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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 12 (March 1, 1940)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two — Pioneer Fales and Empire Building

page 39

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two
Pioneer Fales and Empire Building

I Have spent much of my spare time this month reading Centennial books. They made me realise what a wonderful story is wrapped up in this Island home of ours. What thoughts these books arouse of the early struggles of our pioneers and of the heritage they have created and handed on to us—a heritage of freedom and security! The reading of these books makes us realise more keenly that this freedom, so carefully protected for us by Britain, is to-day being menaced; yet might we not have grown selfish, careless and indolent, if sacrifices did not face us now? With the pioneer spirit still with us, however, we feel that the freedom we hold is safe in our hands, for we know how to guard it. We are reawakened and we will carry the grand torch forward.

Linked up with this thought is the realisation that what the pioneers fought to create for their children and their children's children was made infinitely more precious because it was born of sacrifice. So it is that a strong virile race has emerged—proud of the past and grateful for the present created for them.

Our centennial books, therefore, are particularly appropriate and also inspiring reading at the present time. The creative side of New Zealand prose and verse, however, is not built on or directly inspired by the national spirit. True, our writers in this field have written much of their own land, but, particularly in the case of our poets, they have told us more of the beauties of New Zealand than of the hard facts of life surrounding them. However, our poets write of “the golden dream” and our historians, of “the iron finger” so beautifully described by Arnold Cork in his pioneer poem:—

“The roads that thread my country are the weaving
Of faith into a deathless tapestry,
Wherein by golden dream and iron finger,
Hope wrought the frieze of her nativity.”

The books reviewed below tell this story. Alan Mulgan in his “City of the Strait,” unfolds the story of Wellington and we realise that this gift to us of a glorious capital city is to be guarded, and, maybe, pioneered again in the light of modern developments. Another book, “A New Zealand Judge,” reveals to us what character has meant and will mean in the creation of freedom and justice. “Pioneering the Pumice” shows us how a grappling with the soil will make her release to us her choicest gifts. Another book reveals new aspects of Maori tradition, the inspiration of our brown brother. Then we go to South Auckland and learn more lessons of Empire building from the pen of E. R. L. Wily. In fiction, built on historical fact by Nelle Scanlan, we read a novel of Wellington taking us even to the present day. The home, such a powerful influence in Empire building, is here intimately disclosed. Finally, we have two further numbers of Centennial Pictorial Surveys, one dealing with our squatters and the other with the winning of gold.

These “Pictorial Surveys of a Century” are truly the lesson books of the school we all must learn in now—the school wherein we must determine that sacrifice, which is really another name for charity. This learning is necessary for the holding together and the perpetuation, of our Empire of Faith and Freedom.

The book reviews following fit in, therefore, with the particular motif of this issue.


“The City of the Strait” by Alan Mulgan (A. H. and A. W. Reed, Publishers, Whitcombe and Tombs, Printers) is the official centennial book of Wellington and its province. From such an experienced writer as Mr. Mulgan, added to which is his press knowledge as to how to present a story to the public, one would expect an outstanding book. We are not disappointed. The story covers Wellington's hundred years, city as well as provincial, and the national aspect is not forgotten. The careful regard for historical facts, the portraits of prominent pioneers, the mass of detail, and the composition of these into a lengthy and interesting record, must place the book as the history of Wellington for many years to come. There is very little quotation from other sources, thus making for easy reading. Having a good personal knowledge of Wellington to-day, Mr. Mulgan is able to take his readers with him on a verbal sight-seeing tour and point out to them many historical landmarks.

Wakefield, Hobson and Grey and other notable figures of the early days are so well described that they take their places as vital figures in the interesting story told. The Maori wars are described and discussed in a fair, present-day perspective. These, then, are just a few impressions of mine about this notable book. The appendices to the volume are important, the illustrations carefully selected and splendidly reproduced.

* * *

“A New Zealand Judge,” by J. G. Denniston (A. H. and A. W. Reed) is the biography of Sir John Denniston, written by his son. The Dominion is proud in its record of those who have taken their seats on the Bench; here is the life story of one of its most colourful and distinguished occupants. This is a real biography because of the fact that it deals so intimately with the mental struggles and outlook of its subject. The part played by Sir John Denniston, first as a bank clerk in Otago in the gold-mining days and later as a lawyer and a judge of the Supreme Court, makes a particularly interesting story. There is admirable philosophy in some page 40 of the many interesting letters quoted. One letter in particular, from Dr. Giles, written during a critical period in Judge Denniston's life, is a document from the heart. A splendid biography this; so interesting and so full of the lessons of life and of Empire building.

* * *

“Pioneering the Pumice,” by E. Earle Vaile (Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd.), although not a Centennial book, is published at an appropriate time, and in the company of many pioneering books. The book tells the history of “Broadlands,” a huge estate in the pumice area near Lake Taupo, the story of its acquisition by the author, its development, its historical associations and its marvels of productivity. The pakeha has certainly driven beauty and fertility from thousands of areas in the Dominion, but he has also done great things to increase the fruits of the soil. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tale told by Mr. Vaile. In the first place the facts are related about the acquisition of this 53,000 acres of land, then the author's initial surveys and his decision that there was not a solitary area of useless land in the whole pumice region. To give the reader an intimate interest in the story the author devotes a chapter to his personal history up to the time when, just on forty years of age, and “blessed with a hardy constitution and a superabundant energy for work,” he bought Broadlands. With these qualifications Mr. Vaile set to work. He falsified the predictions of his friends “that within two years he would be the victim of the official assignee or a breakdown in health.” Succeeding chapters tell of the Maoris of the district, the plants, the animals, transport difficulties, and through it all the great and successful fight to cultivate and secure the fruits of the soil. The book is well written and has its relieving touches of humour. The illustrations are good and numerous.

* * *

“Tiako Talks” is a collection of Maori traditions and tales as related to Herries Beattie by Teone Taare Tiako, a well-known Maori scholar who died a few years ago. This book is one that will be widely discussed by students of the Maori race. The fact that its publication has been made by Messrs. A. H. and A. W. Reed will immediately impress even the most sceptical that, here is a book, although diverging materially from many of the accepted versions of Maori mythology, is nevertheless worthy of the closest consideration. The information imparted to Mr. Beattie by Tiako was gathered from apparently reliable sources. When he was a boy Tiako went through a ritual of preparedness for Maori learning, his tutors being two old Tohungas (learned men). From them he learned much, and added to this knowledge later from the oldest and best informed of his people. In the first chapter a number of new aspects of Maori life are introduced. The Maori story of Creation follows. The duties of the gods and their influences on meteorology comprise a particularly interesting chapter and give us a further insight into the knowledge possessed by our native race on weather prognostication. Tales of magic, of omens and dreams and of matters material, of wars and of customs are retailed in other chapters, with a wealth of detail. Mr. Beattie has written numerous notes to Tiako's Tales.

One chapter to be read with particular interest is “The Mana of the Maori.” Only recently I was seeking from a Maori student the meaning of this word mana, and his reply was by no means definite; prestige was the nearest English equivalent. Tiako, however, deals with the word at length and states that mana is the sacred everlasting fire. Many other Maori names are explained in the same chapter.

I hope I shall have space to make further reference to this book in a later issue.

* * *

“South Auckland,” by Henry E. R. L. Wily (printed and published by the Franklin Printing Co.) is very different from the run of other Centennial books. Here we have an old-fashioned story printed in an old-fashioned way. Perhaps for this very reason we recapture, in a more colourful fashion, the long ago. There are bibliophiles who will hold up their hands in amazement at the printing and the binding. To me, however, the book is a pleasing novelty. Its format suggests it was printed fifty years ago and its writing is the old world style of our grandfathers, yet both are in the atmosphere of the period depicted. It would not do to have all our Centennial books produced in this fashion, nevertheless I welcome this delightful exception. Mr. Wily tells a story full of incident and tells it well. He confesses that his book is not an actual historical record. This means that it is more spontaneous, and from a panoramic viewpoint more colourful than the records of the foot-rule historian. Because he has intimately experienced most aspects of the work and play of the pioneer we get closer to his subject. Take his comments on the timber industry—most interesting and instructive because the writer knows his subject. Land settlement, Maori wars, pioneer pastimes and mission activities are written of in a really interesting manner. A good book this, and the Centennial Library is better for its advent. It is a pity though that it covers only the first fifty years of South Auckland. There are many illustrations, all in keeping with the atmosphere of this old-world book.

* * *

“Kelly Pencarrow,” by Nelle M. Scanlan (Robert Hale, London) carries the Pencarrow saga to the eve of the outbreak of war. Pencarrow enthusiasts will welcome this book which is written in Miss Scanlan's best style. Perhaps we may divide the novel into two parts. The first deals with events surrounding the celebration of the silver wedding of Kelly Pencarrow (who is now the head of the family) and his wife. Pencarrows, their wives, husbands and children come from far and near. The characteristics, latent and developed, of the family circle are revealed in lively dialogue. We hear people talk just as they do in every-day life in New Zealand. No impossible conversations—just the pleasant (though sometimes heated) passages from normal, interesting people. Yet there is much interesting philosophy and much that is amusing. From this family gathering emerges a business plot, family intrigue and love interest. This provides the second half of the story in conjunction with a lively commentary on local politics and affairs abroad. On these matters Miss Scanlan is competent to speak and through dialogue and general description tells an interesting story which is also a semi-historical record. Most of the action of the novel takes place in and around the Wellington, so well known and aptly described by the author.