Friday, 22 September 2017

I don't want to eat grass or rotten fish. 2017 NZ elections.

Voting for me is not only exercising my democratic rights, but preventing people from eating rotten fish and grass.
As a boy I listened to my Grandfather and Grandmother, my Dad, my Mum and my Uncles discussing politics. My Grandfather kept families from starving in the 1913 waterfront strike which lasted from October 1913 to Jan 1914. Because he was a fisherman, he was able to cross the picket lines to go fishing, and then he would come back after dark with a large catch, and distribute it to the hungry families of the waterfront workers. My Dad and Uncle Bob talked about the PM in 1932, Joseph Cooates, telling the unemployed "to eat grass." Unemployed people broke shop windows in Auckland and in Dunedin, Wardell's Grocery Store had its windows broken and food looted. The unemployed got food handouts during the depression and Uncle Bob recalled queueing for half a day in the sun, to received a bag of rotten fish. He took it home and buried the fish under the apple tree which bore great fruit the following year. We had pictures of Michael Joseph Savage the first Labour PM hanging in most houses in my neighbourhood. Thet were exactly like the one below.

The gregarious but soft-spoken Savage personified Labour’s diluted socialism, or ‘applied Christianity’. As one historian said, Savage ‘smelt of the church bazaar, not at all of the barricades.’
Labour won the 1935 election convincingly. Helped by a recovering economy, it unleashed a slew of popular reforms. Three years later it won again, backed by voter support for its plans for a comprehensive social welfare system. Micky as we called him, brought in the unemployement benefit, a pension for all retirees and affordable housing for everyone.
I was brought up on these stories so when I had my first vote in 1969, I was a 21 year old working in Antarctica. In 1972 I voted in Aorakai Mount Cook, 1975 Geneva, 1978 during a Marxist revolution in Ethiopia, 1981 in India, 84,87,90 in NZ, 1993 in Afghanistan, 1996 in Kazakhstan, 1999 in Bangladesh, 2002 and2005 in India, 2008 in Indoneasia, 2011 in Sri Lanka and 2014 in the Philippines.  I have risked life and limb to vote and I think democarcy is worth taking a risk for, as who want to eat grass or rotten fish?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Sailing to Antarctica


                                                               The Snow Petrel.

In the summer of 2006, a thirty-one-year-old expat Kiwi, Ben Tucker, set off from Tasmania in his small home-built yacht with the tentative goal of reaching mainland Antarctica. As crew he had recruited his youngest brother Matt. His destination was the remote Mawson’s Hut at Cape Denison - statistically the windiest sea-level location on the planet - with a possible diversion to the South Magnetic Pole. His budget could not even stretch to a second-hand radar.
This fascinating voyage was recounted by his father Jon last Friday night in Oamaru. Jon was allowed to join his sons as their cabin-boy at the last minute - on the promise of good behaviour. It was a real joy to spent time with Jon and Barbara Tucker last Friday and Saturday in Oamaru. 

                 John Tucker giving a lecture on his sailing trips: Photo: Bob McKerrow

John and BarbaraTucker with their family of five young boys, gave up their teaching jobs, loaded up ten boxes of school-work, and sailed away into the South Seas. Jon put up this post (below) during his talk. Experiental learning at its best. His sons turned out to be world-class sailors.


We stayed with Jon and Barbara at the Oamaru Creek Bed and Breakfast on Friday night and had a long breakfast the following morning with them to talk in detail about their sailing journeys. 
L to R. James Williamson Barbara Tucker Bill Nye and Jon Tucker. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Special thanks to Bill Nye at Adventure Books for organising and sponsoring the evening.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

MOUNTAIN MAGIC: MOUNTAINEERING IN NORTH-WEST OTAGO, 1882-1940

The advent of mountaineering is a very recent phenomenon, one which is not undertaken in the spirit of economic exploitation. A study of its development and its context provides one of the most dramatic examples of how cultural, social and economic forces have influenced historically the way we perceive the natural world. The most striking feature of the history of mountaineering in North-west Otago between 1882 and 1940 is that it struggled for existence during the nineteenth century, caught hold after the First World War, and flourished with no further prompting during the lean and sombre years of the Depression. This analysis concentrates on the historical forces that brought about this unprecedented surge of enthusiasm. For the most part, the story has been left intact and the characters and events allowed to speak for themselves.
Mountains are a powerful symbol, immense in scale, an untameable wilderness, potentially dangerous and yet possessing infinite and mystic power to attract and inspire. ‘Wilderness’ is difficult to define, a human construct, subject to social and cultural influences. For the greater part of history, wilderness has been perceived as wasteland. With the industrial revolution, wilderness provided fodder for economic growth, tamed and exploited by agriculture, mining and forestry. As a consequence, there is increasing evidence throughout modern society of positive associations with the ‘wild’ and ‘unspoilt’, and negative associations with the by-products of ‘progress’ such as industrial pollution and urban sprawl.[1]
New Zealand society experienced great transition from the late nineteenth century until 1940. All the features of a modern, rational society grew in this period, touching all aspects of people’s lives. New Zealand lost much of the personal and informal flavour that had characterised it as a pioneering society. As the technological world took much of the raw edge and mysticism out of those lives, mountaineering, although rooted in a Romantic and Victorian heritage, became increasingly popular. People began to seek the ‘wilderness experience’ of mountain recreation to put some balance and wholeness back into their lives.[2]
During the Depression ‘the problems posed by continuing social change were intensified by economic dislocation, social distress and political disorder’, with a consequent struggle ‘to find security and order in a world transformed’, undermining the concept of New Zealand as an ideal society. In the mountains some found immediate rewards and fulfilment, a place where life remained informal and personal, and values simple and comprehensible. The mountains provided a backdrop to a quest for national identity and a feeling of belonging to the landscape, drawing young Otago men and women to them. They sought experiences that diverted them from, and gave meaning to the world and the time they were living through, a time characterised by ‘more rigid structures, impersonal forces, and sprawling cities’. The mountains were ‘theirs’ and therein they discovered a sense of belonging and ‘friendship’ with their environment, a vague searching for national identity that runs through the history of New Zealand and quickens through the 1930s, an intensification and reassertion of the myth that New Zealand is ‘God’s Own Country’.[3]
The mountaineers of the Victorian period belonged predominantly to the well to do or middle classes. Only the foreigners who came to New Zealand specifically for climbing expeditions could be said to have belonged to the ‘leisured classes’, one of whom introduced mountaineering to New Zealand. But while time and money favoured those who ventured early into the mountain world, in the period under consideration here personality and inclination, and the chance of circumstance, led people to catch the ‘climbing bug’.
During the inter-war period community based mountain clubs flourished, constructed affordable facilities, and fought to ensure the protection of public access and prevent private monopolies in National Parks. In New Zealand an egalitarian ideal manifested itself, in contrast to the commercialism behind British climbing in Europe.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS: ‘THE SINGULAR SPOT METICULOUSLY DESCRIBED’

Mountaineers, by attaching personally important values to their search for direct contact with and intimate experience of mountain wilderness, are both a product of, and are continually influenced by, changing social perceptions of mountains and the values society attaches to them. At the same time, by grappling with the social meaning of mountaineering they have sought to influence contemporary attitudes to the value of mountains.
Attaching aesthetic, economic, scientific or recreational value to physical features of the landscape such as mountains is a social process influenced by many strands of history, the two greatest being Romanticism and the Scientific Revolution. To the eighteenth century observer mountains appeared incongruous, out of step with the laws of symmetry and proportion that governed the rest of Nature. They ‘offended by sheer uselessness’, seemingly neglected by Nature. Their immense size diminished people and exaggerated their sense of ‘mountain gloom’. In popular mythology they became the lairs of dragons and the haunts of devils. Advances in scientific thought transformed such ideas. Familiarity with nature through the expanding medium of science made it possible to contemplate the Earth and the universe with a detached objectivity. Gradually much of the superstition and fear of the unknown that had been attached to mountains eroded.[4]
At the same time, the emergence of Romanticism instilled a sense of spirituality into perceptions of mountains. Poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth dramatically changed ideas about aesthetics. Their poetry transformed mountains into an emotional landscape of awe-inspiring beauty, sublimity and grandeur, presenting visions of higher realms and a spirituality that embraced the essential unity of all existence.
Landscape painting had by the eigthteenth and nineteenth centuries become the most popular of English artistic genres. Within it, such themes as the Topographical and the Sublime related directly to the painting of mountains. ‘[S]ingularity, the singular spot meticulously described’, characterised the Topographical. It aimed to represent ‘reality’, a useful characteristic for portraying the exotic in far off counties to a Home audience. Moreover, it could capture a world daily enlarged by science and exploration, ‘commensurate at last to the capacity to wonder’, demonstrating that ‘science and sentiment, truth and taste, were inextricably mixed’.[5]
Among the favourite subjects of the Sublime, mountains could arouse feelings of terror, darkness and gloom, vastness and superior power, solitude and silence. Landscape painters used these subjects not only to ‘make us acquainted with the beautiful places of God’s earth’ but also ‘to symbolise man’s aspiration to the infinite, or a related feeling of smallness in the vast face of nature, a kind of pleasurable vertigo’.[6]
As the Romantic ideal of the moral superiority of wild nature over cultivation and civilisation pervaded literature and art the concept of ‘scenery’ emerged. At first the English ‘taking the waters’ in Europe’s spas as part of a Grand Tour regarded the alpine regions as hideous, but in time they made pilgrimages to the Swiss Alps to stand in awe of and be revitalised by the beauty of the mountains. As Mark Twain put it:
All frets and worries and chafings sank to sleep in the presence of the benignant serenity of the Alps: the Great Spirit of the Mountain breathed his own peace upon the hurt minds and sore hearts, and healed them; they could not do mean or sordid things here, before the visible throne of God.[7]
This profound change in attitude towards nature resulted in the first climb of a snow mountain in 1739. Isolated attempts by a handful of individuals, concentrated particularly on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the European Alps, saw it climbed successfully in 1786. In the half century following, ‘the prejudice against mountains and the dread of them gradually dissolved’. By 1850 alpine climbing and exploration of the European Alps had ‘advanced apace’.[8]
The ‘great age of science’ which pervaded Victorian society also influenced the relationship between humans and mountains. New scientific insights, evolutionary theories and technological innovations altered the ways people perceived their world. ‘It was a time of constant disclosure, of unlocking secrets … leading to comprehension and consequent control of the natural world’.[9]
Geographical explorations sent Englishmen into the darkest and most exotic parts of the globe, part of the ‘expansive faith’ that inspired nineteenth century British imperialism. As ‘civilised man’ trod the more-habitable areas, the polar regions and the mountains became the last unknown and unmapped places still holding the ‘charm and mystery of the Beyond’. So the future of exploration fell largely into the hands of the mountaineers. But despite new perceptions of mountain wilderness and a fascination with science and exploration, mountaineers remained a minority in Victorian society, open to both admiration for their exploits and a measure of ‘good natured chaff’ for their ‘mountain mania’.[10]
They defended their recreation in terms of widely embraced nineteenth century values, particularly the desire to overcome difficulties cheerfully for some higher ideal than material gain. It would be ‘a bad day for the Empire if these ideals are lost.’ No other sport could develop ‘the best type of manly character … Surely there can be no nobler training for a man, except that of soldier? … physical soundness, absolute steadiness of nerve, the most instant presence of mind, and a tireless watchfulness’. Mountaineering also provided an antidote to the evils of urban society and escalating moral decay: ‘in the pure air, among the unstained snow, the soul opens itself to receive inspirations that are never felt by men on the low level of the dusty street’.[11]

RESPONSES TO MOUNTAINS: ‘THE HIGH MOUNTAIN STANDING ALOOF’

Struck by the imposing presence of the New Zealand mountains, they responded in Romantic terms. Massive peaks along the Southern Alps, nineteen of which towered above 3000 metres and 220 above 2300 metres, overawed early visitors. Places like Mount Cook-Aoraki, Mount Egmont-Taranaki, and Mitre Peak, ‘the high mountain standing aloof’, became a central artistic motif.[12]
To the European traditions of Romanticism, science and exploration the New Zealand colonists added a frontier tradition. The settlers themselves focused primarily on cultivating and civilising a wild and untamed country rather than contemplating its scenic beauty or climbing its mountains. In practical terms mountains posed obstacles to settlement and development. They saw only ‘thousands of acres of land lying waste and miles of country desolate and uninhabited.’ Many felt deeply the ‘emptiness’ of their surroundings.[13]
For those runholders who pushed into the frontier high country the wilderness became an adversary. They gained stature from their attempts to subdue it. As they claimed large tracts of mountain land for sheep farming, Government surveyors hastily followed, exploring and mapping the wilderness. In Otago, penetration of the Alps did not occur until 1859-60 with the opening up of the country around Lake Wakatipu. Hard on the heels of the squatters came gold prospectors, fossicking ever further into the unknown for the elusive metal.[14]
In 1863 the Otago Provincial Council sent James Hector of the Geological Survey to find a trade route over the Main Divide to the harbours of the West Coast. In what has been described as the first real alpine adventure in New Zealand, Hector and two companions crossed a high col from the West Matukituki into the Waipara branch of the Arawata River, crossing the Bonar Glacier and spending a night at 2200 metres on the flanks of Mt Aspiring. Later that year Hector forced his way up the Hollyford Valley from the West Coast, over the Passburn saddle into the Greenstone valley and then eastwards to Queenstown. Initially hailed as a feasible route, hopes were dashed when surveyors found it impossible to build a through road.[15]
For the remainder of the nineteenth century Government employees like Charlie Douglas spent weeks at a time, exploring the remote places of the South Island, traversing glaciers and alpine passes with no more equipment than ‘colonial ingenuity’. Douglas had no regrets about his thirty years of
wandering crouched under a few yards of calico with rain pouring and the wild rumble of thunder roaring among the mountains … I know that even if I and thousands besides me perish miserably, the impulse that impels us to search the wild places of the Earth is good – a small grain of knowledge is cheaply purchased at the expense of a thousand ordinary lives.[16]
Economic exploitation of the wilderness lay behind these explorations. But it did not escape people for long that the scenic potential of the southern alpine region rivalled that of Switzerland. With adequate facilities and promotion, New Zealand might become the ‘playground’ of Australia. Douglas was under no illusion that others would move in and exploit the frontier that he had opened up, simply commenting ‘after me the deluge’.

UNCONQUERED PEAKS: ‘WORK FOR A WHOLE COMPANY OF CLIMBERS’

This second wave of mountain visitors sought very different experiences and objectives. Among them came intrepid globe trotters contemplating their next illustrated volume of travel in the Antipodes, and the scientific enthusiast, whom Douglas dismissed as ‘a two legged beast, wearing green spectacles, and carrying a hammer and bag.’ And, in the European tradition, there were those who understood that mountains provided opportunities for commercial tourism.[17]
With them came the gradual recognition that mountains presented a recreational resource that could provided healthy pastimes not only for New Zealanders but could also be exploited to attract overseas visitors. English mountaineers provided much of the inspiration and tradition for mountaineering in New Zealand. But ‘the little band of [local] enthusiasts’ that took to the mountains was also influenced by their pioneering, colonial heritage, a distinctiveness that developed along with a sense of national identity.
A Dublin cleric, Rev William Spotswood Green, is credited with introducing mountaineering to New Zealand. The epitome of the Victorian mountaineer, he considered that ‘the essence of all true sport consists in the pleasurable feelings experienced when natural difficulties, whatever they may be, are overcome by skill’. In Britain a photograph of Mount Cook and other unclimbed peaks ‘showed me enough to convince me that Mount Cook was a splendid peak, and his conquest well worth the trouble of the long journey’.[18]
Alone amongst these lovely mountains; alone with the purity and beauty which seemed quite removed from all taint of the evil and sorrow said to hang about all earthly things … if any spot can be pure and undefiled, what more likely to be so than this shining world of spotless snow? … Here was work not for a short holiday ramble merely, not to be accomplished even in a lifetime, but work for a whole company of climbers, which would occupy them for a half century of summers.[19]
Back in Christchurch he urged the founding of a New Zealand alpine club and the building of huts in the Southern Alps.

MT EARNSLAW: ‘WHICH TOWERS IN MASSIVE GRANDEUR’

At the invitation of William Matthew Hodgkins, a Dunedin barrister and father of Frances, Green agreed to make an attempt on Mount Earnslaw, an unclimbed peak at the head of Lake Wakatipu. From Glenorchy the party, including Dr J.H. Scott, dean of the University of Otago medical school, and guided by Harry Birley, a shepherd and son of the local hotelier, they made their way up the main ridge until ‘the snow falling thickly … we turned our backs on Earnslaw and began our retreat.’ Green felt that with more time ‘how delightfully we could have put in a fortnight’s mountaineering from Glenorchy’.[20]
This expedition marks the beginning of recreational mountaineering in New Zealand and its first tentative steps in Otago. Back in Britain, Green advocated the emigration of Swiss guides to train inexperienced young New Zealanders, whom he considered at risk of breaking their necks in their new ‘playground’. But the New Zealanders set about building their own tradition without them, teaching themselves the art of mountaineering in the hard school of trial and error.[21]
Three years later, in 1885, Malcolm Ross, a young Dunedin journalist, headed for ‘the celebrated Mt Earnslaw, which towers in massive grandeur above all the surrounding mountains at the Head of Lake Wakatipu’. Apart from being fit and having read Green’s The High Alps of New Zealand, his expedition typified the ‘pluck and daring’, colonial ingenuity and self reliance of the early New Zealand mountaineers. Ice axes being unobtainable, he improvised from a manuka sapling and the blades of a sheep shear. Shortened horseshoe nails sufficed for studs in his boot soles. With two companions and Harry Birley, whose experience with Green had made him determined to reach the summit, the party reached the glaciers below the summit. But lack of proper equipment and time, and threatening weather, obliged them to retreat. They had at least seen at close quarters the pinnacles and crevasses of what came to be called the Birley Glacier, ‘with its hundreds of waterfalls, like threads of silver, disappearing over the rocky walls’ as well as the glaciers and snowfields of Anstead and Tyndall away to the north.[22]
Despite cautions from Green, in 1887 Ross returned with Norman Grant of Dunedin and T.M. Grant of the Survey Department, Wellington. The trio explored Earnslaw as far as Kea Basin, below the eastern glacier, proceeding around the north spur of Leary Peak where they discovered the Grant Glacier and a pair of waterfalls which they aptly named The Sisters. They then moved on to observe the ice slopes, glaciers and avalanches, and the complex geography of the Forbes Range, but never ventured above 2400 metres.[23]
Towards the end of the 1880s Birley made another attempt on Earnslaw with a companion, this time from the Dart Valley, but again had to abandon it. In the meantime guests at Mount Earnslaw hotel could take a guided two and a half day excursion to within 200 metres of the summit at a pound a day for the guide and ten shillings for a horse. During one of these Birley made the first ascent of Leary Peak before, on 16 March 1890, making a solo first ascent of Earnslaw itself. His companion, Dunedin photographer Fred Muir, lacking an ice axe, waited at the foot of a steep ice wall near the summit where he photographed ‘some of the glories of this wide expanse of grandeur and loveliness’. On the summit Birley built a cairn. In it he left a marked shilling and a record of the date as proof of his ascent.[24]
An Otago Witness article illustrates some of the predominant characteristics of and attitudes towards mountaineering that followed this ascent. It sensationalised the danger of the exploit and praised Birley’s bravery. In fact, by climbing alone he had committed one of the cardinal sins of mountaineering, although in the circumstances even the normally cautious Ross could excuse him. Birley’s achievement marked ‘the crowning performance in the career of a young man of outstanding imagination, persistence and real climbing ability’. He had not only extended the bounds of the possible but also the bounds of knowledge, by noting the summit’s physical aspects, the flora and fauna on it and its value as a geographical vantage point.[25]
It would be two years before another party climbed the East Peak. In 1892 Ross, his wife Florestina and brother Kenneth, together with Birley and a local settler, D. McConachy, encountered ice on a series of overhanging ledges near the summit. Birley, testing the way ahead, lost his footing, coolly clinging with one hand to the edge of a precipice until he could be assisted up. Mrs Ross went back with McConachy, the others continuing the ascent until Birley, plagued by illness, fainted near the summit. The brothers made the summit alone, finding the cairn and the shilling and vindicating Birley’s character among the doubters. Mrs Ross’s ‘plucky character’ set a precedent for women in alpine adventure in the Otago alps.[26]

CANTERBURY CONNECTIONS: ‘A BAND OF ENTHUSIASTS’

Meanwhile, in Canterbury a small band of enthusiasts inspired by Green, including former schoolfellows George Mannering and Marmaduke Dixon, had focussed on scaling Mount Cook. What they lacked in experience, they made up for with their enthusiasm and audacity, learning from their failures. By 1891 they had climbed a few peaks in the Tasman district and their near success on Cook had attracted public interest.[27]
In Dunedin, William Hodgkins and Malcolm Ross had set about forming an alpine club, a step also followed in March 1891 by Canterbury climbers. At the request of the latter the Otago group agreed to form a single New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC), marking an important step in the development of New Zealand mountaineering.[28]
Formation of the NZAC formalised the association of hitherto isolated and loosely connected individuals. They described themselves as ‘merely a band of enthusiasts, who for sundry reasons love the mountains and love to climb them and explore their fastnesses’, but their new identity allowed them express their common and varied, albeit characteristically nineteenth century, interests and aspirations. Their objectives, set out in the first issue of the New Zealand Alpine Journal, included the acquisition of information about the formation and topography of the New Zealand mountains; opening the more accessible parts to tourists; inculcating a knowledge of climbing principles; encouraging alpine art, literature and photography; and recording the adventures and scientific observations of members and subscribers. The biennial Journal enabled the NZAC, handicapped in its early years by limited numbers, to establish and mould the club’s identity, and its members to define the social meaning of climbing in a distinctively New Zealand context.[29]
A.P. Harper, who had climbed in the Swiss Alps while studying law at Oxford, became one of the legendry and enduring patrons of mountaineering. With his friend Charlie Douglas he made several epic explorations in the West Coast ranges. Like Douglas, he felt very strongly that explorers and surveyors should have due credit for opening up and mapping regions, making them accessible to the climbers who followed. The Journal provided a means of doing so, paying tribute to their work as ‘the beginning of a chapter’ that had ‘paved the way to our noble mountains’.[30]
At the same time, mountaineering provided an aid to exploration. Summits and passes often provided a vantage point from which to unravel the complex geography of ranges, glaciers and valleys beyond. Douglas himself, credited as an experienced and ‘cool headed climber’ is known to have climbed at least two mountains, Iona and Ragan in the Aspiring region, to facilitate his survey work.[31]

AMPLE SCOPE AND OPPORTUNITY: ‘INTO THE VERTICAL UNKNOWN’

This sense of mountaineers as explorers applied particularly to the first ascent of a virgin summit. The uncertainty of traversing unknown ground provides one of the most powerful motivations for a climber. First ascents are by their nature oncers. Those who follow must of necessity reintroduce the element of uncertainty by such devices as searching for new approaches and routes, or by placing restrictions on gear, technique and personnel, as had already happened in the Swiss Alps. Ross, for example, claimed to be the first amateur to climb Mount Earnslaw as distinct from Harry Birley whom Ross regarded as a professional guide.[32]
The vast New Zealand virgin field provided climbers with ample scope and opportunity as well as a great source of pride. ‘We have it all to ourselves in this out of the way corner of the world, and scarcely a peak has been touched as yet, and there are thousands of them all waiting to test the mettle of our young club’.[33]
From the outset it had been recognised that these unique New Zealand conditions would ‘always tend to develop a different kind of climber’. The lack of anything like the highly developed Swiss guiding and accommodation system favoured ‘colonial training and the native independence of the colonial youth … they being without guides, are forced to learn and do many things for themselves which the English climber leaves to his guide and never learns’. The easily accessible mountains of Otago would, Ross believed, ‘not be without some influence in framing the character of Southern New Zealanders’.[34]

SPARSE YEARS: ‘A SMALL NUCLEUS OF ENTHUSIASTS’

Ross had, however, overestimated potential enthusiasm for ‘the most noble of manly sports’. The 1890s were in fact sparse years for mountaineering in Otago, although Mount Earnslaw continued to attract visitors to the Wakatipu. A somewhat sensational newspaper account of the dangers of one such climb in early 1893, guided by Birley, stirred up local rivalry. In April James Wilson and Joseph Leary, a Cardrona miner, made their own ascent, later telling a journalist that ‘to anyone accustomed to mountaineering the danger is nil’. The NZAC Journal cautioned that while Earnslaw might not be difficult to climb under favourable conditions, if novices took to climbing it and ‘neglecting some of the best known principles of mountaineering [it] will not be long in claiming a terrible revenge’.[35]
Meanwhile qualified members of the NZAC rose from the original 19 in 1891 to 38 in 1895, of whom 6 lived overseas, and unqualified subscribers rose from 11 in 1892 to 35 in 1895, half of whom resided overseas. Despite the prestige lent by international members, the scattered nature of the membership meant the club relied heavily on a small nucleus of enthusiasts centred on the Christchurch executive. This small group strove valiantly to give some impetus to club activities. Winter lanternslide and photographic exhibitions of alpine scenery attracted a large audience. Papers read at annual meetings appealed to a range of alpine enthusiasts, particularly those papers discussing geology and glaciation. The Journal published articles ranging from the geology of Otago to travels in the Andes. The successful scaling of Mount Cook on Christmas Day 1894, by Jack Clarke, George Graham and Tom Fyfe, spurred a number of other first ascents in the Tasman district.[36]
In contrast there had been very little NZAC activity in Otago. Of the six or seven local members, half belonged to the Ross household. During this initial stage of mountaineering in Otago Mount Earnslaw had dominated. G.C. Pasco and a party of six climbed a saddle overlooking the Arawata Valley and Bonar Glacier and made a partial ascent of Aspiring in 1893. Of the others, Dr W.S. Roberts, J.T. Large and Robert Paulin, had all made their qualifying climbs or excursions in either the 1880s or in 1890. Although this handful of mountaineers had broken new ground and established a tradition that could form a basis for future development, their numbers and experience had never been adequate to sustain interest in climbing Otago’s mountains.[37]
By 1896 the NZAC itself had ceased to function, as members of the vital Christchurch nucleus transferred to other parts of New Zealand. During 1895 activities had gradually died away, subscriptions went uncollected, meetings lapsed for want of attendance and Journal articles remained unprinted. Sometime during this period Ross moved to Wellington and apparently did not find the time while there to return to the Otago Alps.[38]

TWENTIETH CENTURY RESURGENCE: ‘FINE PEAKS AND GLACIERS’

Towards the end of the 1900s, however, Hugh Wright, a Dunedin merchant, found himself in the Wakatipu district at a time when ‘it was almost impossible to get anyone to join … expeditions’. Eventually he cajoled Joseph Walker into climbing the East Peak of Earnslaw before setting their sights on a journey to Martin’s Bay via the Harris saddle and a first ascent of Mount Tutoko.[39]
They had to call the expedition off when Wright, trying to shoot a weka for the pot, put a ‘nice clean hole’ through a finger. Undeterred by that experience, on 29 December 1912 Wright and two companions, J. Robertson and Professor H.D. Bedford, made the first climb of Turret Peak, Mount Earnslaw, from the Dart Valley, followed by the first traverse of East Peak before descending the Bedford Valley into the Dart.[40]
Meanwhile, in 1908 Dr Ebenezer Teichelmann from Hokitika had set out to explore the Waitoto Valley and, if possible, make an ascent of Mount Aspiring from the west. Accompanied by guide Alex Graham and local runholder Denis Nolan, he got as far as the summit of Glacier Dome. Running out of time, he had to forego an attempt on Aspiring itself.[41]
In November 1910 a comparatively novice English climber of independent means, Captain Bernard Head, made the first ascent of Aspiring. Accompanied by guides Alex Graham and Jack Clarke, Head tried first to approach the mountain from the east branch of the Matukituki River. Finding no obvious line of attack, the party shifted to the west branch from which they were able to find a way across the Quarterdeck and the Bonar Glacier before making their way up the west face. Heavy overcast weather, a rising wind and storm clouds advancing from the north cut short their stay on the summit. Nevertheless, the view of a ‘wonderful array of unclimbed peaks and unexplored country’ made a deep impression on Head.[42]
He returned in December the next year, 1911, with Jack Clarke and J.D. Murphy as guides, making the first crossing from the West Matukituki to the upper Dart basin via the Cascade Saddle. Finding the maps of the area deficient, Head returned in January 1914, with Lieutenant J. Ferrier, Jack Clarke and F. Leonard of the Government Survey to rectify the discrepancies.
Wright and Robertson returned to the Forbes Range in February 1914, making the first ascent of the West Peak, the true summit of Earnslaw, hitherto considered by Birley to be ‘not scalable by human feet’. They followed this by making a first ascent of Centaur Peak. Simpson and Wright made first ascents of Mounts Tyndal and Anstead, followed by a traverse of the three ‘domes’ on the Dart-West Matukituki divide. From there a study of the Arawata river system and the ranges to the west established further mapping errors.
During March Ferrier, Wright and Clarke made a first ascent of Mount Clarke. They then traversed and explored the Whitburn Glacier before making a first ascent of two nearby peaks, which they christened Marion Tower and Brownlow Tower. Two attempts on Mount Edward from the Whitburn failed in bad weather. Before Wright returned to Dunedin he made a solo first ascent of ‘a bold rock peak’ in the Forbes range which he named Mount Head, rounding off the day by climbing two minor peaks to the north of Head, naming them Ellie and Moira.[43]
Head, Clarke and Ferrier persevered on Edward, making a successful ascent on March 11. From the summit they had a view Head described as ‘absolutely superb, Mt Cook, Tasman and Malte Brun standing out distinct and sharp … Aspiring in the foreground was a most perfect picture … To the west a perfect maze of fine peaks and glaciers’, with the West Coast bush and the Tasman Sea beyond. Head completed his work in the Whitburn with an ascent of Mount Lydia and a two-day traverse of the plateau between Lydia and Mount Moriori and the West Coast.
Head’s success on Aspiring encouraged others to repeat the feat. Early in 1913 Samuel Turner, the great egotist of New Zealand mountaineering, who did ‘not wish to pose as anything more than a climber of mountains, with a rare gift of balance and physical development’, heard that three amateurs planned to climb Aspiring. He telegraphed asking if they wanted a ‘step cutter and leader’. They accepted and Turner ‘was very glad to get a chance to prove that I could climb one of New Zealand’s biggest mountains and lead a party to success without the aid of a guide or porter.’ Turner discovered that the trio, H.E. Hodgkinson, J.R. Murrell and G. Robertson, had never been on an ice slope, ‘but this is the resourceful stuff New Zealanders are made of – they will have a shot at anything, no matter how difficult of success or certain of failure’.
After teaching them the rudiments of climbing, and remaining storm bound for six days, Turner finally led them up the Quarterdeck on 11 March. From there they got their first sight of the Bonar Glacier with Aspiring in the background. Head’s route up the west face had, however, been cut off by an avalanche. Turner suggested an alternative route up the Coxcomb ridge but his companions persuaded him to take the less formidable looking north-west ridge. They reached the summit at 5 pm but a storm prevented views or photographs. In the face of rain and strong wind, they became benighted part way down the mountain and had to spend a miserable time in a primitive rock shelter.[44]
The last attempt on Aspiring for some years came in December 1914. Bad weather prevented a party led by Hugh Wright from gaining the summit but they named two adjoining peaks Joffre and French after the World War One European military leaders.[45]
By the outbreak of the war, mountaineering in Otago had entered a new phase. A small number of individuals continued to explore the complex geography of the western mountains, keeping the region in the forefront of New Zealand mountaineering. To fill the vacuum left by the virtual demise of the NZAC, Wright, J.H.K. Inglis and E.A. Duncan proposed to set up a club in Dunedin. This prompted A.P. Harper in Wellington to revive the NZAC, a move supported by the Dunedin group and others in Canterbury and Westland.[46]
The war, however, not only hampered these efforts, but also had a profound effect on the way New Zealanders looked at themselves within the contexts of their social, cultural and natural environments. This became particularly evident in the ways New Zealanders thought about, painted and wrote about their landscapes in the inter-war period. A new style of landscape painting emerged, ‘hard and clear, the colours … in flat planes, and the effect is of seeing the country through a gem-like atmosphere’, focusing attention on the ‘isolation and brooding loneliness of the hills’. Similarly, from the work of authors such as Frank Sargeson and Roderick Finlayson a sense of familiarity and belonging to the landscape began to emerge, their fictional characters looking for spiritual values within the natural world, a sanctuary from the urban-suburban world.[47]

INTER-WAR REVIVAL: ‘THE PHYSICAL WELL-BEING OF THE PEOPLE’

In the inter-war period more and more New Zealanders began to look to the mountains for inspiration and adventure. The increased mobility offered by the automobile and the gradual improvement of the country’s roads contributed to this, as did a growing recognition by legislators of the health value of outdoor recreation. The Physical Welfare and Recreation Act, 1937, had as it goal ‘the maintenance and improvement of the physical well-being of the people by means of physical training, exercise, sport and recreation and social activities related thereto’.[48]
Popular enthusiasm for the outdoors first manifested itself in 1919 with the formation of the Tararua Tramping Club in the Wellington region. This heralded the formation of a wave of tramping, skiing and climbing clubs all over the country over the next decade, leading to the construction of huts and tracks. From this point, mountain recreation ceased to be the preserve of the few. In Dunedin the formation of a tramping club in 1923 attracted 157 members in the first year. The club’s magazine Outdoors summed up the resulting benefits. ‘We are no longer lonely trampers, for the cult is now fashionable, and for one walker we used to meet on the hilltops there are now probably five. Health and pleasure and good-fellowship have been our reward’.[49]
In 1923 one of the earliest Otago tramping groups to make the transition to mountaineering accomplished the first crossing from the West Matukituki into the Arawata over the Arawata saddle. Led by Eric Miller, the party then made the first traverse of the Snowball Glacier before returning back over the saddle to Pembroke (Wanaka). The following year extensions to the road up the Matukituki beyond Cattle Flat as far as Niger opened the Aspiring area up to tourist motor traffic. South-west of Aspiring, other groups penetrated into a ‘wealth of scenery that has never been exploited and in many cases even explored’.[50]
Thanks, however, to the work done over several seasons by a party of University of Otago students led by G.M. Moir, much of the Hollyford and Cleddau valleys and surrounding mountains had been explored, climbed and new tracks opened up, continuing the work begun by Grave and Talbot in the 1890s-1900s. From his own work and that of others, Moir compiled the comprehensive Guide Book to the Tourist Routes of the Great Southern Lakes and Fiords of Western Otago, N.Z., first published in 1925 and soon to become the ‘bible’ for both aspiring and accomplished adventure seekers.[51]
In 1927 a group organised by Eric Miller made the third ascent of Aspiring. Describing themselves as ‘five holiday-makers with no leader or porters, no guide except a map and compass’ they set out to prove that ‘Aspiring is not as formidable as it looks, and that anyone reared in a cold climate and with a little experience with an ice-axe can readily manage the climb’.[52]
Hugh Wright had also returned to the Otago mountains after the War, although he had by then settled in Auckland. In 1920 he and John Robertson made a first ascent of Mt Somnus, between the Upper Routeburn and the Dart. Then, in 1926, aged sixty, Wright led a party of younger climbers in a traverse from Snowy Creek Saddle to the Matukituki by way of the Shotover Saddle. This bringing together of youth and vitality with age and experience became a feature of mountaineering in Otago during the inter-war period.
In an episode strangely reminiscent of his 1913 ascent of Aspiring, Sam Turner heard that Eric Miller and Dr. Bathgate planned to climb Mounts Castor and Pollux, at the head of the Wilkin, during the 1928-1929 season. Turner wrote inviting them ‘to join his party’. They agreed and were joined by a hired porter and packman. Turner led throughout and the party left the valley believing they reached their objectives. They had, due to the vagaries of their map, in fact climbed Apollo and Mercury. Reading between the lines of Miller’s account of the trip, it is evident that Turner had not changed. ‘Though the scenery of the Wilkin Valley is delightful in the extreme, this was the only unenjoyable holiday I ever had. Even the weather was detestable’. He hoped to be able return some time to complete the missed first ascents ‘in the company of our cheerful, unselfish Otago mountaineers’.[53]
In 1929 Lillian Familton of Oamaru became the first woman to climb Aspiring. She hired Frank Alack as her guide and invited Jack Aspinall, manager of Aspiring station, of which she was part owner, to join them. The climb thus became a double first, Aspinall being the first ‘local’ to scale the mountain. Alack recalled that for a man on his first peak Aspinall did very well, ‘though I did hear his broad Lancashire voice often bemoaning the absence of “a handful of tussock”’. Extreme ice and snow conditions unfortunately gave Familton little time to celebrate on the summit.[54]
In complete contrast, two months later H.E.L. Porter of the London Alpine Club met with an ‘unclouded, stupendous panorama’. Looking across the Arawata to Mount Ionia, he decided that ‘Some day I intend to stand on its shapely summit and gaze at Aspiring from a new angle, even if I have to wait until I am a disembodied spirit’.[55]
In the mid 1920s the Government commissioned A.P. Harper to report on the scenic value and recreational potential of the New Zealand mountains. Harper advocated the establishment of a National Park covering the ‘wonderful country’ from Fiordland to the Whanganui River. This would ‘preserve for all time a public playground equal to any in the world’. It would also ensure that access and opportunity would be open to all, and the whole country could reap the benefits. Harper took care to distinguish between ‘country worth opening for settlement’ and ‘waste land’ which could be reserved for recreational purposes. Such an approach had been advocated by the NZAC as early as 1921 when it had suggested that New Zealand’s alps could become the ‘playground of Australasia’.
Harper’s report also highlighted a growing divergence between tramping and climbing groups and the tourist companies operating mountain resorts like the Hermitage at Mount Cook. Whereas the latter sought to increasingly emphasise social activities for the rich and privileged, the NZAC felt that the time had come for the Government to provide basic low rental huts in the main alpine districts for climbers of ‘smaller means’.[56]
So, by the end of the 1920s the groundwork had been laid for extensive exploration and mountaineering during the thirties. As well, the focus had shifted from Canterbury to Otago, with a strong nucleus of climbers in Dunedin. At the same time a growing number of those who had joined the tramping movement were becoming interested in climbing. Some in the mountaineering fraternity felt, however, that the NZAC had become old fashioned and out of step with the New Zealand situation. Rather than limiting membership to already-qualified climbers, ‘the real work that lies before the club … is to attract and train those who at present have no interest in the mountains’.[57]
Harper disagreed, considering the qualification requirement to be ‘an honour worth attaining.’ Such concerns could be met by closer co-operation with tramping, skiing and winter sports clubs, which could cater for those seeking to qualify for NZAC membership. Some of these organisations, however, saw such an approach as elitist, and became wary of co-operating with those they saw as ‘a set of snobs’.[58]

THE DEPRESSION YEARS: ‘A STRANGE AND DEEP FASCINATION’

As it turned out, developments during the 1930s would overcome many of these difficulties. The financial hardship of the Depression had little adverse impact on outdoor recreation. Rather, the Depression was a time of unprecedented mountaineering activity and development. When the Depression hit at the beginning of the decade the Otago University Tramping Club was up and running, and 1932 saw the formation of the Otago Ski Club. Tramping, costing little more than stout footwear and perhaps a bus or train ticket, provided a healthy diversion from the exigencies of the times.[59]
The amalgamation in 1930 of the Southern Lakes District Mountaineers’ and Trampers’ Club and the Otago Alpine Sports Club to form the Otago section of the NZAC followed concerns raised by A.P. Harper about a proposal by the Mount Cook Tourist Company to set up a chain of climbing and winter sports clubs in the main centres. These, Harper was convinced, would be used to ‘boost’ the company, to the detriment of mountaineering. H.F. Wright and Eric Miller supported his proposal that the two fledgling Dunedin groups should come under the wing of the NZAC as the Otago section, rather than fall under the ‘sinister and corrupting’ influence of the company.[60]
As membership of the Otago section grew, parties venturing into the mountains were asked to provide photographs, sketch maps and route information for future reference. The first cinematographic film of an ascent of Aspiring, taken by Roland Ellis in December 1930, would help in due course to popularise the section’s activities. At the same time a map produced from the work carried out in the Forbes Mountains and Rees Valley by J.A. Sim, Kenneth Grinling and Vernon Leader helped to rekindle interest in the area.[61]
In the summer of 1931-32 the Otago section, seeing a need to ‘to take some responsibility to see that [those newly attracted to the mountains] come to no harm’ and to provide an alternative to the old custom of learning the craft on the rope of a professional guide, conducted a climbing camp in the Rees Valley, the first of its kind. The section recognised that even had there been professionals available in Otago, those now taking to the mountains would not have the means to employ them.
Tutored by, among others, A.P. Harper himself, the camp attracted twenty-three participants. The field exercises covered all facets of mountaineering that a novice could hope to encounter and survive. It not only introduced new blood to the Otago section but also to the high alpine training ground stretching eighty to one hundred kilometres from Mount Aspiring to Mount Tutoko.[62]
Over the next few years many of those who had taken part in the camp returned to the area, undertaking extensive climbing and making new discoveries. In 1932 a party including the brothers Russell and Gordon Edwards explored the Dart and Whitburn glaciers and made first ascents of Troas and Amundsen. Over subsequent years the brothers’ diaries traced the evolution of one of the groups of young climbers who called themselves ‘Osonzacs’, members of the Otago section of NZAC, notorious for the 35-40 kilogram packs they carried.
As finances allowed, the Edwards group graduated from a single ice axe, supplemented with sticks cut from the bush, and sugar bag packs, to crampons and special purpose climbing ropes. A variety of publications, including the Clutha Leader, the New Zealand Railways Magazine, the Evening Star and the Southland News published articles about their formidable list of first ascents. By 1935 they had only Mounts Edward and Maori left to conquer, the ascent of the latter in that year being the crowning achievement of their adventures in the Dart region.[63]
In March 1935 another Osonzac, Vernon Leader, accomplished a notable first when he soloed West Peak on Earnslaw. Although NZAC policy frowned on such risky feats, Leader wrote of his experience, ‘[T]he charm of a ramble alone on local hills or the greater adventure of a climb on the higher mountains, is very real. It possesses and exercises a strange and deep fascination over the true mountaineer’.[64]
As the first-ascent phase drew to a close, other groups of Osonzacs looked to new challenges on virgin ridges, traverses and solo ascents. During the summer of 1936-37 a party led by J.H. Stevenson cramponed up the unclimbed south-west ridge of Aspiring. Accounts of this, and ascents of Glengyle, Avalanche, Rob Roy, Castor and Pollux, and Stargazer all found their way onto the pages of the New Zealand Alpine Journal, the accomplishments of the Otago section now filling a large portion of the publication.

PUBLIC PROMOTIONS: ‘OTAGO’S ALPINE CHARMS’

During the 1930s the Otago section’s winter programme included a series of illustrated lectures on bush-craft and snow-craft, rock-climbing, alpine botany and map reading, to which members were invited to bring guests. Flagstaff and Moponui, near Dunedin, and the Rock and Pillar Range in the Strath Taieri, offered opportunities for outdoor activities. The highlight of the 1931 winter programme, however, proved to be a showing of Ellis’s Aspiring film, and slides of other alpine activities. This attracted 900 members of the public to the Dunedin Town Hall concert chamber, including secondary school and university students and a ‘goodly proportion of the tourists and visitors staying at the hotels’.[65]
Proceeds from the Town Hall function allowed long-held plans for a climbing base in the West Matukituki Valley to go ahead. During the Easter week of 1932 two dismantled huts from the Waipori dam site near Dunedin were transported by packhorse to Cascade Flats and re-erected. In 1935 another Town Hall public function entitled ‘Otago’s Alpine Charms’ drew wide commercial, community and media support. It ran for two evenings and raised much of the funds needed to cut a track and build a hut in the Dart Valley. The assistance of a Government grant and the use of unemployed labour to cut the track, saw them ready for the 1937-38 climbing season.[66]
The publicity surrounding ‘Otago’s Alpine Charms’ did much to promote the recreational opportunities afforded by the Otago mountains, local and nationally. The president of the Otago Chamber of Commerce considered that the work of the NZAC in providing both mountaineering facilities and publicising the region would attract overseas tourists, benefiting a wide range of commercial interests. The Otago Daily Times also referred to ‘the benefits that must accrue to the Dominion through the development and exploitation of her mountain country’. Few realised ‘the scenic grandeur, the opportunities for healthful, vigorous alpine sport or the potential commercial advantages’ offered by the ‘rich heritage’ of Otago’s mountains. ‘[F]or a moderate cost any person has the opportunity for a healthful and enjoyable outdoor diversion which in older countries is more the privilege of the wealthy’, a sentiment very much in tune with the times.[67]
Behind these views, however, lay an assumption that Otago’s scenic and recreational resources were unlimited. No one foresaw the consequences of reducing the geographical size of areas perceived as ‘mountain wilderness’ by human intrusion. At a time of financial stagnation, when the nation found itself enveloped in a fog of doom and uncertainty, the prospect of harnessing an asset that would otherwise be ‘waste’ seemed to offer nothing but good.
So with the completion of the Dart hut in sight, in September 1937 the Otago section of NZAC lobbied the parent body ‘to have Earnslaw, Dart, Aspiring, Wilkin, Haast and Landsborough country declared national parks.’ In due course the Commissioner of Crown Lands viewed the proposal favourably, noting that most of the land requested was useless for grazing purposes. But looming war pushed aside the new park plans, which were not realised until the formation of Aspiring National Park in 1964.[68]

CLOSE BONDS: ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE SOUTHERN VALLEYS’

During the 1930s the University of Otago became a strong base for mountaineering, its students often the envy of those in paid employment. Long vacations provided the perfect opportunity for expeditions into isolated areas with difficult access. In the course of four expeditions, for example, the botanist J.T. Holloway and groups of students made fifty first ascents, crossed a dozen new passes, and the headwaters of a similar number of rivers. Eventually they penetrated beyond the Barrier Range onto the remote and hitherto untrodden Olivine Ice Plateau, sighted from the Arawata by the explorer Charlie Douglas in the 1880s.[69]
Whereas women climbers like Loui Roberts and Dorothy Theomin, both Otago section members of independent means, had hitherto tended to take guided climbs in the Mount Cook region, they now began to break new ground in the Otago Alps. In January 1933 Greta Stevenson, Ivy Smith and Lella Davidson made the first ascents by an all-women party of Leary Peak, Wright Col and the East Peak of Earnslaw. With Marion Holloway and D.Y. Allan they were also the first women to set foot on the Dart Glacier, drawing favourable comment from their male counterparts.[70]
Following the outbreak of war with Germany in September 1939, a Christmas climbing camp in the West Matukituki attracted 107 participants. People came from every section of the NZAC, the Otago and Tararua tramping clubs, and the Canterbury Mountaineering Club, as well as a contingent of two Australians. During the week groups of climbers, almost half of which included women, made some fifty ascents of surrounding peaks. The Alpine Journal described the women as decided acquisitions to the climbing parties.[71]
The presence of A.P. Harper and G.E. Mannering at the camp, on the fiftieth anniversary of their only previous climb together, brought a sense of history to the occasion. The pair celebrated with a climb to Hector’s Col at the head of the Matukituki Valley, while two Wellington climbers repeated the crossing Hector had made from the valley to the West Coast seventy-seven years earlier, drawing a sense of ‘admiration for the hardy explorers … handicapped through meagre and inadequate equipment’ who had blazed the trail.[72]
While most Osonzacs gravitated further afield to meet new challenges in such places as Mount Cook and the Hopkins-Huxley district in North Otago, many retained close bonds with North-west Otago. They had served their apprenticeship there and retained fond memories of its combination of rivers, bush and high mountains. They realised ‘just how beautiful are the southern valleys, and how barren and unfriendly in comparison are the great moraines and ice-slopes of the Tasman’.[73]
The North-west Otago mountains, whose contours they had come to know intimately, took on a personality of their own, a combination of beguiling beauty and frustrating indifference, wrapped in the mercilessness of the elements. They demanded a knowledge of snow and ice conditions, the reading of weather signs and a good dose of caution in all things. Despite accidents and tragedies, they gave a deep sense of pleasure in triumphing over obstacles, providing food for the soul and the sentience that comes from immersion in the natural world.
So, the Osonzacs developed a sense of identity inextricably rooted in Otago. A booklet published during World War Two, which included the ‘Osonzac Anthem’ and other songs written during the 1930s, served to preserve the legends, strengthen the bonds between members separated by the hostilities, and keep alive the ‘Spirit of the Hills’. Devoid of any Romantic allusions, this ‘mountain poetry’ kept alive the abounding good humour and the familiar friendships that crowded their memories:
For we are the Osonzacs/ From the far Otago tracks,/ Far away from home we long to roam;/ With swags on our backs,/ Yes! We are the Osonzacs,/ And we love our bulging packs,/ Shout it out loud, for we are proud/ We are the Osonzacs!!!

CONCLUSION: ‘WE HAVE COME TO KNOW OURSELVES’

Mountaineering, as a relationship between people and nature, is an expression of culture, a response to the physical environment akin to that of the writer or the artist. As a physical response to the natural environment, climbing mountains finds expression in both the pilgrimage to the ‘sublime’ places of the mountains and the challenges mountaineers perceive in such surroundings. As well, perceptions of mountains and the recreational opportunities they provide offer an insight into social and economic preoccupations at particular times, giving mountaineering a social meaning.
Victorian mountaineers referred to their pursuit as an ‘art’. Mountaineers included ‘not only one who climbs mountains, but anyone who likes to walk, read or think about them.’ Its lack of ‘rules too rigid to admit a wholesome influx of new and original conception’ made it an ‘art or craft’ rather than ‘an organised game’. And in the Victorian mind, mountaineering had parallels with exploration, warfare and adventure.[74]
The experiences of the Great War, however, severed any links that might be drawn between a sojourn in the mountains and the battlefield.[75] The tragedies of that war shattered Victorian illusions as to what ‘glory’ and ‘honour’, ‘pluck’, ‘gallantry’ and ‘manliness’ meant, and marked a divide between two phases of mountaineering in North-west Otago.
One of the profound differences between the two eras is that what had hitherto been a trickle of interest in mountaineering became a flood. Greater accessibility to the mountains and increased leisure time played a part in this. As well, the role of recreation in society changed dramatically in the inter-war period. The establishment of local mountain clubs, the enthusiasm for track and hut building and Government support for recreation schemes are all symptomatic of this. In 1937 the Physical Welfare branch of the Internal Affairs Department emphasised the importance of backcountry recreation in promoting ‘wholesome and healthful activity’. In 1939 the Hon W. Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, took this further when he announced the intention of the Government to provide further track and hut accommodation ‘to open up for health-giving and the enjoyment of the people other parts of our beautiful Dominion which have too long remained inaccessible’.[76]
Community support for the activities of the Otago section of NZAC during the Depression of the 1930s demonstrates the power of mountains to capture the public imagination. The economic hard times also heightened awareness of the significance of recreation in society, strengthened support for projects like the Dart hut, and kindled hopes that the development of a tourist and recreation resource would help revive the local economy.
For the mountaineers themselves ‘health, self-knowledge, aesthetic pleasure and incomparable adventure’ provided the basic source of pleasure that drew them to the mountains.[77] But there were also more fundamental historical, social and cultural forces at work that stimulated people to seek out such rewards in the inter-war period.
For those who survived the Great War, the mountains provided not merely an escape from a shattered world but somewhere to build new hopes. Here too they could re-establish their ‘nativeness’ and discover the ‘real’ New Zealand of their dreams and aspirations. In an increasingly organised and ‘rationalised’ world of rules and competition, winners and losers, the mountains provided a ‘last frontier’, a simple and informal environment in which the pioneering spirit could be revived and where character, companionship and endurance mattered most. Initially a male domain, women became accepted into it as they demonstrated their abilities and the new perspective they brought.
The pleasures, rewards and excitement these men and women discovered in the Otago Alps adds another page to the history of the Depression, highlighting their irrepressible hopes and enthusiasm in a time of gloom and disillusionment. In the course of time they would look back with nostalgia at having to ‘rough it’, their ability to make do with slender resources, their friendships and easy going outlook, and their insatiable appetite for adventure.
Their feelings of ‘really living’ and of ‘another existence’ meant that the mountains they identified with had the magic to become a place ‘infinitely precious’ to them, transforming their perceptions of life’s experiences. In Scott Gilkison’s words:
We have come to know the exquisitely personal relation which can arise between the mountaineer and the hills he loves … And, in our understanding of the hills, so we have come to appreciate the virtues and human qualities of our comrades, and, even more than ever before, we have come to know ourselves.[78]


[1]B.B. Fizharris and G.W. Kearsley, ‘Appreciating our high country’, in Southern Approaches: Geography in New Zealand, ed. P.G. Holland and W.B. Johnston, NZ Geographical Society, Christchurch, 1987, p 208.
[2]R.G. Mitchell, Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983, p 206.
[3]E. Olssen, ‘Towards a new society’, in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. W.H. Oliver, Oxford University Press, Wellington, 1981, pp 272, 278.
[4]C. Russell, Science and Social Change, 1700-1900, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1983, pp 38, 40; New Zealand Alpine Journal (hereafter NZAJ) II, 8 (1895), p 38.
[5]F. Pound, Frames in the Land: Early Landscape Painting in New Zealand, Collins, Auckland, 1983, pp 17, 23-4.
[6]Pound, Frames in the Land, pp 19-20.
[7]NZAJ, I, 1, (1895), p 10.
[8]NZAJ, II, 8 (1895). p 135.
[9]M. King, The Collector: A Biography of Andreas Reischek, Hodder and Stoughton, Auckland, 198, p, 9.
[10]A.P. Harper, ‘Scrapbook’, newspaper cutting, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, ARC-0105, MS 1164-2/58/1, Hocken Library, University of Otago, p 34.
[11]W.S. Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, Macmillan, London, 1883, pp 3, ; A.P. Harper, ‘Scrapbook’, loose newspaper cutting, and extracts from The Spectator, 28 January 1897,and Adelaide Advertiser, 9 February 1897, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, pp 24, 64.
[12]Fizharris and Kearsley, ‘Appreciating our high country’, pp 197, 200.
[13]T. McNaughton, ed. Countless Signs: The New Zealand Landscape in Literature, Reed Methuen, Auckland,1986, pp 6-8; R. Hewitt and M. Davidson, The Mountains of New Zealand, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1954, p 6.
[14]McNaughton,. Countless Signs, p 8; Fizharris and Kearsley, ‘Appreciating our high country’, p 201; W.G. McClymont, The Exploration of New Zealand, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940), 124, 141.
[15]McClymont, The Exploration of New Zealand, p 138; W.S. Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, Macmillan, London, 1883. p 71.
[16]McClymont, The Exploration of New Zealand, p 176.
[17]J.D. Pascoe, ed., Mr Explorer Douglas, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1957, p 75.
[18]Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, pp 2-3, 5-6.
[19]Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, pp 70, 210, 217-18, 287.
[20]Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, pp 100, 301, 313-15, 320-1; The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 4. Cyclopedia Co., Christchurch, 1905), p 155.
[21]Green, The High Alps of New Zealand, p 319.
[22]G.H. Scholefield, ed., A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940, p 259; NZAJ, I,1 (1892), p 31; W.S. Gilkison, Earnslaw, Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1957, pp 32-3.
[23]M. Ross, A Climber in New Zealand,E. Arnold, London, 1914, p 21; Gilkison, Earnslaw, pp 21, 23.
[24]Gilkison, Earnslaw, pp 21-2, 25, 27-9.
[25]Ross, A Climber in New Zealand, p 22; Gilkison, Earnslaw, p 26.
[26]NZAJ, I, 1 (1892), pp 38-9; Gilkison, Earnslaw, p 34. The Ross brothers and Birley then made the first successful ascent of the Triple Cone of the Remarkables in 21 February 1892. With their imposing presence and easy accessibility from Queenstown their ascent had been frequently attempted. Some of the lower peaks had been climbed but ‘the Triple Cone itself has hitherto been unconquered’. NZAJ, I,1 (1892), p 61.
[27]G.E. Mannering, With Axe and Rope in the New Zealand Alps, Longman, Green, London, 1891, pp 14-15; A.P. Harper, ‘Scrapbook’, newspaper cutting, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, p 34.
[28]NZAJ, IX, 28 (1941), p 45.
[29]NZAJ, I, 1 (1892), pp 3, 8-9; Mitchell, Mountain Experience, p 100.
[30]A.P. Harper, Memories of Mountains and Men, Simpson and Williams, Christchurch, 1946, p 79; NZAJ, I, 1 (1892), pp 12-13.
[31]Pascoe, Mr Explorer Douglas, p 40.
[32]Mitchell, Mountain Experience, pp 104-06; NZAJ, I, 3 (1893), p 125.
[33]NZAJ, I, 1 (1892), p 12.
[34]NZAJ, I, 1 (1892), pp 13, 36; M. Ross, ‘The death roll of the Alps’, Otago Daily Times, 21 February 1891, in A.P. Harper, ‘Scrapbook’, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, p 20. Ross’s vision of the New Zealand Alps being stormed by mountain ‘troopers’ may owe something to the participation of young New Zealanders in the Boer War, and another war looming in Europe at the time his book was published. See Ross, A Climber in New Zealand, pp 12-13.
[35]A.P. Harper, ‘Scrapbook’, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, p 22; Gilkison, Earnslaw, p 35; NZAJ, I, 3 (1893), pp 156-7, and I, 4 (1893), pp 229. Leary went on to guide a party on 14 March 1894, which saw the first two women and the first family on the summit – an English visitor, Mrs C.F. Price, and Mr F.H. Daniel, Miss May Daniel and fourteen year old Gordon Daniel of the Alpine Club Hotel, Glenorchy. From the summit, Leary assessed other guiding prospects but, other than writing to William Hodgkins to suggest attempting Mount Aspiring in April, at this point he is lost sight of in Otago mountaineering records. J. O’Leary, personal papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, pp 2-4.
[36]NZAC committee minutes, 21 March 1894, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, ; NZAJ, I, 3 (1893), p 158.
[37]NZAC membership record books, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, pp 1, 12, 22;NZAJ, I, 6 (1894), p 336.
[38]NZAJ, IX, 28 (1941), p 46.
[39]On the way they shared the Pyke River hut with a ‘strange expedition’ prospecting for diamonds under the guidance of a medium.
[40]Obituary, H.F. Wright, New Zealand Herald, Auckland, 25 October 1938; ‘Thirty Years Ago’, H.F. Wright personal papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, p 1; Gilkison, Earnslaw, p 36.
[41]NZAJ, VI, 22, (1935), pp 18, 24.
[42]Gilkison, Aspiring, pp 24-7; Obituary, B. Head, H.F. Wright personal papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive; NZAJ, III, 11 (1922), p 86.
[43]NZAJ, III, 11 (1922), pp 88-9. Head had intended to spend another season in the Upper Dart but lost his life serving with British forces alongside New Zealand troops during the Gallipoli campaign. Obituary, B. Head, H.F. Wright personal papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive.
[44]S. Turner, The Conquest of the New Zealand Alps, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1922, pp 6, 55, 59, 60, 63-4, 69-70; Gilkison, Aspiring, p 30. Later climbers recognised Turner’s route as one of the weak points in the mountain’s ‘defences’. In his account of the ascent Turner advocated an improved road up the valley to avoid numerous river crossings with their quicksands and waterholes, and open up ‘one of the most beautiful mountain district in New Zealand’.
[45]NZAJ, IX, 28 (1941), Supplement.
[46]NZAJ, IX, 28 (1941), p 47, Supplement; Committee Minutes, New Zealand Alpine Club, 14 July 14, 11 August, 16 September 1914.
[47]G.H. Brown, New Zealand Painting, 1920-1940, Queen Elizabeth Arts Council of New Zealand, Wellington, 1972, pp 3, 34, 35-7, 47, 51-2, 65; McNaughton, Countless Signs, pp 8-10.
[48]J.G. Hutchison, ‘Government involvement in recreation’, in Recreation in New Zealand, 1, Auckland Regional Council, Auckland,1971.
[49]Outdoors, 50th anniversary issue (1973), pp 1, 6; R. Gilkison, ‘ Early Tramping Club days’, Outdoors I,1 (September 1934).
[50]NZAJ III, 14 (1925), pp 260, 267, 272-3, 282.
[51]NZAJ III,14 (1925), p 282; Vernon Leader, interview by the author, 31 August 1988.
[52]NZAJ IV, 16 (1928), pp 4-5, 9-11. Several years of ground work and perseverance as well as assistance with transport, provided freely by the runholders at Mt Aspiring and Cattle Flat stations, contributed to their success and to that of other mountaineering parties.
[53]NZAJ IV, 16 (1928), pp 43, 51.
[54]F. Alack, Share My Joys New Zealand Books, Palmerston North, 1974, pp 95-6, 100.
[55]NZAJ IV, no.17 (1930), p 82.
[56]A.P. Harper, Report to Hon. J.G. Coates, 1 February 1926, A.P. Harper.Personal Papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive, pp 2, 10; NZAJ III, 10 (1921), p 5.
[57]NZAJ III, 14 (1925), pp 287-9.
[58]NZAJ III, 14 (1925), pp 292-3; A.P. Harper, ‘Formation of Otago Section’, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive.
[59]Outdoors, 50th anniversary issue (1973), p 9.
[60]A.P. Harper, ‘A Note on the Otago Section’ and letter R. Ellis/A.P. Harper, 14 November 1930, A.P. Harper Personal Papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive; NZAJ IV, 18 (1931), p 234.
[61]NZAJ IV, 18 (1931), pp 234-5; Vernon Leader, interview by the author, 31 August 1988.
[62] NZAJ V, 19 (1932), pp 62, 63, 65, 71, 73.
[63]Russell Edwards diary, March 1932, pp 1-2; Russell Edwards, interview by the author, 18 August 1988.
[64]NZAJ VI, 22 (1935), p 158.
[65]Otago Section Committee Minutes, 20 May 1931; NZAJ V, 19 (1932), p 116; Letter, E. Miller/A.P. Harper, 11 April 1932, A.P. Harper Personal Papers, New Zealand Alpine Club Archive. The section rounded off that winter with its premier annual dinner on October 14, memorable for its revelry.
[66] NZAJ V, 19 (1932), p 116-17; Otago Section Committee Minutes, 16 July 1934, 4 November 1935; Russell Edwards, diary, ‘Otago’s Alpine Charms’, souvenir programme.
[67]Otago Daily Times (Dunedin), 14 August 1935.
[68]Otago Section Committee Minutes, 7 September 1937, 8 June 1938; Letter, NZAC/Federated Mountain Clubs, 13 July 1939, MS 4030/44, Federated Mountain Clubs Archive.
[69]NZAJ, VI, 22 (1935), p 36.
[70]NZAJ, V, 20 (1933):, pp 252-3.
[71]‘Otago Section Matukituki Camp 1939-40’, New Zealand Alpine Club, Otago Section, Archives; NZAJ, VIII, 27 (1940), p 162. One of their number, ‘Nivey’ Niven, although reportedly having trouble ‘in the art of keeping contact with her pack’, had the distinction of making an ascent of Aspiring from Cascade Hut without the customary bivouac on the Mount French ridge, eliciting the comment that ‘she may yet annex the coveted title of New Zealand Mountaineer No. 1.’ While all this was going on, camp participants found the time to pack more than 700 kilograms of materials, including sheets of corrugated iron, up a newly cut track to build a permanent hut on the popular Mount French ridge bivouac site.
[72]‘Otago Section Matukituki Camp 1939-40’, New Zealand Alpine Club ,Otago Section, Archives, p 3.
[73]W.S. Gilkison, Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks, Whitcombe and Tombs, Auckland, 1940, p 23.
[74]G.W. Young, Mountain Craft, Methuen, London, 1946, pp v – vii.
[75]P. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory. Oxford University Press, New York, 1975, pp 13, 21-2.
[76]Letter, Minister of Internal Affairs/Secretary Federated Mountain Clubs, 5 April 1940, and article, The Press (Christchurch), 18 May 1939, MS 4030/41, Federated Mountain Club Archives.
[77]Young, Mountain Craft, p vi.
[78]Gilkison, Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks, p 112.