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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 5 (August 1, 1939)

Among The Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 47

Among The Books
A Literary Page or Two

It is fitting that such a book as “The Farmer's Wife” should appear during centennial year because it is a sincere and distinguished piece of writing in praise of New Zealand soil. The writer of “The Farmer's Wife” is Mrs. Ann Earncliff Brown, one who knows the soil as well as any farmer's wife, for she confesses she has never pierced its mystery. The joys and the sqrrows of farming during many years in both islands have been experienced in large measure by Mrs. Brown, and surely the harvest she has reaped for our benefit—the harvest of beautifully strung words is a rich one. Her word pictures are as simple and as beautiful as a daisy chain, yet here and there are richer colours. Occasionally her sentences are close to prose poems; she has her own felicitous choice of words. Will I be bold enough to place her as a New Zealand Mary Webb—that is in her verbal outpourings in appreciation of Nature? Well, hardly the sombre orchestration of words of the Shrop-shire writer—more of the simple pastorale—though surely a suitable melody to be heard from a farmer's wife.

In her book Mrs. Brown turns over the simple calendar of happenings of farm life and tells of them with that charm that only a woman of cultured expression can give. We open the book in spring and we hear and see the trembling of Nature's curtain. Yet, while telling of the glories of Nature, our farmer's wife has her feet firmly planted on the soil and turns ever and anon to tell us of practical things, even of the products of a super mechanical age. As we journey on to summer we meet the farmer himself, and Martha, the big-souled country woman, and others of the household. The author glances from the kitchen table, to mention a recipe or two, and looks through the window at the ripening fields, at the flowers, crops, fruit and animals. These beautiful things of Nature come unobtrusively into her recital. An apt quotation adds colour to the story, a snatch of dialogue, or some philosophic observation from the writer herself. So we journey on through the four seasons living the life, of the farmer's wife, loving it, sorrowing with her and smiling with her.

The book is a gracious and charming tribute in words to the wonderful woman who has helped to make this country what it is today.

Whitcombe and Tombs have given the book a worthy format, and reproduced the illustrations in a way to display their full artistic value.

* * *

And now for another New Zealand book of a totally different nature. We are about to leave the select library atmosphere and enter a small news-agent's shop and snap up for a train journey a paper-backed book of gaudy coloured cover—” Outside the Law in New Zealand,” by Charles Belton. Until recently the author was a detective, and resigned with the intention of entering the political arena. The story he tells is an interesting one. He has written over fifty chapters covering as many aspects of a police constable and detective's routine. Opium dens, gambling raids, murderers, thieves and the like provide plenty of incident. Considering it is a paper-back, the publication is well-bound and clearly printed by the Gisborne Publishing Company.

A Roumanian Book-plate.

A Roumanian Book-plate.

“Association Copies” of New Zealand books have not yet come into their own in this country. By an “association copy” I mean a book autographed by, or accompanied by a letter or with a bookplate attached belonging to the author. The term “association copy” might also be extended as containing the signature or inscription of some outstanding figure contemporaneous with publication of the book. For instance, I regard as an “association copy” a bibliographic treasure of which, recently, I became the possessor—a copy of Kirk's “Forest Flora of New Zealand,” signed by Richard John Seddon and presented to the Bishop of Salisbury.

To my mind a worthwhile book is infinitely more pleasurable to read and to handle when it contains the signature of the writer or that of some notability of the period. Yet, at book auction sales in this country I notice that there is very little excitement when it is announced that a book is to be offered containing the signature of, say, Sir George Grey, William Pember Reeves, Wakefield or possibly Bracken. In other parts of the world, autographed or “association copies” are treated almost as objects of reverence. However, it is satisfactory to observe that interest in New Zealand literature, particularly the books of the last century, is steadily growing and with it will come an increased regard for “association copies.”


Must Australia Fight?” by Ion L. Idriess (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) must attract much attention on this side of the world with the international situation as it is. Idriess is an Anzac, and as most of us know has a facile pen, a sound, practical mind, and a keen sense of observation. He is well fitted, therefore, to discuss the pros and cons of Australia's danger and comparative unpreparedness. In his foreword he page 48 states: “This book is written simply because our country may be in danger and in the hope that some suggestion written here may help us both in peace and war.” The book discusses the various methods of possible attack and of defence; the navy's part; the many aspects of a big war; preparedness for war; and the manifold aspects of the problems Australia may have to face. The New Zealand aspect of the question is also introduced, and in this connection Idriess makes some interesting observations.

* * *

“The Cruise of the Raider Wolf,” by Roy Alexander (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is one of the most interesting books I have read. The German raider Wolf provided reams of copy during and after the Great War. This is the first complete and connected account of the amazing exploits of the raider. Here is the story of happenings at sea, on a par, almost, with Max Pemberton's “The Iron Pirate.” The master of the Wolf, Captain Nerger will go down in history on a plane equal almost to Drake or Jean Bart. Fitted out with the greatest secrecy the Wolf left Germany in November, 1916, and returned to Keil Harbour in February, 1918, in a leaking, battered condition. During the interval Captain Nerger had sailed his ship over 64,000 miles of warridden seas and by gunfire, mines and bombs had sunk 135,000 tons of shipping. The author was a wireless operator on a New Zealand 'Frisco ship, one of the Wolf's victims. In company with some hundreds of prisoners taken from vessels that were victims of the raider, Alexander had a “close-up” of the Wolf's wonderful adventurings. The horrors of the prison hold, the terrors of mine laying, the sinking of vessel after vessel, visits to desert islands, hair-breadth escapes from passing cruisers are some of the incidents of the voyage. The mine-laying in New Zealand waters provides a strong local interest. Captain Nerger is revealed as a brave and resourceful skipper and comparatively kind to his several hundred prisoners. The book is one of the most interesting true life stories ever penned.

* * *

“Larapinta,” by R. B. Plowman (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is the story of an ultra modern city girl whose character is remoulded into a lovable type by her transfer from the city to the back country of Australia. It leaves the thought that many another pert metropolitan miss might be remade by a course of training in rural self-reliance. Beth Forbes, an Adelaide typiste, is so anxious to squeeze the last atom of excitement into life that her health suffers in consequence. She is threatened with consumption and ordered by her doctor to the country. Much against her selfish inclinations, she leaves on a long holiday in the Macdonnell Ranges. On a large cattle station there she is transformed into a womanly woman and finds her heart's desire. The author's love of the Australia back country inspires him to many colourful word pictures of the bush.

* * *

“Call to the Winds,” by Captain P. G. Taylor (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) completes the trilogy of the air, written by this great airman and fine writer. Captain Taylor has a flair for recreating in words the exciting experiences he has been through with such super airmen as Smithy and Ulm. This latest book, the earlier ones were “Pacific Flight” and “Vh-Hxx,” tells the story of the all but disastrous flight of “Smithy,” Stannage and the author in May, 1935, when they embarked on their “Jubilee Mail” adventure. It will be remembered that on that occasion the Southern Cross struck trouble when some five hundred miles out from Sydney en route for New Zealand. One of the propellers was forced out of action through a broken exhaust. The “Cross” had to turn about and endeavour to make Australia, the while Smithy gave the order to dump everything except the mail. With almost miraculous manipulation by Smithy the 'plane limps back on its return journey. Then the oil pressure drops and to avert certain tragedy Captain Taylor performs the almost incredible feat of transferring oil from the starboard engine, which is out of action, to the port tank. In spite of his heroic efforts the mails have to be dumped. This drama of the air is described in breath-taking fashion by Captain Taylor who lives over the happening once more in a fashion so vivid that he carries his readers with him. Included in the book are accounts of a series of interesting flights undertaken by the author for the Sydney Morning Herald. The volume is well illustrated.

* * *


A few books by New Zealand writers due here by the time these notes go to press: “Roumania and the European Crisis,” by Hector Bolitho. “Present Without Leave,” by D'Arcy Cresswell (due from Cassell). “An Empire Prepared, a Study of the Defence Potentialities of Greater Britain,” by Donald Cowie (Cassell).

page 49

Pageant of Colour
In a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

In Taurangra these months are no time of grey days and colourless countryside.”

In Taurangra these months are no time of grey days and colourless countryside.”

In Tauranga it is the season of oranges. They hang on their round green trees like golden globes decorating candlelit Christmas trees. You see them glowing against the blue winter sky upon odd street corners, in the clipped shrubberies of formal gardens. You see them in serried rows in the neatly-raked orchards, the thin-skinned golden navel, and that queen of all citrus fruits, the New Zealand grape-fruit, a great bright globe as big as your two fists, dripping with juice and all the bitter-sweetness of sunny winter days.

It is the time of the lemon harvest. Through the brief, still, sunny days, the pickers are busy; the piled boxes of pale-yellow fruit go out from the orchards; in the dim fragrant interior of the big Government sheds on Morris Street the graders and packers work at full pressure; the motor-lorries roll up, and carry away thousands upon thousands of finished cases, stamped, and ready for the market.

For in Tauranga these months are no time of grey days and colourless countryside.

Winter is ushered in with a blaze of trumpets, the fanfare of scarlet of the tropical poinsettia. In every sheltered garden down Cameron Road and the Avenues, you see great clumps of the flaunting scarlet bracts, high above a man's head, as gallant as an army with banners.

The days are short, but the leaves, clinging late, hang like golden coins against the blue of the clear-washed sky. The great heads of the Phoenix palms hang motionless, bunched with yellow berries. It is the windless season of the year, and the estuaries which lie alongside the town shine like
Taurangra is noted for its citrus fruits.

Taurangra is noted for its citrus fruits.

blue satin in the sunlight. There is the sweetness of burning Jeaves in the air, and the hills behind the town are painted with a brush of purple, distinct in every detail.

It is the time of the persimmon, that strange perverse tree which hangs its golden fruit like fairy apples upon bare grey boughs against the sky. On great brown tangled vines, the Chinese gooseberry is ripening. Its fruit is brown and oval, with a thick hairy skin; the interior is ice-green, custard-flavoured, at once sharp and sweet.

You may still gather your fill of passion-fruit, for there has been no frost. Their purple skins are wrinkled and dusty; cut them open and they are a study in colour, golden juice and black seeds against the rose-veined white silk of the close-clinging lining. The banana passion fruit is yellow. page 50 page 51
“Serried rows of orange trees in neatly-rolled orchards.”

“Serried rows of orange trees in neatly-rolled orchards.”

shaped like a torpedo, sweet as honey and cloying as a melon.

Tree-tomatoes are ready, salmon-yellow and purple, oval as an egg, dangling on their tall, great-leafed plants. They look like salads, astringent and appetising, and like chutneys, brown and sweet, with spice and sugar and raisins. On the ground, ready for jam, the Cape gooseberries lie, yellow and ripe in their little dry brown-lantern cases. The fruit of the feijoa is ripe, that strange green-and-silver shrub with its showy, red-stemmed blossom. The fruit is small and perfumed, and tastes of pineapple. Guavas weigh down their bushes with their prodigal crop of wine-dark berries, ready for the glowing crimson jelly with its sharp characteristic tang.

Now oranges ripen, and the grape-fruit gathers sweetness. All through the town, the rose and crimson of the rhododendron glows like a leaping fire. The azalea Mollis follows it, in a stately harmony of old-gold and copper and brazen-yellow. Soon it will be the time of the pink-and-white oleanders, and the flowering cherries heavy with gracious blossom. Roses, which have never ceased to bloom, are coming to full beauty. The first plum is ready in November, the prunus pissardi, that purple-foliaged, ornamental tree, with its small, dark, almond-flavoured fruit so mouth-watering in pies. Then come strawberries, round and red, heaped in their chips, freshly-gathered from the strawberry gardens back in the hills. Christmas plums are red-and-yellow, and the Christmas peach ripens, pink-cheeked, and dripping with sweetness. Early apples are ready, and the pageant of summer has begun.

The pohutukawas have long been crimson along the beaches. Through the town the Bougainvilia flaunts its royal purple. Early in the New Year blossoms that loveliest of all flowering trees, the Jacaranda, with its clear-cut lacy foliage and heavenly-blue blossoms dancing against the sky.

Roses go on and on, and in the orchards, the nectarines ripen red as
Packing eitrus fruit for marketing.

Packing eitrus fruit for marketing.

velvet and white as silk, and the coppery gold of the apricots burns deeper under the heat of the sun. Tomato plants sag upon the ground exhausted by their own prodigality.

The season is at the full of bearing. All day long the mowers whirr in the hayfields, and the horses at the sweeps toil across the sun-bleached stubble. Harvest moons hang full and red through the dim haze of far bush burns. The apple orchards are full of cider and sweetness; drunken bees feast in the grass. Smoky purple plums ripen, and the golden-fleshed preserving peaches. Russet-skinned pears are ready, and the big pale-yellow, astringent quinces. Purple figs hang in languidly-sweet clusters. Grapes have reached maturity, and the heavy bunches, misty with bloom, drag down their prodigal vines.

Melons are ready; the hard-rinded water-melon, beloved of children, as pink and white as ice-cream; the golden rock-melon with its odd wrinkled skin and cloying sweetness; the pie-melon ready to be turned into gingered and amber-clear preserve. The sprawling vines are dragged about by slate-blue and golden pumpkins, by good yellow ironbarks, and striped green marrows. Cucumbers are ready for gathering, long and curled and green, and the round little apple cucumbers, white and cold and juicy. On their clinging rampant vines, the chokos are ripening, those strange prickly ovals, like seaurchins, and fruit and vegetable in one.

So autumn passes, lingeringly, the nights lengthen, and copper colours the English trees, slowly, reluctantly, so that the leaves may still be green when the first spring flowers star the gardens, and violets are in bloom.