Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Baker's children

Radio New Zealand has been exposing a group of pseudo-archaeologists searching for the bones of mythical white giants in the Limestone Country west of Huntly. The diggers believe that these giants were the real tangata whenua of NZ, & that a complex conspiracy involving academics, museum curators, government, & Maori has hidden evidence of the ancient giant civilisation from the public.

The Limestone Country's spurs & caves & gullies have long inspired elaborate delusions & eccentric schemes. After World War One the wealthy British migrant Charles Alma Baker bought a swathe of the country west of Huntly, named it Limestone Downs, & tried to turn it into a laboratory for his mystical & racialist ideology.

In the early '20s, when Baker was establishing a vast farm at Limestone Downs, notions of the sacred destiny of the 'British race' where common in NZ. Both the PM Massey & his governor general Lord Jellicoe were British Israelites; they considered Britons a lost tribe of Israel.

Baker shared the widespread belief in the special character & destiny of the British race; he also shared the common worry that the race was becoming 'degraded', as a result of industrial civilisation, miscegenation, & unselective breeding. Limestone Downs was his solution.

Influenced by Rudolf Steiner's creed of Anthroposophy, which taught that white skin was a sign of spiritual maturity, & by eugenicist groups like the Plunket Society & Cora Wilding's Sunlight League, Baker decided that he would create a supply of purified food from Limestone Downs that would replenish the white race.

Subsidised by the state, Baker recruited teams of Dalmation labourers to clear the scrub & bush that covered much of Limestone Downs. The Dalmatians were housed in a coastal kainga whose Maori inhabitants had succumbed to the 1918 flu pandemic.

Once the land was cleared, Baker stocked it with sheep & cattle, & set up a series of experimental horticultural plots. His planting schedule was influenced by the position of cosmic bodies like the sun & moon. Occult mineral preparations were sprinkled across his soil.

In the 1930s, as eugenic groups like the Sunlight League flourished in NZ & thousands of kids suffered sunburn in the interest of racial health, Baker became increasingly obsessed with heliology. He wandered naked across his vast estate, with his arms raised to the sacred sun. He believed that the light might make him immortal.

Baker died in 1941, & a trust was set up to run Limestone Downs. His mystical ideas about farming & race had turned the estate into a zone of weeds & scrub; his inheritors soon turned to more conventional methods. Today the Downs is a huge commercial farm. The bleakness left by Baker has been replaced by the bleakness of bare green paddocks & kilometres of wire.


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