The Hand of Man and the March of Civilisation

My Great Grandfather came to New Zealand in the late 1800’s from England via America. He was a single man with family back in England. Like many men of the day he wrote letters to his mother and siblings about his experiences in New Zealand. At the time New Zealand was largely unoccupied. Large areas of New Zealand were still unexplored and there was intermitted outbreaks of war and violence between the colonialists and Maori. In the 1870’s Albert bought an isolated piece of land in what came to be known as the Taranaki Province and he began to clear it of the dense and almost impenetrable ‘bush’ that covered most of New Zealand at the time. In one of his letters to his mother he describes the process used to clear the land of trees and vegetation. A process known as “Slash and Burn” – a process still used today in many parts of the world. Essentially some of the large and useful trees are cut down and used for timber or firewood if needed and what is left is hacked at and then burned off to make way for pasture or crops. He wrote of the sight it left behind.

It is a fearful sight I think.

Great trees blackened and split with the fire, rearing their heads up so gaunt and bare and those that have fallen laying about the ground in such a jumble you cannot conceive.

To look from the clearing to the bush is a contrast, in the bush the tree palms, and all the other things green and beautiful and then the clearing, you can see the hand of man and the march of civilisation.

I will never forget the first time I read his letters, there are hundreds of them, many merely a banal and everyday record of his life in colonial New Zealand. But at times the beautiful isolation of the land and its violent destruction at his hands clearly effected him. I like to think of him as the first environmentalist in my family – although i guess there may have been more before him. He had many children, was widowed and married again, his son (George) was my grandfather and he farmed the land after him, as did my father Ronald after him and now my sister Kama keeps watch. Albert left one piece of bush standing on our farm, it still stands today. My connection to the land is blood deep, bone deep. I am not separate from the land I am of the land. Nature is not another, I am natural.

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