Literary & Autobiographical
- Curriculum Vitae (2000)
- Sign-off: Aesthetics [2 pp.] (2001)
- A Public for Poetry [4 pp.] (c.2004)
- Peninsula Days: A Memoir of Joanna Paul [5 pp.] (2005)
- A Letter from Buller [2 pp.] (2006)
- When cousin Jill rang me ... (2006)
- Spin 29 (Summer 1997)
- Spin 32 (November 1998)
- Spin 35 (November 1999)
- Spin 38 (November 2000)
- Red: poems by Richard Taylor (1996)
- Sleeper, by John Dickson (1998)
- Spin: Short Reviews (1998)
- Spin: Some Short Reviews (1998)
- A Brief Description of the Whole World (1999)
- Respect the Plants ... (2003)
- Celmisia Morganii (n.d.)
- Orchids of The Buller Coal Plateau (n.d.)
- Comings and Goings [2 pp.] (2005)
- Orchids in a Ghost Town [5 pp.] (2005)
- The Botany of the North Buller Moors [9 pp.] (2006)
- Millerton Park (2003)
- Postscript (2004)
- The Millerton Reserve [2 pp.] (2004)
- MAPPS AGM: President's report [2 pp.] (2004)
- Millerton (2004)
- Millerton Heritage Park [2 pp.] (2004)
- The Information Centre (2004)
- Fauna of the Park (2004)
- Flora (2004)
- Historical Sites (2004)
- The Old Stockton Track: Species List (2004)
- Millerton Town Plan (2005)
- Millerton Park Signing (2005)
- Millerton Tracks (2005)
- The Old Pack Track (2005)
- The Waterfall Track (2005)
Botanical & Ecological
Notes on Millerton:
Leicester Hugo Kyle.
b.1937 in Ch.Ch.
First took up botany as a career, and worked in the Ch.Ch. Botanical Gardens, then turned to theology, and was ordained an anglican priest at the age of 26. Remained in this work until retirement at the age of 60, on the illness of my wife. I have worked as a parish priest in many parts of N.Z. and in England, and have travelled widely.
During my life I have written a great deal, though always against the demands of my occupation. I have had articles, short stories, and poems published in many places, including London Magazine, the N.Z. Listener, the Ch.Ch. Press, Poetry NZ., Sport, Takahe, Printout, Pander, and the journal of experimental poetry—A Brief Description of the Whole World. My poetry is increasingly appearing in anthologies,such as the Auckland Poetry Live ‘Tongue in Your Ear’ and the recent school anthologies published from Waikato university.
After the death of my wife I moved from Auckland to Buller, the better to continue my interest in botany, and to write. I have published a number of books privately, excerpts from which have regularly appeared in “A Brief Description of the Whole World’. These include:
- Colenso — Poetry written upon the disputed botanical discoveries of William Colenso, the missionary/botanist/explorer/printer.
- A Voyge To N.Z. — Poetry made from the diary of William Sowry, a colonist.
- Options — Poetry based upon various Christian spiritualities.
- The Galapagos Tracts — Poetry based upon material in the first ten issues of ‘The Transactions of the N.Z. Institute’ (1867-1876).
- Heteropholis — A poetic fantasy — the world seen through the eyes of a gecko captive in a Remuera apartment.
My first commercial publication has been ‘A Safe House For a Man’, published in July 2000 by Polygraphia. Until now my main purpose has been to assemble a good body of writing. In general I write mostly about the meeting of the individual with a formalised code or text, generally scientific, and write from a long experience. ‘Five Anzac Liturgies’ is about the community fulfilling a formalised ritual of expectation.
At present I am working on ‘The People’, poetry made from a sociological analysis of a West Coast Wedding. I am much involved in my community and am engaged in some conservation issues.
I am much embarrassed by my own aesthetic, and wonder if it’s morally defensible. It has been with me from infancy, so taken for granted that until most recently I had assumed it was an invariable part of the human condition; the discovery that this is not so is a late one, and leads me to doubt that humour can be a permissible aesthetic, however subtle or profound. The title of the book that is beside me at this moment—‘The Divine Comedy. 1.Hell’ – leads me to a labyrinth of reflection, without doubt that this is how it is, the ‘it’ being life, existence, matter ‘it’self—that at the centre of all being there is the paradoxical, the inappropriate, as a matter of course. I would not wonder if the music of the spheres should prove to be jazz, or that God, having consecrated a bishop, should next go to Hyde Park to lecture on socialism. This is how ‘it’ is.
And it is the crucible for my creativity, in which my poetry cooks up in an inveterate attitude of writing that is so masked and layered that it’s usually taken straight—but then that (so I hold) is how we deal with life. This is broadly apparent in my recent work ‘A Safe House for a Man’, in which I take to task a popular wisdom relating to personal freedom. The protagonist is so unable to justify what he has done that he romanticises himself, and at the conclusion is forced to take refuge in exaltation. Though the book is contrived as a complex of gentle mockeries, it is usually read uneasily as biography.
In ‘The Araneidea’ I deconstruct a lecture by a Victorian Arachnologist, and expose it to the aesthetic values of our day. The consequence is, to me, a comment on the cosmos, but perhaps not so to anyone else.
My aesthetic gains much stimulus from the conjunction of my scientific, theological, and poetic leanings, which have a happy coexistence in that wryness I perceive at the centre. ‘The Galapagos Tracts’ is a collection of C19th. scientific documents made poetry specifically to display this principle; once a fact is put into words it always seems to gather a beauty about it, and there’s always a spark of life in the stoniest fossil, alive or dead.
Into most of my works I place a set text: in “A Voyge to N.Z.” it is the diary of a colonist; in “A Wedding At Tintown” it is an essay on the Maori race; for “The king Of Bliss” it is the psychotherapist’s charter of ethics, and “Five Anzac Liturgies” obviously makes use of the liturgy of the eucharist. The purpose of the textual presence is to heighten what some might judge to be irony, but which is really the essential inappropriateness of life, in which is beauty. It is like stillness against motion, stability in love.
Poetry is, I believe, the art that can best discern and display this truth. The organisation of words can make a fire from this existential spark and show its light.
The nature of my aesthetic is not one shared by other poets, so there is not much point in my inhabiting a poets’ community, nor in functioning publicly as a poet. I have belonged to such in the past, and had support, guidance, and good instruction from them, but now in my latter years I have chosen one where (in my own judgement) the three strands of my creativity may be able to come together. Any reader who knows Millerton (and only one or two will) might wonder at my choice; I can best use Pepys excuse for a rough night out:
“What a loose cursed company was this, that I was in tonight, though full of wit; and worth a man’s being in for once, to know the nature of it, and their manner of talk, and lives.”
Though I do myself read widely within a broad spectrum of poetry, I do not expect my own to be much read, nor published. And so the question: why write? I’ll let George Herbert sum up for me:
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
and relish versing.
brief 20 - aesthetics (2001): 66-67.
A Public for Poetry
In recent issues of Poetry NZ both Blair Ewing and Raewyn Alexander write on the matter of the public, the media and poetry in New Zealand. Raewyn Alexander concludes that the media should be encouraged to take greater notice of the art, and Blair Ewing concludes that the universities should be encouraged to create poet ‘stars’.
The subject is one that the N.Z. poet might well be concerned at. The composer can gain a hearing at a public concert, the painter and sculptor can show at an exhibition, but as things are at present a poet with serious intent is uneasily conscious of having, at best, a very small readership.
This may not much matter to the individual writer, for the practice of any art is a personal and pleasurable process, whether or not the work is ever enjoyed by anyone else; nevertheless, the denial of a public is a cause of interest at the least, because there is a dim sense of it being not quite just, and of there being no reward for labour.
Poetry readings have a following, but on the whole one soon tires of hearing what should be seen; verse always has a popularity, but poetry at the higher levels has rarely been a much celebrated part of this country’s literary life. In other nations it has been—and still is—closely identified with nationalism in one way or another, but here it has played a small part in the identification and maintenance of nationhood, briefly featuring now and then in a social cause e.g. Baxter’s ‘Mixed Flatting’, ‘The Maori Jesus’, some pregnant phrases of Curnow’s, and in a good deal of the work of Alan Brunton. It is notable that nationalism is not a commonly articulated part of the New Zealander’s psyche. Though Sam Hunt and Peter Cape have helped a lot, there has been little ballad writing.
The means of publication available to us are few: there are the established literary journals (which do a good job) and several other outlets such as the Listener and a newspaper or two. In due course a publisher may be found for a ‘Collected Poems’, or the writer might self-publish, but whatever the means used to reach a public, the public that is found is mostly composed of other poets.
Here, I think, lies the crux of the matter and, if so, N.Z. poetry is distressingly like a club or association that exists for its members alone, so inward-looking that its vitality is at risk. It’s notable that in the two essays mentioned earlier neither considers that the lack discussed might have its cause in the poetry itself; both, and the blame for them, lie outside. It’s assumed that poetry is the victim of external offence or neglect.
This might or might not be true. Whatever the truth of the matter the attitude is uncomfortably close to blaming the judges for failure to win the prize. I suggest that it might be useful to accept—for the moment anyway—that these is a complex of reasons for the lack of attention that we complain of; to begin with, let’s look at some ways we traditionally use to live within the present situation:
There are yet other ways. You can, if you like hard work, become an academic, which ensures that from the start your poetry is more likely to be trusted and taken seriously. If you are intent on gaining attention ( especially if you are of a confessional mind) you can become a legend. This ought, at present, to be easy to do, for the media is much given to legends, icons and stars. In the past, only Baxter has succeeded in this ambition, doing so with admirable skill. Glover and Hunt have each established a sort of roistering reputation, and others have managed to be considerably liked, but perhaps our indigenous Muse does not much countenance this sort of thing. In general, for our poets, it’s not an attractive option.
- The usual (one could say ‘orthodox’) presentation of the poem to the public, commonly called the ‘publication’. The poem is sent to an editor. This has the advantage of assessing the work’s literary quality, giving it a public, and putting it in an archive. If you’re very lucky, the poem might later be used in an anthology, but most usually, here in this issue of the accepting journal, the poem usually lies, unless it is one of those rare pieces that captures attention and develops a life of its own.
- The Prize. Some poets have the knack of writing poems that are winners, and they have a particular path opened to them, for the prize is a qualification that publishers find attractive—they use it as an insurance, and it is possible to attach a ‘Collected Works’ to it. Public readings often follow, and writing seminars, which is good exposure, if mostly to other poets.
- You can begin to move in the literary world, and if adroit or adept enough become part of it. To be there is the best tactic, and some find this sufficiently satisfying, though it can be weary. It’s also possible, of course, to start one’s own magazine, reading group, or writer’s circle, as a surety against being entirely ignored.
Again you may, like the Pleiades, found a school though, as with them, this requires a long-term plan, much study, hard-focussed work, and some of your own money.
All of the above activities, useful time-honoured essential and universal as they are, do not of themselves increase poetry’s public; they are inward in character and uneasily demonstrate the art’s close affinity to religion, that it seems to have no necessity nor use, and to be a thing of personal choice and pleasure. It is no wonder, therefore, that it receives little media attention, for what is unnecessary won’t be much noticed, unless it is in any way excessive.
That poetry is seen as at best an idiosyncratic art form and of no public utility can again be judged as entirely the fault of the media, or of our education system, but I suggest it is the consequence of what we do with what we write, how we use our work. Poetry is the most useful of all the arts because it is language, and our ever more complex society has ever more need for words to categorise describe and generally articulate the changes about us, some of which are (quite literally) stuck for words. Failure of language is all too evident—in such areas as communication, ethics, finance, industry, publicity, and poetry could be of much assistance by turning outwards into the community, and involving itself in its activities. This can be done with ease if the poet is willing to be a poet, to openly acknowledge the practice and be committed to it, and to demonstrate competence.
When this is done poetry goes wherever needed—into science, bureaucracies, community politics, information, local rituals, advertising, newspapers, other arts, memorial events, and protest movements like peace and conservation.
The consequences of providing appropriate language for such causes and events are considerable, and are hinted at in the interview between Patricia Prime and Alistair Paterson, published in the autumn 2004 issue of Takahe, in which, in reply to the question ‘what kind of poetry is being written in New Zealand today?’ Paterson replies: ‘Pakeha poets generally privilege the technical aspects of their writing over that of content while Maori poets bring a vibrancy of involvement in life and culture to the poems they write’.
Inevitably, such involvement in the life and culture of our own home communities produces a poetry with a decidedly regional caste, which is at present out of vogue; as such poetry often has engaging colours and flavours it’s certain to return to favour now and then; it has value also on account of the realities it depicts and the rewards it brings to the poet—of other outlets for the work, of seeing it used, and of an enriched literary and personal life. At some times in the writer’s growth the approval of the professional critic is absolutely essential, both for the worker’s self-knowledge and for the life of the work, but the self-respect of either need not depend upon that. The approval of the poet’s community can also account for a lot.
If the threat of a return to regional art is too awful to think of, the fear can be reduced by the promise of the ‘vibrancy’ it will bring, of a poetry emerging from out of our own home communities, and of poets dignified by the service their profession offers, in which all poetic forms may be used and all literary freedoms maintained. There is no need for any loss of information or intellectual rigour—not in these electronic days—nor for any return to the socialist aesthetic of the ‘60s and ‘70s. However, there is the need to remember that, as has been noted at other epochs, when popularity moves in seriousness moves out. This dictum applies at several levels, and before it we can only seek comfort in the cliché that the spirit of poetry is a free spirit and, as Baxter wrote, blows where it will. For myself, I’m content with that.
[Cover: Joanna Margaret Paul, “Beta Street” (1981)]
A Memoir of Joanna Paul
In the seventies I rented an old house, for time out with my young family. It stood on a small plateau on the hillside, at the back of Barrys Bay near Akaroa, and was a charming place, built about a hundred years earlier, with attic bedrooms, a fine colonial kitchen and pantry, and verandah on three sides. An orchard of gnarled plums and apples grew behind it, there was a stables nearby, and before it lay the whole of Akaroa harbour.
Three or four years later I became the vicar of Banks Peninsula, and was required to live at the vicarage in Okains Bay, just over the hill. Hearing of this, a young Christchurch painter named Philip Trusttum approached me, asking for the use of the house, now that I had no use for it myself. Philip and Lee and their two children took it as a holiday house and made good use of it, and we came to know them well. Into this friendship came other artists of various disciplines who lived about, or had connections with the Peninsula.
This was at the height of the Whole Earth Movement, and idealistic young couples yearned to do the right thing and live off the land; they found the means on the Peninsula hills, in disused farmhouses which could be rented or bought cheaply. I was not overworked in the parish; though there were five churches (one in each bay) it was depopulating—which accounted for the vacant houses. . The bishop had sent me there to take things easy, as both my parents had calamitously died and I was supposed to be near a breakdown. I was to recover, before moving on to a city parish. As part of the recovery plan I was writing short stories, which met with a brief success.
However, my pastoral work was, as always, interesting, and through the course of parish visiting I came to know these new residents; generally, they found rural life a heavy and unaccustomed chore, being inexperienced with the component parts of mud weather, vegetables, poultry, fire, plumbing, space, and country people. With most it was the man who worked at his heart’s desire and the woman at the house. As they had children about the same age as ours, we came to socialise, especially at dinners. The children would be fed first, then bedded down around whichever house we were at, and then we would sit by the fire and eagerly discuss the intricacies of our lives on these wild headlands and hills.
Philip and Daphne Temple lived in a fine old house at Little Akaloa. Philip is from Yorkshire, where I had worked for a while, and which helped to establish a connection. I found his position as an Englishman adopting another country and using this process to fuel his creativity, an interesting one; we would talk about it for hours, then drive back home through rain and snow and count ourselves lucky. His skill at literary politics brought interesting people to our evenings, such as Brian Turner, Peter and Ursula Cape, and the Weddes; these often cowed me with their erudition and experience, but the Capes made another impression on me, for reasons I’ve only recently understood.
Kobi and Patricia Bosshard lived at Akaroa, where Kobi worked as a jeweller. In a sense they brokered our art, calling exhibitions and concerts to the tiny town, and they knew everyone. They did a great job, and Kobi, being Swiss, introduced an exotic element—I remember one dinner at which our only food was apricot dumplings; I remember no reason for this, and no thought to challenge their right to feed us in this unusual way.
The Trusttums were often present at these evenings, through their knowledge of the Bosshards and their frequent presence on the Peninsula. They were great company, intelligent and articulate. Lee’s mother was Fanny Buss, a well-known Christchurch fabric artist, and Lee worked with her. Philip already had a name as a painter.
Into this regional mix came Jeffrey and Joanna Harris. Jeffrey’s grandparents were farmers at Okains Bay, and his parents lived at Wainui in Akaroa harbour, where they had a market garden. He and Joanna had not long been married, and had a small daughter, Magdalena. Joanna was sociable, and the hesitancy, later such a part of her personality, was not then particularly noticeable. Jeffrey was saturnine, pleasant enough but discouraged presumption. Sometimes Joanna came alone.
The Harrises had taken the Barrys Bay house from the Trusttums, and lived there. Jeffrey used one of the attic rooms as a studio; it had a morning light. I remember going to buy a painting from him, a large one of his mother and grandmother, and being almost overcome by his dreams stacked about me. Joanna painted too. For many years I had a portrait she did, a pleasant dappled painting on board, of Jeffrey holding Magdalena. Both were gaining respect for their work, but not enough to take them out of poverty.
Here their second daughter Imogen was born, and I was made her godfather. This proved to be not an easy position. Joanna was Roman Catholic and I Anglican, so I was unsure of her expectations, and certainly did not meet several of them. The ‘pompous letter’ she refers to in Imogen was most probably one of mine. Our theologies were pretty well identical, and we talked it a good deal, but I must admit to being timid before both Jeffrey and Joanna; their focussed intelligence intimidated me.
Imogen was found to have a heart defect, and after time in hospital died, being buried at Akaroa. Her illness and death bore down heavily upon the couple, and caused Joanna to take a great dislike to the house. They moved to another, at the top of Okains Bay, a very desolate and long-abandoned place, without garden or paths, and about a thousand feet above sea level. Mostly they had no transport, and life was very tough for them, especially in the winter. Fortunately, Jeffrey’s rural background helped, as did the near presence of family, and he always seemed to be fit.
They would come to our group dinners, though Jeffrey did not always enjoy them. He and Philip were not close friends, and Joanna seemed to think that Philip had strayed from some true path. I regretted this, for Philip always has known what he’s doing, and has taught me a great deal of the philosophy and ethics of art; I’ve always admired his work. As time went by, Jeffrey came less often..
It was here, in this ruinous tree-shadowed farmhouse, that Joanna wrote Imogen. I remember her asking me to type it for her. There had been, I think, some friction between husband and wife—she said nothing about it, the two were loyal to each other, but on this occasion she put Magdalena in the pram and walked down the hill to the vicarage, a distance of some four or five kilometres, in the rain. We were out at the time, and returned to find her seated at the kitchen fire, reading. Magdalena was asleep in a bed. The bath had been turned on and forgotten, and was coming down the passage. Her wet shoes had been placed by the fire to dry, and their soles had melted off.
Typing Imogen wasn’t easy; the subject was painful, and mixed with my own griefs. The manuscript was untidy, and the shape and format of the poems were novel to me. As Joanna had no phone she was not readily available for consultation, and I fear I did not do a good job.
Imogen is in form a classical sequence of poems, in style and perspective contemporary. The author sits at her sick child’s bedside, thinks of the birth, the gathering illness, of the few choices given her: ‘I could have taken her to another country that is quiet’. She observes the hospital ward, the child, the staff; she interprets Imogen’s death: delivered of
from the womb of living
to the life of night
she reflects with particular accuracy, intelligence and sincerity; there’s intense feeling, but no sentiment; profundity but no obscurity. Few of the poems are titled, and it’s uncertain whether some stand individually or are part of another. Typography and shape vary. It needs to be read a few times, as an anatomy of grief.
The work was published by Hawk Press in 1978, as ‘IMOGEN poems by Joanna Margaret Paul’, and dedicated ‘IMOGEN ROSE, February 28-December 9, 1976 farewell brave heart arohanui.’ It was printed and sewn by Alan Loney in a limited edition of 300, of which I have no.11. Alan was proud of his part in the publication; I talked with him about it, and the circumstances of its creation.
About ten years ago David Howard told me of the effects Imogen has upon him, at his first reading of it. I repeated this to Joanna soon after, and she was thrilled. Only then, I think, did she begin to realise the high regard that is held for the work, its high place in our poetry, and she spoke of a reprint.
Soon after the typing I moved to Christchurch, and Joanna and Jeffrey separated. She would call at our Addington vicarage from time to time, and stay overnight. She spoke of the separation and the reasons for it, but I do not remember them and don’t want to, as I was fond of them both.
We maintained a friendship, mostly by correspondence and telephone, and I observed her growing reputation as a painter. She asked me for some contribution to her anti-G.E. compendium ‘Consider the Lilies’. In her last letter she suggested she would make me a visit, with her new husband.
On the day of her funeral at Akaroa, I read in the Christchurch Press of her death.
- Leicester Kyle
Philip Trusttum has reminded me of the party that we held at the Barry’s Bay house. There must have been some occasion for the party; I can’t recall any reason, but there was a great gathering—the Bosshards, Harrises, Trusttums, Temples, the Edmonds, Weddes, and others.
I remember that it was a sunny day, which was as well, for the verandah and grounds were much more convenient than the house, and the view was a reliable source of conversation. My most explicit memories centre around one of the guests, a one-armed freedom fighter from Palestine; as I collected him from the Harris’s house, he probably came as a guest of Jeffrey and Joanna, and had newly arrived in this country. He was taciturn, and uncomfortable in this unheroic environment. I happened to be nearby when he was thrust into the company of Daphne Temple; affecting ease, he leant against the doorframe, sipped at his drink, and gazed abstractedly out over the valley. Daphne, feeling obliged to say something to this visitor to our country, was eventually forced into the obvious, and asked:
“And how do you find New Zealand?”
“Oh,” he replied, “I got off the plane at the airport”—a cliché, of course, but it’s a pleasure to hear a cliché well used.
brief 32 (2005): 61-64 /
Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003). nzepc (2005)
A Letter from Buller
[Cover: Anya Whitlock]
As for your invitation to write something on the theme of Exile and Home I hurry to respond, though with difficulty, as my thoughts on the subject are many and uncertain.
I came here to Buller about eight years ago, the complacent possessor of a small private income. Buller is an area I've known and loved since childhood. My ancestors came to the Coast in gold rush times, so I'm at ease in the area. I've long realised that the culture of the Buller district is relatively distinct, and it was my intention to attempt to define this in poetry while also practising my other discipline of botany.
Both these ambitions have had considerable consequences, and have become intertwined, some poetry moving into the scientific area (i.e. in botanical journals) and some science in the poetry, such as a campaign to establish a new park. This campaign was initiated by a collection of poems "The Great Buller Coal Plateaux" which was sent to every appropriate authority, and was received as such an attractive alternative to a protest letter that the campaign proved amazingly effective. This gave me my first personal experience of the potential power of poetry and how it can, when rightly used, accomplish considerable ends. This is an aspect of poetry that we don't usually consider.
A small remote and isolated area like Buller is an ideal one in which to study the teleology of poetry. We don't as yet really know the whole scope of poetry's place in New Zealand, of what it can or should do. The first pakeha settlers here regarded it as a frivolity, unlike in Australia where it made an early flowering in ballad form, and here it is still relatively untried and, ours being essentially a metropolitan country, is very much a metropolitan art. I'm fascinated by what poetry can do, what it can achieve, change and record in a region, whether it can find the place in our native lore that it has in most other countries, where in some it has led revolutions and aroused powerful sentiments.
In other lands the plants and animals are protected by the love they're held in and poetically identified by it, but here this is lacking and our environment is without the most powerful protection it could have.
A desire to accomplish this is the impetus behind a good deal of my poetry, and accounts for some of its particular character i.e. a disinclination to metaphor and an emphasis on the disparate. It also means that most of my work, being of such regional application, has relatively little interest to those outside Buller. The greater proportion is self-published and locally distributed, it seeming a waste of time to even attempt to find a commercial publisher; the little which has wider significance is sent out to journals which, fortunately, are inclined to accept it. I feel that it's essential to do this, to be part of contemporary writing, to be familiar with the writing standards of the times and be judged by them.
To my regret I have little personal contact with other poets. If I were younger I would have more, but I took my place in poetry rather late in life so my history in it is short. I do, however, read widely. With respect to being in exile, that doesn't much feature in my thinking. From this distance national poetry is something of a passing parade, and the urge to be part of that is not great. One misses the nearness of colleagues, however, and the stimulus of talking knowingly with friends in practice. After my last visit to Auckland it took me several weeks to settle but, though I like city life, it can never give me the intensity of interest that this does. There is also the point that one does like to write for a known readership, and that being poet to a defined and domestic community has its attractions, a sense of professional belonging. Until very recently the publishing and performance of poetry was a metropolitan prerogative and one had to go to town to do it; this seems to be a changing circumstance, and it is easier now to appear before one's own and to be better understood.
An editor once rebuked me with the dictum 'no good poetry ever comes out of the country'. Though obviously factually wrong there is truth in the saying, for rural life does encourage a softer art, removed as it inevitably is from proximate criticism and competition. In Buller there is a great fondness for verse but little for poetry, so I stand alone and unassailed.
My observable literary ability, my success in conservation and botany, my involvement in civic affairs, have all pushed me into a certain notoriety in the region which, were I so ambitious, would give me satisfaction. At home, however, I'm in solitude with my self, my past, and my advancing age. It's from these vulnerabilities that the poetry springs.
I hope the above is of use to you, is the sort of return you want. Congratulations on your editorship and the steps you have so far taken for 'Brief'. Your team is impressive.
brief 33 (2006): 44-45.
When cousin Jill rang me ...
When cousin Jill rang me, and told me of the cache of photos she had discovered, I went right round to her place and had a look for myself. They were taken over the years 1910-1945, from the last days of our founder to those confusing forties, when most of us seem to have got lost in one way or another.
You could spread the whole cache on Jill’s kitchen table, and there they all were, from Gt. Grand-dad Bill in his front yard of potatoes and(Grt. Grandma too), to my father in a baby’s hammock. It was clear that Aunty Biddy Angel had taken most of them, and dressed for the events, but there was someone else behind them, someone never self-disclosed
Gt. Grand-dad Bill, though by this time in his eighties, still looked like the Fishing boat builder that he and his two brothers had been before they left the Isles of Arran for the gold-fields of Kumara, which they soon forsook for the port of Hokitika,and then this in turn for a tailoring business in Greymouth, which prospered against all odds, and ended up making the family a small fortune.
This Turkish bath of wealth acted upon them to cleanse the past away, and we note the family drifting English-wise in the predominantly Irish culture of the Grey district. A new family bungalow was built in Shakepeare St, at that time (and for many years later) the ‘best’ street in the town, and there was a very slow gravitation from the Presbyterian to the Anglican church. This. To be fair, was mostly caused by the old man’s practical jokes, by which he liked to discomfort town leaders—a very irish trait.
Into the early history of the Grey Kyles came the Tarrants from Australia. who left a marriage partner behind upon their return to Australia, as well as a wildly romantic aesthetic trait, mostly given to popular childrens’ books about pastel-shaded gum-nut babies. The Kyles have always been proud of their connection with these gum-nuts, while on the contrary the jewish side of the family, by contrast almost fabulously wealthy. doesn’t get a look in.
The run-aways from the synagogue in Manchester and Liverpool did try to return to their appointed and anointed culture but didn,t stand a chance.,eventually being forced back to Christchurch where they lived the rest of their lives in a fragile poverty that was never explained to us. In those days Jewishness was not talked about, explained, of admitted to,and I knew nothing about this past until I was forty. Being artistic was quite enough—the curse of the Tarrants never left us, and there have been arts of all the sorts hanging about us ever since, troubling our innocence, with unaccustomed and accustomed tragedies, until now, the time of the great transformation.
My two devoted and thoroughly adopted sons are the sign and symbol of this. One is part Asian, the other part Pacifican. Both bear my name and both are busy bearing it in that entrepreneurial way young men and women have with families these days.
Which brings me to the point I’ve circuitously laboured towards: all this attempted cleansing of my family tree was to no good point at all. The good old British family tree has had root-rot for a very long time. The vigour is in the indigenous.
One of the pleasures of reading literature from the early C19th is that it has so much to say about food. They ate, then, enormous meals, so huge they're best encountered only in fiction. I have read that this indulgence was a result of Napoleon's conquests, which broke down borders, mixed cultures, and hastened commerce, hut this seems too easy an explanation.
A small example of such a banquet is in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, in chapter one:
He enters, corks go pop, they pour champagne.
Before them, a roast beef ensanguine;
Truffles, that extravagance of youth
And finest flower of the French cuisine;
Strasbourg's immortal dish, foie gras en croute;
Soft, ripening Limberger cheese
And golden pineapples from overseas.
Cheese, dessert, and mains are all together, as was the custom. Diners sat around the loaded table as soldiers camp about a besieged city, and ready to attack the lot.
It's an image that does, I hope, picture your thoughts as you behold this issue of 'Spin'. Everything is here before you, every course and dish to be consumed. Say grace, and hoe in.
Spin 29 (1997): 1.
There often arises, with my colleagues, a discussion as to what is good and what is bad poetry. Some are doctrinaire about the distinction, and would dismiss all judged to be bad. The good is made so rare it becomes unreachable by all but the elite.
Elitism has always been with the arts; it is why many associate with the arts, and why the able artist is often given some of the attributes of the aristocrat.
History shows elitism to be a weakening force to society and to any creative discipline or tradition. For this reason there is every now and then a peasant pope, a senior officer promoted from the ranks, and a poet raised out of illiteracy. Such recruits bring vigour and wisdom.
Defensiveness about poetry creates preciosity and little else. The categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are much less distinct in art (as in life) then we, for our own comfort, might care to think. Note how the standards change from one generation to another, and how influenced by fashion.
An open appreciation of what is judged to be good rather than a puritanical dismissal of what is judged to be bad, is much more likely to encourage a vigorous poetic tradition in any society.
Spin 32 (1998): 3.
Of the many submissions of poetry to this issue, only a very few were not acceptable, and therefore I have tried to be inclusive and to offer space, though this does mean that most poets have the use of only one page.
Surprisingly, a few of the unacceptable submissions were from overseas, and their authors boasted of many prizes. It seems that there are still journals that offer room to Scottish heroes, Celtic myths, and American mountain scenery.
A few ask what they can do to improve their poetry, a question it may not be wise to answer; I often sense that an answer will not be attended to, or will cause anger. A clue I first seek is evidence that the questioner reads poetry.
For someone who writes to not read the writing of others, brings a liability to become intoxicated by one's own words, inflated by one's own breath; it also indicates a sort of verbal self-love, that the poet writes not because he loves poetry, but because she loves her own.The Muse is most inclined to give her graces to those who earn it. If you would write better poetry, first study the work of those who write it.
Spin 35 (1999): 3.
Recently I was able to purchase a volume of T. S. Eliot's works, and discovered within it a collection of his 'dirty' poems; I had not known he had written any. All were composed in his poetic youth, and were sent for publication to Wyndham Lewis, editor of 'Blast', a radical and short-lived English literary journal. Lewis returned the works, advising he would publish nothing containing words that ended with 'unt' 'uck' or 'ugger'.
These days the editor would not be so censorious in this respect. Nevertheless, I think we have all experienced editors who are censorious in other respects, and it has always been so. Byron wrote "English Bards and Scots Reviewers" after cruel treatment from 'The Edinburgh Review', and others of the romantic poets were able to publish few if any of their poems in their lifetimes. (Some, as we know, had short lifetimes.)
It is well for the writer to be intelligent in submitting work, and for the editor to be fair in receiving it; the latter, for example, has no right to alter a poem without the author's consent (though the temptation to do otherwise is sometimes very great). Material must be accepted and rejected for good reason, closure dates and confidentiality be kept - the latter is important, because a perceptive editor will gain from the written work much knowledge of its author.
And the writer should respect the nature of the journal. It is obvious that though work by established poets is much appreciated, 'Spin' exists to encourage new ones. 'Landfall' most particularly serves the higher literary echelon; 'Sport' bas some interest in new writers, and 'Poetry NZ' holds a very useful median line. Naturally enough, the more senior a literary journal the more it must be concerned with its image; most have a particular job to do.
Power comes into this too to some degree, and editors tend to like it. We are often titled 'gate-keepers', and for good reason, as we keep some out and others in. This is often done by calling some poetry 'bad' and other 'good', which standards might sometimes seem puzzling to the writer. For example, one editor will reject rhyming poetry as bad, while another will accept it. The truth is that editors, like poets, are likely to be submerged in the literary values of the times in which they began their work, and are as unlikely to change. Perhaps the best response is this - know your journal, know your editor; we can be comforted by the thought that - in spite of all human failing, poetry of the better variety does get published and does live.
Spin 38 (2000): 3.
Red: poems by Richard Taylor
(Auckland: Dead Poets Books, 1996)
Having heard Richard Taylor read many of these poems at Poetry Live, in Auckland, where he gives them in an inimitable style, it is a new experience to have them for oneself on the printed page, to examine. It is hard for me to do so without the accompanying echo of their creator's voice, but they repay the effort with reward.
The author's own broad appreciation and wide reading is quickly apparent – the influences of Catullus, Ashbery, and Christopher Smart are obvious, though not in any imitative sense. The reader is quickly assured that these are not the works of a novice in the art, but are subtle, sophisticated poems.
There are two parts to the book, to a total of 32 pieces. The first part, 'Goblins', is Taylor in impish mode, as at Poetry Live. On the whole, he seems to need longish lines for his best work, so that the ideas, as they come tumbling out, can be laid to their complex rest on their word-quilts. His short lines make thinner poems, but there are exceptions, such as: 'Scrabble', which is a marvellously funny poem, cleverly concluded, as they so often are. 'Poem No. 12.', for instance, ends with these lines:
The queerlight shivers with naked dipthongs.Which are lines so typical of this writer, as quotable as potable.
Through Taylor's poetry a peculiar and attractive courage shines: though he treats Destiny with respect, the courtesies he pays her are accompanied by an independent and good-natured shoulder-shrug. Maybe this is a most suitable attitude as we approach a new millennium, but some readers might find the good nature over-prevalent. When words are put to play these games it's not easy to be serious – one can hardly read 'The Hunting of the Snark' for interpretation of existence without forcing the text, and Taylor is often Carolingian:
They had encountered someIn the second half, 'Red', a more philosophical tone is prevalent. Though the distinctive games are played, one has the impression that these are later poems. They bear a more consistent profundity, and while as engaging as ever, and witty, are not flippant, except when dealing with the colour red, which is obviously most personally significant to the author. Analysts take note.
Extraordinary curves that day,
That day of the light bulb
The transoms – and all the
Dreadfully right things.
The englishness of it all!
These are not magazine poems, and are therefore mostly published for the first time, for those who have more uncanonical tastes. They are significant to our literature.
Sleeper, by John Dickson
(Auckland: AUP, 1998) 54pp.
With its black cover and faint print, this book gives an impression of inaccessibility. However, if these defences are breached, delightful poetry is delivered to the reader.
I know nothing of John Dickson, nothing of his background, and have not read his poetry before, therefore it is to my eyes fresh, and uncontaminated by the literary politics of this small land. Perhaps this is why I have enjoyed it so much, but I don’t think so; it is almost certainly the quality that gives the satisfaction. This poet is one who can be read with the secure sense one has in listening to an accomplished musician.
It might be pointed out that his poetry doesn’t “go” anywhere, which may well be true, as he stays well within the bounds of contemporary orthodoxy.
In view of his technical accomplishment this is surprising—he has the ability to venture into wilder seas—and is it really necessary that poetry “go” anywhere?
John Dickson’s poetry gives such pleasure to the reader that little more is likely to be asked of it. Around almost every poem there shines an aura of mature reflection, a reassuring depth of personal experience, a considerable education, and a biddable species of imagination. The wit and long level tone are decidedly Ashberric, and enough well written to avoid preciosity.
There’s nothing virtuoso here. ‘the apple on my writing desk’ is of thirteen considerable stanzas. ‘grand old orphy’ has a tap-root to the classical; ‘a rainy afternoon’s entertainment for jen’ is about the wittiest, though much is inclined to the restrainedly zany. All are notable for the author’s facility with conclusions, which are all placed well and well put.
Some have autobiography, and these are, fortunately, no less interesting than the others.
‘Getting There’, Poems by Gloria B. Yates. Published by Hildegaard Productions. 1998. Artwork by Kate O’Neil. $14.95.
You may already have come across Gloria Yates’ poetry in ‘Spin’ and the various Micropresses. It more commonly appears in Australian publications.
Her contribution in this issue of ‘Spin’ is typical of her work, and of the poems in ‘Getting There’. They generally have a fluent progression (which makes them immediately readable), a resolute wit with a leavening of impudence, and a sentimentality which is always well-managed and never excessive, and which puts them into the area of the ‘popular’. She is a good working poet, in that she can turn to any topic, and no subject is safe from her well-informed and basically kindly examination.
‘Hanging From The Clouds’ ,by Andre Duhaine. Pub.by King’s Rd. Press,Canada. Trans. From the French. $2.00. 1998.
‘Switching Off The Shadows’. By Ruby Spriggs. King’s Rd.Press. $2.00. 1998.
Two very slender volumes of Haiku and meditative phrases from two Canadian writers. In both the reader has to do at least as much work as the writer.
‘Cold Morning’ ,an international Haiku anthology, edited by Margaret Saunders. Pub. By Hamilton Haiku Press, Canada, 1998.
This volume contains the winning poems of the Herb Barrett Award, 1997. An attractive-looking book with high quality contents, including some from ‘Spin’ contributors—Ernest Berry, Janice Bostock, Giovanni Malito.
Further information about these books may be obtained from the editor.
Some Short Reviews
‘For The First Time’, by Michael Haig. Post Pressed, 31 Allara St. Flaxton, Qld. Aust. $14.95. 66pp.
A collection of generally lyric poems, with some beauty and delicacy. Where the poem is built about an absorbing subject it flourishes, but too often the impetus to the poem is insufficient, or hindered by forced metaphors and prosaic rhymes:
‘So the morning train devoured its rails,
and to deflect her thoughts she sawed her nails,
but all the while she wondered, if the next one fails….?’
‘I, Jesus, A new verse interpretation of the Bible story,’ by Rowan Ayers. Post Pressed. $12.95. 58pp.
A curious and interesting work, a valiant and impressive attempt: Barbara Thiering’s theory of the nature and person of Jesus, in poetry.
The high point is probably the fine description of the crucifixion, but this does then descend to a most confusing ‘death’. To deal with Thiering’s complex creation would require a poet of the calibre of Browning, and Rowan Ayers’ poetry cannot convey the theory’s subtleties; for conviction one requires more faith than for any of the gospels.
‘bawdy per verse and irreverent’, ed. By John Knight & Katherine Samuelowicz. Post Pressed. $11.95. 115pp.
The clever title is a little misleading, for there are some serious and absorbing poems in this collection; the rest are generally good clean fun. A few are not, and are horrid. Many, by Gloria Yates and Kate O’Neill, are already known to us.
‘Noticing The View’, haiku and other poems, by Katherine Samuelowicz. Post Pressed. $9.95. 45pp.
Some great haiku, in which subtle and fascinating complexities are clarified by construction and metaphor, all in the best haiku tradition. The same sensitive economy pervades the longer poems.
‘In a Strange City’, selected verse and prose by R.L.Frye. Post Pressed. $7.95. 62pp.
An interesting book, apparently initiated by friends of the author, and the executors of his estate; a compendium of his life’s work. Of particular note is that part written from an understaffed nursing home, not long before he died. It should be sent to the directors of every nursing home in Australasia. Read it.
‘Half Light and High Wind’, Airing Cupboard Women Poets, 74pp. C/o 455 Johns Rd. Ch.Ch.
The third Airing Cupboard anthology and, like the others, containing much of value. Inevitably, given the nature of the book and of all such initiating groups, the quality of the content is uneven, but there are many fine poems, and some by regular contributors to SPIN.
About three years ago I finished a book of poems derived from the botanical writings of William Colenso, the missionary/explorer/botanist. I sent the completed manuscript to the Auckland University Press, which expressed some admiration for it, but said it would not sell. At this time a helpful friend had encouraged me to subscribe to the journal ‘A Brief Description of the Whole World’, and it occurred to me to send ‘Colenso’ to the then editor, Alan Loney. The journal has since published many extracts from ‘Colenso’, and from a work in present progress, ‘The Galapagos Tracts’.
‘A Brief Description’ exists to encourage the radical, fringe, exploratory, the innovative in N.Z. Literature. Other journals may say they do, but when it comes to the point will only take the ‘received radical’, i.e. that which already has some degree of critical imprimatur. The bafflingly new, that which in no way conforms to the existing critical templates, has nowhere to go. One can try sending one’s work overseas but, to speak for myself, much of my work is so entirely N.Z. in content, depending so heavily on our history and cultural ironies, and is so seemingly eccentric, that such a move has been only occasionally successful, and I could not reasonably expect it to be more so.
It is probably correct to say that none of our publishing firms are dedicated to the advance of N.Z. poetry. Their customary reply—‘It’s good but it will not sell’, has the effect of keeping our poetry in a tame or domesticated state, and existing for the sake of the institution. At present, it is only ‘A Brief Description’ that lets in new vigour from the wild. Many poets frequently published in the journal rarely appear elsewhere—writers such as Peter Crisp from Napier, and Michael Radich, a New Zealander who lives in Japan. Others, such as Joanna Paul, Murray Edmond, Wystan Curnow, Alan Brunton, Tony Green, present work that might hardly be acceptable elsewhere. Such an openness is a great gift to a writer who has met with continual frustration from other publishers, and who is about to lose confidence.
The journal is now edited by John Geraets, and is supported by the Writers’ Group, each member of which made an initial monetary deposit to give the magazine a financial viability. Its list of subscribers is not large, but one would like to think its influence is profound.
Respect the plants ...
Respect the plants which grow on these cliffs. They mightn’t look much, but they’ve been attracting scientific attention since the 1890’s, when they were noted by Buller’s first resident botanist, W. Townson.
There are two plants here which grow nowhere else in the country: a gentian, and a mountain daisy (celmisia). The latter is a large-leaved white-flowered daisy, which grows along the cliff-tops and on ledges and niches on the cliffs. Both these plants are of types that are normally alpine, and because of their rarity are protected. There is also a fine local form of a small yellow daisy, a ‘senecio’;it has dark green glossy leaves pressed against the ground.
A number of native ground orchids grow here, especially the white or blue sun orchid, and there might be a blue hare-bell; it was found here by Townson, but hasn’t been seen recently.
These plants have found a carefully-balanced life in adverse conditions which are often extreme, so take the best care you can not to disturb them.
Manuals of N.Z. plants that refer to C. morganii list it as being found in the Ngakawau Gorge and adjacent rivers. Townson did not find it, perhaps because the gorge was closed by works at that time. Subsequent hearsay put the species at the Blackwater in the Buller Gorge, and at other sites nearby. I have recently visited these sites and have not found it, even though there is an abundance of suitable and protected habitat.
There is a possibility that it could be in Chasm Creek; I have not yet been able to examine this area, but will do so; the creek has the Glasgow Range as watershed, as does the Ngakawau, and C. morganii obviously is closely related to C. monroi, which grows on the Glasgows though (in contrast to that on the Paparoas) only poorly and sparsely.
In the inner Ngakawau Gorge C. morganii’s habitat is the narrow thinly-vegetated strip of rock at maximum flood-line. It’s a very limited and poorly-nourished territory, liable to destruction by freak flood and to over-growth in the absence of flood. The plants that grow upon it are generally small. I have not yet been able to discover how far up-stream the species can be found, but in the tributary Charming Creek it can be found for only several hundred metres from the confluence. Along the Mangatini River, which also joins the Ngakawau at this spot, I have not been able to find it at all. Severe pollution from the mines does damage to vegetation on its banks, but in spite of this there do grow several striking broad-leaved and large forms of C. dubia in bush on the river’s banks.
The Celmisia morganii that has adapted to the habitat provided by the old railway line in the outer Ngakawau Gorge is a strikingly vigorous plant. When grown in a protected environment it adopts an erect posture and grows in a tight clump, propagating itself by sucker as well as seed. Unlike the cliff-top Celmisia at Doctor’s Bay near Charleston, it remains very consistent in appearance and does not revert to its probable parent. It has been classed as one with C. dubia and C. monroi, but remains distinct from both, looking rather more like C. mackaui of Banks Pen.
Celmisia monroi, to my knowledge, does not grow anywhere on the Buller Coal Plateaux. C. dubia is a most variable and fascinating plant abundant on the plateaux, adapting imaginatively to the many environments it’s at home in, but I have found no forms of it which can really be confused with C. monroi.
The Buller Coal Plateau provides a soil that is in all its parts highly acidic, and the coal mining widespread upon it creates the crisis territories beloved by some of our orchids: abandoned coal mines, old tracks, shale heaps, slips and slides, quarry faces, and large tracts of re-vegetating areas.
For example, the abandoned Mt. William mine, at about 800m above sea level, is losing itself to an advancing tide of montane scrub. In the darker places Corybas oblongus grows—it’s the dominant Corybas here, and has several forms. On better-lit mossy seepages Pt. venosa grows, and Pt. foliata in the scrub. On rock ledges Winika cunninghamii and the two Earinas grow; Adenochilus gracilis is in the shadier places, and Aporostylis on old mossed-over trunks and in beech coppices, often near Chiloglottis cornuta.
Various species of Thelymitra abound, especially Th. cyanea, which favours flat thin soils where water may lie in rain; here it grows in troops, each perfect flower presented to the sun. Th. hatchii favours small heaps of shale at the side of tracks; these are common around old mines, and in them it is extraordinarily robust.
At lower levels, on the pakihi, the other Thelymitras grow at their best. There is a fine pink form of Th. cyanea, which flowers later than the blue, and grows in clumps apart from the other. Th. pauciflora is common amongst the grass and rushes, while Th. pulchella favours mossy banks. The yellow form of Th. carnea is not uncommon and is the first to flower; this species likes to grow in gravel at the side of old roads, and also on flat damp sparsely-grassed sites. Th. longifolia is scattered about, often on unusual sites such as to perch on punga trunks.
Calochilus paludosus grows thinly scattered over the pakihi; Orthoceras novae-zealandiae may very rarely be found, and Genoplesium nudum on bare gravel-and-clay slopes.
The plateau is cut by canyons so deep they’ve worn through the coal and sandstones to the granite base. In these are scraps of old Podocarp forest which give shelter to most of our epiphytes, and to ground orchids such as Corybas acuminatus and trilobus, Caladenia chlorostyla, Gastrodia cunninghamii, Pt. cernua, irsoniana, banksii, and graminea, as well as several others I’m still unsure of. The area is too remote to have ever been attentively botanised. On coastal limestone cliffs Corybas papa has been recently discovered; other interesting finds are most likely.
Comings and Goings
Over the seven years for which I’ve owned this property I’ve been impressed by the movement of orchids, by their attempts to lodge themselves, their failures and successes.
The half-hectare offers a range of environments: it’s at 300 metres above sea level, and is bisected by a small gorge cut through the sandstone. Both sides of the creek were once inhabited, but in the 1960s, when the coal mines closed, all but two of the houses were taken away; the two remaining are occupied. Bush now covers the vacated sites—rata and kamahi mostly, with some manuka and toro, and emerging podocarps. There is an abundance of tree ferns, while flax and coprosma occupy the less hospitable places. The annual rainfall of three metres means there’s always a lot of water around, and a great variety of mosses liverworts and filmy ferns, especially in the gorge.
There’s a wide range of habitats, and it must have been much wider for a time after the houses were taken away; a good deal of what I now see must be the aftermath of that event, when so many species were presented with vacant lots, piles of bricks, paths, concrete yards, unwanted roads, and old fire bases to claim.
After forty years, however, that colonising vegetation is starting to age; some sites are darkening and others are gaining light—this is particularly affecting the Pterostylis: once sizeable colonies of Pt.irsoniana and montana are now reduced to a few weak seedlings, while new colonies are forming where none grew before.
All the time new sites are being tried out. Adenochilus gracilis appeared in a hollow between two pungas; it lasted for three years, never flowering, but then vanished, perhaps overwhelmed by frond-fall. I personally introduced a plant of Ch. cornuta—it flowered, seeded, and has since appeared abundantly in many parts of the property; this year there are many seedlings but no flowers. Aporostylis bifolia has seeded down-slope from its arrival site, into leaf-mould, and is flowering but rank, clearly not quite content.
Caladenias atradenia & nothofagetti are widespread and very abundant under scrub, but the great success is Corybas papa; this appeared by a foot-track about four years ago, at an old chimney base, as very new plant, and has spread rapidly, intensifying its growth. It flowers freely in the late winter, but has produced no seed. It shouldn’t be here, and its manner of arrival is a mystery, but it might have originated from some papa country about ten kilometres to the north.
Thelymitras are constantly appearing on punga trunks, with pot-plants, by tracks, but they are opportunists and none have stayed. Microtis unifolia is more enduring, even in the bush.
The epiphytes can also be transient. Earina mucronata has tried several old willows, but not lasted; it prospers on a macrocarpa trunk and on a punga, as does E. autumnalis. About three years ago Bulbophyllum pygmaeum appeared as a seedling on a toro trunk, was soon joined by another, and now both are one and spreading. Similarly, a Winika seedling has lodged on a rock in my rockery.
A Gastrodia showed at the foot of my garden, against a macrocarpa tree, as a young plant with five buds. Being on the lawn, it was accidentally mown, then showed again. After being cut a second time it gave up and hasn’t reappeared; I’ve found no others on the property.
Every year there are pleasant surprises, and the odd disappointment. Some seed is brought by water, others by wind bird or gravity; also, the removal of gorse, blackberry ,willow, and other weeds creates new sites. About fifty orchid species grow on the adjacent hills, so there are more to be welcomed yet.
Orchids in a Ghost Town
Most of the orchids here seem to have arrived around the same time I did, and probably for some of the same reasons, one, of course, being that here there was room. I didn’t note them right away for none were well-established, and I was busy plotting the property and wondering what to do with it.
My two acres are at 300m above sea level and face nor-west over the Tasman sea. Two considerable mountain streams rush across it, each in its own small gorge, and only about a fifth of the property’s in grass. The rest is in secondary bush that began its life in the late 1960s when the town was largely closed and the miners went to live down by the sea. All but twenty or so houses went too; gorse and blackberry spread over the rubbish, and the new forest pushed up through that. The weeds are largely smothered now except for the montbretia, which is intent on its more insidious strategy.
Anyone driving through, on the way to the coal-mine on the plateau above, sees only several houses half-hidden in the greenery, and is entirely unaware of the evidences of the past underneath it. There might, in any case, be nothing visible at all, as our three metres of rain each year are often wrapped in fog.
On my property history has left me three old houses, seven fire blocks, three concrete water tanks, a footpath to a vanished post office, a railway cutting, the cellar of a butcher’s shop, two ruined bridges, an overgrown road, and some garden escapees. The road is asphalted, but you have to dig to find it now. The garden escapees live precariously.
There also the barely-discernible sites of five shops, a church, a fish-and-chip outlet, a garage, a billiard salon, and countless kitchen middens.
In part, I came here for the botany, and botany has brought me here since I was fourteen. My father started me on this course when I was old enough o go with him. He was a keen naturalist and a conservator and would take me with him on his rambles. Though born on the West Coast, of gold-rush stock, he then lived on the Port Hills above Christchurch, and that was the first environment I came to know. Laing & Blackwell was my manual, and amongst the very first plants which I identified by myself were two orchids—Earina autumnalis and Thelymitra longifolia.
The Port Hills environment gave me a bias towards flowering herbs, which has continued, but here in Buller I was immediately put into an intimacy with trees ferns mosses rushes sedges and other plants less familiar to one from a dry climate. My home bush here is largely made of small trees—toro wineberry southern rata coprosmas kamahi broadleaf etc.; young podocarps are just beginning to break through its canopy. All these (and others) I’ve had to come to know, though orchids, that particular interest of my childhood, still quickly take my attention.
It’s some years ago since I came here, but if my memory’s right the first that I found was Earina mucronata on a tree fern trunk. There are three species of tree fern on the property, and they are abundantly present, but only this single specimen has any epiphytic orchid on it. There were three or four plants on the trunk, none old enough to flower, and I later found several more on an adjacent macrocarpa, all of the same age and one of which, on flowering, revealed itself as a pretty orange-lipped E. aestivalis.
Though I looked fairly thoroughly I found no other epiphytic orchids, and as I had arrived at the beginning of winter there were no ground orchids visible, and also I was preoccupied with the need to settle into the house and make it weather-proof for the spring rains. There was also the need to carve some lawn and garden out of the mass of Yorkshire fog and montbretia around the house. The bush, which was advancing with determination, had to be understood; in doing this I found that I now owned a number of distinct environments
- On the steep slopes at the west side of the house is a patch of manuka scrub; I set about enlarging this.
- Adjacent to the manuka is a considerable slide of broken sandstone. I turned it into a rockery for the plants of the neighbouring hills.
- At the foot of the manuka, where the billiard salon and fish-and-chip shop once stood, is a small swamp; which I cleared and enlarged. In this general area I’ve planted a collection of native podocarps.
- Between here and the creek is the old road to the bridge. Water runs upon it, and the whole length is covered with mature flax.
- The mixed bush on the south and east side of the house. It’s a little more complex than I’ve perhaps indicated; several species reach their altitude limit here, such as whitey-wood and rangiora, and there are five species of rata, including M. parkinsonii.
- Beresford St., the former shopping centre on the other side of the creek, now under a canopy of bush. I cleared it of fallen trees and made it a promenade for the views it offers of gorge and waterfall. Invasive black poplar threatens the lower end.
All this has, of course, taken several years to do, and was accompanied by the making of a simple path to provide comprehensive but unobtrusive access.
Spring brought some happy surprises. The first became visible as two very slender species of the orchid genus Caladenia, which flower so thickly on the ground as to make a thin white mist. I first found them under scrub, while making the rockery. One, the more robust, is entirely white, the other has a coloured lip.
This means of discovery established a pattern, in that new orchids were found by me while I was in the act of doing something other than botanising. For example: while mowing my back yard into a lawn I mowed a Gastrodia under the macrocarpa tree at the bottom of the garden. In the hope of the plant making another try I put a stake at the site and was rewarded by a secondary spike, only to mow that too in my careless energy. This was a great disappointment to me, as I’m most interested in the Gastrodias and have not before had one to observe; the plant has not reappeared.
Again, while removing a Blechnum fern from a rocky site that I wanted to expose, I found a small struggling Winika cunninghamii; on release from its oppression it quickly began to flourish, which was good for me. I find that having desirable native plants on my own property makes me feel that I belong, while the act of transplanting natives onto my land makes me feel a colonist.
As is so often the case, one of the most interesting of my sites is one that seems the least so—the bottom end of Beresford St., just before it joins the main road. Here the bush is mostly lank coprosmas and broadleaf with a slight grass along the narrow path; the soil upon the asphalt is very thin. Under the scrub as spring advanced I found firstly Pterostylis irsoniana, then a Microtis, and then another Greenhood that looks very like Pt. cernua but is, I think, a form of Pt. montana. Another form of montana I found upon a concrete ledge of the former butchery cellar; it has a ballooned flower. The cernua look-alikes grow most strongly in the grass , and all seem to relish the shallow soil, apart from one plant of irsoniana that grows on a mound of choked Montbretia corms.
Subsequent checking has revealed further colonies of Pt. irsoniana—usually on gravelled sites in the bush—and one or two plants of Pt. banksii, usually at the edge of the creek and eventually removed by flood.
One orchid genus that seemed to be entirely lacking was Corybas. The only Corybas known in the district was C. oblongus, which is found in shady sites on the local hills. One morning, however, while returning home along my track near the site of the old grocer’s shop, I spied a little patch of a fleshy-leaved Corybas growing near a rotting bicycle propped against a chimney block. Brian Molloy later identified this as C. papa, the first record of it in the South Island. It has grown into a dense mat about half a metre square.
There’s very little Thelymitra at my place, and the little there is doesn’t flourish. The strongest plants grow epiphytically upon tree-fern trunks. These appear to be Th. longifolia; they don’t flower, and live only a couple of years, but their appearance does show that there’s seed about.
In understanding the presence or absence of orchids here, I have to bear in mind the polluted nature of the soil. Almost all the vegetation is growing on former household midden, and on industrial sites that had to do with coal grease oil and various chemicals now regarded as more or less unsavoury. None of the running water hosts life—not even sandflies are able to breed in it. Orchids, as we know, favour disturbed land; Th. hatchii grows superbly in the detritus of one of our abandoned coal-mines, and Th. decora is flourishing on one site so polluted that little else will grow there. Several orchids have appeared, been welcomed by me and flourished briefly, then unaccountably vanished. Adenochilus gracilis was one of these and Aporostylis bifolia may prove another. It has appeared by the old track that was once used as access to the now vanished post office; it flowers seeds and reproduces but looks drawn and weak, as if it grows on sufferance rather than goodwill. Chiloglottis cornuta makes a habit of appearing in plenty, then vanishing to reappear somewhere else, as if it can’t decide to settle.
On the hills nearby there’s a particularly wide range of orchids, and a lot of seed to go riding the wind. I keep a watch for new arrivals, and make sure to make as little disturbance as possible when working or walking about. The experience of being here for a considerable time, of watching what comes and goes, is rewarding. On the crest of a ridge near my vegetable garden, where something like a stable once stood, are three slender toro trees. When my dog was a puppy I would play with him there at the end of the day. One evening I was leaning against the trunk of one of these trees, to gain my breath, and was idly noting the texture of moss and lichen on the bark, when I noticed two seedlings of Bulbophyllum pygmaeum. In the three subsequent years I’ve watched the surprisingly rapid growth of these two plants and their union into one expanding patch, which is on the south side of the tree, is fully exposed to our montane climate of rain gale sleet and hail, and couldn’t be doing better.
It is likely that there were other orchid species here thirty years ago, when the vacated sites were less vegetated; Thelymitra and Prasophyllum for example would have found more space. When I collected here at that time Orthoceras was present, which I’ve not been able to find here now. However there’s more than enough movement to demonstrate that our native vegetation, even in its most specialised parts, has the vigour to return and reclaim what was once taken from it. The same story could be told by the ferns grasses mosses and fungi, as well as shrubs and trees. My role is to practise hospitality; I try to restrain myself from experimentation and aggressive protection. I learnt this several years ago when I defended some orchids that grew alongside a concrete path at some mine ruins near here. I caught some DoC workers spraying the path edges with a herbicide in an attempt to keep the rushes and gorse at bay, and asked them to stop. I promised to keep the edges clear myself, in order that the orchids might grow—in this narrow strip grew Genoplesium nudum, Pterostylis montana, Corybas oblongus, two species of Microtis, Thelymitra cyanea, pulchella, and venosa. This arrangement seemed to work at first, and I boasted of it to my conservationist brethren, until I noticed that no amount of my personal care could keep those edges clear; the rushes especially kept creeping in and the orchids were diminishing; it was the winter spraying that made place for them, and I had to ask that it resume.
After this experience I practise a mostly passive hospitality; I make room for the wilderness and welcome it, but from fear of my own ignorance I let it mostly make its own way.
Leicester Kyle, Millerton, Sept. 2005
The term ‘moor’ is used with deliberation, to establish from the outset an historical connection, which is helpful in our discussion.
When the first miners came to live in North Buller in the late 1860s, they would have noticed various similarities to the coal countries they left in the north of England, i.e. an upland of horizontal sandstone and coal beds on a granite base, a flora of acid-loving plants of the heather-myrtle-rush groups, and lots of mud. Even the climate would have been much the same, though wetter. In the Repo area in behind Millerton one could well imagine oneself on Ilkley Moor.
Significant and expected differences are that in Buller the heights and depths are profounder, the vegetation is wilder and more luxuriant and various, and we have not the weeds that are invading the English moors i.e. the rhododendrons and silver birches. We have our own—montbretia, gorse, broom and blackberry.
The North Buller Moors are almost unique in N.Z.; other small areas of coal measure uplands are found inland from Collingwood, and at the southern tip of the Paparoa Range. The latter has a botany very similar to the one we’re to discuss, while the former—in N.W. Nelson—would undoubtedly have significant differences according to the character of that territory.
Before I proceed to deal with this fascinating territory that I live upon I must make it clear that I speak as an amateur botanist, not as a scientist. I make no attempt to function as a scientist, but speak from a close co-habitation with the native plants of my own home territory and a personal fascination with them, with how they grow, where they grow and move to, variations etc. I do my best to ensure that I’m factually correct, but in living with these plants as I do I become romantically attached and enthusiastic, which are not scientific qualities as they cloud perception. The information that I gather, however, has its own value and is difficult to impart—there are few outlets for it—so I’m grateful for this opportunity.
I first visited the Great Buller Coal Plateau when I was fourteen; a friend and I climbed Mt. Rochfort, which is at the southern end of the Plateau and is one of the four highest peaks, at c.1,050m; the others, of much the same height, are Frederick William and Augustus. The Plateau itself is effectively an extension of the Paparoa Range onto the other side of the Buller River; it declines to the north, ending at the Mokihinui River, which is also the northern limit of the coal deposits..
At that climb I made 55 years ago there were no tracks to Mt. Rochfort and we climbed it from sea level, struggling through gahnia tussocks, rush epacris manuka phormium etc and were exhausted at the top, but even so I was stunned by what I saw. The encircling conglomerate cliffs made the top hard to reach, but there when we had struggled up and over them was a fine sample of the plateau’s botany: its gentians dracophyllums mosses forstera, and dwarfed contorted scrub of beech senecio and olearia, all so different from the flora of the Canterbury foothills that I still remember that first sight, exhausted though I was. We then had to walk through the rough divided territory to Denniston, and I had my first experience of the Plateau’s canyons, their warm sheltered microclimates, so rich in ferns mosses and liverworts, and groves of Dracophyllum townsonii.
Several years later, when I joined the staff of the Ch.Ch. Botanic Gardens as an apprentice, I began taking my fellow apprentices there to collect for the native section at the Gardens. Still later I took my own family there for holidays, and now I live at its northern end, in Millerton, at 300m asl, and grow some of these plants I’ve so long admired.
In those apprenticeship days I was a keen member of the Cant. Bot. Soc., and once gave a talk to it on our native orchids. I also won the Bledisloe Trophy, though I’m unsure what for.
After that diversion, to proceed:
A good deal of the Plateau is at 600m asl. It’s about 10km long by 3-4 wide. At that higher level the dominant covering rock is a crystalline sandstone, worn into a flattish pavement from which erodes an infertile silica sand. Harder rock remnants stand about, worn by the weather into surreal shapes, as are the bushes and stunted trees that survive, such as N.menziesii, N. solandri, Pittosporum rigidum, and ratas. Several faultlines cross the Plateau and appear as cliffs. Streams have worn spectacular gorges that are hard to cross. It is the catchment for the Buller plains.
The western side falls sharply to the sea, the southern to the Buller River, the eastern into broken disorganised land, and the northern into the moors.
I record an average of 3m of rain a year at Millerton, but there is double that at the higher peaks. There is often snow from about April to November, and there can be long periods of hard frost. Generally, though, the weather is temperate; a warm summer day at home may reach 22deg, and a cold winter night may go to minus 3deg. The only commonly intemperate features of our weather is the rain, and the SE wind, which can be sustained and damaging.
The bushline is at about 900m, but because of the extreme infertility of such soil as there is, most of the plateau is unforested, and subalpine plants are able to extend much lower than usual, even into the moors. The lack of bush has caused the plateau to function much as an island, standing bare above the surrounding woodland since goodness knows when.
This environmental isolation has caused many of its plant species to develop individualities that are intriguing. It has, for example, its own snow tussock, Chionochloa juncea, and its Celmisias are fascinating. I will tell you of them now, and trust that you won’t mind me enlarging my scope to a little beyond the moors.
The dominant sub-alpine Celmisia upon the adjacent ranges is C. monroi; its closest relative is C. coriacea, which is not found in Buller. The ‘monroi’ on the Paparoa ranges is a grand thing, but on the Glasgow ranges, granite mountains just to the north of the Buller, it is usually weedy. It is not found as its true self on or about the plateau, but does appear in different guises—in the Ngakawau Gorge as C. morganii; on the sea-cliffs near Charleston as the magnificent clumping broad-leaved C. semi-cordata, and within the bush itself in well-lit places, from sea-level to the bushline, as an isolated mid-sized Celmisia. On the higher parts of the Plateau grows C. dallii (which occasionally throws a yellow flower) and all over the plateau and the moors grows C. dubia—a well-named plant. It’s prolific down to c.350masl, and occasional below that, scattered through the Pakihi or on cliffs and rocks, often thickly-scattered, even forming mats. It’s dagger-leaved, and an individual plant of the type is a sturdy 6-12cm across
There are two main forms of this plant—one is glossy-leaved and is sometimes bronzed, and the other is a mat grey-green. Both forms are hardy, with coriaceous leaves, and they most typically grow on hard wet ground on which shallow water stands during rain.
The grey-green form is extremely variable; one broader-leaved variety grows in moss alongside streams; another longer-leaved form grows in shady places at the edge of scrub; abundant near Millerton is a very robust form that blooms handsomely in July; another, nearby but higher on the hillside flowers all the year round.
With the exception of C. dallii all these species and forms are only approximately named; some of the semi-cordata at Charleston is visibly classical monroi. Morganii passes in places into dubia, which in turn becomes here and there something indescribable. Druce grouped all these under ‘monroi’ but I doubt that Dr. Monroe would have liked this; it’s too approximate a taxonomy and doesn’t serve the amateur naturalist, who likes to make some observance of variation. David Given has looked at some of these, with much interest.
Other Celmisias of interest are a diminutive C.discolour, C.laricifolia, C.lateralis, and C.similis, whatever this latter might be. Above Millerton ,near the burning mine, there occur a number of tiny mat-forming Celmisias, mostly of a silvered foliage and very pretty—they are lovely in the rockery. Their parents appear to be laricifolia linearis and dallii. They are intriguing mutations and grow best in an almost sterile mix of clay and silica gravel. Their foliage is very small, their flowers unexpectedly large.
At the northern end of the Plateau, on what we call the Repo pakihi, occur two other notable Celmisias of the graminea type. One is a grass-leaved plant, the leaves a shiny emerald green; it forms a tight patch and flowers in the early summer in extraordinary abundance, its cream-white flowers on stems about 35cm long. In flower it is a great beauty, and it appears to be sterile. A close relation grows nearby; it flowers later, and is so frail as to be almost invisible.
We’ll leave the Celmisias now, and go back to more general observation.
The term ‘pakihi’ is often applied to the territory under our consideration, but is more properly used for land of a gentler gradient. While ours has much of the vegetation common to pakihi—such as rushes tangle-fern manuka epacris gahnia and flax—the steeps cliffs and other rocky parts introduce many plants absent from lowland pakihi. However, the soil is much the same, i.e. a hard wet grey mud beaten level by the rain. Underneath the grey-green vegetation are weak herbs e.g. daisies of one sort or another, violets, sundews, grasses small ferns and mosses; it’s a useful experience to lie down and do a search of the ground in your immediate vicinity.
Through this vegetation there poke, in their season, the taller herbs—orchids such as Thelymitra and Calochilus, three species of the yellow Bulbinella lily, and long-stemmed Celmisias. Nowhere, on these moors, are there any Ranunculus Myosotis or Aciphylla. Where fertility permits there are scattered bushes of rata (north and south) stunted podocarps, coprosmas, and on rocky outcrops there is bog-pine. There’s plenty of Dracophyllum longifolium where there’s scrub.
On a sunny day this sort of moorland glistens, and makes a glorious prospect, stretching out invitingly towards the Glasgow and Tasman mountains. It has a distinctive pungency, made mostly of the scent of manuka Dracophyllum and flax (Phormium cookianum), with a touch of Coprosma foetida. A general glance gives an impression of sameness, and some think it barren, not knowing of its diversity—of the three different forms of prostrate manukas, of the variety of Dracophyllum species, of the delightful little Bulbinella talbottii, the various sundews, the azure Herpolirion, the orchids, white and pink snow-berries, indigo Dianella, ferns, and those plants less popularly studied—rushes sedges, mosses. The whole deserves to be celebrated in literature—it has much more character than its British counterparts.
On some exposed sites virtual deserts form, the weather having stripped the soil and exposed the sandstone base. If this base is crystalline, small dunes of silica sand may form, which wander with the wind, smothering the flora. It’s odd to encounter a desert in a rainfall of 3-4m a year.
There are some particularly good displays of mosses at spring sites on the open moors. These occur where runnels emerge from scrub onto open rock. In time these form moss gardens, where various species gather to make terraces and pools in shades of yellow green and rust.
Circa 300m is a useful line for botanical distinction; it marks the limit for many coastal species, such as Brachyglottis repanda, kie-kie, Olearia cheesemanii and lowland softwoods. Above this line, in the valleys, there grows a type of bush that has a distinct light and character. It’s characterised by the presence of a great deal of yellow (pink) pine which gives it a lighter green colouring. Scattered thinly through it are all the beeches and most of the ratas (seven species), Dracophyllum townsonii (Townson was the Westport Chemist for about 10 years) lancewood, rimu, quintinia, totara, a little cedar, and much else.
This bush tends to be well lit, and so supports a great many ferns and orchids, both epiphytic and terrestrial. In February I was exploring a larger area of bush towards Stockton, and was delighted by the abundance of Earina autumnalis in flower; Winika cunninghamii was too.
The montane climate, conditioned by the local landscape and inland ranges, encourages some subalpine species to grow at lower altitudes than might be expected. This applies to the bush type just described, and to some species individually notable, such as the very lovely Celmisia dallii, Actinotus n.z., Donatia, and several gentians.
Which brings us back to the higher lands, and towards our conclusion.
The Great Buller Coal Plateau is the geological and botanical origin of the moors, and for the Plateau there are four peaks that dominate it, and are its floral storehouses. These peaks have soil on them, which the sandstone pavements at their feet do not. Each of these peaks is about 1,050m asl, and of exceptional botanical richness—they are a delight to botanise upon. They are the banks, as it were, which genetically fund the land about them. No species is known to be entirely confined to these peaks, but they are profoundly integral to the plateau’s ecology.
Unfortunately, this is the Great Buller Coal Plateau, and even more unfortunately the richest seams of coal are at the highest altitudes, so these peaks must go. Two have already largely yielded themselves to the increase of our nation’s wealth, and the other, Mt. William, is likely to before long. This is terribly sad, and the mining agent, Solid Energy is heavily blamed for this. It is, however, an SOE, and is doing as the government orders. I suggest that the effective way to stop such tragic destruction is for society to cease to use coal and the products it creates, rather than to blame the agent that is giving it what it wants.
To ensure that something of this environment is left untouched, the Millerton community has negotiated with Solid energy, DOC, and the Buller District Council, to create the Millerton Ecological and Heritage Reserve, an area of open moorland and some bush, of some 700 hectares. This is a public reserve, with tracks and an information centre, and also gives access to the extensive interior territories of the Ngakawau Protected Natural Area, where you may walk and prospect for plants for days if you wish, amongst relatively unbotanised lands.
The reserve itself has most of those environments mentioned in this talk, but not the really high sandstone pavements nor the peaks. Some pavement area and Mt. William can be reached through Burnetts Face, near Denniston.
The Millerton Reserve is well worth a visit; for those who wish to study any aspect of its flora fauna or history, accommodation is available at Millerton.
After three years of negotiation with the people of Millerton, Solid Energy has presented us with an agreement of understanding, by which a forty-hectare park might be created from land gifted by the company. This land lies along the southern and eastern slopes of the Millerton Basin, and extends for some distance over the escarpment and onto the plateau; it includes beech and rimu forest, scrub and regenerating bush, moorland, gorges, and rocky country, and includes many sites of historical value. It will be a public park, and access will be provided.
The negotiations were initiated by us in an endeavour to preserve the town from the threat of environmental damage; with the disappearance of Stockton, and the looming presence of open cast mining, our own existence seemed at risk, as did that of the flora and fauna of the plateau rim. The negotiations were long and sometimes seemed pointless, and an outcome as good as this we thought most unlikely.
Don Elder, the CEO of Solid Energy, has told us that mining at the crest of Mt. Augustus has been postponed for at least three years, to enable further study of the operation to be completed, and damage to the summit line avoided.
The discovery in 2003 of the Millerton snail—Powelliphanta lignaria ‘Millertonii’—is an illustration of a considerable difficulty we face in our environment.
For over a century this snail had lived in a human community and not been noticed sufficiently to come to the attention of science. It’s a quite large solidly made bush snail that lives in several acres of forest and scrub. A road goes through its territory, two rail tracks have done so, and there’s a house on it. Some fifteen years ago a bush fire narrowly missed the land. In the spring the snail gets restless and goes wandering around the house and across the road; at other times it’s not seen.
During the century of co-habitation with humans it could so easily have been eradicated by such things as fire, industry, or property development—part of its land is designated on the town plan for road and housing. Had any such accident happened, we would never have come to know the animal.
You might well ask whether that would matter, and go on to attend to some other issue more important than a vanished snail, but before you do—stop and think: how different our country would be if the moa, tuatara, takahe, huia, eagle--and the many others of our great army of the disappeared--were still around; how much more lively would be the mountains and the bush. And then there is the colour that has gone—the kaka beak that used to brighten the shores of the Bay of Islands, the scarlet mistletoe that used to make such a brilliant display at Christmas in the Lewis Pass.
These things have gone, and left our island world, our inheritance, so very much the poorer, darker, less interesting. There are few now alive who can remember how rich was the bush before the deer and opossums got into it. This process of impoverishment is continuing, and is of course a global calamity, but here it can be lessened.
One of its causes is ignorance. Our attachment to our natural inheritance is too slender. In all other countries there are poems stories songs and legends about their plants and animals, but here, apart from the Maori, there are virtually none. Our attitudes to our plants and animals is more of sentiment than of experience or knowledge.
We are easily dispossessed of what we value lightly.
We might well be like those who dream on in life, and then awake in a time of need to find they have no friends or family.
The Millerton Reserve
The Millerton Reserve is a rectangular area of land owned by DOC and Solid Energy, about 500 hectares in extent. Its western edge is the escarpment overlooking the Tasman Sea, and the southern boundary is the rocky edge of the Coal Plateau. Millerton Town and the Stockton Road mark the northern limit, and Mine Creek the eastern. It is largely within the 300 and 400m contours. Three large streams cross it from south to north: Granity, Miller, and Mine Creek 2, each cutting deep gorges, and creating micro-climates which support unexpected fauna and flora. There are considerable residual disturbances from past coal-mining in the mid-section of the reserve: these include bulldozed tracks, building sites, tramways and tunnels, as well as scorched areas left by the retreating burning mine. To the west of this area are remnants of yellow-pine and rata forest in shallow valleys; these have a distinctive flora. The eastern section is heavily forested with a mix of beech and podocarp except in the higher parts, which graduate through the prevalent moorland vegetation into the sandstone pavement of the higher plateau. The old Stockton-Millerton Road cuts through this section, more or less along the line of the Millerton Fault.
The first miners to settle at Millerton came mostly from the north of England, and would have found much in their new environment that was recognisable: the topography—strata of sandstone and coal founded on granite—is much like that of the Yorkshire moors above, for example, Ilkley. The native vegetation at Millerton is composed mostly of heathers and myrtles, as is that of the Pennines, and the weather, colder in the 1890s than now, would have been pretty familiar too, though wetter
They proceeded to create a society organised much like that they had left, with the pit town grouped about the pit head (Millerton), and the service town at some remove (Granity). As they had to provide their own housing, and had to use wood and iron to build, this was at first much inferior to what they had left but, grouped on a hill, produced familiar disease: drainage from the house latrines seeped downhill to the homes below. (The Brontes dealt with a similar state of affairs at Haworth.) Four or five of these early cottages still remain at Millerton; others have been removed to the coastal towns.
For a time the town prospered; the population rose to somewhere near a thousand and it gained the usual amenities of a town. After the first world war, when (for various reasons, mostly to do with the politics of labour) it became cheaper to import coal than to mine it in New Zealand, the population began to decline. When the Millerton mine closed in the 1960s and the people left, many of the houses were shifted elsewhere and others abandoned. Those that were left were bought by people seeking to live an alternative life-style, and the community became very colourful. In recent years it has become more settled.
The rounded hill that Millerton was built upon was then largely bare—what is known as ‘sandstone pavement’, a feature widespread on the adjacent plateau. Though a site that is seemingly very exposed, nearby hills give an unexpected shelter, and create a surprising amount of windless weather. On the hills round about acidic soil and three metres of rain a year have created a peat-based vegetation known as moorland or heath, or by the maori name of pakihi.. On the north-facing slopes that overlook the town this is luxuriant, and has almost recovered from the disturbances of the mining era. Manuka, epacris, dracophyllum, dwarf flax, gahnia tussock, and rata predominate; sheltering under these are various celmisias, sundews, ground orchids, snow-berries, ferns, rushes, and lilies. There are some rare plants.
Bush grows mostly in the valleys and gorges, which are more fertile, and on the rolling country east of Millerton, where mudstone overlies the sandstone; here there is some mature beech and podocarp forest. In the gorges there is a fine selection of ratas, including the curious Parkinson’s rata, and the winter rata, which flowers in May and June, and also the widest range of filmy ferns and bryophytes to be found in New Zealand. On the highest parts of the reserve, at some 400-500m., some sub-alpines may be found, including celmisias and gentians. On rocky faces there are prostrate manukas that never grow erect, and tiny moss-like dracophyllums.
With the closure of the mine and the removal of the population, the bush began to move back into town, flourishing on the refuse left. The introduced grey poplar spread unchecked, giving colour in the autumn, and each year the remaining houses grow more hidden. Most of the public and industrial buildings have been removed or destroyed, and many of the historic sites have been all but forgotten.
It’s the purpose of the Millerton Reserve Trust to make these sites and places accessible again to those interested. Because of the industrial activity of the last century the flora and fauna of the area has never been closely studied, which explains the recent discovery of the land snail Powelliphanta lignaria ‘millertonii’, the fern Lyndsaea linearis, which is rare in the South Island, and the lily Bulbinella talbotii, which has been known only from the Gouland Downs area. A study of the mining history has much to offer also, as Millerton was, for a time, the largest industrial complex in the country.
As the tracks are made, the sites cleared and identified, the features of the reserve will be revealed. Many of these are virtually unknown, even to the present inhabitants. There are waterfalls, canyons, ravines, majestic forest, expansive views of mountain hill and sea, and picturesque ruins. The initiative for the reserve came from the inhabitants of Millerton, and was enabled by Solid Energy. DOC, Tai Poutini, and the Buller District Council also give their willing co-operation. We hope it will protect all it holds, and give reward to those interested in nature and New Zealand’s coal history.
President’s Annual Report, 2004-10-19
Almost a year ago your negotiators—Maureen McAuley John Ferguson and I—signed the deed with Solid Energy that instituted the Millerton Heritage Park, ending three years of negotiation. It then seemed to me to be most probable that the time had come to wind up MAPPS, as the work it had been created for had been done. However, in the subsequent negotiations for setting up the park, it became clear that Millerton needed a negotiating body to represent the community where it is necessary for it to meet such formal structures as Solid Energy, DOC, the Council etc., especially in legal matters. For that reason, MAPPS still continues.
Throughout the year the work of MAPPS has continued. Ashley Curd joined us in our meetings held to set up the trust board to govern the Park; unfortunately, this trust has yet to be established, in part due to bureaucratic difficulties within the structure of DOC, and partly due to the particular vision for the park that Solid Energy has. I regret this failure, as it means that there is no governing body for the Park, and it has therefore been difficult to keep up any progress or sense of development. Inevitably, in this absence, some responsibility for this has fallen to this community, it being on the site, and we have found ourselves entering into negotiation with DOC on our own behalf, to obtain access to develop the old Stockton Pack Track as a public walkway. Most of this old road lies outside the boundary of the Park, but would be added to its amenities. These negotiations seem likely to succeed.
During the year, in order to have some forward momentum, I have been repairing this building so that it might function as an information centre for Millerton and the Park. It is the only way by which we might have an information centre in the meantime; a purpose-built one would be ideal, but must be some way off. The intention is to open this building as the centre at the beginning of December; information material will be gathered and compiled during this month and displayed. The Centre will be open daily from 8.0am to 5.0pm, unstaffed. Renovations will continue, but it is now weather-proof and able to function.
Early this month Mike Lyn, the manager of Stockton Mine offered to fund a week of track-making in the Park; we decided to formalize the informal track from the tunnel at the top of the bathouse steps to the foot of the escarpment on the sky-line. Seven of us worked on this for five days doing a very good job and being paid for our efforts. It is the first of the Park’s public tracks, and we’re grateful to Solid Energy for this; it brought a bit of money into the community, which has always been a hoped-for consequence of the Park. We hope that the next track will be the Stockton Pack Track.
That the Park is of value is undoubted. As the deed was signed, our snail was discovered, and named Powelliphanta millertonii. Another species has been found to live at the highest limits of the Park. At least two endangered plants have been found to grow in it, and I’m sure more will be—just now we’re looking at a particularly fine orchid. A botanist came to visit us at Labour Weekend.—accommodation is available for such visitors here, at the Centre. I hope that the Park will eventually enlarge, to include some adjacent portions of the higher plateau, some upper regions of Mine Creek, and the old Rockies Mine.
To conclude on the subject of the existence of MAPPS: I think it has to continue, in order to be the community aspect of the Park, so that other agencies ,such as science, tourism, administration, can deal with us here, and so that solutions and decisions are not imposed upon us. There is an increasing risk of this, that we be used for purposes that have nothing to do with us. MAPPS can also be a useful means for gaining funding for the community.
I find it difficult to continue as president of MAPPS. My work, which I should be attending to, is being neglected; my health is uncertain, and I don’t enjoy being involved in Buller community politics. It would be a great relief to me if someone would take on the role. My thanks to John Maureen and Ash for their support during the year, and to Solid Energy and DoC too. May the year ahead be even more constructive.
The Westport Coal Company began work on the Millerton Incline in 1891. At that time coal was being mined at Denniston Seddonville and Mokihinui, and was being exported from Westport.
In 1896 the first commercial load of coal was taken from the Plateau; by then a few people were living here. The small brown house standing above Coal Reserve Rd. dates from that period, and is probably the oldest house still standing in the town. Others almost as old are at no. 17 Napier St., a cottage in Calliope St., and another in Cain St.
The earliest photos show the low hill the town stands upon as being mostly bare sandstone rock, which forced roads and houses to not conform to the plan made for the town; even today neither are necessarily where they should be. Bush surrounded this sandstone cap, and there were considerable stands on the adjacent hills, most especially in valleys—much of this was cut for timber, and the remainder burnt in a succession of fires, the last of these happening about fifteen years ago.
Within twenty years the population of the town stood at near 1000, and there were a number of satellite towns further inland—Stockton, Darlington, Mangatini, Mine Creek. Millerton had all the necessary amenities. A number of small coal mines were attempted near the town (the sites are hidden in the bush) but the two main working mines were Mine Creek and The Dip, both extensive underground mines, whose portals still exist—they can be located on adjacent maps and visited. The income from these mines was so great that they created one of the most prosperous industrial complexes in the country.
In the 1960s both mines were closed, being pretty well worked out, and the method of coal extraction turned to open cast, which is practised on the Plateau today.
With the closure many houses were removed from Millerton, to towns on the coast. About thirty remain, some almost hidden in the bush. The climate ( three metres of rain a year) makes life and maintenance difficult, but most of the buildings are being renovated, and the population has maintained itself for the last four decades.
Millerton is named after H.J.Miller, once chairman of the board of directors of the Westport Coal Company.
Millerton Heritage Park
The Park was created in 2003, after several years of negotiation between Millerton residents and Solid Energy. Precise boundaries are shown on the maps in this Centre, but with adjacent DoC land the area available to the public is bounded by the Millerton-Stockton road, Mine Creek, the escarpment of the high plateau, and the Rockies mine haul road.
The purpose of the park is the protection of its flora and fauna and our coal mining history. By means of public walking tracks items of interest are made available; many evidences of coal history lie hidden in the bush and have almost been forgotten.
All of the park is open to the public, but it is best, on the whole, to keep to the tracks. Beneath the park lies the immense complexity of the Old Dip mine. There are sink-holes and subsidences, old shafts and drives, none of which should on any account be entered if come across. Also, the open moors are easily damaged, and with our heavy rains the damage is quickly worsened. Fire, too, is a real threat.
Three major streams cross the park—
- Mine Creek 2, which issues from a tunnel; its resurgence can be heard from quite a way off.
- Miller Creek, which has a similar source.
- Granity Creek.
These three have deep gorges, and divide the park into three sections: to the west of Granity creek the territory is more montane and the bush has a different character; small streams flow steeply west, and in their valleys are patches of sub-alpine bush—hard beech, podocarps (especially yellow pine), dracophyllums etc. This area is the least disturbed by mining.
Between Miller Creek and Mine Creek is a large tract of regenerating and mature bush; the latter is of podocarp and beech, and is in a sheltered area. The regenerating bush is vigorous as the base rock is kaiata mudstone, which makes a fertile soil. There are some mine remains in this area of the park, and some fine waterfalls. The old Stockton pack track runs by these, which occur along the Millerton Fault, and it’s hoped to soon have this track open to the public.
The Information Centre
This building was once the pay office, the union office, and the Doctor’s surgery. It is about a century old. The coal train ran just behind the house, and the miners could stop off to attend to administration etc. Note the fine old fireplace, and the long runs of tongue-and-groove in the ceiling.
You are welcome to shelter here. There is a toilet, and water—you may make yourself a hot drink, and eat here.
The centre is open from 8.0am-5.0pm. If the information you want is not available, please call next door at no.17.
Our phone contact is 7828608.
If you use our facilities, please make a donation, and be tidy.
A tour of the hidden history of Millerton (‘The Undercover Town’), lasting an hour, is available at $5.00 per person in a party, $10.00 for a single individual. For this, call next door, or at 404 Calliope St.
of the Park
The animals of the park are not well understood, as they have never been studied. Only last year (2003) two species of Powelliphanta snails new to science were found here. Both are confined to this area, and are endangered.
The brown bush gecko is occasionally seen, and a green gecko very rarely. There’s a rich insect population, including the red and yellow admiral butterflies, the owl moth, stick insects, and wetas. Wasps are not abundant; neither are sandflies, as the streams are unsuitable for their breeding. There’s a wide range of spiders.
Bush rats are plentiful, opossums very few.
Of our native birds, there’s a good population of bell-birds, tuis, and wood pigeons. Moreporks are occasionally heard; keas and kakas visit now and then, wekas more often, and once or twice a year at night a pair of kiwis will wander through the town. Fern birds are quite abundant on the moor. Robins and bush tits are in the bush, and the shining cuckoo on sunny days. There’s a sea-gull colony further inland.
Bird life has notably increased with the regeneration of the bush.
Visitors are reminded that all living things in this park are absolutely protected.
The park is mostly moorland, and the flora is therefore dominated by heathers myrtles and rushes of various types. The level beds of sandstone mudstone and coal on a granite base inhibit drainage which, with an annual rainfall of three metres a year, form a typical pakihi soil of layers of sand and heavy mud.
On the most depleted places the vegetation is thin rush and Gleichenia fern; at higher levels the dominant local Celmisia—C. dubia—and gentians will also grow. Some ground orchids, such as the bearded Calochilus and several Thelymitras also favour this sort of territory. Where fertility is a little higher manuka moves in—here we find it in three distinct forms. In rocky places, and in the valleys, the ratas will grow—there are about seven different species in the park, including the shining rata which flowers in the autumn, and Parkinson’s, which flowers in the spring.
The Dracophyllums, which belong to the heather family, grow here in a remarkable diversity, from tiny moss-like sub-shrubs to small trees. There is also the Epacris (with its white flowers and bronzed leaves, the red-berried juniper heather, and various types of snow berries.
Most notable are the moss gardens which develop by seeping water; the park has an exceptional variety of mosses and liverworts, also of ground orchids—amongst the latter we have at least six species of sun orchids and eight of greenhoods. Surprisingly, there is only one spider orchid. The epiphytic orchids also grow here, on rock and tree.
Bush grows in the more fertile places, especially in the valleys. The regenerating stands are mostly of toro, kamahi, dracophyllum, manuka, rata, and the mature areas are of beech and podocarpus species—there are three species of beech in the park. At lower levels various species of tree ferns are plentiful.
Here, the temperate coastal rain-forest vegetation meets a montane climate. Bush-lawyer kie-kie rangiora etc. stop at the lower edge of the park, except in some of the gorges where there are micro-climates and some unlikely plants, especially ferns.
Millerton has a cool climate; it is 300m. above sea level, and is greatly influenced by the weather of the interior highlands. It is relatively windless, with moderate summers and cool winters. Except for rain, extremes of weather are unusual; the average temperature is low—snow may fall, but rarely lies, and air movement generally prevents heavy frost. There is frequent fog.
A collection of local plants is available for inspection.
The principal industrial sites are grouped at the end of Napier St., and are managed by DoC. There is parking available.
- Napier St. ends at the concrete remains of the loading bays, from where coal was trucked for a time. Arrangements are being made to drain this site. At the east end of this site begins the old Stockton pack track, which is in the process of being prepared for use.
- Almost above the loading bays is the portal to the Old Dip Mine. A large wooden trestle once took the tramline to this tunnel. A track to this begins near the bath house. The other end of the tunnel can be reached by taking the pack track (at present it has a marshy beginning) and then the side track up the Miller Creek gorge to Miller Force. It’s a powerful and impressive place. There’s a scramble at the end.
- Beside the bath house are the foundations of the lamp house. The stepped path proceeds beyond this to the portal of the Mine Creek tunnel. All the Millerton tunnel portals are built in this style, with a classical keystone at the top of the arch; none remain open, though one may be re-opened in due course.
The Escarpment Track starts here.
- On the other side of Napier St., opposite the bath house sign, is the entrance to the 100 steps, which the miners used to reach their homes on the north side of town. These will take you to Calliope St., if you wish to do a round walk. There is a waterfall soon after the Miller Creek bridge, and a swimming hole.
- The Brake-head, at the top of the Millerton Incline. Entrance to this is on the south side of the tennis courts, at the end of High St. A rough track takes you through gorse to the top of the incline tunnel.
- Beresford St.: this can only be visited by organised tour; call at 17 Napier St., or at 404 Calliope St.
The Old Stockton Pack Track
And assessment of the consequences
Of clearance and construction.
- The first portion of the track, to Miller Creek, is benched and mostly open; beginning in gorse blackberry and swamp, it will need to be drained, and probably decked in one or two places. It then moves on to open land, and has a thin covering of gorse, manuka, and epacris. Some small herbs of interest grow upon it: several grass-like celmisias, a sundew, and several species of sun orchid.
- The track then dips sharply into Miller Creek gorge, and the track down will largely need to be reconstructed through a thick tangle of gorse and blackberry.
- On the other side of the creek the formed track recommences, at first through very thick manuka and gahnia tussock in which, for a hundred metres or so, the track is almost lost; it then emerges onto the open pakihi on which it largely stays for the rest of its length, dipping into bush at stream crossings.
The Pakihi Vegetation is as Follows:
Gahnia (2sp.) Drosera Celmisia graminifolia
Manuka Theymitra sp. Celmisia dubia
Epacris Microstis unifolia ferns: Blechnum, Sticherus
Phormium colensoi Calochilus paludosus Nertera depressa
Kamahi Dianella nigra Gaultheria sp.
Leucopogon 2sp. Rushes sedges & grasses
- Thinly scattered through the pakihi are stunted rata, kamahi, and rimu.
- The only rare plant so far found on this site is the bearded orchid, Calochilus paludosus.
The Vegetation of the Bushed Gullies:
Kamahi Toro lancewood
Broadleaf Nothopanax tanekaha
Rimu yellow pine totara
Rata-north and south, and the climbing white rata Nothofagus (3sp.)
Ferns: Cyathea smithii, Blechnum procerum, Lindsaea cuneata, bracken (2sp).
- Clearance of the track will reveal further species.
- No rare species have been found on these sites, though there are some adjacent.
Mitigation of the Effects of Clearance and Construction:
Throughout the length of the track it will probably not be necessary to fell a single tree, though some that are fallen will need to be removed. As the walking track will take up only a small portion of the easement width, it will be able to avoid sensitive areas (such as sphagnum accumulations) and notable specimens; these will be identified in advance with coloured tape. All cut debris will be concealed, and construction rubbish removed; scrub will be cut at ground level.
FAUNA: in the Millerton region this is not well known nor understood. On this site, though we have looked, no Powelliphanta have been found. A brown bush gecko has been observed, and it is possible that a green gecko is here also. There is an abundant bird life, though no wekas seem to live in the reserve—a few pass through each year, as do one or two kiwi. Moreporks have been heard, and keas—the latter visit, as do kaka from time to time. There are few opossums.
Millerton Town Plan
Suggestions for consideration
NOTE: The Buller District Council Town Planning Officer thinks that we should have a town plan of our own; DoC and Solid Energy have also suggested we should. Here are some ideas to start the discussion; you might have some of your own. Perhaps we could have a town meeting soon to take it further.
Principles and Reasons:
- To preserve the space we each have, and the advantages we’ve come here for--- e.g room, privacy, peace, and the personal freedoms these bring us.
- To retain some control over our environment and its amenities---e.g. outlook, bush, water, recreation, relatively inexpensive cost of living.
- To preserve the present character of the town, and to give access to and present its history.
- To liase with the District Council, DoC, and Solid Energy to ensure that any buildings plans or developments in Millerton comply with the above principles.
The present high level of prosperity in Buller makes it unlikely that we will be spared development and/or exploitation in the near future. We need to make sure that the Millerton we know and value isn’t taken from us.
On Saturday Aug. 6th. the four parties concerned with the establishment of the Millerton Park will officially sign the documents that will create the reserve.
This will happen at 1.0pm. at the Bath-house, Millerton.
You are warmly invited to attend this.
The event will be a public one. There will be a welcome at 10.0am at the site, and then guided walks will be led about Millerton and the Park.
At 12.0 the will be a sausage sizzle and other refreshments provided.
At 1.0 the signing will take place.
Public transport will be provided to and from Millerton, and will leave for Westport at 1.30pm. apprx.
A tent will be erected at the Bath-house, toilets will be provided, parking spaces indicated, and both the hall and the info.centre will be open in case other shelter is needed.
The four signatories are: Solid Energy
The Dept. of Conservation
Buller District council
There will be a good deal of publicity, on both radio and newspaper, and the occasion will officially conclude Conservation Week.
Come and make this a worthy celebration of our five years of planning and negotiation, your negotiators—
A map of the present walks is on the reverse side of this sheet
The two major walks are:The Escarpment Track.
The Old Rockies Haul Road.
The Repo Basin Track
The Hundred Steps
Old Dip Portal
The Old Pack Track — see separate sheet
The Escarpment Track. 45min.
This begins at the top of the bathouse path and steps, beside the Mine Creek tunnel portal, and ends at the entrance to the Miller Creek ravine, at the foot of the escarpment. From the whole length of the track there are superb views of Millerton and Stockton, the Glasgow Range, and the Karamea Bight; it also provides access to adjacent moorland and the Miller Creek valley. On the banks of this valley unusually large forms of Celmisia dubia can be found that flower all year, especially in the winter, and in suitable localities the rare Bulbinella talbotii, a small golden lily.
Where necessary the track is marked by poles. The last of these, at the top, also marks the vestige of an old tram-line which gave access to coal in the ravine—Miller Creek issues from one of these tunnels. The ravine is an interesting and dramatic place, but can only be explored by means of a rough scramble—there is no track. If you attempt this, on no account enter any tunnels. The rock is loose, and there is gas.
The Old Rockies Haul Road. 1hr.
This starts at the crossroads and goes through bush and then into open moorland; once you get onto the bare sandstone stretch you’re on private road, but it’s safe to take the branch track to the right to the communications hut; this gives good views, and takes you to some sub-alpine bush.
These are signposted at the end of Napier St., and permit an attractive round trip back through Millerton, across Miller Creek.
Old Dip Portal
Take the Old Pack Track to the brink of Miller Creek Gorge; here a sign directs you to the ten minute walk which ends at the portal and Miller Force. It’s a dramatic site; here the hillside collapsed upon some mine buildings a bridge and a waterfall—see the photograph at the Info Centre.
Repo Basin Track.
Some years ago Solid Energy made this track, to enable access to the hinterland. The path takes you to a crossing point on the haul road; once over this a vast area of wilderness is available, including the Repo Basin and-- in the distance-- the inner gorge of the Ngakawau River. There are many tracks wandering over this fine tract of moor and bush.
Please note that you venture into the park entirely at your own risk
The Old Pack Track
This old road to Mine Creek and Stockton became disused about fifty years ago, and was cleared again in Dec. 2004. It’s in a rough and muddy state, without bridges, so it must be walked with stout footwear and at the individual’s risk. Bridging is being prepared.
The track begins at the end of Napier St., behind the old loading bays, and in general follows the line of the Millerton Fault. Fine prospects appear almost immediately. At the brink of Miller Creek a vestigial branch track curves upstream to an old tunnel portal and views of Miller Force. The Pack track proceeds ahead in steps down a steep face to the creek, where a rope assists with the crossing.
On the far bank the track continues through a patch of kamahi and rata into some tall manuka and then out onto open moorland keeping, until its end, a gentle gradient. Below, and to the north, is a view of Millerton Hill, the dam, Mine Creek valley, the coast and country of the Karamea Bight, and the Glasgow Range—a fine range of granite mountains.
The first major feature reached is the Warm-Water Falls. These are set in a dark cirque overshadowed by trees. The temperature keeps at 16deg. but can be warmer after rain. The cause of its warmth is uncertain but is most likely the burning mine, though this is some way off uphill. There are interesting rocks and clays here.
From here on the vegetation begins to intensify; the covering rock is Kaiata mudstone which decays into a fertile soil, and the regrowth is now very thick and various—the track is at times in a tunnel of green. A little before Shit Creek there is a clearing (a good spot for a rest) and at the foot of this clearing a rough track will take you to an old hut, which can still provide some shelter. Below the hut, in tall bush, if you look carefully you can find a mine tunnel, with wooden rails coming from it and the remains of a trolley. (At this point, if you don’t wish to proceed half an hour further, you can scramble directly downhill through the bush, keeping more or less parallel with the creek, and in you will reach the main road; turn left to Millerton.)
From here the track follows a rock bench to the creek and falls, skirting the old forest of beech rimu rata cedar totara tanekaha etc. Shit Creek is so named from its former role of receiving the nightsoil from Millerton and Stockton—the dump site on the east bank below the main road bridge (where it is officially Mine Creek 2) is worth a visit.
The crossing of this creek is very dangerous; please take great care. Below the crossing is a massive waterfall, and above it are some more.
After this the track is once more in the open until the approach to the third set of falls—Spring Creek falls; here the strange tree Dracophyllum townsonii makes an appearance. Care should be taken at this crossing also. Behind the falls is an overhang which can provide shelter in bad weather. The water is drinkable.
Further on, the track proceeds through an attractive area of regenerating beech and lancewood, rising into manuka and epacris, giving good views of the Stockton area and the end of the haul road where coal is loaded onto the aerial ropeway to be taken to Ngakawau. The track and the remains of the old ropeway draw closer, the massive shelter of the former no.4 station appears above. Follow the polled track to the dirt road. If you wish to walk the round trip follow the dirt road downhill and you will come eventually to the main road at the mine gates.
It can be a good idea to have transport ready for you this side of the mine gate, at the site of the old Stockton school.
The Waterfall Track
c. 45 min. return
Access is from the Domain, where it is signposted, or from the Brakehead, which is adjacent to the disused tennis-court by the swimming pool. Parking is available near both access points.
Follow the cleared path of the old incline until you near the cutting to the tunnel; the waterfall track begins at your right, initially down a steep bank. From here the track proceeds pretty clearly through regenerated bush and scrub, through a belt of macrocarpas (planted when this area was built upon) and then to the edge of the Granity Creek gorge.
For a while the track follows the cliff edge, giving fine views of the waterfall, the coast, the distant Tasman Mountains and the inland moors. Please exercise the greatest care. Warning notices are placed and on no account should the cliff edge be approached. It is a considerable precipice.
After leaving the gorge the track follows the edge of an escarpment, proceeding gently uphill through a mix of tangle fern small trees and emerging podocarps. There are fine views of Granity and the old road.
The track soon joins the Sunset Rock track. Turn right for Sunset Rock ( you’re almost there) or left for Millerton.
Sunset Rock is a lookout and resting place; you may follow the track down to the road if you wish, and walk back up by the road.