The experience of a weekend

Conference poster

Conference poster

To complement the First World War Centenary History Programme, the project’s sponsors organised a major international conference at Massey University’s Old Museum Building in Wellington last week. Its theme was The Experience of a Lifetime: People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War. For a full weekend we conference delegates were offered a wealth of personal war stories. Twenty four presenters regaled their audience with a range of experiences – from European generals responding to unprecedented mechanical conflict, to Able Seaman John Reardon, a New Zealander who died when the Royal Australian Navy’s submarine disappeared off New Guinea in September 1914.

It was great to hear the perspectives brought by several historians from overseas – including Professor Sir Hew Strachan of Oxford University – as they gave a glimpse of British, Australian, American and even Ottoman experiences. As well as providing a fuller picture of the effects of the war, these presenters emphasised that the First World War was a truly transnational event, and one which shaped the experiences of many millions of people.

Naturally enough, considering how the theme was about personalities, the weekend was filled with interesting personal stories. Some of the ones I particularly enjoyed included that of Ratu Sukuna, a Fijian chief who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in order to join the conflict; the stories of the seven Indians known to have joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force; and Lord Kitchener’s preferred alternative to the Gallipoli Campaign: an invasion of Alexandretta (now known as İskenderun) on the Mediterranean coast, west of Aleppo.

The challenge for us, however, is to tease out what it is that these individual stories tell us about the broader picture of the war. One of the most effective presentations at the conference related to New Zealand pilot Keith Park, and how his experience converged or diverged from that of other pilots. Park’s assignment as an instructor immediately following his own training speaks not only of the shortcomings in the British air training scheme, but also of the calibre of Park as a pilot. It also meant that Park tallied up 135 hours of flying experience before deployment on the Western Front, as opposed to the average 30–50 hours of his comrades.

The recent digitisation of historical resources – including Papers Past and the armed forces personnel files housed at Archives New Zealand – enriched these and the countless other stories we heard. Many of these stories have only recently come to light. It made me realise that there are so many stories of personal courage and suffering that have not yet been told, and the centenary of the war provides us with a great opportunity to share them and learn from them. In addition, it would be worthwhile to widen the scope of the stories on offer to include those not substantially covered in the conference: those on the home front, the men and women in the New Zealand Medical Corps, conscientious objectors, Māori and Pacific Island peoples in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, as well as the lingering effects of their experience of a lifetime.

The Monterey connection

Sign on the sand dunes at Asimolar, Monterey Peninsula, California

Sign on the sand dunes at Asimolar, Monterey Peninsula, California

Last month I attended a conference at Asimolar on the Monterey Peninsula, south of San Francisco in the United States. It is a place that holds a special interest for New Zealanders as it is the home of two of our most widespread introduced trees: Monterey pine (Pinus radiata, commonly known as radiata pine) and Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa, commonly known as macrocarpa). Amazingly, both are regarded as endangered species in their home territory.

We visited California at the height of summer, with daytime temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius) in most places. But in a narrow strip close to the coast, from San Francisco south to Monterey, the temperatures are much cooler, often with daytime fog and mist. Summer rainfall is low, but the trees gain enough moisture from fog condensing on the branches and dripping on to the ground. The soils are infertile – mainly sand dunes or solid granite – and the trees look as if they are struggling to survive. The small natural population of Monterey pine and Monterey cypress are a relic of forests that were widespread in the ice ages, but retreated to the cool, foggy Monterey Peninsula as temperatures warmed during the last 10,000 years.

Monterey cypress (macrocarpa) trees covered in lichen in the damp, foggy conditions on Monterey Peninsula

Monterey cypress (macrocarpa) trees covered in lichen in the damp, foggy conditions on Monterey Peninsula

Radiata pine is the basis of the forestry industry in New Zealand – indeed, it is the only plant species apart from kauri to have its own entry in Te Ara. It grows much more vigorously in temperate climates than in its home area, and is the most widely planted pine in the world, with large plantations in Australia, Spain, Kenya and several countries in South America. It was first introduced into New Zealand in the 1850s, and the oldest known tree was planted at Peel Forest in 1859.

One of the few naturally occurring areas of Monterey pine (radiata pine) on sand dunes at Asimolar, Monterey Peninsula

One of the few naturally occurring areas of Monterey pine (radiata pine) on sand dunes at Asimolar, Monterey Peninsula

As New Zealand’s land was developed for farming, there was an urgent search for quick-growing trees that could be used for shelter belts, firewood and timber. The Colonial Botanic Garden (now Wellington Botanic Garden) was established by James Hector in 1868 to evaluate the most suitable trees to introduce into New Zealand, and to provide seeds and plants. Within a decade it had become clear that radiata pine and macrocarpa grew exceptionally well under New Zealand conditions, and many of the older trees in gardens and farms around New Zealand were originally raised and distributed from the Botanic Garden in Wellington.

Plantations of radiata pine were not developed until the 20th century, when it was realised that good-quality timber could be produced if the trees were systematically pruned. Macrocarpa is used in New Zealand mainly for shelter belts and firewood.

Monterey cypress (macrocarpa) trees struggling for existence in cracks in granite in one of the few remaining natural populations at Point Lobos Reserve, Monterey Peninsula. Insert shows a notice warning people not to damage the trees

Monterey cypress (macrocarpa) trees struggling for existence in cracks in granite in one of the few remaining natural populations at Point Lobos Reserve, Monterey Peninsula. Insert shows a notice warning people not to damage the trees

Towards a Southland Heritage Strategy

St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill – a fine example of Southland's heritage

St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill – a fine example of Southland's heritage

Guest blogger David Butts is Manager, Heritage Operations at Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Here he writes about attending the Southland Heritage Forum and reflects on regional heritage. Click to read Jock Phillips’s earlier post on the same forum.

For some, a visit to Invercargill in the middle of winter may not appeal, but for me the opportunity to attend the Southland Heritage Forum was very timely. I had just finished reading economist Shamubeel Eaquab’s recently published small book Growing apart: regional prosperity in New Zealand, in which he argues that all regions are not made equal when it comes to things like population growth, employment opportunities and economic development. There is an increasing divide between those regions that are continuing to develop and those that are becoming more marginalised from the centres of growth. Each of these regions has a different combination of factors contributing to this threat of marginalisation. Northland and the East Coast are often referred to in this context, but the number of struggling regions is increasing.

I am interested in how the regions are continuing to maintain their heritage resources and services in such challenging times. Our network of regional museums, for example, is dependent on local authorities to provide their primary source of funding. As local authorities attempt to minimise the level of rates rises, they are having to identify what they consider to be core community and regional services. Museums will need to continue to actively demonstrate their value to community well-being, and community and regional sustainability.

Moa-bone necklace – another Southland taonga

Moa-bone necklace – another Southland taonga

The purpose of the Southland Heritage Forum was to foster the building of a strong heritage community in Southland, with a specific focus on the development of a regional heritage strategy. Southland is not the first region to consider developing such a strategy. Northland and the West Coast, for example, have both developed and implemented such policies with varying degrees of success. However, the development of a heritage strategy in Southland is notable because Southland has already demonstrated the capacity to be forward-thinking and self-reliant. The formation of Heritage South, the funding channelled through the Southland Regional Heritage Committee and Venture Southland, and the appointment of a roving museum officer to provide help to small and volunteer museums in the region, are examples of this.

The Southland Regional Heritage Committee is funding the development of a regional heritage strategy. This project is currently in its first phase, which involves a peer review of other regional heritage strategies, consultation with stakeholders about their needs and desired outcomes, and developing an agreed framework. Phase two will be the development of a draft strategy document, and phase three will be the implementation. While there is still some way to go, it was apparent that those attending the forum were highly engaged with this process and anticipating the development of a strategy that will enhance their existing networks and collaborative projects, and identify clearly articulated shared goals and priorities.

Heritage South

Our stately venue – the Southland Masonic Centre

Our stately venue – the Southland Masonic Centre

If you want to walk in the footsteps of the past, then the far ends of the country are good places to start. The far north has an extraordinarily varied number of historic locations, from the earliest surviving European house to the grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed; and the deep south was the location of early European whaling and sealing ventures and of hugely important early interaction with Māori.

Such thoughts occurred to me last weekend when I was privileged to attend the second Southland Heritage Forum in Invercargill, which was held in the rather grand Southland Masonic Centre. Even before reaching the forum it was wonderful to be a historian exploring a place where grand Victorian buildings and ornate memorials abound – there is history at every turn.

The forum was the initiative of Heritage South, which was established after an earlier forum, held two years ago, that brought together many people from throughout the province who are passionate about protecting and developing the evidences, in stone and in memory, of the past. The definition of heritage that grew out of that initial meeting is worth quoting: ‘Heritage means those things inherited from the past, that we wish to pass on to future generations and which define the culture and character of the south, its communities and people.’ I love the way this definition locates heritage as central to local identity. I am impressed, too, by their wide understanding of heritage – from physical objects and places to memories and traditions, from Invercargill’s wonderful Civic Theatre to Gore’s ‘rolling r’. The forum recognised this breadth by highlighting especially the district’s heritage foods – will I ever forget the oyster soup at the Heritage Dinner on Saturday night?

Driven by a group of energetic women, especially Cathy Macfie, Rebecca Amundsen and chairperson Rachel Egerton, the Heritage South has achieved a lot over the last two years:

  • 12 newsletters
  • four informal gatherings at the Thornbury Vintage Machinery Museum, the Hokonui Pioneer Village, the Waikaia ‘Switzers’ Museum, and Te Hikoi Museum in Riverton
  • a Heritage Month in March 2013, with another projected for March 2015
  • continued development of the Southland Oral History Project.

Then there was the weekend’s forum. It began with an evening on the First World War. Between songs and skits recreating scenes from the Great War, provided by the Southern Institute of Technology, and (of course) a stop for Anzac biscuits, there were talks on the war, with Aaron Fox discussing Southland’s contribution, large in numbers, to that conflict. Over the next two days there was a refreshing mix of keynote speakers, panel presentations and workshops. Jane Leggett gave a brilliant survey of some of the conflicts and choices that heritage advocates had to confront, and there were some fascinating short talks. I enjoyed Graye Shattky’s description of the work of the neighbouring Central Otago Heritage Trust, Jim Geddes’s impressive account of the success of the Hokonui Moonshiners’ Festival, and Win Clark’s pertinent engineering tips on how to preserve old masonry buildings.

Lying behind the discussions was a larger issue. Heritage South is now tasked with developing a heritage strategy for Southland. It is clear that if heritage is to flourish, then it cannot simply be a matter of talking to the converted. There is a need to attract new audiences, to make heritage pay, to align it with tourist goals and to find ways of using the region’s heritage assets to attract people to the deep south. What is it that would get people to leave Auckland and fly south to explore history? Was it vintage machinery, was it a Burt Munro trail, was it whaling and sealing sites, was it Invercargill’s Victorian buildings, was it the early Māori–Pākehā encounters, was it flax-milling or was it whisky?

Sculpture of Burt Munro and his Indian motorcycle – the beginning of the Burt Munro trail

Sculpture of Burt Munro and his Indian motorcycle – the beginning of the Burt Munro trail

The group pondered a catchy slogan – several humorous suggestions were offered: ’It’s swede as’, ‘Of gorse its Southland’, ‘Southland for slow tourists’ and, with Hokonui in mind, ‘The spirit of Southland’. Certainly the Southland Museum provides no answers. It has magnificent objects, but its two signature exhibitions – on tuatara and the Sub-antarctic Islands (much as I find them fascinating) – hardly awaken interest in other attractions just outside the door.

The problem is for Southlanders to solve and, given the energy and creativity of those behind Heritage South, I am certain they will indeed evolve a strategy. So watch this space – and thank you Invercargill for hosting me so warmly on a cold winter weekend.

Click to read a post about the same forum by David Butts, Manager, Heritage Operations at Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Lest we forget – on remembering the Great War

This stained-glass window in St Andrew's church in Cambridge is a memorial to those who died in the First World War

This stained-glass window in St Andrew's church in Cambridge is a memorial to those who died in the First World War

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the onset of the First World War, Te Ara is featuring three stories – First World War, Memorials and monuments and Anniversaries – which each encourage us to think about that conflict and how we remember it.

Ian McGibbon’s account of the First World War is a brilliantly succinct summary of New Zealand’s experience of that horrific conflict, as might be expected from one of the country’s finest military historians. He provides a clear account of the battles – physical, mental and political, both at home and at the front. If you want to learn about the war, this is the place to start. The supporting images and media are also hugely revealing. A contemporary film of landing at Gallipoli contains stunning footage, and it is sobering indeed to look at the graph of comparative percentages of deaths among the combatants in the conflict. New Zealand’s level of loss is awful enough, but just compare New Zealand’s rate with that of Scotland or, even worse, Serbia. New Zealand lost about 5% of all men aged 15 to 49; Scotland about 11%; Serbia lost about 23%! In addition, don’t miss the story of George Bollinger. This video was a trial for the Great War Stories, which played so successfully on TV3 last week and are now available at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/great-war-stories.

When the guns in that war ended, people were faced with the task of ensuring that the deaths of 18,000 New Zealand soldiers and nurses, nearly all buried overseas, might be appropriately honoured. So New Zealanders put up over 500 memorials in the towns and settlements of the country. Our story on Memorials and monuments put this effort within the wider context of the building of monuments in New Zealand. The story shows that the earliest Pākehā memorials were to famous pioneers such as John Godley in Christchurch and William Cargill in Dunedin. But there were very few memorials until the turn of the 20th century. Then New Zealanders developed a memorial frenzy. They put up stone monuments to many different individuals and groups: to prominent pioneers, to Robbie Burns, to Queen Victoria, and to those who had served and died in the New Zealand wars and the South African War. So people were used to thinking about how to memorialise by the time the Great War came along. Interestingly, few of these monuments were utilitarian. Most were carved in stone as ornamental edifices in public places. But when New Zealanders came to remember the Second World War, they had a very different attitude and the government supported memorials only if they served a community service – hence the large number of war memorial halls.

The third featured story, Anniversaries, discusses a second way past events are remembered. Quite a number of memorials, such as the Queen Victoria statues or the monuments to Kate Sheppard, were put up on the occasion of anniversaries. Like monuments, the recognition of anniversaries in New Zealand took time to get going. In 1869 the 100th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival passed almost without note. The earliest anniversary celebrations were imperial – especially Queen Victoria’s golden (50th) and diamond (60th) jubilees – or else they were provincial and grew out of the annual provincial anniversary days. It was not until 1940, the 100th anniversary of New Zealand becoming a British colony, that the nation as a whole became a primary focus.

Whether provincial or national, the major message of such anniversary celebrations was praise of the pioneers and a self-satisfied tribute to a half-century or century of progress. Take a look at the film of Otago’s 1948 ‘Cavalcade of progress‘, and the photo of Canterbury’s 1950 floral procession, ‘100 years of progress’. By 1990, when the sesquicentennial came along, New Zealanders were uncertain how to mark it – was it a celebration or a commemoration; was it a moment to remember progress or to acknowledge failure? Listen to Bishop Vercoe’s famous speech at Waitangi in 1990. Too embarrassed to celebrate, we had also forgotten, as Sesqui showed, how to have a good time. But, within three years the centenary of women’s suffrage suggested that when you had a community who were passionate to seek inspiration from the past, anniversaries could be very effective consciousness-raising exercises – and a good time could be had as well.

The question that these three stories invite is: how will we remember the First World War, as the anniversaries unfold over the next four years? Will we celebrate or will we commemorate? Will the anniversary encourage praise for those who endured the turmoil of war, or will it provide salutary lessons for the future?