Majestical mountains

In the beginning there was no Te Wai Pounamu or Aotearoa. The waters of Kiwa rolled over the place now occupied by the South Island, the North Island and Stewart Island. No sign of land existed.

Before Raki (the Sky Father) wedded Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother), each of them already had children by other unions. After the marriage, some of the Sky Children came down to greet their father’s new wife and some even married Earth Daughters.

Among the celestial visitors were four sons of Raki who were named Aoraki (Cloud in the Sky), Rakiroa (Long Raki), Rakirua (Raki the Second), and Rārakiroa (Long Unbroken Line). They came down in a canoe which was known as Te Waka o Aoraki. They cruised around Papatūānuku who lay as one body in a huge continent known as Hawaiiki.

Then, keen to explore, the voyagers set out to sea, but no matter how far they travelled, they could not find land. They decided to return to their celestial home but the karakia (incantation) which should have lifted the waka (canoe) back to the heavens failed and their craft ran aground on a hidden reef, turning to stone and earth in the process.

The waka listed and settled with the west side much higher out of the water than the east. Thus the whole waka formed the South Island, hence the name: Te Waka o Aoraki. Aoraki and his brothers clambered on to the high side and were turned to stone. They are still there today. Aoraki is the mountain known to Pākehā as Mount Cook, and his brothers are the next highest peaks near him. The form of the island as it now is owes much to the subsequent deeds of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, who took on the job of shaping the land to make it fit for human habitation.

Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1988: Schedule 80: Tōpuni for Aoraki/Mt Cook

 

Welcome to Aoraki Mt/Cook, a place of breath-taking beauty and – as with any landscape – many layers of human history, the imprint of which is present in both tangible and intangible ways.

Surprisingly, I've no (digital) photographs of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Instead, I offer you the De La Beche Ridge, with the Tasman glacier in the foreground. Image: K. Watson.

Surprisingly, I’ve no (digital) photographs of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Instead, I offer you the De La Beche Ridge, with the Tasman glacier in the foreground, taken from the Ball track. Image: K. Watson.

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about places Christchurch residents would have holidayed in the past – and still do today. They also happen to be places I’ve been lucky enough to visit while doing work for the Department of Conservation (sometimes people forget that DOC is as much about protecting and preserving our cultural heritage as our natural heritage). These places tell us about the outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities available to Christchurch residents, and about the development of these spheres, because outdoor recreation and tourism weren’t really a particularly big deal when New Zealand was settled by Pākehā.

Let’s start at the beginning (from a human point of view, at least – I’m not getting into the geology). Aoraki/Mount Cook is so significant to Ngāi Tahu it is recognised with Tōpuni status under the Ngai Tahu Settlement Claims Act. For Ngāi Tahu, Aoraki/Mount Cook is the most sacred of their ancestors and is critical to their identity. There are no recorded Māori archaeological sites in the immediate vicinity of the mountain, there are further afield in the Mackenzie country, and these are a tribute to the resources of the area, particularly the stone and the food. Ngāi Tahu’s associations with the area also survive in the names used for landmarks in the area, from the lakes to the mountain itself.

The early European history of the area is a seemingly romantic one, with tales of rugged, intrepid men and women exploring and marvelling at the wilderness, with seemingly endless time to explore, retiring at night to the warmth and conviviality of either the Hermitage or Ball hut (or, later, Malte Brun hut), with the Hermitage in particular renowned for its egalitarian atmosphere (McClure 2004: 79-80). Glorious black and white photographs capture this era.

This was the first Hermitage, built in 1884 and destroyed by floods in 1913. You can still see the building site today and there was an excavation there in the early 1980s. In the early 2000s, I excavated the remains of the Hermitage stables. Unsurprisingly, we found a lot of horseshoes - as well as building remains. The Hermitage, Mount Cook. Ross, Malcolm 1862-1930 :Photographs by Malcolm Ross of New Zealanders in the Great War, Maori, mountaineering, New Zealand scenery, etc. Ref: 1/2-022364-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23121689

This was the first Hermitage, built in 1884 and destroyed by floods in 1913. You can still see the building site today and there was an excavation there in the early 1980s. In the early 2000s, I excavated the remains of the Hermitage stables. Unsurprisingly, we found a lot of horseshoes – as well as building remains.
Inage: The Hermitage, Mount Cook. Ross, Malcolm 1862-1930 :Photographs by Malcolm Ross of New Zealanders in the Great War, Maori, mountaineering, New Zealand scenery, etc. Ref: 1/2-022364-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23121689

Ball hut, 1907. Earlier photographs indicate that it was built without a fireplace, or the capacity to capture rainwater. The archaeological remains indicate that the hut expanded a lot before being destroyed by an avalanche in 1925. Image: Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948. Gifford tramping party at Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: 1/2-060503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22583972

Ball hut, 1907. Earlier photographs indicate that it was built without a fireplace, or the capacity to capture rainwater. The archaeological remains indicate that the hut expanded a lot before being destroyed by an avalanche in 1925.
Image: Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948. Gifford tramping party at Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: 1/2-060503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22583972

What this romantic vision ignores is the exclusion of Ngāi Tahu from the area and the literal walking on their most sacred ancestor, the disadvantaged position of women in this world (climb and explore they did, but in voluminous skirts or culotte-type garments and they had to battle against the social norms of the day, which frowned on the relationship between women and their male guides) and the fact that tourism in this period was the preserve of the wealthy. The rest of society simply did not have the time or money to travel in this way: initially, the journey from Fairlie to the Hermitage took three days by coach, with the horses having to be changed five times. The wheel ruts from this original dray track survive in parts of the Mackenzie country (and are difficult to photograph!) and are testament to what must have been a bone-shaking journey (and they used pigeons – yes, pigeons! – to send information to the Hermitage about the number of guests on the way). More to the point, however, if the journey took at least three days in each direction, you were going to want to spend a decent amount of time at the destination. And then there was the matter of hiring guides and/or horses, and the cost of the accommodation itself. Nonetheless, what was noteworthy about the Hermitage was that the guides were required to divide their attention equally between regular tourists and serious mountaineers (McClure 2004: 79-80).

This is just possibly the remains of Mannering and Dixon's camp on Ball Flat, to the north of the remains of the first Ball hut, described by Mannering (2000: 72) as their "well-known Ball Glacier camp" and built c.1886. Image: K. Watson.

This is just possibly the remains of Mannering and Dixon’s camp on Ball Flat, to the north of the remains of the first Ball hut, described by Mannering (2000: 72) as their “well-known Ball Glacier camp” and built c.1886. Image: K. Watson.

The government spent a lot on this elite tourist venture, helping to fund the construction of the road from Glentanner station to Aoraki/Mt Cook, financially supporting the operation of the Hermitage and constructing roads, huts and tracks in the area, including Ball hut and Ball track, which ran above the Tasman glacier from the Hooker River to Ball glacier. It was not until the involvement of one Rodolph Wigley, however, that the area became a serious tourist destination.

On the old road to Aoraki/Mt Cook. This road, built in partnership by the government of the day and the Mt Cook Road Board in late 1883, remained in use until the mid-late 20th century. Image: K. Watson.

On the old road to Aoraki/Mt Cook. This road, built in partnership by the government of the day and the Mt Cook Road Board in late 1883, remained in use until the mid-late 20th century. Image: K. Watson.

The Ball track, 1907. Image: On the track to Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: PA1-o-186-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22916634

The Ball track, 1907. Image: On the track to Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: PA1-o-186-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22916634

Scrabbling along the remains of the Ball track today (well, actually, in 2010). Image: I. Hill.

Scrabbling along the remains of the Ball track today (well, actually, in 2010). I’m standing on that track, and you can make out the line of towards the centre left. Image: I. Hill.

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation with Wigley and Aoraki Mt Cook: was he the catalyst that drove the development, or was he just the right man at the right time? Or a bit of both? Whatever the case, it is impossible to separate him from the story of Aoraki Mt Cook. Wigley was the man behind the Mt Cook Motor Company, which took over the lease of the (second) Hermitage in 1922, and set about opening up the area to a much broader sector of (Pākehā) society, by reducing costs, improving access and improving facilities. Wigley offered wooden floored tents as a cheaper form of accommodation and set out to offer a range of attractions beyond just the scenery, including golf. One of the key factors underlying Wigley’s success was the increasing popularity of exploring the outdoors, and the increasing availability of leisure time for the middle and working classes, a theme that will be returned to in another of these posts. The other was the motor car, and this underlay one of the key components of Wigley’s vision: the Ball Road.

The fantastic stone work that remains in situ along sections of the Ball Road. Image: K. Watson.

The fantastic stone work that remains in situ along sections of the Ball Road. Image: K. Watson.

The Ball Road was an ambitious plan to connect the Hermitage to (the second) Ball hut by motor car, enabling less mobile/athletic visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with the alpine region, and also to promote the skifield he established on the Ball glacier. Nature, however, had other ideas and today the remains of the road are a testament to the power of Wigley’s vision, and to his ambition to make Aoraki/Mt Cook the site of domestic tourism for the masses. Not for any altruistic reason, one assumes, but very much driven by the profit motive – the two, of course, do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Ball Road, disappearing under collapsing moraine. Image: K. Watson.

Ball Road, disappearing under collapsing moraine. Image: K. Watson.

By the 1970s, keeping the road open was becoming increasingly difficult and by 1989 it had been closed for good. You can still walk the road today but one day the glacier will claim it for good, if the avalanches don’t get it first. I can’t urge you strongly enough to do so – it’s an easy walk, and a beautiful one. As you walk it, think of all those who have gone before you: Ngāi Tahu; Green, Emil Boss and Ulrich Kaufmass (who, in the first attempt on the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook, came within 60 m – an amazing feat); Mannering and Dixon; Peter Graham; Freda du Faur; Hillary; and the thousands of others who’ve travelled this route to appreciate the beauty that is Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Ball Road, with the lateral moraine from the Tasman glacier looming above it, perilously close to collapsing into the glacier itself. Image: K. Watson.

Ball Road, with the lateral moraine from the Tasman glacier looming above it, perilously close to collapsing into the glacier itself. Walk it now, while it’s still there. Image: K. Watson.

Katharine Watson

References

Mannering, G., 2000. The Hermitage Years of Mannering and Dixon. GM Publication, Geraldine.

McClure, M., 2004. The Wonder Country: Making New Zealand tourism. Auckland University Press, Auckland.

Tool academy: Māori artefacts from Redcliffs

Kia ora,

Recently we had some great finds from Te Rae Kura/Redcliffs.

Unbeknownst to many folks making their daily commute along the Port Hills’ Main Road, a nationally significant Māori archaeological site lies beneath their car wheels, capped by hard fill and asphalt. Despite the many years of residential development in the area since the arrival of Pākehā, archaeologists are still uncovering significant finds. Like these beauties.

A flake core of obsidian (left), and basalt adze (right). Image: Jessie Garland.

A flake core of obsidian (left), and basalt adze (right). Image: Jessie Garland.

To the untrained eye, these may seem like simply rocks or glass, but to archaeologists they have the potential to provide a greater understanding of Māori life before they first encountered Europeans.

The first artefact is a flake core of obsidian, a volcanic glass known to Māori as tuhua. The dormant volcanoes of the South Island don’t produce much in the way of obsidian, perhaps because they were never given much support from their parents in their youth, and still struggle with expressing their creativity. Therefore, when we find it in South Island sites, it’s a sign of the extensive trade networks that operated between iwi groups, bringing obsidian and other trade goods down from the North Island in exchange for South Island goods like pounamu. The greenish tinge on this particular piece when you hold it to the light suggests it’s from one of the most important sources, Mayor Island in the Bay of Plenty (and not that I need corrective eye surgery, Matt).

Smaller flakes would have been removed from this core by hitting it with a hammerstone, and then used as cutting tools. This is a pretty hard-core (sorry not sorry) form of technology that was employed by all of our ancestors, and was the dominant technology throughout 99% of human history, as shown in a helpful and very professional image below produced by a very intelligent and super handsome individual. Obsidian produces amazingly sharp cutting tools, and is still used today in surgeries, because flaked obsidian is essentially sterile and produces an edge finer than steel.

An approximate, and highly abridged timeline of human history.

An approximate, and highly abridged timeline of human history.

The basalt toki/adze below may be made of local materials, from a currently unidentified source of fine grained basalt among the volcanic rock of Horomaka/Banks Peninsula. Adzes were important tools: in essence a wood-cutting tool like an axe, but hafted sideways, in a fashion similar to a modern grubber or mattock. This tool would have been used in the construction of whare, and the waka that plied the waters of the estuary and the surrounding ocean. Adzes were so important that ceremonial versions were held by rangatira, much in the same way that modern bogans advertise their status through impressive spoilers and exhausts, and popes do so with big as hats. Status among modern archaeologists is similarly established through use of oversized ceremonial trowels.

Side view of basalt adze (left), and an image showing hafting techniques (right), from Hiroa, 1949: 185.

Side view of basalt adze (left), and an image showing hafting techniques (right), from Hiroa, 1949: 185.

Caption

A modern archaeologist chief performing a traditional ritual with a ceremonial trowel.

This stubby little toki, however, has reached the end of its life as an adze head, having likely been resharpened many times and has begun to be recycled. The flake scars on the side of the tool show where sections have been removed for re-use as other tools, and there is crushing on the butt end that suggests that it was further used as a hammerstone for working and shaping of other stone tools (Witter, D. pers comm). This kind of recycling is quite common within the Māori tool kit, and shows that our forebears ascribed to the ‘number-8 wire’ mentality as much as we do today.

The butt end of the adze-turned hammerstone, showing: A) a faint line where the stone has been pounded smooth by repetitive impact, evidence of hammer dressing; B) pitting, where impact has removed sections of the stone; C) a scar I got from a turtle at the Taronga Zoo one time. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

The butt end of the adze-turned hammerstone, showing: A) a faint line where the stone has been pounded smooth by repetitive impact, evidence of hammer dressing; B) pitting, where impact has removed sections of the stone; C) a scar I got from a turtle at the Taronga Zoo one time. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

In addition to the artefacts, the site has yielded considerable shell midden, and a fragment of moa bone, providing insights into the diet of Redcliffs Māori (surf and turf), and suggesting that the artefacts, which were found in close association, date to the period prior to moa extinction around 1450 AD (Holdaway and Jacomb, 2000).

A distal (closest to ground) fragment of a tibiotarsus (shin bone/drumstick) of a moa (big old bird). Image: John Megahan, Giant Haast’s eagle attacking New Zealand moa.

A distal (closest to ground) fragment of a tibiotarsus (shin bone/drumstick) of a moa (big old bird). Image: John Megahan, Giant Haast’s eagle attacking New Zealand moa.

Although limited in number, these artefacts each have a story to tell about past use of the area, and add to the greater known context of Māori occupation of this great land. If you want to know more, feel free to adze us your questions in the comments below. Har har har har.

References

Hiroa, Te Rangi, 1949. The Coming of the Māori. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd.

Holdaway, R. and Jacomb, C. 2000. Rapid extinction of the moas (Aves: Dinornithiformes): model, text and implications. Science 287:2250-54.

Terra Forma: viewing Christchurch’s changing landscape through painting

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At the encouragement of one of our resident artists/art historians/cyber archaeologists, Annthalina, I took a visit to the newly-reopened Te Puna O Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery over the weekend.[1] Annthalina knows I love landscapes, both the painty-brushy kind, and the bushy-brushy kind, and sent me out to take special note of the Te Rua O Te Moko exhibition, which displays a work of art for each of the 18 Papatipu Rūnanga of Ngāi Tahu. Seeing these works, and other Canterbury landscapes within the museum inspired me to write this post, about how we’ve changed the lay of the land, particularly in terms of its vegetation.

As I said, I love landscapes, and when I’m working I’ll look out across the landscape and my eyes will glaze over as I try and imagine what the land looked like to the ghosts of Ōtautahi/Christchurch past. My eyes also occasionally glaze over when my colleagues begin a tirade about traffic, or the inaccuracy of costumes in period dramas, or ‘architecture crimes’, or frozen yoghurt, or any of the many other foibles of modern life. But I promise, most of the time, I’m thinking about landscapes. Anyway, and luckily, dead dudes put paint to canvas when they were alive, helpfully making my leaps of imagination that much easier.

As we all know, Christchurch was built on a swamp, and many recall how that swamp came bubbling forth vengefully from the earth once again in 2011, like the almost-defeated underdog protagonist in the third act of a sports film, yelling “Adrian! Adrian!”. But it can seem hard to get a grasp on that over 160 year old scene while concrete and steel loom over you. The ‘Black Maps’  series of survey maps produced by chief surveyor Captain Joseph Thomas in the 1840s and 1850s are an invaluable source of information about the nature of the land and vegetation in Ōtautahi/Christchurch at that time.

Detail of Christchurch ‘Black maps’ of A) Cashmere; B) Linwood; and C) St Albans. “You get a swamp! And you get a swamp! And you get a swamp!” Image: Christchurch area: showing swamps & vegetation cover. Compiled from ‘Black Maps’ 1856. 1963. Christchurch City Libraries.

Detail of Christchurch ‘Black maps’ of A) Cashmere; B) Linwood; and C) St Albans. “You get a swamp! And you get a swamp! And you get a swamp!” Image: Christchurch area: showing swamps & vegetation cover. Compiled from ‘Black Maps’ 1856. 1963. Christchurch City Libraries.

The elevated platforms at the right of the image are pātaka, raised storage platforms to keep kiore/Polynesian rats out of your stuff, not UFOs on stilts. Or are they? No, they’re not. Image: Charles Haubroe. 1855. Scene on the Horotueka or Cam/Kaiapoi Pah/Canterbury, 1855. C. Haubroe Watercolour.  Canterbury Museum 1951.15.5.

This beauty of a watercolour was painted by Charles Haubroe in 1855 of a kāinga on the banks of the Horotueka/Cam River in the Kaiapoi area. If you’ll allow me to wax lyrical about it, I might suggest that this work shows the duality and tension between the natural and cultural worlds. The calmness of the river belies the tension between the kāinga on the far bank, with its tidy clearing for some handsome whare (houses) and pātaka (storage platforms), and the dense swampy bush of the near bank, where the raupō and tī kōuka (cabbage trees) give a leafy middle finger to humanity and its green organics recycling bins, content in its soggy supremacy. If you won’t allow me to wax lyrical, there’s literally nothing you can do about it, because from the security of my front room in the past, you cannot possibly wrest my keyboard away from me. So there.

The first Māori settlers started the 700ish year ongoing campaign of terraforming Aotearoa/New Zealand. They brought with them part of what archaeologists often refer to as the ‘Polynesian suite’ of cultigens, including kūmara, taro, uwhi/yam, hue/gourd, tī pore (an imported species of cabbage tree) and aute/paper mulberry (Furey 2006: 10). Once here, further changes to the landscape were made by transplanting some native plants well outside their natural range, due to their value. One such is karaka, native to the far north of the North Island, and brought to the South Island due its value as a food source. The stands of karaka you see around the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are likely the remnants, or very near the original transplantations of these trees by Māori in centuries past, as they don’t naturalise very well (Stowe 2003).[2]

Figure 3. I think that I shall never see, a thing as lovely as a karaka tree. But do not eat the seed inside, unless it is detoxified. No, for real, though. Don’t eat it. My poems don’t fool around. Image: John Frederick Miller. 1774. The Endeavour botanical illustrations. Natural History Museum.

I think that I shall never see, a thing as lovely as a karaka tree. But do not eat the seed inside, unless it is detoxified. No, for real, though. Don’t eat it. My poems don’t fool around. Image: John Frederick Miller. 1774. The Endeavour botanical illustrations. Natural History Museum.

The character of the Canterbury plains before Pākehā settlement is somewhat poetically captured in an account from 1844 of Dr David Munro’s first view of them, having ascended the hills from Rapaki:

looking westward, we had a magnificent view – and immense plain, apparently a dead level, stretched away below our feet…backed by a far remote chain of grand snowy summits. The colour of the plain was a brownish yellow indicating it being covered with dried up grass, and several rivers, with tortuous folds, marked themselves upon its surface by the glitter of their waters. On this immense sea of plain, there appeared to be hardly any timber – one or two isolated groves of gloomy pines were all that we could see…

(Wigram 1916: 7).

The “isolated groves” are of course Riccarton Bush, which still stands today (though reduced in size), and a similar stand in Papanui. What Munro took as unseasonable “dried up grass” in April 1844, was likely just the natural colour of the endemic swamp grasses that covered the plains at the time. Within a few decades of Pākehā settlement, the Christchurch landscape was beginning to change significantly, as more and more species of plants were introduced, and the English countryside was writ small on the New Zealand landscape. Attempts were made (more or less successfully) to tame Christchurch’s waterways. The swamps were turned over for pasture, requiring digging up large amounts of dead swamp wood, and ploughing up the tenacious roots of the huruwhenua/ferns and tutu.

Figure 4. Digging up swamp wood in Christchurch, 1918. Sometimes there are going to be jokes in here, sometime there’s not. I’m not going to spoonfeed you. Image: Wilson, 1989: 12.

Digging up swamp wood in Christchurch, 1918. Sometimes there are going to be jokes in here, sometime there’s not. I’m not going to spoonfeed you. Image: Wilson, 1989: 12.

The process of terraforming involved both the clearance of native plants, and their replacement with introduced ones. John Barr Clark Hoyte’s view of Akaroa from the hills shows the first part of this process. Looking out over Akaroa harbour and Onawe peninsula, the view is almost that of tree feller paused in their work, the foreground of stumps the sign of their labour. The rolling slopes of dense yet-to-be-felled forest in the midground and distance though, would likely make most of today’s flannel-clad, hipster-bearded lumbersexuals quake in their boots.

Figure 6. Deforestation of Banks Peninsula. Image: Boffa Miskell 2007: 27.

Deforestation of Banks Peninsula. Image: Boffa Miskell 2007: 27.

John Gibb’s view of Bottle Lake shows how introduced species gradually changed the look of Canterbury. What looks like poplar trees stand on the far bank, and cattle do whatever cattle do on the near bank (low? I hear they are known to low sometimes).  For some reason that escapes me, someone has introduced white swans to the area, despite the fact that they are aggressive jerks (sorry, I’ve been biased against swans since high school, when one beat me out for second place in a high jump competition). But the largely idyllic English-ish-ish character of the scene is interrupted by an almost imperceptible tuna/eel bursting forth from the water. To me, this little endemic eel gives a bit of kiwi character to an image which is otherwise dominated by introduced species. Delicious, manuka-smoked, kiwi character.

Figure 8. Some of the plants for sale at Exeter Nurseries, Papanui Road, in 1875. A.K.A. all of the plants. Even in the 19th century, kiwis referred to things as ‘Choice!’. Image: Star 24/6/1875: 1.

Some of the plants for sale at Exeter Nurseries, Papanui Road, in 1875. A.K.A. all of the plants. Even in the 19th century, kiwis referred to things as ‘Choice!’. Image: Star 24/6/1875: 1.

Another of Gibb’s paintings shows Christchurch in all its 19th century pastoral glory. The land is divided up into nice rectangular paddocks, with cattle and sheep, stands of introduced trees, and a bunch of nice green grass. Today we tend to forget that the rolling monochrome green pastures of New Zealand are imported, and that ‘European grass’ was a major selling point in 19th century land transactions.

Figure 10. There was originally a third paddock laid down in Irish grass, but there were some ‘troubles’ and that lot belongs to itself and is no longer for sale. Image: Star 19/8/1869: 3.

There was originally a third paddock laid down in Irish grass, but there were some ‘troubles’ and that lot belongs to itself and is no longer for sale. Image: Star 19/8/1869: 3.

These paintings not only look nice, but they provide an invaluable insight into the changing patterns and nature of vegetation in the past in Christchurch. If anybody wants to go back in time, and paint more like them, it would make my job heaps easier. Chur.

Go check out the Christchurch Art Gallery for most of the above landscapes. The Te Rua O Te Moko exhibit only runs until 3 April 2016, but a lot of the other paintings are permanent exhibits.

Tristan Wadsworth

References

Boffa Miskell. 2007. Banks Peninsula Landscape Study: Final Report. Prepared for Christchurch City Council by Boffa Miskell Ltd.

Furey, L. 2006: Maori gardening: an archaeological perspective. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Press [online]. Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/>

Stowe, C. J., 2003. The Ecology and Ethnobotany of Karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus). Unpublished M.Sc. thesis, University of Otago.

Wigram, H. F., 1916. The story of Christchurch New Zealand. Lyttelton Times Co. Ltd, Christchurch.

Wilson, J., 1989. Swamp to City – a short history of the Christchurch Drainage Board 1875-1989. Te Waihora Press, Christchurch.

 

[1] Note: this is not a sponsored post, but if the Christchurch Art Gallery would like to send me some priceless landscape paintings out of the goodness of their hearts, I wouldn’t say no.

[2] If you know of any stands of karaka, let me know, as it’s possible there are some that haven’t yet been recorded by archaeologists.

How to read a landscape

Some of you might have been to the St James Conservation Area, a remote and beautiful area managed by the Department of Conservation. You might have been cycling or walking there, or you might have been drawn by the romance of the famous St James horses. While there, you’re sure to have marvelled at the landscape, and I’m hoping that you might have paused to consider the human history of the area. Today, I’m going to tell you about the story I – as an archaeologist – see when I look at this landscape.

Looking up the Stanley River from Stanley Vale (William Fowler's run) to Lake Guyon (W.T.L. Travers' run). Image: K. Watson.

Looking up the Stanley River from Stanley Vale (William Fowler’s run) to Lake Guyon (W.T.L. Travers’ run). Image: K. Watson.

But first, why the St James on a blog about Christchurch? The St James station (which the St James Conservation Area grew out of, as it were) is representative of the sheep stations that played such an important role in Christchurch’s development, from early struggles over land tenure in the fledgling settlement, to providing important economic stimulus, and not to mention the political and social power of the runholders. Please, however, forget all notions of the landed gentry: it’s a myth.

St James horses. Image: K. Watson.

St James horses. Image: K. Watson.

Let’s start before Europeans arrived in Aotearoa/New Zealand, when Māori roamed the land, passing through the St James on trails that connected the interior with the coast (Brailsford 1984). They left little tangible evidence of their passage, although an archaeological site at Lake Tennyson tells the story of moa hunting in the interior, working stone tools (although not where they were found), and of networks of trade and exchange linking people across the country.

On the shores of Lake Tennyson. Image: T. Wadsworth.

On the shores of Lake Tennyson. Image: T. Wadsworth.

Like their Maori predecessors, the first Pākehā in the St James left little sign of their passage. There are the remains of a sod hut in the Edwards valley, though, that could be from some of the earliest runholders in the area, possibly dating to the early 1860s. It’s the location that suggests this, along with the fact that this hut doesn’t appear on any maps or plans, even maps that show old, ruined huts. This hut lies on the south side of the valley, tucked into the hillside, looking up at the northern part of the St James Range. It was small, probably with just one or two rooms, and its builders (probably also its occupants) would have worked hard to build this. The sod used tells the story of a treeless landscape, which would have made keeping fires going hard work in an era when fires were used for all cooking, as well as heating.

In the Edwards valley, with the remains of a sod hut and ditch and bank fence in the foreground. Image: K. Watson.

In the Edwards valley, with the remains of a sod hut and ditch and bank fence in the foreground. Image: K. Watson.

There was a hut pretty similar to this a bit further up the valley, at a place known as Scotty’s camp (next to a 20th century hut), where the Edwards flows into the Waiau. The only difference is that the hut in the Edwards valley had a ditch and bank fence around it, meaning it had a garden, probably consisting of fruits and vegetables, because it was a long way to the nearest supply town – probably pretty much back to Christchurch in those days. At 700 m above sea level, it would have been hard to keep that garden going over winter. The hut at Scotty’s, though, had no fence, suggesting no garden – in those early runholding days, it was much cheaper and easier to fence stock out than in.

The 20th century hut at Scotty's camp. Image: K. Watson.

The 20th century hut at Scotty’s camp. Image: K. Watson.

The next phase in the story is two men whose stories I love, perhaps because I’ve spent a long time researching and thinking about them, and they’ve developed personalities for me (I make no claims to the accuracy of these).

They arrived in the area in the early to mid-1860s, a bit after the first Europeans, with W.T.L. Travers taking up Lake Guyon station and William Fowler taking up Stanley Vale, making the two men remarkably close neighbours, given their distance from anywhere else. As it happens, Fowler built his house on Travers’ land. From this distance, there’s no way of knowing whether this was deliberate, or simply an accident. There were no fences, after all, and boundaries were defined by vague descriptions about heading east from point X until point Y was reached, or for however many chains/miles. While there was a dispute about the location of Fowler’s house, however, there was never one about him grazing stock on land that wasn’t his. Which suggests to me that he knew full well where his boundaries were, and where he was building his house.

Lake Guyon. Travers, William Thomas Locke, 1819-1903 :Photographs. Ref: PAColl-1574-30. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Lake Guyon. Travers, William Thomas Locke, 1819-1903 :Photographs. Ref: PAColl-1574-30. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Travers was just your average Renaissance man – photographer, scientist, explorer, lawyer, politician, and one of the founders of the New Zealand Institute (now the Royal Society; Shepherd 2014). His biography doesn’t even mention that he was a runholder, and it seems unlikely that he spent much time at Lake Guyon, preferring to leave the station in the control of his manager, William Newcombe, who I like to think of as phlegmatic. From my point of view, Travers did make the most of the time he spent at Lake Guyon, taking photographs, such a rare but valuable resource for us to draw on (he also did quite a lot of exploring). These photographs are wonderful, not just for enabling interpretation of the archaeological remains, but for the life they show us.

Mr William Newcombe, his wife Mary (nee Embury) and children on the shores of Lake Guyon, circa 1870s. Photograph taken by William Thomas Locke Travers. Image: PA7-22-04, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Mr William Newcombe, his wife Mary (nee Embury) and children on the shores of Lake Guyon, circa 1870s. Photograph taken by William Thomas Locke Travers. Image: PA7-22-04, Alexander Turnbull Library.

In particular, they show us William Newcombe and his family. Yes, he lived up that remote valley with his wife and children, in a house that grew a bit like topsy. Today you can still see the chimney remains, mounds of stones peeking up through the grass, right on the water’s edge. Strangely close to the water’s edge to my way of thinking – the lake would have been lapping at the building – and so exposed to the nor’west winds that howl down the valley. What the photographs don’t show is another hut, tucked away amongst the (exotic) trees at the base of the hillside, nicely sheltered from the wind. Perhaps a shepherd’s hut? They also don’t show the garden Newcombe and his family grew and tended: cherry, mint, elderberry, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries.

A hut tucked into the trees at Lake Guyon, next to Newcombe's garden. Image: K. Watson.

The remains of a hut, tucked into the trees at Lake Guyon, next to Newcombe’s garden. Image: K. Watson.

Fowler’s garden was actually a bit better: he had raspberries, hazelnuts, gooseberries, currants, rowans, hawthorns, ash trees, sycamores, primroses, willows, poplars and snapdragons. And all this at a considerable height above sea level. A lush garden he might have had, but Fowler faced many problems and cantankerous is the word that springs to mind when I think of him, as he was involved in innumerable court cases, including one against his own son. Some of the reports on these in the papers suggested a pretty grumpy man. I think he was probably stoic, too – he lasted here for some 30 years, long after Travers had sold out.

Looking down on the Stanley Vale homestead site, showing some of the exotic plantings. Image: K. Watson.

Looking down on the Stanley Vale homestead site, showing some of the exotic plantings. The poplars in the distance are on drains that Fowler dug. Image: K. Watson.

Part of the problem was that, in choosing the best location for his homestead (tucked neatly into the lee of the hill, with bush nearby for a good supply of firewood), Fowler had built on someone else’s land. Not only was this detrimental to good neighbourly relations, it also meant that he was isolated from the rest of his run. Also, there was no good road access to his station – of course, there wasn’t really any road access at all, just some flatter stretches of land than others. All of this meant that Fowler’s woolshed was some six miles from his house. Across someone else’s land. Which is never going to work out well in an industry plagued by scab. Travers had a woolshed on his land too, which was much closer, but neighbourly relations appear to have been such that it was not possible for Fowler to use Travers’ woolshed.

The sheep dip at Lake Guyon, which was adjacent to the woolshed. Image: K. Watson.

The sheep dip at Lake Guyon, which was adjacent to the woolshed. Image: K. Watson.

Instead, Fowler had to drive his sheep out over Fowler’s pass – a route some of you might have walked or mountain biked. If you haven’t, and you’re keen on that sort of thing, I’d highly recommend it. No doubt because of the distances involved, Fowler built a hut at the woolshed – not, I hasten to add, the hut known as Fowler’s hut, which was really built for a rabbiter named Henry Barker, and his wife. Nothing at all to do with Fowler, he just happened to own the land on which the hut was built. It’s a great hut, but not the sort of hut that runholders typically build: it’s a bit luxurious for that.

Fowler's Pass track, in somewhat inclement weather. Image. K. Watson.

Fowler’s Pass track, in somewhat inclement weather. Image. K. Watson.

Not only was Fowler running sheep, he was planting exotic grasses and draining paddocks, which has left drains and plough marks visible today. While there was lots of ploughing in 19th century New Zealand, little evidence of it survives, because the land continued to be worked, destroying the evidence of that earlier ploughing. But not on Fowler’s land. The plough lines are easy to see when you’re there today and, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see them on Google Earth. So cool! Something usually so ephemeral, preserved. And think, too, of those men and their horses, the effort to get the equipment to where it was needed, the seed, training the horses, draining the land. This was hard work.

Fowler's hut (before recent DOC work to preserve the structure). Image: K. Watson.

Fowler’s hut (before recent DOC work to preserve the structure). This hut was built in the early 1890s, for a caretaker on the rabbit-proof fence. Image: K. Watson.

In the end, though, both Fowler and Travers sold up and left, moving on to other things. I don’t have a clear picture in my head of the McArthurs, the brothers who added Lake Guyon and Stanley Vale to their holdings, creating a station of some 200,000 acres, most of it more than 800 m above sea level. Hard, economising Scotsmen, perhaps. And they made it work, in spite of the rabbits and the climate and the terrain. Ambitious and driven, then. Tough.

The St James woolshed. Image: K. Watson.

The St James woolshed. Image: K. Watson.

They moved the station homestead from the Styx River to the Peters valley, where many of the station buildings remain today. Not the homestead, though. It burnt down in the 1940s (by which time the McArthurs were long gone) and was never replaced. Today, though, you can wander amongst the trees that sheltered it from the southerly and the nor’west, inspect the long drop they would have used, and count the dog kennels that remain.

The St James homestead, as it is today. Image: T. Wadsworth.

The St James homestead, as it is today. Image: T. Wadsworth.

And think, too, of the men, women and children who lived here, in such splendid isolation. In a world where it was cheaper to build a concrete chimney than cart in bricks from Rangiora or Christchurch, where electricity must have come late in the piece, and where rabbits were such a problem that a fence was built to keep them out. We laugh now at this folly, but perhaps think instead of the men whose livelihoods were threatened by such a small, furry creature.

The rabbit-proof fence, alongside Tophouse Road. This was built by the Hurunui Rabbit Board in the 1880s. Image: T. Wadsworth.

The rabbit-proof fence, alongside Tophouse Road. This was built by the Hurunui Rabbit Board in the 1880s. Image: T. Wadsworth.

All of the sites I’ve mentioned – and more – exist in the St James Conservation Area. I say go, explore, and see what stories you can find in the landscape, on the trails that have existed for hundreds of years, in the ruined buildings, the remains of sheep dips, those glorious mountains.

Katharine Watson

References

Brailsford, B., 1984, Greenstone Trails: The Maori Search for Pounamu. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Wellington.

Shepherd, R. Winsome, 2012. Travers, William Thomas Locke. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. [online] Available at: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t105/travers-william-thomas-locke

Māori occupation at Raekura

People have lived in the Christchurch area for at least 700 years, and one of the earliest large settlements was at Redcliffs – Raekura – where a wide variety of naturally occurring foods could be obtained.  There were shellfish on the beach and on the mudflats of the Avon-Heathcote estuary, fish could be caught in the rivers and the sea, and there were birds along the coast and in the nearby forest that covered the peninsula at that time.  Sea and rivers provided canoe routeways, and stone materials could be obtained from the rocky cliffs for tool manufacture.

One of the casualties of the Canterbury earthquakes was a sewer main that ran beneath Main Road, Redcliffs, from Barnett Park to McCormacks Bay, and putting in its replacement provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the early Māori settlement that had existed across parts of Redcliffs Flat.  Evidence of this settlement had been investigated by Julius von Haast, the first director of the Canterbury Museum, way back in the 1870s, and I had carried out some work there myself in the 1960s, but archaeological methods are improving all the time – and besides, there is always the chance of finding something new and exciting!

The sewer pipe installation was monitored by archaeologists who investigated any archaeological evidence that was exposed.  At times the digging up of the road was halted while we hand-excavated occupational deposits containing shells, bones and artefacts in a layer of charcoal-blackened sand.

 Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan  stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.


Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan
stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.

 

So what did we find?

Most important was the evidence of early Māori occupation in the vicinity of the Redcliffs School, which was radiocarbon dated to the middle of the 14th century – that is around AD1350 or a little over 650 years ago.  The inhabitants had left a range of materials from which we were able to get some idea of what they ate and what they were doing here.

 Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.


Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.

Only one small earthen hāngī type oven was uncovered, but the quantity of burnt stones and charcoal was evidence that others occurred close by, outside the narrow confines of the pipeline excavation.  Food remains showed that the main food eaten was moa, followed closely by shellfish, principally cockle and tuatua.  Other birds included spotted shags, paradise shelducks, penguins, weka, oyster catchers, and swans.  Fur seals and Polynesian dogs were also consumed.  There were surprisingly few fish bones.

 A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.


A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.

 Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.


Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.

One activity in this part of the site was the manufacture of stone adze-heads (toki) from basalt obtained locally.  The manufacturing process was to knock flakes off a piece of basalt with a stone hammer until it was approximately the right size and shape for the intended object, after which it would be ground on sandstone to produce a cutting edge.  The number of waste flakes found indicated that this was a large-scale manufactory, probably operated by one or more skilled craftsmen, producing tools for those living here or for trade with groups elsewhere.   Other stones materials from different parts of the country, including the North Island, showed a sound knowledge of New Zealand’s geological resources.

 Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.


Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.

The pièce de résistance as far as I was concerned was a small broken ball of baked clay – only few of these have been found from sites of similar age in the South Island.

 Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball,            are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.


Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball, are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.

Less than 600 metres away to the southeast was the other settlement around the end of Moncks Spur.  This site was occupied about 150 years later than the one at Redcliffs School.  There was no evidence of moa-hunting here, the main food being shellfish (suggesting that moas had become locally extinct in the meantime) nor was there any evidence of tool manufacture.

Michael Trotter