Dinosaurs, doctors and daredevils, Dale Williams

Valley of the Dinosaurs: The Story of New Zealand’s Dinosaur Woman
Joan Wiffen,
Random Century, $19.95 (128 pp)

When Joan Wiffen’s husband Pont became too ill to attend his geology night classes, this Hawke’s Bay housewife went in his place so as not to waste the fee. That started a lifelong fascination with fossils that has seen her discoveries written up in international scholarly journals, culminating in 1982 with her confirming the first proof that, contrary to current scientific opinion, New Zealand had had its own dinosaurs.

Her simply told, hugely enjoyable story of how she got into the palaeontology business, and what she gets out of it, will have wide appeal. In true No8 wire tradition, she describes how she and her husband built their own headquarters in the bush out of demolition materials, how she learned the laborious process of acid-bath stripping to extract the fossils from their boulders, and how she gradually convinced the New Zealand science mafia that there was indeed some point in recognising territorial vertebrate fossils in this country.

The dinosaurs had been there all along – but no one had been looking in the right place. Younger readers, too, will be quick to identify with its enthusiasm.

The rock was dislodged from the bed, turned over, lifted and carried carefully to the bank where we looked reverently at the bones of some animal that had lived 70 million years ago. As I ran my hands over those ancient, cold wet bones, I felt a surge of excitement – this was our introduction to vertebrate palaeotology.



The Intervening Years
Neil Begg,
John McIndoe, $39.95 (216 pp)

Subtitled ‘A New Zealand account of the years between the last two visits of Halley’s Comet’, these are Dr Neil Begg’s memoirs. Beginning with a note about the first Scottish Beggs to visit this part of the world, he progresses chronologically through his father’s eye-witness accounts and photographs from Gallipoli to his own childhood memories, including an idyllic interlude on unspoiled Chatham Islands, medical training and service in the Second World War, and the distinguished career in pediatrics which followed. His various world travels are described, interestingly enough, only in terms of what he learned about the subject he was pursuing at the time, such as the citizens’ health committees in China in 1976, or the early drawings of New Zealand from Cook’s Resolution voyage which he saw in Leningrad. Of particular interest to those familiar with Begg’s earlier books about South Island history will be the chapters dealing with his exploration of historic sites in the deep south, and his long association with the Historic Places Trust. His deep respect for Maori culture is evident in his discussion of the Trust’s meeting house programme and Maori attitudes towards the conservation of historic buildings.

Richard Robinson opened her skull and reflected the lining back to reveal an evil, white bag of fluid about the size of an orange. Delicately and expertly he separated it from surrounding tissues and then floated it out with saline. The [hydatid] cyst seemed to move and wobble as it slid over into the waiting hands of the theatre sister.



The Story of a New Zealand Flying Hero
Cobber Kain,
Michael Burns, Random Century, $29.95 (188 pp)

Scottish military and aviation writer Michael Burns revisits the life of Wellington’s own RAF flying ace Eddie Kain. By all accounts the sort of reckless daredevil that wars and motorways bring to the fore, Second World War fighter pilot Kain brought down around 40 enemy aircraft and twice himself survived being shot down. Darling of the wartime media, he died at the age of just 22 after crashing his Merlin while showing off to his friends ‑’beating up’ his airfield on the verge of going on leave to be married.

Today all but forgotten outside of the official histories (yet commemorated by Cobber Kain Street in Marton), Kain’s achievements are assiduously chronicled in this detailed work written in boys’-own-hero style that will appeal to older men and those who like their military history delivered blow by blow.

He knew he was wrong within seconds. They rounded on him – they were Bf 109s from his Wing’s opposite number at Bonn-Hangelar, Jagdgruppe 102! Ayest dived hard.


Dale Williams was until recently Associate Editor of Terra Nova.


Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review
Search the archive
Search by category