Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Landscape and Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Janet Stephenson, Mick Abbott and Jacinta Ruru
Otago University Press - RRP $45

If a nation could be said to have a dominant passion, New Zealand’s would be its
landscapes. But what contribution does landscape make to our sense of identity?
Images of spectacular natural features pervade the media between the pages of
glossy coffee-table books, in tourism promotions and on screen as the setting for
blockbuster movies – but are these scenes that define its people?

For Beyond the Scene the editors asked twelve writers to choose a landscape that was important to them and to write about it from the perspective of their life experience and knowledge. Each writer brings a unique perspective – from farmer to art historian, fi lm critic to geographer, environmentalist to lawyer and landscape
architect to poet – these are truly diverse voices.

Waikato farmer Gordon Stephenson reflects on the feeling of belonging he has in his corner of New Zealand, describing the history of his local district and his farm, the work he has done on it and his vision for the local environment.
In another chapter, landscape architect Jacky Bowring takes a different approach, looking at how landscapes are a point of reference for us, and questioning our desire to create sanitised or idealised landscapes, denying their dark memories and emotional power, through case studies on Lake Papaitonga in Horowhenua, Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum in Christchurch, and Pegasus Town in Canturbury.
There are several Maori contributors, each different. Retired planner Ailsa Smith writes about land, sea and sky in Taranaki laments, anthropologist Lyn Carter traces the changing cultural meanings of Ngai Tahu rock art, and lawyer Jacinta Ruru looks at the role law has played in ‘creating culturally layered nuances‘, focusing on Pikirakatahi Mount Earnslaw in Mount Aspiring National Park.
Quite differently again, geographers Wardlow Friesen and Robin Kearns investigate how people’s identity can be both infl uenced by the landscape and in turn infl uence the urban landscape by taking two adjacent South Auckland suburbs – Polynesian Otara and Asian Dannemora – where ethnic groups have made New Zealand their own.

There is a feast of imaginative and interesting writing in this book. And mention hasn't yet been made of David Eggleton’s brilliant series of poems about Waitaha Canterbury, art historian Linda Tyler’s chapter on depictions of Auckland city by our artists, Mick Abbott’s exploration of the Otago Peninsula’s pathways and rock walls, or Janet Stephenson’s portrait of Akaroa.

All three editors are based at the University of Otago. Janet Stephenson is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment; Mick Abbott is Senior Lecturer and Environmental Designer at the Department of Design Studies; Jacinta Ruru is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law.

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