Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 4, 1990
Footprints Farewell by Jeff Newport.Published by Nikau Press, P O Box 602, Nelson.
Printed by Stiles Printing Ltd.
236 pages, illustrated $40
Footprints Farewell is the latest and, as author Jeff Newport has intimated, the last book in the highly acclaimed Footprints series, which has dealt with the history of the Nelson back country, primarily between the Waimeas and Lake Rotoiti. This well produced and illustrated history is, in reality, two books. In the first part, Jeff further develops the theme of the settlement of Nelson's hinterland. The remainder of Footprints Farewell presents the edited reminiscences of Alex Kerr, a member of a well known pioneering family, that did much to open up the country in the Motupiko and upper Buller valleys.
While Jeff continues the history of the back country settlements, the format is a little different. Instead of covering one or more districts in some detail, Jeff Newport has successfully, and in a straight forward manner, portrayed the major changes that have occurred over the past century. He shows how some of the major technological advances, such as the motor car and electricity, have profoundly altered the peoples attitudes and the way they live. By drawing on his wealth of knowledge and personal experience of the country, he illustrates theses changes.
One of the themes developed is improvements in transport, and how these led to the demise of the accommodation houses. These necessary establishments, each with its own character and resident characters, were widespread. They were situated at strategic locations along the barely adequate, and often muddy, main roads and byways, and also were the first buildings to appear in any new farming, mining or sawmilling settlement The advent of the internal combustion engine accelerated the need for better roads, which shortened the travelling time between localities, leading to the demise of the accommodation houses. The book describes some of these accommodation houses, and abounds with descriptions of the trials and tribulations of the early motorist. Also chronicled are more important, broader, social changes the motor age induced, by reducing the dependence of the settlers on their own resources.
The introduction of electricity is another major theme which Jeff develops. The demand for electricity, first in the towns and then, progressively, in country districts, saw the building of small hydro stations, from the Waihopai in Marlborough, to the biggest of them all, the Cobb Scheme in Northwest Nelson. The changes that electricity brought to domestic life were far reaching, but now commonly overlooked. Refrigerators, washing machines, electric stoves, adequate lighting at night and the radio, gave more time for leisure. However, more income was needed to pay for such things and, as a consequence, many small, subsistence farms, tucked away in side valleys, slowly disappeared. Time became an increasingly dominant factor in daily life. For example, during the era of the accommodation houses, anyone setting out on a journey was never sure how long it might take, because of weather or state of the roads or fords. This, being regarded as nothing out of the ordinary, was readily accepted. Now that we know, to within a short period of time, how long a trip should take, we soon become frustrated if, for any reason, it takes longer. With the increase in the pace of life we have, compared to our forbears, become more out of touch with ourselves, our neighbours and our environment.
While documenting these changes to the way we live, Jeff has not entirely abandoned his earlier approach to describing the country districts. In Footprints Farewell, he provides further information on Tapawera and the Motupiko Valley, districts he has much personal experience of. The upper Motupiko Valley is rich in history, being close to Tophouse. This great saddle in the main divide provided, prior to the present roading system, the most practical overland route between Nelson and the east and west coasts.page 42
Within the upper Motupiko Valley is the once extensive Blue Glen Station, where Alex Kerr was born in 1912. Alex describes the everyday, but necessary chores, as well as the highlights and the personalities. The introduction of such things as electricity and the motor car, give added emphasis to the broader picture conveyed in the first part of Footprints Farewell. The two parts are therefore complementary and, although dealing with a diverse number of subjects, Jeff has avoided the pitfall of a disjointed account, all too common in a number of recent New Zealand histories.
The standard of publication is very high, it being a hard bound, well laid out volume, with easy to read type and high quality reproduction of figures. My only complaint is that more maps, showing the location of many of the places mentioned in the text, were not included. On a more positive note, however, is a good index. Whether to include references is always a vexed questions. For many, the inclusion of references makes the reading difficult and, considering the wide appeal of this book, this would have been a pity. For those wanting more information, the lack of such references can be frustrating. Unfortunately there is no easy answer, although some references are provided. With Jeff's reputation as a meticulous researcher, we are at least assured of the authenticity of the information given. Great credit must go to Barney Brewster of Nikau Press, who guided Jeff's manuscript into print Thanks must also be given to the printers, Stiles Printing Ltd of Nelson, for a very handsome finished product.
Finally we, and future generations, are profoundly in Jeff's debt, for he has recorded many details and facets of our history that were known to an increasing few. This has now been reversed and, consequently, Footprints Farewell will be a valuable reference book. No doubt, like its predecessors, it will soon be out of print and much sought after at auctions, or in secondhand bookshops.