The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)
Those Naked Hills — Destruction of the Bush
(Forestry Department photos.).
Problems that are causing very grave concern in New Zealand, and in other parts of the world, are those of denudation and erosion. By denudation is meant the unnecessary destruction of the earth's garment of vegetation upon which depends the conservation and regulation of the rainfall. When the vegetation goes, the process of erosion begins—and ends in slips, landslides and floods, with all their associated perils, and ultimately, in a serious loss alike in the productive area and fertility of the land.
Being one of the survivors of the pioneer days in Central Otago, my impressions of the country (or of that portion of it wherein I spent the greater portion of my early life) before overstocking, indiscriminate “burning off” and rabbits, had reduced it to its present condition of aridity, may not be without interest to the present generation.
I know from personal knowledge how enormously the stock-carrying capacity of the country has been reduced as a result of the causes already mentioned, and how the surface features of the land have been altered compared with the conditions existing in the ‘seventies.
Before entering upon my main theme, I shall quote two instances of changes from the old conditions, changes that to the present generation, would seem almost incredible. More than forty years ago I was informed by a man who had been a cadet on Galloway Station, near Alexandra, that, at one time, that station carried one sheep to the acre all the year round.
The second instance relates to the mountains rising on the northern side of the Rees Valley, Wakatipu, in the vicinity of Glenorchy. I once spent a holiday at Glenorchy with the late Mr. P. Boult, a nephew of Mr. Rees, the first settler in the Wakatipu district. Mr. Boult assisted Mr. Rees to drive his stock from Canterbury to Wakatipu, over trackless and unexplored country. Mr. Boult told me that when they first settled near Glenorchy, they wintered the sheep on the mountains, the tops of which were covered with snow grass more than ten feet high.
On the higher country, say from 2,000 feet up, the flora was diversified by various sub-alpine plants, among which was what the diggers called the cotton plant. This had a bunch of blade-shaped leaves, dark green above, silver white below, and threw up large white daisy-like flowers like the ox-eye daisy.
Cattle and horses were very fond of it, and when the ground was under snow, they would paw the snow away in order to find the plant.
But the most important plant in Central Otago at that time was the snow grass, which grew plentifully on the higher country, especially in damp places. This was nature's shield against denudation and floods. It grew in favourable situations to a great height, and I have seen horses hidden by it. Stock, too, were very partial to its seeds. It provided excellent cover for the ground surface, prevented too rapid thawing of the snow, and checked disastrous flooding. If this country is to be brought back to its original condition, the snow grass should be the first plant to be re-established in its ancient seats.
One striking change in the appearance of the country during my life-time is the disappearance of the lagoons that formerly dotted the now arid and naked plains. I can remember, as a young boy, looking from the high country over the Maniototo Plain and seeing an expanse of silvery, flat land, dotted with areas of shining water, some of considerable extent. The lagoons were shallow, and generally dried up towards the end of summer. The presence of so much water during most of the year, however, meant that water fowl and Paradise ducks (which were seen in thousands and flew about literally in clouds) flourished in ideal conditions.
All this life has disappeared with the disappearance of the vegetation and the water.
Overstocking and the rabbit pest, together with excessive and injudicious “burning off” of the tussock grass have been the chief factors in the denudation of the country. In the latter connection I have seen the shepherds go out in the spring with a plentiful supply of matches, and start fires in the tussocks all over the place. I have seen, too, the northern sides of the Rock and Pillar Ranges blazing for miles. Of course if rain followed soon after the “burning off,” all was well, and the grass came away luxuriantly; but a long dry spell after a burn resulted in a permanent deterioration of the pasture.
These few recollections may enable the reader to construct a more or less adequate picture of Central Otago, as I knew it sixty years ago. The change in the appearance of the country has been the result largely of human agency, and it is doubtful whether human agency is capable of restoring, completely, what is has destroyed.
I do not write as an expert, but I feel that some measure of success in restoring these denuded lands could be achieved by control of vegetation on modern scientific lines aimed at reproduction of the effects, if not the actual species, of the natural primeval cover.page break
Interesting historical documents associated with New Zealand's National Anthem. Top (left to right): Copy of First Edition of the Anthem, published in Lawrence, and autographed by the composer. Letter from Sir George Grey, at that time Premier of New Zealand, regarding the translation of the Anthem into the Maori language. Below: Copy of Thomas Bracken's Letter of Assignment to the composer. Letter from the Rt. Hon. R. J. Seddon notifying Queen Victoria's acceptance of the Anthem.