Thursday, February 15, 2007

Looking east

This is the view I've had for the last four days. Skyler and I are housesitting on a property that sits on, or rather falls down, one of the ridges that run off the city side of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland.

In The Ideal Society and its Enemies, his revisionist history of New Zealand, Miles Fairburn argues that Kiwis have historically been fixated on winning a 'competency' - that is, a perceived independence from the rest of society, expressed in the form of a block of land. Even when the dream of a nation of cow cocky yeomen on twenty acre blocks carved out of the bush faded, and New Zealand became one of the most urbanised societies in the world, the desire for a 'competency' remained. Fairburn argues that the first Labour government's state housing programme only became a roaring success in the 1930s because the houses were set on quarter acre blocks, where vege gardens - mini-farms where the urbanised Kiwi male could take his shirt off, dig his spade in and maintain his rugged masculine independence - could be established. Today the 'lifestyle block' is increasingly popular, and the fringes of West and South Auckland are full of five and ten acre 'farms' stocked with one two horses or cows.

The competency of Skyler's friends includes a piece of flat ridgetop land just large enough for a house, garage, and dog kennel, and ten very steep acres acres where native bush is rebuilding itself over the ruins of a radiata pine plantation. The gorse has been brought under control, manuka and kanuka - small, hardy, fast-growing trees that are the vanguard of the native forest - have moved in, and a few fern trees and nikau palms are establishing a skyline.

It's pushing thirty degrees, the cicadas are tuning up, and I'm about to take the dog for a walk into a trackless corner of the property where the trunks of massive pine trees - harvested but never trucked out - are supposed to be piled. If I don't come back...

Footnote: I said 'estate' instead of 'competency' in the first version of this post. My apologies to comrade Fairburn...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't fairburn a bourgeois historian?

9:44 am  

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