New Zealand’s Worst Disasters: True Stories That Rocked a Nation
by Graham Hutchins and Russell Young (Exisle, $49.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan
This book is a chronological series of short, readable accounts of a wide variety of New Zealand disasters from 1855 to 2012: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires, mine explosions, drownings, shipwrecks, rail and plane crashes and more. The variety is one of this book’s strengths. It is the stories of the lesser known disasters that generate the most interest. I would expect all readers to find fascinating details about events that they had not previously heard of.
Despite its title referring to New Zealand’s worst disasters, the selection is somewhat idiosyncratic. It is has some surprising, unexplained omissions – most notably our worst mine disaster at Brunner on the West Coast where there were 65 deaths and our worst fire at Ballantynes department store in Christchurch with 41 deaths. They were not left out by accident as both are referred to in the text. These omissions are somewhat ironic when, in the introduction, the authors express the hope that “the lessons learned in earlier disasters will continue to be applied”. The Pike River disaster of 2010 and the Ralph mine disaster of 1914 – both in this book – clearly demonstrated that the lessons learned about methane explosions in the Brunner mine in 1896 were not applied.