Author’s sense of place unparalleled
History mingles with personal stories defining this part of New Zealand
Anew photographic journey across the South Island’s 45th parallel is accompanied by a quirky history and very personal musings by Dunedin author Laurence Fearnley. The photographs of Arno Gasteiger in 45 South start at the Waitaki River Mouth on the east coast and, sticking as closely as possible to the 45th parallel, travel through the Kyeburn Diggings, Oturehua, Becks, Lowburn, Arrow Junction, Ben Lomond above Queenstown and on to the Eglington Valley before the West Coast. Fearnley said the collaboration came about after an approach from publishers Penguin following the success of Gasteiger’s earlier book Central. ‘‘They knew I’d spent a lot of time writing about the area. They wanted not just an overview of the area but a special response. It meant I could use my personal experiences as a start to paint and view the history and other stories around that.’’ She began with three focal points as hubs, Danseys Pass, Roarin because of the time she had spent kayaking and tramping there. Her research focused on offering a very broad history of the areas, ‘‘not just gold mining and tourism’’, and was accompanied by extensive travel. ‘‘I wanted it to be a bit quirky. ‘‘It’s not an academic history of the area, more like the human stories that have captured my imagination. I’m a novelist really so I was capturing the stories that sparked something in my imagination.’’ A favourite was the story of the wife of Eben Ernest Hayes. Renowned for inventing wire strainers and rabbit poison at Oturehua, he had difficulty finding buyers. He called on wife Hannah, mother of 10 and a former sewing teacher, to cycle as far as the Lindis Pass and Mackenzie Basin with samples of the products while her 12-year-old daughter stayed home
looking after the younger children. ‘‘In my mind’s eye I can see Hannah biking along the rough shingle roads and I wonder if she enjoyed her time away from her domestic chores and duties . . . ‘‘Did she look forward to it? Was it a relief? Was she filled with trepidation?’’ As the book progresses through photographs of Central Otago the reader comes across two incredible star-scapes and a chapter on stars traversing, the Arabic names for constellations, Maori folklore and the smell of thyme. A particularly poignant moment is Fearnley’s own emotion as she stands at Lowburn and reflects on the once wind-swept lake she kayaked, now destroyed forever by the Clyde Dam and Lake Dunstan. ‘‘There was sadness at the Lowburn pub and Cromwell garage,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s all gone and it goes so quickly, and I’m not someone who lived in the area. ‘‘This is a major part of the local history that’s just wiped out. ‘‘That was the saddest section for me. It really struck a nerve.’’ The book, she said, is not just focused on landscape or wilder- ness. ‘‘It’s a peopled landscape as well. ‘‘They do the mining, have the vineyards, grow trees, have golf courses. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive.’’ The photographs move through Cromwell to the Crown Range, Michael Hill’s golf course, Ben Lomond, Little Paradise and into Fiordland, finishing with the only real deviation from the 45th parallel – Mitre Peak. The symbolic value of the peak made it part of the narrative, she said in the book. From the top there are views into the lush green and naturalness of Fiordland and the sea but is also surrounded by the scenic flights and boats trawling up and down, and the tourist commentary can be heard. Mitre Peak represents threshold, she said. ‘‘It is a mountain that separates civilisation from wilderness but,
a more prounouncedly, it is a place where you experience a time difference, that of the ancient and modern worlds colliding.’’ And finally, the story of the 45th parallel ends with a view along the West Coast towards the south at the entrance of Caswell Sound – rugged, unpeopled and wild.
Penned by: 45 South author Laurence Fearnley.
The book: 45 South.
Breath-taking: Lake Wakatipu, by photographer Arno Gasteiger.