May 28, 2009

Foreign Reflections Upon New Zealand 1866-2009

Usually adhering to the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words, this journal is not overly given to publishing verbose articles, however this particular instance is what we hope will be an exception of some interest to armchair historians and sociologists alike.

Published 143 years apart, these are two foreign perspectives upon New Zealand, the former having been lightly edited for the sake of modern comprehension.

Not being able to resist a temptation for pictorial inclusion, below is a pair of matching south-easterly views of Cathedral Square in the years of the articles' publication.

The Brisbane Courier

Tuesday, 14 August, 1866

Will Victoria be the foremost of Australian colonies in the future? Hitherto we have not permitted ourselves to doubt it, but then it is only quite lately that events in New Zealand have been calling attention to the extraordinary resources and prospects of that country. Long secluded, petty, and almost unnoticed, the settlements in those islands have suddenly sprung into a prominence and importance, which recalls the progress of our own early days. Communities are quickly built up in these regions of the far south, which were a hemisphere of mystery to the old world a few short years ago.

The turn of New Zealand is fast coming; within four or five years she has doubled her inhabitants. Population is multiplying, not only on the auriferous hillsides and terraces of Otago and Westland, but in the province of Auckland, furthest removed from the goldfields. Her bound into importance has been so sudden that those great islands have not been over named yet.

Countries as large as England and Scotland are only distinguished as the North and South Islands - the native appellations, unlike native ones in general, being in this instance too clumsy and long-winded for every day use; while as for the common term New Zealand, it cannot, of course, serve for the future, and, as inappropriate and absurd, its withdrawal was long since determined on.

If their present extraordinary advance be sustained, those islands will be soon well on the path to that magnificent destiny which, from their geographical position and great natural opportunities, was predicted for them by the thoughtful in England long before the first of our settlements were formed on their shores.

Perhaps it is in climate that New Zealand has the most striking advantage over the Australian continent. Being very mountainous, surrounded by the ocean, and far from any other land, there are no desert winds, and the moisture is perennial, and at all seasons reliable. The country is about the size of Great Britain, but the shape being much more elongated, there are greater varieties of temperature; for while the sugar cane, it is suspected, would grow in the peninsula of the extreme north, Antarctic breezes give to the south the winter of Britain. As a whole, however, the climate has been compared, not unjustly, to that of Great Britain in its vicissitudes at all seasons, and its influence on the soil and the human constitution. There is no country, therefore, better adapted for the transplantation of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic races, with a successful perpetuation of the original type.

It is entirely because of the difference of climate between New Zealand and the archipelagoes of the Pacific that the Maoris are so much more energetic, industrious, and masculine, than their soft kinsmen of the Sandwich and Society Islands (Hawaii & Tahiti). And the earth, like the air, seems fashioned for the development of a great nation. Noble harbors indent the coasts, great and deep rivers, hundreds of yards wide, hundreds of miles long, traverse the plains, the mountains are as high as those of Switzerland, the forests as majestic as in the tropics. And over so many degrees of latitude almost all useful plants, except those exclusively of the torrid zone, can find congenial growth-all cereals, from the hardy oat and rye which need the cold, to rice and maize which love the sun-all fruits and vegetables and their products, except, perhaps wine, for which the restlessness of the atmosphere may not be well suited. All minerals, from gold, the most artificially valuable, to iron and coal, the most useful, are found. Then the constant verdure affords unlimited scope for grazing, and the adjacent seas yield an abundance of fish.

Just now the South Island has the largest population because of the gold-fields, but in more permanent advantages the North is vastly superior. It has not its neighbour's severe winters, the mountain masses do not engross so much of its surface, the extent of fertile land is far greater, and the navigable rivers have longer courses. The North Island must be the principal seat of agriculture and of internal and external trade.

The two islands are rising into importance so fast, and their chief seats of population are so very distant from each other, that their formation into two colonies cannot be long postponed. The late removal of the capital to the town of Wellington on the dividing strait, as a central situation, was almost superfluous in the present aspect of affairs. It is not a central seat of Government that the islands are now asking for, but distinct governments, as they have distinct interests. The South has only a couple of native tribes, and no Maori wars, and grumbles at being taxed for the expense, while the North has no gold-fields or digging populations. Already, therefore, the chief communities in both quarters are agitating for separation. Our New Zealand correspondent mentions in his last letter that Auckland is to make common cause in the General Assembly, which has just met, with Otago and Canterbury on this subject, and these three provinces have twice and a half as many in habitants as the other six.

As for the grand old native war-like race, it is fast passing away without fulfilling the dream of Sydney Smith, of amalgamating with its supplanters. Diffenbach estimated the Maoris at 115,000 in the beginning of the present century. In 1861, an estimate based on a recent census returned them as 55,336. Now, says our correspondent, nobody believes that they exceed 40,000 souls. That which was probably their last war with us is virtually at an end. Most of our regular forces leaving, no longer necessary in New Zealand.

Subdued and hopeless, a fatal despair has seized upon the proud Maori that dull depression, that tedium vité which smites with the hand of death. Among the tribes which have submitted the mortality is described as astonishing. Without the presence of epidemic or other active cause, two hundred individuals of some small hapus near Raglan died off within two months. The Maori is departing over the rocks of Cape Reinga - the gateway of the land of spirits. Centuries hence, when millions of civilised, and therefore superior, men occupy the plains and mountains, the valor and the fate of the ancient owners of the land will be the theme of many a tradition, of many a poetic fancy. Time will lend its embellishment, and history will not forget the gallant aborigines of New Zealand.

by Graeme and Sarah, Manchester, U.K.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

3 million deer, 4.5 million people, 9 million cows, 50 million sheep and 90(!) million possums all wrapped up in one amazing country. New Zealand has been everything we'd hoped it was going to be and a whole lot more. The comments and complaints about the weather have proably been more frequent than merited and the climate has probably been not too far from expected overall. Lack of stiff upper lip on my part probably mixed with a propensity for boredom if I'm not fully occupied all the time! If I could go back and swap some warmer less changeable weather for the sheer isolation we've been able to enjoy, I'm not convinced it would be an easy decision. Not only the deserted roads and beaches we've had all to ourselves but the attractions too - as a perfect example only yesterday we spent the last 30 minutes of opening hours in Christchurch wildlife park all alone apart from the keepers. Surely high season would rob us of delights like that, and also of the unlimited access we've had to the very knowledgeable guides that seem to be there at every single trip, museum or attraction.

The country in general is a strange mix of cultural influences. The Maori are not just part of the country's rich history - Maori community is very much alive and kicking and the chiefs still play a major role in shaping NZ politics and the policies adopted both domestically and abroad. Popular culture - rather than the UK influence I expected there, are large signs of US-style influence abound. The way the cool kids dress, the structure and delivery of the content on TV, the diet and attitudes toward and marketing of food all have more than a doff of the cap to the States. Immigration is booming despite more recent tightening of controls and the proliferation of communities from SE Asia is easy to see in the larger cities and it's influence will surely only grow as a wave of NZ-born talented immigrants emerge from the academic system into the workforce.

The country is very proud of it's potential for self-sustenance with it's farming produce and also it's renewed Swiss-style approach to foreign policy. The residents of each town or city are fiercely proud of it in it's own right and the jokey rivalry with the opposing island is as clear to see as the slightly less friendly comments made at the expense of the Aussies.

Above all, there is a relaxed and friendly attitude wherever you go in NZ and coupled with the unrivaled natural beauty makes for a wonderful place to visit and one that surely can't come with anything less than a very strong recommendation to get here and see it for yourself whenever you can!

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