Scoop Review of Books

Five Stories about ‘The Settled Landscape’

Theme 4 of Te Ara, the online Encylopedia of New Zealand.
General Editor: Jock Phillips; Theme Editor: Allan Gillingham

Reviewed by SIMON NATHAN
sl1-1.jpgTe Ara, the Online Encylopedia of New Zealand, is being built up progressively, with a block of new content being added annually. The fourth section or theme is called ‘The Settled Landscape’, and deals with how humans have modified the land, clearing the forest and converting most of the lower altitude country to farmland. The emphasis of this theme is mainly on farming of both animals and crops. The 97 new articles cover a range of topics from superphosphate to animal diseases (which includes a chilling selection of illustrations). But it isn’t all technical stuff, as there is a delightful group of articles on Country Life.

One of the problems with any encyclopedia is the difficulty of finding your way around. Many users find the information they want through search engines such as Google – so don’t get any feeling for the richness of Te Ara. Like the earlier themes of Te Ara, there is loads of interesting material here, with a distinctive local flavour. The articles are written in clear simple language with a huge number of illustrations, including cartoons and video clips. But where to start? As a sampler, here is a selection of five articles that appealed to me.

Fire and agriculture (Robert Peden)
sl2-1.jpgNew Zealanders have always farmed with the aid of a matchbox. Soon after the first Maori arrived (about 1250-1300AD) they started to burn the forest, probably to flush out game birds such as moa and to make hunting easier. Repeated burning became a traditional way of maintaining fernlands. When Europeans started introducing large flocks of sheep, from the 1840s onwards, regular fires became an important way of opening up the high country.

Many of today’s erosion problems originated from the burning traditions that had grown up in both Maori and Pakeha populations.

Hoiho – horses and iwi (Basil Keane)
sl3-1.jpgEuropeans introduced the first horses to New Zealand in the early 19th century, and they were much prized by Maori. Transport and communication was rapidly speeded up. Within 50 years there were some areas where local Maori owned more horses than the Pakeha settlers. Horses were used by all iwi groups who took part in the New Zealand wars of the 1860s.

In many rural areas there is a close association between iwi and horse – including the Kaimanawa wild horses and the Nati horses of Ngati Porou. The Otaki Maori Racing Club, formed in 1886, still continues today.

Rural Mythologies (Jock Phillips)sl4-1.jpgTo early European eyes, New Zealand seemed a utopian land of milk and honey, which Thomas Hood summed up:

‘There is a land of pure delight
Where omelets grow on trees,
And roasted pigs come crying out,
“Oh! eat me if you please’

Of course, real life was a good deal more complicated. Eileen Duggan’s verse, written in 1933, paid tribute to honest country values:

‘I am glad that New Zealand lives by cattle.
I am glad that my country musters sheep.
There is honesty in woolshed and in cow bails,
And a working farmer earns his bit of sleep’.

Such was the importance of rural values that National party leaders Sid Holland and Keith Holyoake had their images remade as farmers

But by the early 20th century townies tend to chuckle at Fred Dagg or Wal from Footrot Flats rather than aspiring to be like them.

Tapa whenua (Rawiri Taonui)
Place Names (Malcolm McKinnon)

sl5.jpgThese companion articles cover the naming of the new land by both Maori and European emigrants. They fit together nicely, describing the derivation of many names from Hawaiki as well as later introductions from Europe. Many Maori names were originally recorded inaccurately by Europeans, and in recent years there has been a move to use the correct version.

One of the more bizarre stories is the introduction of what has become known as “Post Office Maori”. An amendment to the Designation of Districts Act 1894 gave priority to Maori names when news names were required (or to remove duplication). The names of new post offices were allocated from a central list, and often had no connection to the local area – thus were derived names such as Arapito, Waiuta and Harihari.

This article will be a great source for quiz masters – you can find out the derivation of Dargaville, Bulls, Lumsden and Cherry farm among others.

Hops, tobacco and hemp (Jim McAloon)
sl6.jpgThe pleasurable vices of beer, cigarettes and marijuana are all made from introduced plants, which is presumably why they are covered together in a single article. The tobacco industry was once a big money-earner around Nelson. Local MP Keith Holyoake was a vigorous advocate, earning himself the nickname of ‘Minister of Tobacco’. Now that smoking is on the decline, the tobacco industry is on the decline and all our tobacco is imported.

One of the interesting this about this article is to realise how much government involvement there has been in all the ‘vice plants’ over the years – financial and scientific assistance, producer boards and, of course, taxes


SIMON NATHAN is a Wellington-based geologist and writer. As Science Editor for Te Ara, the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, from 2003-07, he has become interested in writing for the web. Recent work includes editing and contributing to The Amazing World of James Hector (Awa Press, 2008) as well as web articles, blog pieces and book reviews.