The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 7 (December 1, 1932)
Picture of New Zealand Life — Our Individuality
Picture of New Zealand Life
One of New Zealand's most eminent geologists has been expounding the essential and ancient difference between this country and Australia. He shows that the Tasman Sea separates two most strongly-contrasted lands, wholly diverse in geology and in vegetation and fauna. If the two countries, parted from each other by a thousand miles of ocean, were ever connected, it was in very remote times indeed; in fact, it may be said that these islands never were part of the Australian continent.
So scientific knowledge supports the patriotic faith that should be preached strenuously in New Zealand's future, as a stoutly individual nation. There was a time when this country was regarded as a kind of geographical pendant of Australia. That idea has been demolished; so, too, is demolished the old notion that New Zealand must be a copy of Australia in its political and social aspects. We are good neighbours, and are likely to remain so, and stand together in times of stress and danger; but the natural differences between the two countries is inevitably to be reflected in the life in the towns as on the land. That very difference has its advantages, for New Zealand is by virtue of its scenery and climate exactly the change that Australians require, particularly those in the more northern parts of the vast Commonwealth. In that respect, at any rate, the holiday-land aspect, we do not mind being regarded as the necessary complement of the big-fellow country across the salt water.
Lore of the Bush.
This season many of our young town-living people are seeing more of the country and the bush, thanks to the “mystery” train excursions, than ever they did before. This is all to the good; young New Zealanders, male and female after their kind, are all the better for learning to appreciate the beauty of the fine things in Nature, which no introduced trees and plants can ever equal in interest. The lore of the bush is full of charm, and the peculiar value of many trees and shrubs is coming to be appreciated by people who in the beginning did not know one native tree from another.
Just one example here of the interest, and in fact the possible commercial value, attaching to a tree seen in most of our forests. This is the handsome and useful page 46 tawhero, or kamahi, whose botanical name is Weinmannia racemosa. Wellington train excursionists recently were shown some specimens of it in Mr. W. H. Field's bush, at Waikanae. The bark of this tawhero is rich in tannin, like its cousin the towai, and the Maoris long ago discovered its uses. They bruised the bark and boiled it with the flax they wished to colour for their cloaks and mats. After boiling the flax for a short while in this decoction, they took it out and steeped it in red swamp mud, which contains peroxide of iron, and then dried it in the sun. This process coloured the flax an unfading red; a variation in the method produced a good brown dye. Some day, perhaps, the tawhero will be appreciated by the pakeha at its right value, and will then be cultivated and become a source of wealth and build up one more local industry.
And our forests are full of trees and shrubs whose useful properties are known to the wise old Maoris. The medicinal value of many of our plants is in itself a subject that calls for scientific research, by, say, the Cawthron Institute.
The Waipoua Forest.
The future of the Waipoua kauri forest, one of New Zealand's great natural treasures, is debated every now and again. Sawmilling interests in the North agitate for a whack at Waipoua; there is a certain class of mind which sees nothing in a grand old tree but so many thousand feet of timber, worth so much. “Cut out the big trees” is their cry; if they had their way Waipoua would be mutilated, ruined, for those big trees are the glory of the forest Some of them have been there for considerably more than a thousand years. They were growing there probably before the ancestors of our Maoris came to New Zealand; they will be there, if they are left alone, long after we are dust—or ashes. A tribute of reverence and adoration is due to such noble things, trees that no other land, can show.
His Excellency the Governor has given an inspiring lead anew in the cause of “Hands Off Waipoua.” Like other discerning men from abroad who have seen Waipoua, Lord Bledisloe impresses on New Zealanders the wonderful treasure the country possesses in Waipoua, and the sacred duty of saving it from interference.
It is clear that the reserve should be proclaimed a sanctuary, a place tapu, untouchable by commercial interests.
The Toheroa's Domain.
It was amusing to read in recent cable messages from Sydney the motorists' criticism of the toheroa shellfish tribe's interference with the speeding-up condition of the so-called Ninety-Mile Beach—which is really only fifty miles. After all, it must be conceded that the toheroa community was there first. And, really, if we could only enter into the toheroa's point of view, we could perceive the poetic justice of it all. The fact is that the great beach is an excellent motoring highway so long as one is content to travel at a moderate rate—say up to fifty miles an hour, quite reasonable for those limitless places where Nature made the thoroughfare.
For Mr. and Mrs. Toheroa and all the little 'uns, it can be claimed that they are a distinct asset to the country. According to the last official return, a total of 6532 cases of toheroa were packed for the market in a year, representing a value of £12,442. Most of this quantity came from the Ninety (Fifty) Mile Beach. There is something to be said, therefore, for a Ngati-Toheroa plea to be allowed a choice to live for the market and the interests of the Dominion and the Empire as a whole, and saved from the rubber-shod heel of that tyrant of our age, the speedster's motor car.
Some Storied Churches.
A peculiar interest attaches to some of the old-fashioned churches dating back to the first Bishop Selwyn's time that one sees here and there in the Waikatp and elsewhere. They were built with funds subscribed chiefly by the Maoris, and largely by Maori labour, and until the wars and the confiscation of native land their congregations were Maori. Now, never a Maori is seen within their doors, for the pakeha, after the conquest, took church as well as the land; and now they are the local parish churches.
One of these is the pretty Church of England in Te Awamutu; another is Rangiaowhia Church, three miles away. Yet another is the celebrated Volkner Church, in page 47 the middle of Opotiki town, once the worshipping place of the Whakatohea tribe. The only church I know that has remained wholly Maori through all the changing times since the Fifties of last century is the massive native-built church at Otaki, described in a recent number of the Railways Magazine.
The most venerable of all our New Zealand churches is the little English Church in famous Kororareka, the modern township of Russell. It is very little short of a century in age; it was there before New Zealand came under the British flag. But it has been renovated, and in one way or another, it does not possess the antique charm that the two old solidly-timbered Waikato churches mentioned, hold for the eye.
There are, happily, indications that New Zealanders are beginning to realise what a curse the opossum is to the bush and the orchards. Like the rabbit, it is one of those creatures which once introduced is fearfully difficult to get rid of. It is strange to find Acclimatisation Societies actually urging that more opossums should be liberated; there are, it seems, some areas of bush yet “un-stocked,” and the societies cannot rest until they have infested them too with the little animal that has proved a pest.
The Auckland Institute Council, the principle scientific body in North New Zealand, is gravely concerned over the unrestricted spread of the opossum, and such men as Professor A. P. Thomas and Professor Worley strongly condemn it as an enemy of the orchards, the bush, and the native birds. Fruitgrowers complain bitterly of the destruction which the opossum carries to orchards, and scientists and bushmen alike testify to the damage caused in the forests. Now, the Auckland body calls for steps to be taken to exterminate the pest.
It is not an easy matter, that proposed raid on the opossum in retaliation for its raids on our bush and birds and fruit. You can't pot a 'possum as you would a red deer or a wild goat, and there is the small matter of official protection and the revenue from royalties on skins. It is now fairly a subject for discussion and for education of the public mind on the subject. One thing is very obvious—when New Zealand fatuously imported those first pet 'possums it didn't know what it was letting itself in for. It was the same with our dear little friend the rabbit, seventy years ago.page 48