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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933)

On the Look-out

page 38

On the Look-out

The Ruru, the morepork or New Zealand Owl.

The Ruru, the morepork or New Zealand Owl.

It was delightful to read once more of a real old Irish faction fight with shillelaghs, in the news messages the other day. The argument, at Leitrim cattle fair, was cheered on by the spectators, while the other business of the day was held up. If only all Irishmen, and indeed, all the nations of the world, would consent to settle their political arguments in the same pleasant way, what a happier, brighter and richer world this would be! Scrap the guns, the navies, the tanks, the poison-gasses, and lay in a stock of blackthorns. There's a practical peace proposal.

There is a story of an Irish coroner who held an inquest on a disputatious gentleman who happened to suffer fatal injuries in a shillelagh fight. He returned a verdict of death through carelessness on the part of the corpse. “A man with such a thin skull as the deceased,” he explained, “had no business to go in for politics.”

* * *

The Governor-General, in an eloquent and witty speech at the Auckland University College jubilee, made a plea for “reverential occupation rather than ruthless demolition” of Auckland's Government House, which he described as “a charming reproduction in wood of a typical English country mansion of eighteenth-century architecture.” The College is next door to Government House, and it has often been urged that the whole place should be handed over to the College Council as an extension of its site. Auckland citizens generally, however, are dead against this; and Lord Bledisloe now makes his appeal for the preservation of the historic place as it is. Indeed it is not likely now that Auckland's vice-regal home, so much more attractive than that in Wellington, will ever be diverted from its rightful purpose.

His Excellency's appreciation of the historic element in New Zealand is an example that may well be followed by the Dominion's citizens. So much that was worth the preservation as national monuments has been destroyed, for want of a voice of protest against unthinking spoliation or neglect. In particular, historic forts and buildings. Redoubts and blockhouses which should have been standing to-day have been demolished deliberately; they were not considered worth keeping. Just a lot of old earthworks or old timber. “What's the use of them now?” was the attitude of local bodies and settlers and citizens. I have seen a fine earth-work redoubt of solid construction, on its hilltop in a Waikato township of which it was the nucleus and defence aforetime, completely razed by the worthy villagers because the local tailor's cow fell into the trench and broke its leg. (I was a youngster then, and I had a great affection for that old sentry-hill redoubt; many a lovely battle we schoolboys had with sods and broken bricks over its parapet.) Half the labour that Road Board working bee expended on the destruction of the place would have put a fence round it and saved it. But no; it was considered an “improvement” to smooth it all out and make a paddock of it. The old cow was more important.

* * *

Our artists who exhibit at the periodical gallery shows in New Zealand are missing great opportunities through lack of originality and a little research. Not a single incident of our national history is ever seen depicted on the walls of our art exhibitions. A visitor to the galleries looks in vain for anything reflecting the many-coloured past, the infinitely varied story of our people and our country. One wearies of the year-after-year unending show of landscape bits, a blob of a tree or two, a cow or so in a paddock, Mt. Sefton through the mists, an uninspiring Ruapehu, a would-be daring bit of wooden near-nude, and sunlight on the mud-flats.

“Rural” would like to infuse some endeavour to break out of the landscape rut into the brethren and sistern of the brush. There is so much to fire the fancy in the story of our coasts, our explorations, our romance of settlement, the wars with a greatly picturesque race. Such things conjoined to scenes of wonder and beauty are the themes that make great pictures. But historical figures and episodes call for research and study, and the average artist is disinclined to take the trouble. Yet, taking it on a basis that appeals to every artist, it would pay. There would always be a market for an arresting painting of an heroic incident in our past.

page 39

For breath-taking Public Works notions, one cannot recall anything more amazing than the recent suggestion by a prominent Otago man that a driving roadway should be constructed right round the coast of Fiordland. The idea is that all the West Coast Sounds should have a coastwise thoroughfare, linking up with Westland on the one side and Southland on the other, so that tourists should have a glorious easy way round the South Island. The estimates of length and cost are beautifully vague. Length anywhere from 250 to a thousand miles; cost, why, we'll see to that later on. One can well imagine the little job costing anywhere up to ten millions, or maybe twenty.

Imagination likes to dally with such a fascinating project. Fancy also brings up a picture of the road works when the unemployed problem is solved by shipping all the workless to camps in Doubtful and Dusky and Bradshaw and all the rest of the Sounds. One has heard of penguins imprudently coming ashore for a bush stroll and being killed by sandfly bites. A non-scientific estimate made by “Rural” on the spot in one of the Sounds made the sandfly population seventeen thousand to the square inch of exposed human skin. Explores’ dogs have committed suicide in the creeks rather than face the hordes. That is the all-day watch; the mosquitos come on for the dark-till-daylight operations. That rainbow speedway would at any rate have this merit, that the biting myriads would not be able to stand the pace set up by the tourist on wheels once he got a taste of their quality, or rather when they got a taste of his.

* * *

Some people are possessed of a perfectly diabolical craving to shut up wild creatures in dens, pits and cages for the term of their natural lives. An unfortunate seal, a wanderer from the far South waters, was so confiding as to crawl on shore near the mouth of the Hutt River recently, whereupon it was pounced on and loaded into a lorry for the Wellington Zoo. Really this is a case in which the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals should intervene. It may not be too late yet; those seals and sea-lions dumped into the noisome wallow at the Zoo have been known to live for several months before finally turning up their despairing flippers.

Humane feelings should have prompted an effort to shoo the seal back into the water before the cage-'em-up people got it. Imagine the cruelty of cooping up such an ocean-roving creature, which spends its life fishing in the clean cold salt sea, in a little shallow pool, until it dies. What possible pleasure can anyone derive from gazing on it there?

* * *

A steamer which reached England from Australia recently, reported having sighted our dear old friend the sea-serpent. The crew saw it rear itself to a height of twenty feet. There is no reason to believe that the honest mariners were looking at it through the bottom of a glass darkly. They reported just what they saw. One has heard and read much of sea-serpents, and it is quite possible that very large sea-snakes exist. The small tropical kind is numerous enough. But it is extremely probable that what those sailors saw was a giant squid. This huge and awesome creature, unlike the octopus, has only two arms, and these grow to an enormous size. It has sometimes been seen encircling a whale in a monstrous battle of the deep.

Many years ago the Captain of a New Zealand Government steamer saw what he thought must be the sea-serpent, in the Bay of Plenty. It projected an immense black length, as high as the steamer's funnel, out of the water, and waved it about as if seeking for something. Afterwards he was describing this apparition to Mr. Frank Bullen, the sea-writer and old-time whaler, who was in Wellington on a lecture tour. “Why,” said Bullen, “that must have been a giant squid. I have seen exactly the same in the Bay of Bengal. We thought at first it was the sea-serpent.” Proof positive is still wanted, of course. A handsome reward from public-spirited citizens is awaiting any enterprising fisherman who can deliver on shore a genuine sea-serpent.

page 40