Book Review: A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960, by Malcolm Templeton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_wise_adventure_2New Zealand has always had a close association with Antarctica from the very first. Early exploration often set out from New Zealand and continuing contact was based in Christchurch, in particular with the American Deep Freeze base.

In A Wise Adventure (VUP 2000) Templeton covered the period of 1920-1960.This included the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty system. In this companion volume, he looks more closely at the developments and negotiations since then. The Antarctic Treaty was set up to ensure access to scientific research and the peaceful management of the area and resources. While this seems a relatively simple premise, the actual process of establishing legal documentation, of getting the agreement of all interested parties and finally of enforcing these rules, is more complex.

Templeton is a former New Zealand Foreign Service Officer and has served at the United Nations and as Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Using archival materials and his own meticulous research, he has collated the information into this excellent record of the negotiations and decisions behind the treaties.

To the outsider, it appears a straightforward task to gather the interested parties and sign an agreement. In the case of Antarctica, where many diverse nations wished to have a say, it was complex. Both the fishing and more recently, the mineral resources of this area, are an important focus for countries far removed by geography. The treaties included environmental protection and management of living resources in a sustainable way while also ensuring that those countries, who claimed sovereignty and those who opposed such claims, were acknowledged.

In A Wise Adventure II we see the important role played by New Zealand since 1960. With the 60th Anniversary of the Ross Dependency at Scott Base, in December this year, it is timely to have this publication.

While this book is not light bedtime reading, it is an essential read for those interested and concerned about the future of Antarctica. It is by reading about the journey traveled, that we can be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960
by Malcolm Templeton
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561681

Book Review: Dispatches from Continent Seven: An Anthology of Antarctic Science, by Rebecca Priestley

Available in bookshops nationwide, this book is being discussed as part of NZ Writer’s Week. Rebecca Priestley’s event Ice Science is at 5pm on Saturday 12 March, and she will talk with fellow Antarcticans Rebecca Priestley, Tim Naish and Rhian Salmon, chaired by Te Radar.

Icv_dispatches_from_continent_seven was pretty excited about this book, having enjoyed Rebecca Priestley’s previous science anthology work, and I was not disappointed. Antarctica is a fascinating place that most of us will never set foot on, and this anthology gives a great sense of what travelling and working there would be like.

The book is arranged into roughly chronological sections covering the first voyages attempting to “discover” Antarctica, early accounts of scientists and explorers who made it onto the continent, the growth of scientific endeavours from the 1950’s onwards, and finally a collection of recent writing on what study in Antarctica can tell us about climate change and our possible future. Rebecca Priestley has selected, edited and introduced each piece of writing to show us who each writer is, where they are and what’s going on at the time that their narrative takes place.

Although “edited” is an obvious description of Priestley’s part in the book, I kept thinking during the earlier historical sections that “curated” would be a more accurate term. As I read, I felt like I was being shown through an exhibition about the history of Antarctic exploration – each piece following on from the next but from a different perspective, well-contextualised and interspersed with pictures and occasional poems. The inclusion of modern poetry is an interesting choice, one that I appreciate in part because it allows small insertions of female perspectives into the inevitably male exploration narratives. I found the poem that starts the book off, ‘The frozen pages’ by Gregory O’Brien, particularly engaging: it gets the book off to a philosophical start, setting the scene for readers to consider the importance of the stories that follow.

The early efforts to reach Antarctica – so distant, so mysterious, so very, very cold – took place in the age of European colonial voyages. James Cook and his crew circumnavigated the area while making scientific observations. French lieutenant Jospeh Dubouzet mused about whether “taking possession” by planting a flag in a new place was ridiculous, before asserting that in this case it wasn’t, and describing the excellent Bordeaux wine used to toast their conquest. James Clark Ross delighted in going around naming things after his colleagues and benefactors. The major difference was that there were no people already living on Antarctica. Therefore the efforts to claim and conquer parts of this last continent did not involve any direct human conflict. There are, however, numerous instances of penguins having a bad time in these early encounters! Just before their otherwise peaceful act of flag-planting conquest, Dubouzet and company had cleared the area by hurling away all the resident penguins, who were “much astonished”. No doubt.

The writers give beautiful descriptions of the unusual and wonderful things they are seeing, while also conveying the discomfort and visceral struggle for survival. I had no idea that the aviator Richard Byrd had worked on Antarctica, but his story about nearly locking himself out while doing a solo meteorological measurement was brilliantly told and quite nerve-wracking. As things took a turn for the worse in Robert Falcon Scott’s 1912 diary excerpt (presented as a story about collecting geological samples) I suddenly realised “ohh, we must be approaching the part with ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’”. Actually that exact quote from Captain Oates was not included, but I am sure I will not be the only reader who anticipates it, and realises in the process that the story of Scott’s fatal final expedition has become iconic.

I was somewhat less gripped by some of the more modern excerpts about doing science in Antarctica – not due to any fault of the authors, for each piece is a good example of science writing and explains a particular aspect of physics, biology or cool technical gear very well. I think this is a personal preference: as a social researcher, I found the stories in which the scientist described their personal experience more immersive, while the technical explanations were interesting but easier to skim over. I particularly enjoyed the rather chipper-sounding physicist Colin Bull describing his team’s experiences in the 1950s (struggling across a windy valley while laden with gear, he finds himself repeating a quote from a colleague: “Only another ten thousand feet of this excruciating garbage”), and atmospheric chemist Rhian Salmon’s chatty blog from the early 2000s about a typical day while wintering over. My interest picked up further for the final section relating to climate change: scary and very important.

I will be passing this book on to the earth scientist in my household, who is certain to find different aspects of the stories more interesting. This is therefore an endorsement: people will take different things out of this anthology, and that’s great. Recommended.

Reviewed by Rebecca Gray

Dispatches from Continent Seven: An Anthology of Antarctic Science
by Rebecca Priestley
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781927249055

Book Review: When The Night Comes, by Favel Parrett

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Australian author Favel Parrett was much acclaimed for her debut novel Past the cv_when_the_night_comesShallows, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. In her second novel, When the Night Comes, Parrett describes the life of a lonely girl, Isla, living in Hobart with her brother and mother after they’ve run away from the mainland, whose lives are brightened up by the arrival of Bo, a Danish cook on board the Antarctic supply ship Nella Dan.

There’s something warm and comforting about When the Night Comes. Perhaps it’s the simple but evocative prose, or the face that the story is told largely from young Isla’s point of view, but the harsh or sad things that happen in the novel are somehow washed away. Instead, what you remember of the novel are the vividly evoked moments that lie outside the mere plot. In fact it seems like it’s these moments—of Bo on top of a hill in Antarctica looking out at the expanse of white, for example, or of him watching a cape petrel in flight—that are really Parrett’s focus. The scanty plot is merely a vehicle for Parrett to serve up these tableaux of her characters experiencing the awe-inspiring environments they find themselves in.

Part of this book was obviously inspired and informed by Parrett’s own journey to Antarctica as a recipient of the Australian Antarctic Division’s Antarctic Arts Fellowship, hence the sharp clarity in her descriptions of Antarctic life. Parrett describes the snow petrels in Antarctica, “so white they disappear when they fly over ice, invisible except for their small black eyes looking down, their black beaks pointing”, while Bo sits gazing on “giant white cliffs running on and on, then out to the horizon, icebergs lined up for all of time […] One million shades of blue and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

Parrett’s striking descriptions are a large part of the joy of reading her novel. In clear simple language she captures brilliant, iconic images, like that of Bo’s porthole—“A perfect circle of light against the black inside my cabin”—as he looks through to see his shipmates playing football on the ice, “by the side of a red ship in the middle of the frozen ocean”.

The barely-hinted-at plot means you don’t feel much narrative drive, and the novel seems to float gently along as if borne on an ice floe. But if you reconcile yourself to this semi-aimlessness, opening this novel’s pages feels something like coming home.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

When The Night Comes
by Favel Parrett
Published by Hachette


A cute story about Digital NZ and the image on our homepage

In my job my greatest hope is to spark people’s interest in books, reading, buying books and talking about them. Here’s a cute story about why it pays to get reading. ..

This week I decided we needed a new feature image on the homepage. I often use Digital New Zealand so did a quick search on ‘reading’ (with the modify/commercial use filters to cover all bases) and came up with the image that’s now on our homepage of a man reading in bed.

Hamish Wright from Wright’s Bookshop in Cambridge emailed me this afternoon to give me the back story on our image. Here’s what he said,

“The “Man reading in bed” that is on the Booksellers website front page is George “Putty” Marston who was on Shackleton’s trip to the South Pole in 1907. Putty was an Art Teacher and was the resident artist on the trip. He turned 26 whilst in the South Pole. They actually produced a book about the trip and Putty designed and illustrated it. It was called Aurora Australis. They produced about 100 of which there are 70 that can be accounted for today.

“They had boxes of books with them on the trip. Dickens, Shakespeare, Browning were amongst the reading material available. Not sure what he was reading [in the photo] but I am sure it was “worthy”…

“With thanks to Neville Peat’s new book Shackleton’s Whiskey where that photo is reproduced and the material came from. I read the book and loved it!”

by Emma McCleary, web editor at Booksellers NZ