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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)

Pictures of New Zealand Life

page 51

Pictures of New Zealand Life

With Camera and Brush.

New Zealanders of the present and future should be grateful to those faithful recorders of its natural beauty and its Maori and pioneer life who have passed on after their strenuous and faithful work. Such artists as John Gully and Kennet Watkins, such landscape photographers as Josiah Martin and Henry Winkelmann did a vast amount in their day to make known the peculiar charm and wonder of our scenery and to preserve pictorial memories of remarkable phases of the Dominion's life and character. Such vigorous veterans of the camera as we have with us still, such outstanding men as Leslie Hinge, whose work for the Railways is before us every month in this Magazine, can speak of the difficulties and troubles they met a generation ago in the never-resting duty of photographing wild scenes and great events. It was not easy to get about New Zealand in their time when they penetrated all but unknown country in the search for something new. It is different now, with the aeroplane to conquer once inaccessible regions.

Mr. James McDonald, who died at Tokaanu recently, at the age of seventy, was one of those who had done a vast amount of good photographic work to make New Zealand known in the outside world. For six years he was almost constantly in the field for the Government Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, in the pioneer days of that office under its very energetic head, Mr. T. E. Donne, now living in London. Later he was artist and assistant director in the Dominion Museum. He was an all-round able man in the artistic side of our national advertisement work, before that much-used term publicity had been coined. He was an artist with a special liking for Maori life as a subject for pencil and brush.

McDonald's Student and Field Days.

In his young days at the Melbourne Art Gallery McDonald studied under McCubbin, and he was contemporary there with Longstaff, John Roberts and other Australian artists of note. In 1890 he married May Brabin, of Hawksburn, returned to his native Otago some twelve years later, and it was not long before the newly-established Tourist Department engaged him as the needful man for the picture-making campaign that was to make the Dominion's scenery famous. He travelled from end to end of New Zealand, he illustrated the Department's books; he was a sculptor also and modelled the heroic Maori group that decorated the main hall in the big Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906. “Mac” was not only a good artist but a good sport, a capital travelling mate, always cheerful, resourceful in camp. I write with knowledge and affection for “Mac,” for we travelled some thousands of miles together and camped in all sorts of queer corners in those days. There was the faithful trio of us, with T. E. D. to boss the party in his genial capacity as official head.

On the Bush Trail.

I see them now, “Mac” jogging along on his horse with a brace of cameras slung over his shoulders; far down the bush tracks of Westland—we had a wild week of it there once, a hundred and fifty miles from the Franz Josef Glacier over the Haast Pass and out to civilisation again at Lake Wanaka.

Rough country! There was only one bridge in all that journey, and there was a swift alpine river to ford every few miles. All the better for picture making, was “Mac's” point of view. There was a whole bookful of adventures on those backblocks horseback cruises—and in our Tongariro National Park climbs, long before a Chateau was dreamed of.

Depicting Maori types and Maori tattooing, carving and all manner of native artistry was quite a passion with James McDonald. When he retired from the Museum's service he settled at Tokaanu, as a suitable place for pursuing his Maori work, and he was a greatly popular character with the native folk all about the Taupo shores.

Horses and Riders.

That courting-days' 100-miles ride I mentioned in the “N.Z. Railways Magazine” last month, a one-day journey from the King Country frontier to the Tamaki, Auckland, was comfortable going in good weather, for all its roughness, for only the more northern portion of it was a hard metalled road, sixty odd years ago. But probably only the fact that there was a girl at journey's-end would have taken the young farmer at such a pace. It was wise advice the old ostler gave in George Borrow's “Romany Rye,” when he told his roving listener that “no gentleman—supposing he weighs sixteen stone, as I suppose you will by the time you become a gentleman—ought to ride a horse more than sixty-five miles in one day, provided he has any regard for his horse's back, or his own either.” However, I don&t think there were many sixteen-stoners among the young settlers and cavalrymen of Waikato.

Thinking back over some of my own long back-country journeys in the pre-automobile days, many a good horse mate comes to mind. Horses always travelled better in company; but even alone, when rider and horse were old friends the bon accord between them would appreciably lighten the journey. I recollect a day's ride of something over seventy miles, which both my horse and myself finished well, and there were others almost as long; but there was one horseback journey which was more than enough for both of us. That was only fifty-five miles, from Rotorua to Taupo, but the circumstances of a blistering hot midsummer day and a pumice road which was both dusty and eye-dazzling, made us right glad to see the flickering lights of Taupo that evening. Yet there was one thing worse, and that was the pumiceland coach journey. On horseback you could at least get ahead of your dust; aboard the mail-coach you travelled all a summer day in a cloud of it, and swallowed more dust than lunch.