Book Review: Wild Journeys, by Bruce Ansley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wild_journeysThis book is a good read, and an example of excellent local publishing with New Zealand stories. But, somewhat frustratingly, it could have been an essential read in the tradition of Kiwi adventure stories, with its hard cover and illustrated dustjacket.

Bruce Ansley, the former writer for The Listener, turns out to be something of an adventurer and sailor. But, by his own admission, he is not an intrepid sailor, or much of an adventurer. His tales are mostly about following in other people’s footsteps, often forgotten men who came to an untimely demise on foolhardy missions. He is a more enthusiastic sailor, but one who knows the risks and his own limitations.

In a way the tales of the voyages are the more personal stories. Ansley ends up sailing around North Cape, and the South Cape (in Stewart Island), and as a Dunedin resident even worked on a crayfishing boat in Fiordland. As a young man the crayfishing went well, but getting back to a safe harbour did not, and he almost missed his own wedding in the process. Fortunately, he did marry Sally and they remain together, though she doesn’t appear to have accompanied Bruce on most of these journeys.

Ansley does, of course, meet up with some interesting characters. These include Rhys Buckingham, former wildlife ranger who has pursued elusive the ‘grey ghost’ of birdlife, the South Island Kokako, for 40 years. Then there is Colin Gavan, or ‘Wobbles’, the skipper of the boat that gets Ansley to the South Cape, and back again, despite the wild weather in Foveaux Strait that has claimed so many local mariners.

But it is really the ghosts of pioneering men, or their own mythology, that Ansley seems to be pursuing here. He begins with the adventures of the folk hero prison escapee, George Wilder, and his habit of staying in baches around Lake Taupo. Other adventurers are less well known, such as John Whitcombe, a Canterbury road surveyor. His journey through the Southern Alps ended badly, but he did find the Whitcombe Pass first, even if those that came later could mostly not follow in his unfortunate footsteps. Ansley also finds a lost adventurer of sorts in the German sea captain, Count Felix von Luckner, who was captured in the Pacific during the First World War. After several escapes he ended up on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

All of this is entertaining and fun, with some useful turns of phrase: sailing up the North Island’s west coast, Taranaki’s ‘graceful shape’ appears, and Cape Egmont ‘turned into its cracked and crenellated self.’ But Ansley’s writing about the South Island comes across as the more convincing and soulful. And a couple of times his North Island geography lets him down, such as when the Tangiwai railway bridge is described as a little way east of Waiouru, when surely it is to the west of the village.

There is in fact a complete absence of any kind of map in the whole book. Moreover, some of the chapters could have been enhanced by a photo or two which display the landmark that Ansley is trying to reach. This is certainly the case for the lost mining settlement of Serpentine, somewhere in central Otago, and for which it takes Ansley two attempts to find the little church (which is apparently at the highest altitude of any churchin New Zealand). Another example would be the pillar at Tuturau, in Southland, erected on the centennial of the battle between the northern chief Te Puoho and Ngai Tahu.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Wild Journeys
by Bruce Ansley
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541202

Book Review: Sport 46, edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall and Ashleigh Young

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

sport_46Literary journal Sport has returned for its 46th instalment, featuring a great variety of fictional pieces by 49 New Zealand writers. It’s a little difficult to know how to properly review Sport 46 as a book when it covers so many styles and formats. Each essay, poem, story and interview really needs to be considered in its own review. There are some very distinctive voices here, and each one demands your full attention; despite this, they feel perfectly at home alongside eachother.

The anthology opens with a interview with Bill Manhire by Anna Smaill, and from there covers an impressive range of fiction. Amongst the more traditional stories and poetry, seven essays fit in seamlessly, as does Barry Linton’s brightly coloured comic, My Ten Guitars. This is a story told through a list of the guitars that have followed the author through his life; from Hamilton to Auckland, from his first guitar at 16 to his friend’s Yahama guitar before it got stolen. The list of guitars survived by the author tell an autobiographical story in such a refreshing way; it would be wonderful to see more comics in future editions of Sport, as they are such an effective yet underrated storytelling medium.

While I love a good poem – and Sport 46 certainly has no shortage of very good poems – short stories are always the pieces I tend to enjoy most in an anthology. Amongst my favourite pieces in Sport 46 is The Pests, a short story by Zoe Higgins. A teenager who builds landscape models discovers that her perfect miniature worlds are being invaded by mysterious creatures. Another short story that particularly captured my attention was Blue Horse Overdrive by Anthony Lapwood. A group of young friends experience a number of startling things in a short amount of time; their band is noticed by a record company, the bass player begins routinely fainting while perfoming, and most concerningly, the band begin to see an electric blue horse appearing in the crowds during their gigs. The supernatural elements of both of these stories make them so enthralling to read; I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Sport 46 and sample some of the best work to come from New Zealand writers in 2018. There is an excellent combination here of the bizarre and the familiar, the distortion of a dream and the comfort of home.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Sport 46
edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall & Ashleigh Young
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562343

Book Review: Fight for the Forests, by Paul Bensemann

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fight_for_the_Forests.jpgNew Zealand is proud of the Clean Green ideal we like to project to the world. Scenes from the Lord of the Rings, travel posters and Great Walks promotions all include images of pristine forests and snow-capped mountains. Paul Bensemann writes passionately about the battle to ensure these forests were not destroyed by logging and hydro schemes. He describes himself as a conservation foot soldier, beginning when as a 19-year-old, he became involved in the Save Manapouri campaign. Bensemann went on to work for the Forest Service to gather confidential information for the fight ahead.

This book charts conservation events, beginning in the early 1970’s. He interviews the key players, many of whom have gone on to work in the Conservation field. These were young, intelligent student activists. Many had a science background and all became seasoned campaigners as they took on the Government’s schemes for forestry and power. The Beech Forest Action Committee was set up to challenge the logging of huge areas of Beech forest on the South Island’s West Coast. Much of this land was to be replanted in pine. At the time The Forest & Bird Society was seen as the guardian of NZ Flora and Fauna. Bensemann comments that they were more interested in picnics than campaigns. And so the early campaigners lead marches, took field trips to the Coast, lobbied politicians, sought air time on TV and radio and generally stirred the consciousness of many New Zealanders.

This was not a pretty time to be a conservationist. It was hard, it was scary and there was little money to be made by the campaigners. In fact, many delayed jobs and families to focus on the issue. The book follows the development of the fledgling groups as they grew in numbers and resources. It is a detailed account of the campaigns, the conflicts which arose within the groups and the variety of projects undertaken across 20 years.

Eventually, the Forest & Bird Society became part of the campaign as the young Conservationists sought places on the board. Gerry McSweeney, an early member of the protest group, eventually became Director of F &B. In fact, the book finishes with a superb summary of the lives of the protestors today. It reads like a Who’s Who of the Conservation movement in New Zealand. These were not activists making a noise for the sake of it. Each had a personal involvement and a passion for the environment. That they chose to continue to be involved long after the major campaigns were won, is evidence of this.

I loved this book, because it shows a huge move in New Zealand identity and I was part of it. I attended the Easter field trip in 1975, I knew many of those involved and I know how hard and bitter the struggles were. I marched, I wrote, I walked and talked. This was a long campaign, and one that is not over. There are still those in New Zealand who wish to destroy the environment for economic or convenience reasons. All credit to Craig Potton for instigating the book and for the superb pictures included in the publication.

The photos of the very young-looking protestors and the detailed maps and posters added to the enjoyment of my read. Paul Bensemann has done a wonderful job of documenting this story so we can all celebrate success. But his epilogue reminds us that the job will never be done. There are always new campaigns, and new challenges ahead if we are truly to be Clean and Green New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Fight for the Forests: The Pivotal Campaigns that Saved New Zealand’s Native Forests
by Paul Bensemann
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503130

Book Review: Flight of the Fantail, by Steph Matuku

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Flight-of-the-Fantail.pngOn the way to a school camp, a bus full of Kōtuku High students crashes in remote New Zealand bush. Devin, Eva and Rocky are three of a handful of students to survive. As they try to find food, shelter and safety, it quickly becomes clear that their broken phones are the least of their problems – something terrifying is haunting this temperamental valley. With a supernatural force taking over their minds and refusing to let go, the problem for Devin, Eva and Rocky is not whether they can survive the bush: it is whether they can survive their own worst nightmares.

A novel which begins with a fast-pace crash scene and ends with a blood-curdling finale, the plot of Flight of the Fantail hurtles along at a break-neck speed. The first YA novel from award-winning Taranaki writer Steph Matuku, Flight of the Fantail will appeal to those who enjoy horror, thriller and a science fiction adventure with an Aotearoa twist.

Flight of the Fantail
may have a pretty name, but it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Teenagers physically and mentally fight against supernatural forces, while also fighting against themselves (with plenty of gore and grisly death involved). There are moments of levity amid the darkness – such as the accidental playing of the Simpsons theme tune on a glitchy cellphone during a burial – but the overall tone is grim.

Matuku’s strength is in her characterisation. As well as introducing a diverse range of well-developed characters, she does a fantastic job of slowly revealing each character’s inner motives, the nightmares that haunt their waking dreams, and the deep secrets they would much rather keep hidden if they were given the choice. In a complex plot with multiple main characters, this is an impressive achievement.

With symbolic pīwakawaka, kōtare, eels and patupaiarehe, Flight of the Fantail is a distinctly New Zealand novel infused with te reo and Māori mythology. It is also unabashedly contemporary, with teenage jargon juxtaposed against conversations about ancient myths. Eva finds moa bones in a cave and her description highlights this juxtaposition: ‘Rocky referred to it irreverently as Big Bird, but Eva was in awe of it. Those massive birds had always seemed more like myth than fact to her, and here one was, just lying there. It was like finding the remains of a dragon.’

The chapters switch between the main teenagers and the adults who are searching for them, and the motif of the foreboding fantail flits and darts to connect the scenes. As Rocky later explains, pīwakawaka are known to be messengers of death: ‘If a fantail flies into your house … it means that you or someone you know is going to die.’ Like the pīwakawaka’s presence and the kōtare preying on the fish in the river, Flight of the Fantail is full of unresolved tension which keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense.

However, while the teenage characters are convincing, the adult characters fall slightly flat. The company who own the land where the students went missing – Seddon Corporation – keep not only the families but also Search and Rescue ‘out of the Zone’ during the ‘rescue mission’. Although it later becomes clear why this is the case, it is difficult to believe the families and rescuers would be so easily duped. The reasoning for the electrical disturbances – the minerals tokatanium and terrascious – are also too obviously made-up for the reader to suspend disbelief.

Despite these minor issues, Flight of the Fantail is effortlessly readable. There are beautiful descriptions, such as: ‘He scrambled forward into the cluster of nīkau. Nothing but muted browns and emerald green and flashes of sunlight through the filigree of tree ferns, no sound but his own harsh panting and the drumbeat inside him. The smell of wet earth was cloying, ancient, suffocating.’ With short chapters and a fast pace, this is an addictive novel and a great read for those who enjoy a gritty, gory adventure story. Even better, it is set in the wild unpredictable nature of our own country.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

Flight of the Fantail
by Steph Matuku
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775503521

Book Review: Guardians of Aotearoa, by Johanna Knox, photos by Jess Charlton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_guardians_of_aotearoa‘Sometimes it feels like our living world, our cultural knowledge, our people and communities are under siege’ reads the dust jacket of Guardians of Aotearoa: Protecting New Zealand’s Legacies. This first line cuts straight to the zeitgeist and the current cultural climate where opinion is favoured over fact, nationalism is on the rise, inaction in the face of a beleaguered natural environment continues and discussion in the public sphere is so often reductive, perhaps another symptom of the competitive nature of modern life, where all feel that their way of life is under threat.

Guardians of Aotearoa, by Johanna Knox with photography from Jess Charlton, is a timely and welcome tonic. It is part documentation, part celebration of the people whose values and efforts Knox admires, in addition to the legacies they seek to uphold. The book also speaks to a shift in the political landscape: a move from a focus on GDP and material goods to that of values and wellbeing, which is intertwined with health, environment and education.

Initially Knox was commissioned by Bateman Books to make a book about New Zealand’s environmental heroes. But, as she writes in the introduction, this didn’t sit quite right: ‘How do you divorce the natural environment from people and culture? We’re part of a whole.’ This is reflected not only in Te Ao Maori and the principles and practices of kaitiakitanga, but also in the impact of human actions, or inaction as the case may be, on the world around us.

Those profiled span a diverse range of practices but common to all is their care for what they do. Their ‘work rarely fits one tidy category’ – indeed cross disciplinary approaches are common. The legacies included traverse ecologies of all types – cultural, community, environmental – and, accordingly, people of all types to foster them: from shoemakers to the founder of Rockquest. There is Graham O’Keeffe – head of the MOTAT print shop, who is ‘not just educating, but keeping a vanishing art alive’; ecologist Catriona Gower, who by sharing her passion for bats has brought together communities; Lloyd and Joan Whittaker, who have dedicated their lives to maintaining a rich collection of heritage instruments and making these accessible.

Care and interconnection come through the book as the essential ingredients to addressing the challenges that face us and preserving the things that matter to us. Niki Harré, author and psychology lecturer, says that ‘unless we face climate change with a strong sense of love: for each other, in the broadest sense, it’s not likely to go well’. Tina Ngata, the environmental and indigenous rights advocate, affirms that we cannot talk about guardianship, or kaitiekitanga as it is known in the East Coast dialect, without looking after language, child rearing and other rights too. Thinking of these connections across time is also fundamental – put simply, as Ngata says, we need to think of how we can be good ancestors.

This is a handsome and satisfying volume, which underlines a belief in the power of individuals’ stories to inspire. By gathering them in this book, Knox also captures an ecology and community of action. The challenge in front of us is widening this sphere of influence.

As one of the guardians, freshwater ecologist Mike Joy, states: ‘Go to the people that aren’t converted. That’s the hard stuff. That’s where you’ll make the difference.’

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Guardians of Aotearoa
by Johanna Knox, photos by Jess Charlton
Published by Bateman Books
ISBN 9781869539023

Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wine_trails_australia_and_nzIn 2015, Lonely Planet published Wine Trails, which covered 20 countries and 52 regions. This was a massive undertaking and I am sure we would all have liked to volunteer to trial a few for the editors. One of the criticisms which arose was that there were many areas not covered, or wineries completely missed. In fact, I remember at the time discussing how good it would be to have a Lonely Planet Wine Trail for each country.

Well, wish no more. In Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand we have exactly that.

As a backpacker of the 80’s, I find it amusing to see the company which produced my well-thumbed guidebooks has grown up. I used to seek out the budget hotels and the cheap meals from those pages. Now, the backpackers are all grown up and wish to indulge their sophisticated passions. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Wine Trails covers 40 weekend possibilities. As a New Zealander, I immediately turned to see how we featured. Obviously, Australia dominates and has 30 of the weekends. So instead I began by checking how my local areas fared. I was pleasantly surprised.

The trails are in alphabetical order, so be warned you skip from Auckland to Central Otago. Each includes a map locating the wineries, a short background to the winery, their best products and the features of this region. Of immense help are the links which follow each listing allowing the reader to check details and products.

My local Waipara trail included 6 wineries and identified the features of each wine. Certainly, the Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir deserved its’ special mention. As well as the featured wineries, local eateries and accommodation are included. Travel distances and other local highlights complete the possibilities for the weekend. This trail mentions the gourmet sausage rolls from Pukeko Junction, the Hanmer pools and the Weka Pass railway. I was happy with the information and presentation.

The introduction to the book mentions the importance of being able to taste a wine in the place it was produced. The writers certainly covered a lot of ground and their combined expertise as well as local knowledge, has ensured this book is helpful, beautiful and extremely tempting. My wine tasting team have stolen my copy and plans are afoot for a weekend away. I am hoping it is to the Tamar Valley in Tasmania because their Pinot Noir grapes make amazing wine. Fingers crossed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand – Plan 40 perfect Weekends in Wine Country
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787017696

Book Review: A Kiwi Day Before Christmas, by Yvonne Morrison & Deborah Hinde

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_kiwi_day_before_christmasWe all know the classic story about Santa Claus living at the North Pole along with Mrs Claus and of course not forgetting those wonderful reindeer, but now we have our very own Kiwi version.

Santa was down at the bach fishing when Mrs Claus comes along and reminds him that he needs to get cracking as the big day isn’t far away. He then remembered that it was Christmas tonight so he had better get himself organised. He packs up his gear and heads up the hill at full speed on his quad bike after a quick brekkie of toast and yeast spread (maybe marmite??). Santa’s helpers were having lots of fun and all the gift wrapping was almost completed.

All the finished pressies were stuffed in a sack and he got out his tractor. It needed a spruce up first, so Santa took it to the petrol station taking it through the car wash. With everything organised it was now time to get the team together. Where were the sheep? The last time he’d seen them was on Main Street at the Christmas parade. They’d all gone off to have a break before the big day. Santa was starting to feel a bit concerned. Shaun had gone diving and swimming with the seals while Buffy had gone shopping to find the best deals. Jason and Flossy had gone wine tasting while Bossy went zorbing and onto a zip line.

This is one heck of a story and one that will be received with a bit of trepidation by young ones, as they know that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and it’s reindeer, rather than sheep, involved in getting the sleigh through the night, delivering presents all around the world.

I read this story to 4-year-old Quinn. A look of disbelief on her face with lots of questions forthcoming. Where are the elves in this story Grandma? ‘I don’t believe this one’ – clapping a hand over her face very dramatically. ‘Are you telling porkies Grandma?’ Who knows, I might be, but then I may well not be!

A fabulous story and one that I think will be a hit this year with young ones. The illustrations are just great, capturing just the right tone, and bringing the story together.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Kiwi Day Before Christmas
By Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434108