Scoop Review of Books

Archive for October, 2016

Rescue Missions

Three Cities: Seeking hope in the Anthropocene
by Rod Oram (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by John Lang

BWB7760_Text_Three Cities_hi Res_0We’ve all heard of Beijing, London and Chicago—the three cities Rod Oram scaffolds his latest environmental insights upon—but we’ve not all heard of the Anthropocene; at least not yet. If the term is still slippery, you have an excuse, but not for much longer.

The BWB text, Three Cities: Seeking Hope in the Anthropocene takes readers for a whirlwind trip around the globe searching for the stirrings of something resembling hope, but unsurprisingly, not hope itself.

The Anthropocene epoch, superficially synonymous with climate change, but more accurately associated with the breadth of change being carved out on the natural world by humans, has only just begun, says the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA). A mere month ago, the WGA voted in favour of formally recommending (to the International Geological Congress) that the Anthropocene qualifies to succeed the 11,700 year-old Holocene epoch.

Oram’s text begins where it should, in Beijing, where the perils of climate change and its hopeful solutions are reacting with such unpredictability, even the most ardent experts can’t foresee the results.

China has admirably, if indignantly, taken to the problem of climate change of late, yet the oxymoron that is ‘sustainable’ and ‘development’ (sustainable development) has never been better embodied than within its borders. Bringing 300 million people out of poverty has had its drawbacks. Armed with a (coal) burning desire to spearhead the international energy transition, mostly born of necessity but with a likely pinch of pride, China plays out the ‘great contradiction’. Others can only gasp, or applaud. In 2015 alone, hundreds of new coal-fired power plants—the antithesis to combatting climate change—were commissioned; at the same time, over one hundred billion dollars was invested in renewable electricity. Read more »

Whose Goat Was That?

Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley
by Danyl McLauchlan (Victoria University Press, $30)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Mysteries_Aro_coverThe mysteries of the Aro Valley that I wanted anwers to were: Who distributed rustled sheep meat to the solo mothers in the area? Who fixed your car for a meal or a song behind a house in Aro Street? Where did all the wooden sheds disappear to on the properties with open fireplaces? Whose goat was it we passed around to eat the wild growth behind the houses? What were those funny plants here and there amongst the, um, weeds? Whose children were those anyway?
If I’d hoped for answers to these and other questions left over from the seventies when I lived there (didn’t everybody?) I was disappointed. I persevered with Danyl McLauchlan’s book and found even more unanswered questions. But I wasn’t disapponted.

McLauchlan’s latest Aro Valley adventure follws his Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley, but you don’t need to have read the first to enjoy the second. Mysterious Mysteries is a sharp, satirical and sometimes downright scary romp through and around that valley in ways that made me question the realities of the places I thought I knew so well. I doubt you need to be familiar with the area’s convoluted meanderings to appreciate the story, with its dark tunnels, rickety dwellings, underground waterways, and dubious bookshops, archives and cafes, all peopled by a motley cast that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Shakepearean stage (think Bottom the Weaver).

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Ko Tōku Reo, Tōku Ohooho

Ka Ngaro Te Reo: Māori language under siege in the 19th Century
by Paul Moon (Otago U Press, $39.95)
Why English? Confronting the Hydra
eds Pauline Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana & Ruanni Tupas (Multilingual Matters, $169; available as an e-book)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch

Ka_Ngaro_coverTry to imagine this land before English took root and, like a runaway invasive species, strangled everything in its path. Imagine a time when te Reo wasn’t a “language”, as we think of languages — not one tongue among many, but the universal tongue, the only tongue, the waka that carried the culture, history, whakapapa, tikanga, rites, rules, indeed “everything about Māori culture and society” that had been evolving here for more than seven centuries.
It might be impossible to step out of your own time, or to throw off your own cultural trappings, and inhabit the past, but historian Paul Moon does his best to lead us back there in the early part of his book, Ka Ngaro te Reo, which traces the decline of the Māori language from the arrival of Europeans to 1900, by which time te Reo’s path toward its current parlous state was firmly set.
It’s instructive to try think yourself into that world, when, as Moon explains it, te Reo was like a living entity with a mauri and personality “which required it to be treated with respect”; to appreciate the importance of the spoken word in a culture with no written words — hence no sacred texts or books or libraries or encyclopedias, or printed  maps (at least, not the kind we’re familiar with); to consider the significance of orators, language experts, storytellers, waiata, place names, whakapapa, pūrākau in recording the past and mapping the present; to realise how shockingly little time it took to nearly kill off this gift from the gods. Te Reo, Moon writes, went “from primacy to perishing in just 10 decades”.

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Norway to Otago

Goldfield Entrepreneurs: the Norwegian party of Waitahuna Gully, Otago
by Ross Barnett (Lawrence Athenaeum and Mining Institute, $35, available here.)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Waitahuna cover_sThe New Zealand gold rushes in the early 1860s attracted an influx of young men keen for adventure and to make money. Many nationalities took part in the search for gold, and much has been written about English-speaking gold-seekers as well as Chinese and Māori miners. This book is unique in dealing with a group of Norwegian miners who worked at Waitahuna, near Lawrence in west Otago. There is little mention of Norwegian miners elsewhere – for example they are entirely overlooked both in Te Ara – the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand and in the the recently published anthology Rushing for gold: life and commerce on the goldfields of New Zealand and Australia.

While the Norwegians were not part of the initial rush to Gabriel’s Gully in 1861-62, they arrived at nearby Waitahuna in 1864, and the party remained there for almost half a century, building one of the largest water-races in Otago which undoubtedly contributed to the longevity of their mining operation.

The gold-bearing rock they were mining was a cemented gravel known as the Blur Spur Conglomerate. Because of its hardness, effective gold recovery has always been difficult, and the mining party progressively refined their methods to improve the results. I was amazed at the persistence of the Norwegian group, working in a difficult environment. It seems that the key to their success was effective organisation and a high level of cooperation.

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