Scoop Review of Books
Network

Take Flight

Book Review
Bird Words: New Zealand writers on birds
Edited by Elisabeth Easther (Vintage $35)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

bird_words_cover_webBirds excite a kind of joyful melancholy in us; from the humble sparrow to the lofty eagle we are in awe and envious at once of their gift of flight. They feature in myths and legends, on nation’s crests and money and we identify with them; we can be as proud as an eagle or wise as an owl. We mourn the loss of species and go to great lengths to save the ones we have left because without birds, we would be much poorer.

Bird Words takes the reader on a New Zealand journey on the wings of its birds both native and introduced. Starting with an extract from Witi Ihimaera’s Sky Dancer on the legendary origin of our birds, we travel through man’s arrival and exploitation of the pristine wilderness he stumbled upon at the bottom of the world to finally reaching the realisation of what he has and what the future would be like without them. The poems, short stories, articles and extracts from longer works, by 62 New Zealand writers from the past 150 years, almost mirror the journey we have made as a nation.

There is a wide selection of material from famous and lesser known writers, Sam Hunt rubs shoulders with 12-year-old Abby Mason, and from contemporary and historic writers, David Hill with Herbert Guthrie-Smith. Informative articles like Hal Smith’s exposition on the fight to save the black robin, alternate with fanciful ditties, Jon Gadsby’s Moa, reflective verse from the likes of Owen Marshall in his poem Refuge about where birds go in the wind, and thought provoking prose from past and present. You will discover which of our endangered birds were kept as pets, how naturalists discovered the Haast’s eagle, what made it easy for sparrows to spread throughout the country, why it’s dangerous to cycle in spring and which birds you will find on Tiritiri Matangi. You could dip in and sample each titbit but I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.

A small book. Bird Words is beautifully presented with reproductions of Lily Daff’s illustrations, commissioned by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand in the 1920s, scattered throughout. And the front and back inside covers feature the collective nouns of birds; round of robins, muster of storks, scoop of pelicans. It adds a nice finish to a book any bird fancier would love to own.

Our Great War

This is the third in a series of posts at Scoop Review of Books to remember the New Zealand Land Wars and to help mark Aotearoa New Zealand’s first official Rā Maumahara (28 October). The first was a Q&A with Tom Roa (Ngāti Apakura) about Vincent O’Malley’s book The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 – 2000; the second a review of Witi Ihimaera and Hēmi Kelly’s book Sleeps Standing/Moetū.

Book Review
The Great War for New Zealand – Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books, $79.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

bwb8126_the-great-war-for-new-zealand_lrNō te taenga ki te kōhuru i Rangiaowhia, kātahi au ka mōhio he tino pakanga nui tēnei nō Niu Tīreni [When it came to the murder at Rangiaowhia, I knew then for the first time that this was a great war for New Zealand – Wiremu Tamihana, 1865]

This is a BIG book. In size – 668 pages, several replete with pertinent photographs, colourful maps, plush paintings. In content – a heroic endeavour to encompass the Waikato wars from gestation through to finale. In ambition – to redress, once and for all, the still prevailing perception that the so-called Māori wars were merely a blip on the radar of New Zealand (military) history.

Vincent O’Malley succeeds in completely disestablishing the latter notion. The war for Waikato was a – perhaps the – key component of the ongoing physical and psychological 19th-century arm wrestle for the ultimate control of New Zealand – and everyone and everything in it. In other words, yes, the conflicts for the conquest for our nation may have commenced well before the Waikato saga of the early 1860s, such as the armed confrontations in Northland and Taranaki and – as some would have it – even the Musket tauā prior to these. Yes, there were indubitably also several serious later confrontations between Pākehā and Māori after the Waikato tumult, such as Pai Mārire raids and Ringatū ‘rebellions’.

However, O’Malley considers that,

On 12 July 1863 the biggest and most significant war ever fought on New Zealand shores commenced less than 40 miles from central Auckland, as British imperial troops crossed the Mangātawhiri River and invaded Waikato (9).

So significant, in fact that, although, “the staggering level of carnage” of the First World War,

is rightly remembered today, [but] it may have been eclipsed by the casualty rate suffered by Waikato Māori in 1863 and 1864. Cowan’s figure for the number of Māori killed in the Waikato War is more than twice as high per capita as the First World War casualties (370).

Read more »

No Middle Ground

Book Review | BWB Texts
The Ground Between: Navigating the Oil and Mining Debate in New Zealand, by Sefton Darby (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Catherine Delahunty

bwb1000_darby_the_ground_between_tip_frontWarning! This review is written by a person making no pretence of neutrality on the subject.

The series of small books published by Bridget Williams Books have been generally high quality and provocative reading. This book is not in that league.

In The Ground Between, Sefton Darby starts with the claim that he has worked for all “sides” of the mining debate. The elephants in the room and the side he has not worked for are the people whose community is either being mined or threatened with mining. I am reviewing this literary contribution as one of those people. Sefton’s thesis in this series of faux reasonable apologist rambles is that extractive industries are a huge base for our culture and the answer to the question to extract or not is “it depends”. He writes lucidly and clearly about how reasonable he is on this subject.

Sefton is correct about our current damaging dependency on oil, gas and minerals but his “it depends” misses some huge aspects of the debate. He makes nil structural references to vital, uncomfortable issues such as Te Tiriti o Waitangi rights, and the huge power imbalances between multinational corporations and local communities. The signature quote on the book jacket is “there is a deep dysfunction in the way we talk about oil and mining”. I agree, and I read this book to find an example of that dysfunction whereby the industry man presents himself as an advocate for a calm reasonable and evidence-based approach. When he worked for Newmont Gold in Waihi, the utterly unreasonable citizens whose houses were shaking from the open cast pit, the developing underground blasting, and their property values collapsing, made their feelings clear to him.  These people do not rate a mention in this book about so-called reasoned discussion. I know what these people said to him because I was there, in the court rooms and public meetings.

Waihi, from space, with Martha mine pit at left and tailings dams at right. Image from Google Earth 2017.

Waihi, from space, with Martha mine pit at left and tailings dams at right. Image from Google Earth 2017.

Read more »

Looking for Vampires in Vanuatu

Article
By Scott Hamilton

Last month a couple of vampires knocked on my door. It was after eight o’clock in the evening, and I had fallen asleep, as the fathers of three small boys so often do, on the couch. I opened the door and swallowed my yawn in alarm when I saw the black robes and blood-speckled cheeks of my visitors. One of them opened his black lips, and revealed two long fangs. Saliva dripped from them, so that they resembled melting blebs of ice.

The vampires were short, and I wondered for a moment whether a diet of blood and a nocturnal lifestyle had stunted their growth. Then I noticed the plastic pumpkin emerging like a distended stomach from the robe of one of the vampires, and heard both of my visitors squeal ‘Trick or treat!’, and heard the same greeting echoing through the twilight from a neighbour’s porch. I remembered that it was October the 31st, Halloween, and that, across Auckland and the other cities of New Zealand, groups of kids were hurrying up and down streets pounding on doors, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or desperate insurance salesmen. I yawned again and wandered inside to look for some chocolate in the fridge.

In New Zealand and in many other Western nations, vampires are in fashion. Movies like the Twilight Saga, television series like Van Helsing and Preacher, and a slough-heap of novels all describe the dress, diet, and social codes of the creatures. Sam Neil’s movie Daybreakers made vampirism into a sophisticated allegory for a resource-hungry capitalist society, and professors of cultural studies and sociology are publishing books with titles like Blood will Tell: vampires as metaphors before World War One and Vampires Today: a study of the subculture.

Read more »

Pioneer Biologist

Book Review
A Colonial Naturalist: Henry Suter’s life of discovery and hardship in New Zealand by Pamela Hyde (Sphenodon Publishing, Eastbourne. $35)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

suter-001_webIn 1927, eleven-year-old Charles Fleming was thrilled to be given a copy of Henry Suter’s two-volume Manual of New Zealand Mollusca as a Christmas present. They were volumes he had coveted, and was to treasure and refer to throughout his scientific career. Copies are now rare collector’s items, and the author is one of the forgotten men of New Zealand science. Apart from his Manual, little was known of Henry Suter’s life and wide-ranging research. This book, thoroughly researched from family records and world-wide archives by his great-granddaughter, is a fascinating account of the difficult life and eventual success of one of our pioneer biologists.

Born into a prosperous Swiss family, Heinrich Suter studied science subjects at the Federal Polytechnikum in Zurich. While he would have liked a scientific career, as the only son he was destined to follow his father into the silk business. As the years passed he maintained his scientific interests as an amateur biologist, specialising in land and freshwater mollusca. Unfortunately Suter’s business ventures were unsuccessful, and after 25 years he was heavily in debt and eventually declared bankrupt. His comfortable lifestyle ended abruptly in 1886, and Suter was faced with emigrating to start a new life, with a wife and seven children to support.

It is not clear why Suter chose to come to New Zealand, so distant from his homeland. He hoped to find employment as a professional scientist in the young colony, but New Zealand was in the throes of a long depression in the 1880s, and there were very few opportunities for paid employment in science. For the next thirty years Suter had a precarious existence, between ‘starving and living’ as he described it. He chose to be known as Henry, the anglicised version of his first name.

Read more »