tumbledown buildings mark their decease; kindly nature has thrown a winding-sheet of ti-tree across the scarred earth. Birds build in the old saloons. Such places are Lyell and Charleston, pathetically clinging to the mountain side and appearing to dream of happier days. At last we reached Greymouth, another coalmining place of the “Wild West Coast.”
From Greymouth we journeyed on to visit the famous Franz Josef Glacier. This is, without exception, the most wonderful and beautiful thing I have ever seen. The glacier, the ice-river, flows majestically down from the eternal mountains and penetrates right through the forest, so that one sees ice and semi-tropical vegetation side by side. The fairy greens and blues of the glacier, the swaying fronds of the nikaus and tree-ferns, the glowing ratas, make a memory picture that remains in the heart and mind for ever. We now climb towards Waiho and the country unfolds an ever spreading vista of loveliness until we emerge upon the “Roof-garden of New Zealand” and see the shimmering peaks of the Southern Alps before us. There is Mt. Cook, 12,349 feet high; there is Mt. Tasman, 11,467 feet, and there is Mt. de la Beche, over 10,000 feet. Below these glistening turrets and towers the Franz Josef gleams like a broad silver ribbon. It commences at over 9,000 feet, and runs right down within a few hundred feet of sea-level. We had to stop for a few moments at the St. James ‘Anglican Church in the Waiho George. Here the altar has the most beautiful reredos in the whole world. It is neither of wood nor marble, nor of stained glass nor of gold. No, my reader, it is just a piece of transparent glass which shows the natural splendour of hill and glacier to the kneeling congregation. More eloquent than words to illustrate the awesome and eternal Mystery, the Franz Josef preaches its sermon to mankind.
(To be continued.)
Women smokers are becoming as plentiful as house-flies in summer in Maoriland, and, what is more, many of them now roll their own instead of buying factory-made—always liable to go stale and flavourless owing to being kept so long in stock. In Sydney, according to the “own correspondent” of an Auckland daily, the girls not only prefer to make their own cigarettes but lots of them are taking to pipes!—pretty little things specially manufactured for ladies' use. “I haven't heard of women smoking pipes in public—as yet,” naively adds the correspondent. Our New Zealand damsels are, so far, sticking to cigarettes, and show a marked preference for toasted Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold, two of the very finest cigarette tobaccos on the market. Other famous brands of toasted are Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead). These latter are chiefly flavoured by the pipe smokers. All five brands are practically free from nicotine. Hence their harmlessness, their beautiful fragrance and incomparable bouquet. But look out for worthless imitations!*