Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)

The North. — A Great Country

page 71

The North.
A Great Country

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Historic Keri Keri, North Auckland, showing: the oldest stone bullding in New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Historic Keri Keri, North Auckland, showing: the oldest stone bullding in New Zealand.

“All great men have carved their names in the north…. Welcome to the great north.” So ran part of the kindly note of welcome which we found pushed under the door of our new abode, at the end of our long, dusty trail from the south. If taken seriously, the statement might reasonably be challenged by our southern compatriots, but only those who are definitely inferior are resentful of an assumption of superiority on the part of another, and the south can afford to smile. Her soils, too, bear the eternal imprint of men and women whose names shall be immortal in the annals of the land, and secure in that knowledge, she accepts, philosophically, such a statement as introduces this article, bracketing it with such others as “the winterless north” and “the Queen City” as the harmless conceit of a people naturally proud of their native soil. And the north has produced some great men, enoughto exucse, if not to justify, the boast of our proud northerner, for this is the country that bred those brave old warriors, Hone Heke, Hongi Hika and Tamati Waka Nene, the last named having, in addition to his native daring, the qualities of honour, gentleness and justice which go to make the truly great. This is the province that moulded also, and with stern shaping, such men as Samuel Marsden and that other great Samuel—Leigh—and their worthy lieutenants, King, Hall and Williams, men whose names glow with ever more brilliant lustre as their lives of sacrifice, devotion and privation are more thoroughly appreciated.

On Holy Ground.

Redolent with fragrant memories of these men is this northern land, and we feel that we must tread softly, as on hallowed ground, the paths which their weary feet pressed so long ago, and where they so often “trod the winepress” of sorrow and bitter disappointment. It is a thrilling experience to walk with Marsden—through the medium of his “Letters and Journals,” with its quaint spelling of the Maori names—over this soil which is ever blessed to his memory. The very names themselves have a magic sound: Korroaddica (Kororareka), Wytangee (Waitangi), Kidi Kidi (Kerikeri), Shokee Hanga (Hokianga), and Cowa Cowa (Kawakawa). The last named place is mentioned in his Journal at least twenty times, and earns further distinction from the fact that it supplied the timber—kahikatea—for the building of the first mission station. He appears to have been much impressed with its splendid forests—how sorrowfully now would he regard the
(Rly. Publicity Photo.) Picturesque Russell, Bay of Island, North Auckland, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity Photo.)
Picturesque Russell, Bay of Island, North Auckland, New Zealand.

denuded hills!—and frequently refers to “that noble pine, the Kowree”— (quaintest spelling of all). Every sod and stone in this district seems to bear an impress of the great missioner; here is the place where he slept at night, after his long tramp from Thames, wrapped only in his great-coat, between rows of savage cannibals, “nor felt the slightest sign of fear”; here is the very spot where he was handed the first grains of wheat grown in the district by the proud Maori husbandman; here is the great Maori pa from which he viewed in prayerful wonder the promised land, and as we walk over the memorable scenes, the wraiths of the past rise up, and we seem to hear the warning injunction, “Take thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” A very fine memorial to Marsden's ministry in the north is the lych-gate to the old church at Waimate. It is a beautiful structure, of hewn stone, but to us, singularly inappropriate. “Lych,” or “Lich,” is the old Saxon word for corpse, and the covered gate was where the bier was laid while the pall-bearers rested before conveying it to the grave. Surely any memorial to him should page 72 page 73 symbolize, not death, but life, for truly it could not be said more appropriately of any man that “though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Not a lych-gate, but a light would more fittingly commemorate him who sacrificed all the joys and comforts of home in an endeavour to kindle a light in a dark land.

The Historian's Paradise.

Rich in purely secular historical associations, also, is this part of the province, providing a happy hunting-ground for the student eager for knowledge of old New Zealand. Incidents of old Maori life and the lives of the early settlers, stirring tales of the Maori war and other stories unrecorded in any text-book, most of them probably quite authentic, are revealed in visits to native villages and talks to the oldest white settlers. How the old eyes light up as we exhibit interest in the cradle-days of British settlement in New Zealand, and how we thrill as we are guided over the ancient battlefields, where the brown patriots took their last despairing stand against the conquering alien! Ruapekapeka! Okaihau! Ohaewai! Hear those liquid syllables flow from the lips of an old Maori, watch the kindling eye and the unconscious warrior-like gestures, and catch a little of the spirit of those old savages who resisted so bravely and so desperately the doom of Maori dominion. On the battlefield of Ohaewai we sit under the same puriri trees round which raged one of the fiercest conflicts of the war. The man still lives who, as a boy, cut down the famous tree in which a ball from the English had conspicuously lodged. He rubs the seat of his trousers reminiscently, and says he still tingles at the memory of the parental displeasure that his sacrilegious act provoked. One wonders what became of that cannon ball. We climb the hill up which Colonel Despard led his troops, and down which he was forced to retreat before Heke's victorious warriors, who were under command of the great chief, Kawiti. It is said that Kawiti's widow—or perhaps we should say one of his widows—still lives, at the great age of 104, quite close to the scene of the famous battle. She, too, for those who follow the Maori tongue, can unroll the folded canvas of the past and present it again, clear and glowing as the imperishable colours of her own old kahu huruhuru. Tragedy and comedy, selfishness and sacrifice, love and hate, all played their part in the winning of New Zealand for civilized settlement. We, white New Zealand born, can scarcely be expected to feel regret for a conquest that gave us for heritage such a pleasant land, but the very fact that we realise that our title was established “by right of conquest” should make us more fully conscious of our duty to our native race, that noble people who were dispossessed of their native soil that we might be “native born.”

A Lovely Land.

It is a beautiful country, this northern province, not with the rugged majestic grandeur of the south, but with a dreamy, voluptuous loveliness that soothes rather than stimulates, and calls its exiles, we are told, from the farthest corners of the globe. No mighty peaks tower from its rolling ranges, yet it lacks not many glorious hills, benignly imposing, lying fold upon fold, a giant shirring of the earth, billowing away in soft, green waves as far as the eye may follow. A wonderful land, too, for a beneficent nature has showered her gifts upon it in no mean measure. A copious rainfall, aided by warm and genial temperatures, induces a rich growth of vegetation, which compensates in a large degree for some extent of barren land—land that has been short-sight-edly denuded of its protecting forests, and since, by successive floods, has been swept bare of its productive soil.

To those familiar with the southern climate, with its more normal seasonal activity, the vagaries of nature in this northern clime are amusing and somewhat bewildering. The “Last Rose of Summer” is never left blooming alone here, for with a hundred companions she defies song and season alike until a ruthless spring-pruning brings her to a violent end. Then imagine ripe blackberries in June; spring bulbs of all descriptions flowering cheek-by-jowl with autumn dahlias and chrysanthemums; apple-blossoms side by side with the matured fruit, and grass ankle-deep in mid-winter.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Whangarei Falls, Auckland Province, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Whangarei Falls, Auckland Province, New Zealand.

But with all the possibilities of such a climate properly exploited, with good roads giving access to places remote from the railway, and with its fine rivers and waterfalls harnessed to supply water, light and power to all its people, what might not such a country become? Already its citrus fruits are competing successfully in the world's keenest markets, and its passion-pulp industry is flourishing apace, but even in these directions its resources are imperfectly developed. Its roading system is, probably, its greatest drawback. A day's drive over its tortuous tracks, potholed and corrugated to the nth degree, is a nightmare to the driver and destruction to his car. In the meantime the north stands, halfway to prosperity, waiting for the “man of vision” who will break down the barriers that bar its way to progress.

But of its beauty of scenery, its wealth of romantic history, and the unaffected charm and kindliness of its people, the “half has never been told.” Some day, maybe, there will arise from its soil a poet—a very genius of poetic expression, who will feel a burning fervour—a mastering passion of love for his native land. He will sound the deeps of his mother-earth; its essence will seep into his soul, and from his lips its spirit will pour out in a flood of music—exquisite, melodious, majestic—and the glorious tale of the north will be told in glorious song.

page 74