The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)
Pictures Of New Zealand Life
Our National Flower.
A Vote recently taken by the Wellington Horticultural Society, at its annual meeting, on the question of New Zealand's choice of a national flower resulted in the kowhai heading the list. The native flowers next in order were the pohutukawa, manuka, clematis and rata. This order of favouritism, I think, fairly represents the general opinion on the subject. There are strong arguments in the golden kowhai's favour. It possesses a distinctiveness of form and a vividness of colour superior to all the others, qualities that make it eminently suitable for pictorial use. Although it is in bloom for only a short period of the year (that is, the yellow kowhai: the red variety, the kowhai-ngutu-kaka flowers for several months), it is a familiar feature of the landscape in most parts of New Zealand, and it is not a frail and delicate bush-fairy like the clematis. It adorns alike the banks of the Wanganui River and the shores of Lake Taupo and Lake Wakatipu, and it is far hardier than it looks. It is the graceful drooping habit of its flowers as much as their heartening gaiety of colour that sets the yellow kowhai as a decorative emblem high above all other members of our flora.
It is time we adopted a national flower, not alone for the artistic appeal which such a thing of beauty gives, but for its definite value as a patriotic emblem and a kind of totem or badge distinctive of New Zealand products. The fern-frond and the kiwi are already well known in the outside world as exclusively New Zealand emblems. The flax-bush has long been the distinguishing badge of our Survey Department. It typifies the open lands. the work of the pioneer and pathfinder. The kowhai stands for beauty, goddess of the bush. The pendant bunches of bloom, with a tui or a bellbird balancing itself on the sprays as it sucks the nectar make the loveliest spring-time sight our forests and our parks can give us, in the too-brief season of bush flowers.
Landscape Glory and the Artist.
Much as has been written about Milford Sound, the crowning feature of our Fiordland, and much as it has been photographed, I have often felt that it will never receive its full measure of justice until some artist of genius captures on canvas its strange and overpowering beauty. It is a place that can never be exaggerated by the painter. There are cliffs there, iceshaved walls, that go straight up for three-quarters of a mile, and that in a place where the sea-canyon is barely a third of a mile wide and the dark water more than a thousand feet deep. That amazing pinnacle Mitre Peak is a mile high. I have been reading again an eloquent address given a few years ago, on the subject of Mount Everest, by Lieut.-Colonel Sir Francis Young-husband, the President of the Royal Geographical Society, which can be given a New Zealand application. The great traveller said:
“The geography of Mount Everest and its vicinity will not be complete until it has been painted by some great painter and described by some great poet. Making the most accurate map of it will not be completing our knowledge of it. The map-maker only prepares the way—in some cases for the soldier or the politician or the engineer —in this case for the geologist, the naturalist, and above all for the painter and the poet. Until we have a picture and a poem—in prose or verse—of Mount Everest we shall not really know it; our geography will be incomplete, and indeed will lack its chief essential.”
Younghusband expressed, too, the feeling some of us have experienced when looking at photographs of beautiful and grand mountain scenes and such places of huge landscape features as Milford. He said he almost wept to see—referring to certain superb photographs of the Himalayas—“how little of the real character of great mountains they communicate to us.”
One has seen some beautiful photographs of Fiordland landscapes, but the distinctive grandeur of Milford, its hugeness of dimensions and the overwhelming straightness of its granite walls, and grimness with all a rich and glowing colour, are qualities that elude the best camera. The artist's pencil and brush are needed to convey in full the impression that the Sound scenery makes on the mind of the beholder, a barbaric beauty that is deepened by certain atmospheric conditions. We need a Van der Velden to show Milford as it is when, for example, the shadows of coming storms give the place a terrible glory, or again when the mists are lifting after heavy rain and when the grey and green precipices are silver-laced everywhere with cascades and rainbow-lit veils of spray.
Centenary celebrations are rather numerous just now; the most important of all will be upon us in 1940. But there is one feature of New Zealand life that touched its first century a good many years ago, and that is the shore whaling enterprise. There is a wonderful story of adventure and seastress and toil bound up in the whale-chasing and oil-getting industry in these islands, which dates back to the early part of the last century. Over at Tory Channel, the bay station at Te Awaiti has been steadily sending out its whale-hunting boats every season since about 1820. The methods have changed; but the descendants of the old-time hearties arc there still, and they risk all weathers in Cook Strait just as their sailor forefathers did, though they have improved upon the primitive means and back-breaking toil of the era of hand-hurled harpoons and the weary oar. A recent report from Te Awaiti gave a tally of thirteen whales as the catch for May and June.
Up in the Far North the old station of Whangamumu still operates. But times are not what they were, the wholesale massacre of whales in the Antarctic by the Norwegians and other fleets of gun-armed killers has its inevitable effect on the numbers of the big “fish” about the New Zealand coast.