The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)
On the Look-out
Contemplating the New Zealand scene from this sentry branch, “Ruru” desires to express a sense of disappointment at the non-inclusion of his esteemed musical and handsome colleague, the tui, in the designs chosen for the new issue of Dominion postage stamps. The fantail is there, and a decorative little fellow he is, but the “manu rangatira,” the “chieftainlike bird,” as the Maoris describe the tui, had surely a better claim to a place as a national emblem on the New Zealand stamps. Perhaps this oversight can be remedied later on. That monstrous tuatara, resembling an unholy alliance of crocodile and hippopotamus, could very well be scrapped in favour of the tui. The tuatara, in any event, is no advertisement for New Zealand. For all the outside world can gather to the contrary from the stamp, the creature is of huge dimensions, and it is likely to give the impression that this fair Dominion is the home of dragons.
Concerning the sweet-tongued tui, a writer on our bird tribe gave publicity recently to the assertion that the bellbird, otherwise the korimako or makomako, did not imitate other birds notes, and that it was the tui which mimicked the bellbird. The exact contrary is the case. The little korimako is a great mimic, and it is often difficult to tell its notes from those of the tui. Not until the songster in the bushes is seen is it certain which bird uttered the dingdong notes. From one's observation it is the bellbird that is the true mocking-bird of New Zealand.
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The tattooed Maori warrior, whose face decoration represented the pinnacle of native artistry, does not find a place in the new issue of New Zealand postage stamps. Perhaps this is just as well, seeing that the wonderful moko so elaborated on the features of Maori manhood has vanished from the land and that the tourist will find it only in books and art galleries. At any rate all but vanished; the number of old men with moko'd faces has steadily dwindled until when I made enquiries last there were only two of them surviving. One is in the Hokianga country the other lives in an Urewera bush village. It may be that by this time even these last two relics of a primitive age have departed for the Spiritland.
It is rather a curious fact that the two principal island countries in the Pacific, New Zealand and Japan, closely resembling each other in size, configuration and physical features, should have each developed to an elaborate degree the art of tattoo, the one on the face and the other on the body. The Maori was pre-eminently the face-carver of mankind, the Japanese the tattooer of the torso and limbs. But there was a great difference in the methods used. The Maori literally trenched the skin before pigmenting it; it was a heroic operation. The Japanese process is far less painful; it did not involve weeks of recovery from chisel cuts.
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“Poverty Bay” —what a name to perpetuate on our New Zealand map! It is apparent, however, that some residents of that part of the country are beginning to realise what a handicap such a name is to a district. Gisborne and its surrounding country cannot expect to obtain the credit to which their wealth, fertility of soil, and great volume of products entitle them until Poverty Bay is discarded for good, and some name of more cheerful omen and truthful implication chosen in its place.
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“Enjoy the Revels of Hell's Myrmidons. Solid Earth and Molten Rock Vibrate and oscillate to their gambols. Pools contiguous compete for Highest in Levels with varied degrees of activities and colourations of mud and water.” That is a Rotorua invitation to “Hell's Gate,” otherwise the Tikitere thermal valley, the weirdest notion in come-hither calls one has seen for a long time. There seems to be a fearful lot of Infernos in our hot-spring land. There are Devil's Cauldron, Satan's Glory, Hell's Corner, in various parts from Rotorua to Taupo. The diabolical vocabulary is somewhat overworked. If the great Waimangu Geyser were to come into action again and hurl its boiling muddy brew a thousand feet high, what suitably hellish description could be coined for it? All the satanic superlatives have been expended on minor mud-holes and scalding pools.
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By the time Wellington City rounds off its first century of life, the hills that frame it will be restored, in some measure, to the wooded appearance they presented before the pioneers page 14 stripped them of bush and shrub. We have a different conception of “improvement” these days. Splendid work is being done by the Civic tree-planters directed by Mr. Mackenzie. Most pleasing of all is the extent to which our native trees have been planted on various sections of the Town Belt, among them fifty thousand pohutukawa. Once upon a time not a pohutukawa was to be seen outside its original habitat, the Auckland province. Now it is thriving on our Wellington hills in company with our old inhabitants, the ngaio and the karaka.
The planting of the many indigenous trees, besides adorning the landscape and forming a new shelter forest for the future, will graduallly bring back some of the native birds to the neighbourhood of the city. These trees, and also the Australian eucalyptus, especially the red gum, provide the food that the tui and the bellbird like, and it may yet be that their lovely notes will be heard close to the city, as they are in some of the smaller towns of the Dominion where they find honey-blossom and berries in abundance.
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However could we do without our daily radio and our nightly talkie film, to say nothing of our daily cables about The Conference—any Conference you like—the unrest in Europe, the daily aeroplane crash, and the wobbly condition of the butter-fat market?
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“If ever there was a country destined to breed an Oceanic race, it is New Zealand,” says the veteran Dr. Macmillan Brown in his epilogue to the lately published History of New Zealand, in the Cambridge University History of the Empire. He looks to a time when “New Zealand's outlook may be as great in the Pacific as that of the still smaller Elizabethan England was in the Atlantic.” In theory this is true enough; it was an old ideal of Sir George Grey, couched in different words. New Zealand should develop into the power of the South Pacific, just as Japan has in the North. But while Japan is building fleets and making feverish efforts to develop trade, New Zealand's small population finds no such urge impelling it seaward. The cow and the sheep are more urgent cares and more certain earners of money.
Really we are too well off at present—though most of us don't realise it—to be driven to make our living on the ocean. And it is a fact worth the looking into by some of our economic and commercial authorities that forty years ago we were doing more trade with South Sea Island groups than we are doing to-day.