Blog Archives

Going high, Julia Millen

To the Mountains: A Collection of New Zealand Alpine Writing
Laurence Fearnley and Paul Hersey (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781988531205

Since the arrival of Pacific peoples, New Zealand’s mountains have enthralled and enchanted. Māori revered the craggy peaks from afar while they forged ways through the hinterland. The first European explorer, Abel Tasman, sailing to the Southern Ocean in 1642, recorded the sighting of “a large land, uplifted high”. Captain Cook’s crew were bent on “conquest” in more ways than one. This collection features the 1998 re-enactment by 13 climbers of the 1773 ascent of Mt Sparrman in Fiordland, made by a party from Cook’s second voyage on the Resolution.

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Posted in History, Literature, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Fighting the good fight, Philip Simpson

Fight for the Forests
Paul Bensemann
Potton and Burton, $70.00,
ISBN 9780947503130

This book is a marvellous chronicle of the people, the campaigns, the sorrows and sacrifices and, ultimately, the achievement to protect New Zealand’s unique publicly owned native forests. Set within the context of a brilliant overview by one of the fighters, Craig Potton, Paul Bensemann takes us through each campaign, in astonishing detail.

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction, Science

Wading in the waters, Sam Mahon

Beyond Manapouri: 50 Years of Environmental Politcs in New Zealand
Catherine Knight
Canterbury University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988503042

The battle to preserve our waters in this country has left us, as a nation, almost as bruised and divided as we were during the Springbok tour. There is a moment in the middle of any maelstrom in which you wonder how you got there; by which wrong move; by courtesy of whose malevolent god in particular. As if in answer, Catherine Knight has elegantly traced the evolution of environmental politics from Manapouri in 1972 to the Ruataniwha dam 30 years later. It is an overlay of torn landscapes, muddied waters, greed and broken hearts; it is a paean of lost opportunities.

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction, Review

The colony’s resident expert of choice, Simon Upton

James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader
Simon Nathan
Geoscience Society of New Zealand, $45.00
ISBN 9781877480461

Simon Nathan’s biography of Sir James Hector fills a major gap in the nation’s historical bibliography. The reasons why the gap remained unfilled for over a century following Hector’s death are worth pondering. A cursory glance through Nathan’s bibliography reveals full length biographies of several of Hector’s scientific contemporaries, McKay, Haast, Buller, Davis and Murchison among them. But Hector’s life, despite his towering public stature in the development of 19th-century New Zealand, remained confined to an MA thesis in 1936 and a more recent doctoral thesis devoted to his early life.

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Posted in Biography, History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Science

Outstanding achievement or pitiful war? Janet Hunt

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand
Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking (eds)
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781877578526

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand is a revised, expanded and renamed edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 2002). The new title is both more inviting and in keeping with an updated cover that clearly signals what is within: it is in attractive earthen tones and features William Sutton’s painting, Hills and Plains, Waikari 1956, in which the neatly segmented fields of the North Canterbury plains occupy the centre, framed at the top by tan-hued foothills and the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps and, at the bottom, by grey, featureless blocks of farm buildings. The dark shapes of macrocarpa windbreaks are conspicuous in the foreground and in the far distance. The view is devoid of indigenous vegetation, or animal or human life. It is a landscape that has been well and truly remade.

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Posted in History, Natural History, Review, Sociology

Dear familiars, Helen Curran

Creature Comforts: New Zealanders and their Pets: An Illustrated History Nancy Swarbrick Otago University Press, $55.00, ISBN 9781877578618 A New Zealand Book of Beasts: Animals in our Culture, History and Everyday Life Annie Potts, Philip Armstrong, Deidre Brown Auckland University

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Browsing, squawking and squabbling, Janet Hunt

Moa: The Life and Death of New Zealand’s Legendary Bird Quinn Berentson Craig Potton Publishing, $50.00, ISBN 9781877517846 It’s only 10 years since Richard Wolfe’s paperback Moa: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of a Giant Bird (2003) hit the

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction, Review

Vanished world, Dale Williams

Buller’s Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Work of J G Keulemans Geoff Norman Te Papa Press, $150.00, ISBN 9781877385889 Kids in a sweet shop. Nineteenth-century naturalists given a brand new country to play in gobbled up the apparent endless

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review

Transformation, Simon Upton

Home in the Howling Wilderness  Peter Holland Auckland University Press, $50.00, ISBN 9781869407391 This book is about what can be learned of the environmental and ecological understanding of pioneer farmers in the southern half of the South Island over the

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Strange Tookish yearnings, David Round

Shelter From the Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint Craig Potton Publishing, $80.00, ISBN 9781877517709 Our ancestors found no tropical paradise here; not even the long settled summers of the American

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