Reloading the canon
Brett is a long-time advocate of the early twentieth century historian and journalist James Cowan, whose biography of Kimble Bent he regards with awe. Bent was an American who somehow ended up wearing a British uniform during the Taranaki Wars of the 1860s. One day in 1865 Bent slipped off his uniform, slipped across the forested frontline, and joined the forces of Titokowaru, the famous Taranaki commander. After Titokowaru's army disintegrated in 1869 Bent hid out in the upper Whanganui River region for thirty-four years, until Cowan discovered him and wrote down the story of his life. Brett Cross regards the fact that The Adventures of Kimble Bent: a story of wild life in the New Zealand Bush is out of print as something of a national disgrace, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the book rolling off his press at some stage.
Over the past few weeks I've been pestering Brett with ideas about books which might be worth fitting into his programme of reissues. Some of the book projects I've suggested have sprung fully formed from my troubled mind, but others develop ideas coined by Brett, or some other Kiwi lover of literature. Brett's admiration for James Cowan, for instance, got me diving into the great man's writing for the New Zealand Railways Magazine, and discovering that he was a fine travel writer, as well as a fastidious historian. News that Jack Ross was at work on a study of New Zealand science fiction got me fossicking around in Papers Past, and learning that nineteenth century Pakeha liked to fantasise about flying to Venus and Mars. And Bill Direen's revelation of James Joyce's connections with New Zealand seemed to open up the possibility of a book about the way foreign writers have used this country as an inspiration.
Here are a few of the books I've been fantasising about seeing roll off Brett's printing press. Most of them would need funding from Creative New Zealand to become a reality, and all of them would need to be properly edited and introduced by some scholarly authority or other (you can guess who'd do a good job with the sci fi anthology). The summaries of these fantasy-books are rather brief, but I've garnished them with hyperlinks to some of the extraordinary texts they would collect.
A Young Country from Space: science fiction writing in nineteenth century New Zealand
The genre of writing we now call science fiction was surprisingly popular amongst Pakeha in nineteenth century New Zealand. Escapist fantasies of journeys into space, visions of utopias on planets like Venus and Mars, pseudo-scientific speculations about the possibility of travel into the distant past, or to distant parts of the universe: all appeared in local newspapers and magazines. Even when their subjects are otherworldly, the science fiction texts collected in A Young Country from Space throw light on the concerns and conflicts of the young and unstable society which produced them. A Sea of Stories: nineteenth century New Zealand writing about the Pacific
In the later decades of the nineteenth century New Zealanders were preoccupied with the Pacific Island societies to their north. Pakeha politicians believed that their country's destiny lay in the north, and attempted to build an empire there; many European immigrants who had found it hard to make a living in New Zealand set up in 'the islands' as traders and planters and, sometimes, as blackbirders; children listened to stories of brigands and treasure hunters, and dreamed of sailing away to the South Seas; Maori sought allies in their struggle against colonialism amongst peoples like the Hawaiians and the Tongans; young men arrived from Melanesia to labour in Auckland's flax mills; and ships from ports like Apia and Nuku'alofa and Honolulu turned up frequently in Auckland and Wellington and Lyttleton.
New Zealand's complex relationship with the Pacific bred a massive and, today, largely neglected literature, which includes romantic stories and poems about island paradises, accounts of the cruelties of blackbirding produced by outraged missionaries and remorseful ex-slavers, the logbooks, letters, and books of adventurers, and the reports on New Zealand life published by Tongans and other Pacific Islanders who had visited these shores. A Sea of Stories selects and annotates some of this literature, and shows its importance in an era when New Zealand has increasingly close economic and cultural ties to its island neighbours.
War on the Wires: the fight for the Waikato in print
The Waikato War was one of the first conflicts to be fought using modern communications and mass media as well as guns and bombs. As they prepared to launch the war, the British and colonial forces controlled by Governor Grey constructed a telegraph line from Auckland south to the border of the Waikato Kingdom. The new-fangled technology enabled troops fighting on the front to offer speedy reports and make urgent requests to Grey and colonial politicians in Auckland. The telegraph wires also allowed journalists to send news swiftly from the field to Auckland-based newspapers like the Daily Southern Cross and the New Zealand Herald. After Pakeha forces crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream and entered the Waikato Kingdom on the 12th of July 1863, readers in Auckland received daily reports of troop and ship movements, skirmishes, artillery bombardments, and the journeys of refugees.
The Auckland press made no secret of its pro-Crown bias, but the Waikato Kingdom used its own media to convey a different message. In 1862 Waikato visitors to Vienna had been given a printing press by the Austro-Hungarian emperor; on their return to their rohe, they used the machine to produce a nationalist newspaper called Te Hokioi, or The Eagle, which denounced the Pakeha government in Auckland and called for an end to the sale of Maori land. At Te Awamutu, deep in the Waikato Kingdom, diplomatic representatives of the Auckland government produced a Maori-language paper of their own called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke, or The Lark that Sits Alone on the Roof, until their printing press was smashed up and thrown into the Waipa River by angry locals.
As the Waikato War dragged on into 1864, scores of correspondents reported on its progress for papers in Britain and Australia as well as New Zealand. Even after the war ended in 1865, poems and memoirs perpetuating its memory appeared in newspapers and other periodicals. In the early decades of the twentieth century the journalist and historian James Cowan travelled through the North Island visiting battlefields from the war and interviewing its Maori and Pakeha veterans.
War on the Wires creates a multi-perspectival narrative of the Waikato War by sampling some of the thousands of reports on the conflict produced by Pakeha and Maori writers. Major battles as well as lesser known parts of the war like refugee flows, the sacking of towns, and religious ferment are depicted from the points of views of imperialist Britons, land-hungry settlers, liberal clergy, pro-British Maori, Maori nationalists, and rebellious Irish and Yorkshire soldiers. With the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of the Waikato approaching, War on the Wires is a timely book.
Distance Looks Our Way: New Zealand through the eyes of Kipling, Joyce and other famous overseas writers
Some of New Zealand's most famous writers, like Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame, and Dan Davin, have spent long periods abroad. Few Kiwis realise, though, that their country has attracted its fair share of literary tourists over the past century and a half. Many important writers have visited these shores, and others have travelled here imaginatively, taking inspiration from our culture and settings from our landscapes. Distance Looks Our Way collects writing about New Zealand by Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Henry Lawson, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, HP Lovecraft, and James Joyce. Travels at Home: New Zealand writers get to know their country, 1900-1960
Before the 1960s and '70s, when the rise of commercial airlines made international travel much less expensive, New Zealanders were accustomed to holidaying inside their own country. The construction of a national railways system at the end of the nineteenth century and the popularisation of the car a few decades later both encouraged the domestic tourism industry.
In the first half of the twentieth century a genre of travel writing aimed at the local holiday-maker flourished, as writers inspired by their jaunts around the country published articles and essays in places like The New Zealand Railways Magazine, The Listener, and the weekend editions of major newspapers like the Evening Post. This homegrown travel literature was very diverse: it included James Cowan's beautifully melancholy accounts of his trips to old battlefields, Robin Hyde's high-spirited reports of her adventures in relatively obscure parts of the North Island like Kawhia and Whangaroa, John Pascoe's poetic celebrations of his ascents of 'virgin' peaks in the South Island, and the descriptions of small town and rural deprivation and desperation produced by roaming left-wing polemicists like Elsie Locke and John Mulgan. Today, when domestic tourism is once again on the increase and protests over mining and development are making New Zealanders more aware of some of their remoter regions, the adventures and revelations of writers like Cowan and Hyde have a new relevance.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]