Archive for the 'Emma Dewson' Category

A journey down the river of blood

The Waiatoto River in its breath-taking surroundings

The Waiatoto River in its breath-taking surroundings

‘The Waiatoto – it’s inland from Jackson Bay – some nice views of Aspiring apparently,’ my paddling friend Nick said as we left Wānaka. Anyone familiar with Jackson Bay at the bottom of South Westland knows it’s a remote place, so I figured the Waiatoto would be isolated, even for a bunch of white-water kayakers. This would be the perfect way to top-off two great weeks spent on some of the lower South Island’s wild rivers.

As we drove over Haast Pass in heavy rain, other local rivers looked full and enticing. Nerves caught me in the throat as I peered out the car window at the water pounding over the Gates of Haast. The next morning we crammed dry clothes, food, sleeping bags and tarps into dry bags and 12 of us set off from Haast beach to meet helicopter pilot James Scott. With no road access anywhere near the river, James would chopper us with our kayaks to Bonar Flats where we would start our two-day journey down the Waiatoto to where the river meets the sea south-west of Haast.

The Waiatoto drains the Volta glacier system on the western side of Mt Aspiring. Several smaller rivers flow into it, fed by glaciers. The river travels north along a valley flanked to the west by the Haast Range before turning north-west to reach the Tasman Sea. Much of the river’s length is within the bounds of the staggeringly beautiful Mt Aspiring National Park.

White water on the Waiatoto

White water on the Waiatoto

Soon after getting on the river, we paddled down some tricky boulder sections, many of the rocks submerged by a high flow from the recent rainfall. Stretches of flat paddling between white-water allowed us to ogle the scenery: waterfalls spilling over schist rock formations, moss-covered valleys, beech forest and groves of tree-ferns. On our first day a kea flew over the river, swooping low, screeching and laughing at us as we paddled on. We set-up our tarp bivvies on a grassy spot on the first night and fell asleep – covered in insect repellent to ward-off the notorious West Coast sandflies – to the sound of the river flowing past.

John Breen, in his book River of Blood, has introduced readers to some of the stories of the Waiatoto, a place he calls New Zealand’s version of the Wild West. A few families of West Coasters tried to live in the river valley, hacking out livelihoods despite the isolation. The fierce battles before Europeans arrived gave the river its Māori name, Waiototo, which means ‘Blood River’. Explorer Charlie Douglas travelled the length of the river in 1891, adding to the folklore, and William O’Leary, otherwise known as Arawata Bill, spent time on the Waiatoto as a ferryman.

After an adrenalin-filled day of white-water rapids and a dinner of dehydrated spag bol, I sat on the river’s banks in the evening light. The ghosts of the warriors, the pounamu-gatherers, the hunters, the explorers and the drovers who had lived up this river seemed close to the surface. I felt lucky to be here.

Movember inspiration from the DNZB

Love or hate the mo, we’ll be seeing a few more of them on the streets this month as men around the country get behind Movember to support and raise cash for men’s health.

Your boss will sprout one. Your flatmate will be out the door quicker in the morning because he doesn’t have to shave. Your husband will ask: ‘Do I look dorky with this mo?’

Give them a little inspiration to get growing with this selection of some of the best mos from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. There are some corkers.

Bill Sutch

Bill Sutch (who gets bonus points for an excellent combover)

John George Findlay

John George Findlay (proving punk was cool in 1908)

George Hogben

George Hogben (OK, so it's technically a beard, but it's all about the emphasis)

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann (note his fists, and don't mess with him)

Arthur Dewhurst Riley

Arthur Dewhurst Riley (suave)

Edward Cephas John Stevens

Edward Stevens (points for best use of moustache wax)

And, finally, the mysterious handsome stranger who made one Te Ara team member go all aflutter. Turns out he was one John Campbell, architect

And, finally, the mysterious handsome stranger who made one Te Ara team member go all aflutter. Turns out he was one John Campbell, architect

For more resplendent mos, check out the new feature on Mo bros – New Zealand men and their moustaches.

Getting on board with family history

Some of my family history

Some of my family history – the gravestone of John and Priscilla Yeatman

Family history sells. Websites designed to help you track your rellies or discover your Highland origins net millions in revenue each year. New Zealanders have embraced the search for their family’s past. We do the tours of the castles overseas; we walk the little lanes where ‘our settlers’ lived. We’ve got on board the genealogical bandwagon with a vengeance.

A couple of weeks ago I spent my sabbatical uncovering ways the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB) can best carry out birth, death and marriage research for our newest biographies. We’ve discovered that the hardest part is bypassing privacy restrictions on recently living people – and those who fit within our current area of research and interest are people who died in the last decade or so. But online resources, such as the website of the Public Record Office in the United Kingdom, can now make our search easier

Every week we get numerous enquiries from genealogists who want to make use of our biographical database. Researchers compiled the database at the time the first DNZB biographies were written. Today it’s still a great source of background information on about 13,000 New Zealanders.

The National Library of New Zealand runs a family history centre, which gives access to a treasure trove of tools to help you uncover your roots. During my stint there, I was surrounded by other enthusiasts.

Using computerised databases has supplanted spending hours in front of the microfiche reader; but many of the fiche records are still valuable. At the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Centre in Hataitai, Wellington, I put the fiche to a test. I knew my great-great-great grandfather James Spence had got off a ship from Glasgow at Port Chalmers, Otago, in 1868. Scottish Parochial Registers, held on microfiche, quickly put together a picture of James’s parents and grandparents. They conveniently hadn’t moved far from the village outside Glasgow that they and their antecedents had lived in for about the previous 300 years. Archives New Zealand also holds a wealth of material for those who want to track the ships their Anglo rellies arrived on. I could now see why family historians get addicted.

You’ll often hear older Pākehā New Zealanders refer to themselves as Scottish, Irish or French. They are, of course, referring to their family history. I’ve always found this tricky – I consider myself a Kiwi; I was born here and this place is my heritage. I know I’ve got a bunch of long-dead relatives who were born in Glasgow and Stoke Wake and Hull and Jersey and Swansea, but I don’t feel one bit Scottish, Welsh or English.

Though recently I found that two of my English relatives, John and Priscilla Yeatman – who arrived here in 1875 under the Vogel scheme for assisted immigrants – are buried at Greendale Public Cemetery near Darfield in mid-Canterbury. I was in Christchurch last weekend, and my Kiwiness didn’t stop me making a little visit to pay my respects.

Mackenzie’s country

Mackenzie Stream

Mackenzie Stream

Coming out of Tekapo on your way to Burkes Pass, you a hit an unusually named bend in the road: Dog Kennel Corner. The bend’s name honours the boundary dogs that station managers chained between properties to keep flocks of sheep apart.

Scotsman James Mackenzie passed this way in 1855, on his route through the Mackenzie Basin with 1,000 sheep he’d stolen from the Rhodes brothers’ Levels station, north of Timaru. Today Mackenzie‘s known as much for his rebellious spirit as for his ability as a shepherd, drover and thief. And his faithful dog Friday and other ‘canine Scots’ are immortalised in statue form on the shores of Lake Tekapo.

Dirt road to Mackenzie Pass

Dirt road to Mackenzie Pass

After my sister’s wedding at Tekapo last week, I drove my 84-year-old grandfather back to Christchurch Airport. ‘Turn here!’, Grandad yelled as we got to Dog Kennel Corner. He grew up around these parts, so I was happy for the detour. We hit the dirt road through Mackenzie Pass about 20 minutes later.

In 1942, soon before he joined the airforce, Grandad rode a 1930s 500-cc Ariel sloper motorcycle through the Mackenzie Pass in the opposite direction, west from Albury. The graded dirt road of today is a vast improvement on the pot-holed dust bowl he rode through. He flooded the bike’s motor in a ford near the summit and had to sit it out until the water dried. No one except a lone station hand was on the track that day. The station hand told Grandad he’d not seen a motorbike come through the pass before.

Memorial on Mackenzie Pass

Memorial on Mackenzie Pass

We stopped at the summit to admire the view back towards the Ben Ōhau Range. A memorial to Mackenzie and his captors, John Sidebottom and two Maori shepherds, also stands there. As I snapped away on the digital camera, I asked grandad if he’d taken pictures on his trip in the 40s. No he hadn’t, but he’d made some drawings in his diary, and he promised to show them to me one day.