Sunday, July 13, 2014

This blog has moved house

Now to be found here, as part of my new web site.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


In the centre of the North Island is Tongariro National Park, the oldest of our national parks and a fascinating area to visit. I had an extra reason for my most recent journey there, as one of my characters visits the park in my work-in-progress.

It's a volcanic landscape, with tussock and beech forest, mountains and streams, lakes and waterfalls.

Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ngauruhoe

Taranaki Falls

Wairere Stream

There are multi-day hikes in this area. There are also walks that range from a few minutes to a whole day. The main walk we did on this visit was to and from the Tama Lakes, two old explosion craters.

Lower Tama Lake, Ruapehu in background

Upper Tama Lake, Ngauruhoe in background

My character stays in a rather basic hut, but I was fortunate enough to be staying in the very comfortable hotel that opened in 1930. It's just visible as a white speck below the patch of dark green a little to the right of the centre of this photograph, below taken from the track overlooking the upper Tama Lake:

Journey's end was in sight, albeit at quite some distance. I slept soundly that night.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: Z is for Zealand

Abel Janszoon Tasman was a Dutch seafarer who in 1642 became the first European known to have visited New Zealand. He named the land he had encountered "Staten Landt", as he believed it might be linked to a Staten Landt in South America. The following year another Dutch navigator showed that the South American Staten Landt was a small island, not part of a continent, so cartographers changed Tasman's name to Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. Captain Cook anglicised the name to New Zealand, and that's stuck, although we now sometimes call our country "Aotearoa [land of the long white cloud] New Zealand".

It's an odd accident of history that our country has been named after an area that's physically so different, but these days New Zealand very much has its own identity.

New Zealand is a land of mountains and lakes, coasts and forests. It's the setting for my books, and it's my home.

Lake Manapouri

Milford Sound

Bay of Plenty

Milford Track

Beech forest, Te Anau

Mt Taranaki

Blue Pool, near Wanaka

Kepler Track
(Photographs all taken on our travels around the country.)

We've reached the end of the challenge! Thank you for your company on the journey.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: Y is for Year

Running a farm means working with the seasons. The particular shape of the farming year varied with different areas of the country and with the type of farm, but for my dairy farmers it included these tasks:


The year's new calves are born, and the milking season begins. Ploughing for next autumn's crop needs to be done.

Mary Marsh feeding calves, Taranaki. Mossong, Verna :Negatives relating to Nelson and Taranaki, 1920. Ref: 1/4-023685-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Man ploughing with two horses, c. 1915. Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-0558-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


Milk production is at its peak. It's also time for haymaking.

Unidentified men in a field stacking a haystack from hay carried on horse drawn wagons, probably Christchurch region. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Job done!

Group portrait with haystack and wooden building behind, farmland hills beyond. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


The main crop harvest; in the Bay of Plenty, this included potatoes and maize.

Man with horse and cart gathering maize. Halse, Frederick James, d 1936 :Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/2-010356-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The cows are dried off to give them a rest before calving. Winter is generally the quietest time of year for the farmer, which means he has the chance to catch up on projects like fencing,or new farm buildings.

Dairy farm in Otaki Gorge, 1893. Halse, Frederick James, d 1936 :Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/2-010357-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Y is also for You. Thank you for following my alphabetical journey thus far, with only Z to go!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: X is for X-Ray

Experimenters taking an X-ray with an early Crookes tube apparatus, 1896. (Note the lack of any precaution against exposure to the radiation.)

The first medical X-rays were made in 1896, but it was well into the 20th century before diagnostic tools like this were available to most New Zealand doctors.

As well as identifying broken bones, X-rays are useful for diagnosing conditions including pneumonia and that all too common disease of the 19th and early 20th century, tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was commonly known).

But even if they had been able to diagnose such conditions more easily, there was often very little doctors could do to treat them. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, when doctors were desperately trying to save patients whose disease had progressed to pneumonia, they tried a vast range of remedies including morphine, quinine, mustard plasters, turpentine inhalations, alcohol, and even heroin, but they found that one of the most effective treatments for fever was a medicine that was then fairly new to New Zealand, and was seen as something of a wonder drug: aspirin.

Chemist shop interior, c. 1910, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004254-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: W is for Washing

Wash day

‘Don’t go getting any ideas,’ Lizzie said. ‘I’m too tired. It’s Monday, remember? The wife’s night off.’
—from Mud and Gold.

She had earned her good night's sleep. Every Monday, 19th century women like Lizzie spent the whole day on the exhausting task of washing. Water had to be heated to the boil, the clothes scrubbed, then lifted out of the steaming water on a stick (with the constant risk of being badly scalded) and dropped into cold water to be rinsed. Then came the wringing-out, done by hand unless she was lucky enough to have a hand-turned wooden wringer. And then load after load of still damp, heavy clothes had to be hauled to the washing-line to be pegged out, followed by fervent prayers for fine weather to dry them.

At its worst, a woman might have to do the washing down by the creek. That generally meant lighting a fire on the bank to heat water which she would pour into her metal washtub (which probably did service as the family bathtub each Saturday night), and using the creek to rinse the clothes—taking great care not to let any items get swept away downstream. A more fortunate woman might have an outhouse for washing, with a copper tub set into a bricked surround with a firebox underneath, and wooden tubs for the rinsing water. If she was particularly fortunate, she might even have a husband who was willing to help with carrying the wet washing to the clothesline for her.

Wash day was perhaps hardest of all for women with a large number of sons and not a single daughter to help. But none of them would have found the task easy.

And when they fell exhausted into bed at Monday's end, they had Tuesday to look forward to. That meant the ironing...

Temple, William (Lieutenant-Colonel), 1833-1919. Scene in the bush showing a thatched hut, three people, and washing on a line. Ref: 1/2-004135-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: V is for Voting

New Zealand's first parliamentary election was in 1853. At the time it followed British tradition, with voting rights limited to males aged 21 or over and in possession of property of a certain value, although even those first limited voting rights were substantially more liberal than Britain's of the time, as the property qualification was quite low.

The 1860s saw reforms, first in providing special parliamentary representation for the thousands of goldminers then in the country. In 1867 came a more significant change: the property qualification had excluded most Maori, whose land was (and is) usually held communally, rather than in individual titles. To remove this injustice, a Bill was passed giving all Maori men aged 21 or over the right to vote and to stand for election, with no property rights required. The number of seats set aside for Maori was lower than it should have been on a population basis, but even with that caveat this recognition of indigenous rights can justly be seen as a real advance, especially by 19th century standards.

Twelve years later, in 1879, non-Maori males caught up with their Maori contemporaries, and gained the vote without property requirements.

And then came the reform that's best-known within New Zealand: votes for women.

The late 19th century saw a growing call for women's suffrage in many countries around the world. Compared with the later upheavals in England, which brought protest marches, arson, imprisonment, and even death, New Zealand's two-decade campaign for women's suffrage was all terribly civilised. Members of such groups as the Women's Christian Temperance Union felt that if women were able to vote, this would encourage government policies that protected the family. Women were often thought of as the guardians of morals, so giving them the vote would increase the morality of politics. They put their case to the public, and from the beginning there was support from some high-placed men. No doubt there was also the support of many "ordinary" men who knew that their wives and sisters were capable of rational thought.

From 1887, various Bills to allow women's suffrage were put before Parliament. Each came close to being passed, but until 1893 none quite made it. Support was gradually increasing, but there were still naysayers.

"Only a small section of the women of the colony are asking for the franchise," Mr Fish, a particularly vocal opponent of the movement, said during an 1891 parliamentary debate. That was fighting talk. The suffrage movement, led by our best-known suffragist Kate Sheppard, began organising petitions to show that large numbers of women did indeed want the right to vote on equal terms with men. The third of these petitions, in 1893, had over 30,000 signatures. MP John Hall, a staunch supporter of women's suffrage, carried it into the House and unrolled it down the aisle of the debating chamber until it hit the end wall with a thud.

The 1893 Electoral Bill passed through the Lower House with a comfortable majority. The Legislative Council (the Upper House) was narrowly divided on the issue. Premier Richard Seddon was not a supporter, and he made a move that backfired. The Premier ordered a councillor from his Liberal Party to change his vote. This caused such offence to two other councillors that they changed sides and voted for the Bill, enabling it to pass by twenty votes to eighteen. New Zealand had become the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote in national  elections.

The suffragists now mounted a campaign to encourage women to enrol in time for that year's election. Once again, their campaign was a success: 80% of women enrolled, and 85% of those on the roll voted in the November election.

Women voting, November 1893:

Women vote at their first election, Tahakopa. Ref: PA1-o-550-34-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.