Monday, December 14, 2009


I used to like country driving – the freedom, speed, changing vista, scenes for the geographer, historian and farmer’s son. Away from home base I was more conscious of being a New Zealander. My little piece of earth was conjoint to thousands of other pieces in which other Kiwis lived with their pleasures and their pains. Finally, there was just the joy of landscape.

One favourite drive was from brother Bruce’s deer farm near Mt Hutt to Christchurch by way of the Rakaia Gorge and sleepy country town of Hororata. I was always awestruck at the vast depth and breadth of the Rakaia basin – archetypal high country. The grandeur of that immense expanse is breath-taking. 'Big Skies' is the aptly titled book of Canterbury poems. Somehow that sense of size introduces a sense of proportion - our cares and concerns are ultimately so minor. Usually, there would be a nor-west arch, reminiscent of my favourite New Zealand painting, Bill Sutton’s 'Nor-wester in a Cemetery'. Those little wooden Gothic churches with their neglected gravestones stud the Canterbury countryside, relics of a by-gone pioneering age, and standing upright against the blast of wind whipping the ragged pines and draining the long grass of its vitality.

The European romantics of the late 18th and early 19th century, painters, writers and poets, fastened an image of landscape on the culture. I am a recipient of that heritage. As are the advertiser spin-doctors of our era. They sell New Zealand as a place of gigantic high country or idyllic beach scenes. We are now an urban people. But it is not how we portray ourselves. Which partly explains my gut reaction to plans to have cow cubicle farms in the MacKenzie basin.

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