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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 43

National Domains

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National Domains.

The subject of national domains, parks, or reserves, is a matter of such general interest, that probably no long time will elapse before the question will thoroughly engage the attention of the public. These proposed national domains concerning which it is intended to offer some remarks and suggestions, may be divided into several classes, according to the purposes for which it is proposed they should be specially dedicated; they may be associated with the establishment of sanitaria, forest conservancy, or the preservation of the indigenous fauna of New Zealand. Tears ago, a large-hearted philanthropist (all honour to him) devised a notable and important scheme, having for its object the institution of a great sanitarium in the celebrated hot-lake district, including Rotomahana and Rotorua. Why should so beneficent a project be subjected to further delay ? It may be anticipated that no insuperable difficulties would be found to beset the path of a Government which should show a disposition to enter into equitable arrangements and agreements with native landowners, to the effectual exclusion of speculative land acquirers, so that the famous health-giving region should not present a field for the exhibition of rapacity in the way of forestallment. If the philanthropic scheme of the proposed sanitarium was carried out, with due exercise of proper care and management, the result, beneficial alike to pakeha and Maori, would be the bestowal of a boon to the whole world, but more especially would the institution be appreciated by those who have "cast their lines in pleasant places" in Australasia. It could be made a blessing in which the afflicted poor should have their portion in the alleviation of acute sufferings, too often brought on from toil and exposure in a changeful climate; medical men, trustees of hospitals, distributors of charitable aid, must doubtless be interested in this question. Under the present state of affairs, which can scarcely be deemed satisfactory, even by those disposed to look only on the bright side of things, visitors and invalids from afar, repair to this celebrated tract of country, seeking the benefit of, its healing waters they have to endure the roughest form of accommodation, they have to take the baths rashly, or perhaps without medical supervision. These pools, unlike that of Bethesda, are at present only open to the page 2 wealthy, they are altogether too costly for any but the rich who can bear golden keys to unlock the gates. The expression "taking the baths rashly" is used because, out of the almost countless geysers, springs, jets of water, vapour, or mud, what proportion of them have been subjected to thorough chemical analysis? what is really known of their constituent parts, so that an appreciative value can be attached to them as to their specific value for aiding suffering humanity?

Now here, surely, is good and ample work for the laboratory—work which calls for prompt action, but which must be undertaken on the spot, the most careful, searching investigation; what is required to be known is the truth—the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—for which scientific authority must he held responsible. Let us look at the area of country it is proposed to deal with, it includes many square miles, it is most unlikely that satisfactory, trustworthy deductions could be drawn from the results of tests, however carefully applied, to the contents of vessels of waters, collected by agents, and forwarded to a distant laboratory. In all probability, the agents employed would have no special interest in the work, possibly no chemical knowledge whatever, it would be almost miraculous if they did not overlook sources which yield products of most valuable hygienic qualities. It may be said that a searching investigation in situ would necessarily entail the expenditure of time and money, but surely both would be well and profitably employed in the diffusion of accurate knowledge of a great natural resource for the healing of the sick. The Government could avail itself of the assistance of the Geological Survey department to secure the services of an accomplished chemist, who would doubtless esteem it a piece of good fortune to be selected for the duty of exploring an almost untrodden field, stored with unsolved problems, awaiting the interpretation of scientific research. The establishment of a beneficent sanitarium whose curative virtues should be within reach of the very poorest of our afflicted fellow-creatures, would make such a domain as proposed, an institution of which any nation might feel proud in having so valuable a trust committed to its keeping.

Reserves for forest conservancy commend themselves to those who take into thoughtful consideration some of the effects that follow the speed with which the settlement of Europeans on the soil progresses throughout the greater part of New Zealand—effects which every year makes it more manifest, that the indigenous objects which illustrate the province of natural history are becoming rarer from day to day; the state of decadence or exhaustion applies both to vegetable and animal life. Anyone desirous of ascertaining something like a notion as to the extent to which the produce of our forests is annually consumed (not to say wasted, in some cases), would probably turn for page 3 information to papers and reports on New Zealand forests, interesting documents which have at various periods been laid before the Houses of Assembly. He is advised to use the evidence of his own eyes—also—which probably he will find fully as reliable as the contents of any "Blue Book" he is likely to peruse, not that Parliamentary papers do not contain information of peculiar value*—sometimes. However, from whatever sources the inquirer may obtain his information, he will find the progress of disforesting is startling from its very rapidity; looking near home, he might feel surprised at the indifference with which our administrators have viewed the process of denudation, and be led to infer that Banks' Peninsula, the forests of Oxford, Alford, and Mount Peel, were alike unknown to them. Let us take a glance beyond Canterbury. Accessible timber forests are almost everywhere attacked with ruthless determination, whilst, on the other hand, the formation of plantations for the future timber growth of the country advances slowly indeed; the very interesting inquiry suggests itself, what proportion does the extent of timber-planted land bear to the acreage of woodlands used up or destroyed? Concerning these forests, which form so valuable a portion of the estate of the country, which are so well worth the trouble and outlay of being carefully tended, are we satisfied that they are not permitted to suffer damage from culpable neglect? Kauri, totara, black pine, puriri, pohutukawa, kowhai, rata, and a host of other timber, possessing qualities of known value for building or general purposes, appear to be threatened with speedy destruction, unless their impending fate is averted by ample reserves being made and preserved. These tracts of woodland it is thus proposed to set aside for the purposes of conservation would to a great extent become the nurseries and storehouses (so to speak) of the indigenous flora of New Zealand. It must be borne in mind that no sufficient reason has yet been advanced why the cultivation of native forest trees should be abandoned; it seems almost puerile to give up attempts to reproduce indigenous forest trees, because there may have been failures; disappointments may have been caused, because the ordinary method of the English nursery system, may be unsuitable to cope with certain climatic influences in New Zealand, as regards the cultivation of its native trees.

The problem has yet to be solved as to the quality o£ the timber of exotic species which are being grown here; this, too, a question of a rather remote future, unfortunately cannot be determined till after the lapse of many a decade has enabled proof to be obtained as to the page 4 influence, beneficial or otherwise, of the soil and climate of New Zealand on the wood of foreign timber trees. Under the softer clime of these latitudes, will the sturdy British oak retain its fame for compactness and solidity, or will it more nearly approach the less valued qualities of the Turkey oak (Q. certis)? Will the ash (truly the farmers' tree) produce its wood as tough and elastic as in the old country ? What can be learnt from analogous cases? We know that long experience amongst foresters has proved the Scotch fir (Pinus sylvestris) grown in the cold upland districts in the Highlands, yield timber far superior in quality to that of the same species cultivated in England, or even in the Lowlands of Scotland. Briefly, is it probable that the timber of foreign species will necessarily surpass in valuable qualities that of the native forest trees ? Then there is the danger of fashion, be it remembered, it ever surpasses reason in the readiness, and boldness of its followers.

There is a fashion in planting trees as in other matters; old settlers can doubtless recollect the rise, progress, and decay of the willow and poplar period, which was succeeded by a furor for the blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus); this stately fast-growing Australasian in its turn had to succumb to the fresher attractions of Californian conferee, of whose economic uses but little that is certain is as yet known. How long will needle-leaved pines maintain their hold on public favour?

In the present rage for disforesting broad tracts of woodland, there is surely room enough for all; let there be planted every valuable exotic that can be acclimatised, but do not let us become reckless, and sweep away native timbers whose qualities have been proved, either because their cultivation has been attended with difficulty, or the ready method of rearing them is yet imperfectly understood. It has taken hundreds of years to produce some of the magnificent specimens of vegetable growth which so thickly stud our New Zealand forest; these gigantic trees are but too often wantonly destroyed; we believe nowhere amongst older communities could be witnessed or would be permitted, so much wanton waste of valuable resources. ? For the preservation and reproduction of the valuable native timber trees, we place faith in reserving ample tracts of the best forest growth (where it is yet possible) for conservancy purposes, under strict and responsible supervision. Let us not consume everything to-day without thought of the morrow.

The interesting forms of animal life indigenous to New Zealand evidently require further protective care than they at present receive from the legislative enactments of the General Assembly. Anyone who reads the schedules containing the names of birds sought to be page 5 protected may possibly feel disposed to enquire* why or on what principle those favoured names were enrolled as to be special objects of legislative care, whilst those of so many other species, with apparently equal claims to consideration, were left to take their chance in the close struggle for life. Native birds have to contend against the effects of the changes which colonisation has wrought in the aspect of the country, the substitution of the occupations, sports, and customs of Europeans for those of the aboriginal inhabitants. The regular farming system of the European over a wide extent of country, must be far less friendly to bird life than was the comparatively cramped cultivations of the Maoris, their patches of ground exhausted after a certain amount of cropping, were again suffered to throw up a rank wilderness of untouched vegetation. Birds were killed for food rather than sport, though no doubt the successful hunter marked his triumphs by wearing some of the spoils of plumage; a custom at first adopted perhaps as a modest and concise method of announcing the result of a wearisome but successful chase. Pray allow the space of a line or two in which to deplore the ignorance of these wild children of the forest, to lament that in the depth of their heathenness they lost so much of the luxuries of civilisation. Even in the taking of animal life to satisfy their food cravings, they exhibited their savagery, for unknown to them was the art of the taxidermist, in whose skilful hands the pliant wire, covered with flaxen tow, causes birds to posture in strange attitudes, with limbs arrayed sometimes in colours as fanciful as proud Malvolio's hose. Alas, they knew not of the wondrous simulation of life derived from glittering eyes of glass, the rich variety of expression; they dreamed not that the joyous mokomoko, with its page 6 rippling peals of song, would ever bewilder their descendants by appearing in the forest glades with irides beaming with deepest red, whilst from his life-like pose on his scientific perch, he probably gazes at the shuddering onlooker "with eyes of heavenly blue." The efforts of some taxidermists show as lavish an employment of pigments and powder as a modern Venus, made beautiful for ever, when rising from the hands of a Madame Rachael; in one well-known collection of these garments of the dead, a pair of pukekos bear on their heads glistening knobs of sealing-wax that would perhaps suffice to secure inviolability for half a dozen bank parcels. All, the heathen Maori never realised these joys. Under our régime, we find sportsmen, dealers, and collectors, all more or less exacting in their requisitions of the life of our native fauna. Sportsmen, one is bound to say, are usually conscientiously punctilious in observing certain rules as to proper times and seasons in which their sport may be pursued, they fairly recognise breeding seasons; but their improved weapons of precision must' tell heavily against the escape of their feathered game. Bird dealers, agents, and collectors for museums, are not as a rule troubled with any scruples as to times and seasons in which their spoils may be obtained; winter and summer plumage, sexual distinctions, immature and adult forms, are each in their several states attractive to collectors. You are not expected to speak out on this subject of bird slaughter, you are numbered with the Philistines if you murmur at wounding and maiming in the interests of museums; mortal offence was said to have been given by an indiscreet individual who recorded the fact that one collector alone had killed and disposed of above two thousand specimens of the harmless kiwi.

Biologists have made New Zealand a special province on account of some of its very peculiar forms of life; this in itself stimulates the anxious local collector, who trades on his spoils with European and American museums. It will not redound to our credit if we suffer the indigenous fauna to be exterminated without some further efforts for its preservation. It is offered as a suggestion that considerable areas of land might be set aside and held under tapu as to dog and gun; out of nearly seventy million of acres, a block here and there might be reserved for this special purpose. There is, for instance, Resolution Isle, amongst the sounds to the S. W. of this Island, favourably situated for the purpose; it is out of the track of settlement at present, visited but now and then by a band of wandering sealers. It might be proclaimed as a park or domain where animals should not be molested under any pretence whatever, in fact it should truly be a camp of refuge. Some of the small! islets off the N. E. coast of the North Island might be similarly dealt with. Of course it will be said there are difficulties in the way, collectors will be specially attracted to these spots, when so proclaimed; but, it is added, how are the quarantine grounds protected from intrusion?

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In strongly advocating the policy of conservancy, it only remains to say that it is now ten years since the writer had the honour of introducing to the General Assembly the subject of forest conservation; that the reservation of Resolution Island for the purpose indicated was suggested in a series of papers on natural history which appeared in an English periodical, and was subsequently reprinted here.

It is firmly believed that the proposals contained in this article, if carried out, will show from year to year that without risk or loss much public benefit can be drawn from the establishment of national domains.

T. H. Potts.

decorative feature

* The General Assembly commenced their long and arduous task of making laws for the protection of certain animals and birds within New Zealand, and the increase arising therefrom, &c., &c., by passing "The Protection of Certain Animals Act 1861," followed by—

  • "The Birds Protection Act, 1862"
  • "The Wild Birds Protection Act, 1864"
  • "The Protection of Certain Animals Act, 1865"
  • "The Protection of Certain Animals Act, Amendment Act, 1866"
  • "The Protection of Animals Act, 1867"
  • The Protection of Animals Act, Amendment Act, 1868"
  • "The Protection of Animals Act, 1872"
  • "The Protection of Animals Act, 1873"
  • "The Protection of Animals Act, Amendment Act, 1875."

It is rather singular that in the list of the protected birds the names of those the are of the very greatest value to farmers, have been entirely omitted.