John Andrews, No Other Home Than This: A History of European New Zealanders, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, 2009, pp. 364, ISBN: 978 1 877517 082 (hbk.).

Paul Star

Before his retirement, Professor John Andrews had a distinguished career as a zoologist at Victoria University of Wellington. His book, The Southern Ark, a history of zoological discovery in New Zealand, has had an honoured place on my shelves since its publication in 1986.[1] Over two decades later, here is a volume to place beside it.

In this new book, Andrews bravely sets out to ‘describe how one group within this society [New Zealand], the pakeha or New Zealander of European ancestry, has colonised the country and learned something about it, changed it, adapted to it, and developed some affection for it’ (299). He is well aware that, ‘in a country keen to forge its own identity and make amends for its colonial history it has not always been politic to mention the European heritage’ (292). Andrews, however, wades into it. This takes him far away indeed from his home in suburban Auckland, since he begins with the origins of Homo sapiens in Africa. The first three chapters plot the temporal, spatial and cultural journey which led to some of these humans ‘becoming European’; only in part two of the book does Andrews describe the process whereby some of these European humans have landed up ‘becoming pakeha’.

Andrews is intrigued that, after their lines of descent diverged near the River Indus about 75,000 years ago, European and Polynesian humans met up in New Zealand in 1642, having both reached these shores within about the last 750 years. His subject matter, however, is rarely those humans who got here first and their Māori descendants, and when Māori are mentioned it is mostly to say what Europeans felt about them. A parallel description would deal with those who turned right, rather than left, when leaving the Indus; what ‘baggage’ their descendants picked up along the way in Asia and the Pacific; what their descendants’ descendants did to Aotearoa, what Aotearoa did to them, and perhaps also with what they felt about Europeans.

Many New Zealanders, particularly younger ones, could benefit from some knowledge of ‘the old country’, such as Andrews provides. There is less exposure to this material than there once was and of course it remains part of New Zealand’s heritage. Personally, I learnt little new from Andrews’ potted European history; I felt it was superficial and often too loosely tied in with the book’s main purpose. For instance, while it is interesting that ‘Dürer’s The Great Piece of Turf painted in 1503 was a virtual ecosystem in a painting that was as aesthetically pleasing as it was true to life’ (88), how is this relevant? Nevertheless, part one has value as an overall survey of Pākehā’s pre-New Zealand past. Simply to have it written is important, since no-one else has attempted anything quite like this; but I did feel a sense of relief when both Captain Cook and Andrews’ book finally ‘anchored in New Zealand waters’ on page 133.

The chapters that follow discuss why Europeans came to New Zealand, what it was they came to, and the effect of each upon the other. Drawing on the work of scholars and friends, like Charles Fleming and George Gibbs, Andrews discusses the possible origins of the landmass and how this determined what species evolved, such species having either remained on or long ago reached New Zealand. Their lengthy isolation, of course, then increased their vulnerability to extremely rapid colonisation by humans and their ‘biological portmanteaus’ (the organisms settlers wittingly and unwittingly brought with them to New Zealand): ‘no other country has had to digest human impacts so intensively over such a short timespan’ (12).

We are told that ‘once colonisation was well underway a farming future for the country was inevitable’ (208), but also, and perhaps incompatibly, that ‘In spite of the ultimate success of farming ventures and the growth of farming into a mainstay of the New Zealand economy, it is a matter of some wonder, given its earlier history and the obstacles encountered, that this point was ever reached’ (215). The environmental changes brought by colonisation and agriculture are covered, followed by a brief history of conservation in New Zealand that relies fairly heavily on David Young’s Our Islands, Our Selves (2004).[2]

A further chapter catalogues the presence and influence of the landscape and native biota in New Zealand’s paintings; another deals similarly with the country’s poetry (the book’s title comes from a 1924 poem by R A K Mason). Andrews’ examples are presented more or less chronologically, though I wonder if, for those individuals born overseas – that is, for most of the earlier poets and painters mentioned, and a few later ones – the length of time spent in their newfound land, prior to when they wrote or painted a particular work, might be as significant as the date of its creation.

In the 1980s, historians like Keith Sinclair and David McIntyre identified the South African War and World War One as, Sinclair notes, productive of ‘the first unmistakeable New Zealand voices’, resulting in, as McIntyre observes, ‘a much greater sense of New Zealand identity’.[3] Like Andrews, I would rather stress the role of the country’s landscape and biota in creating European New Zealandness, but it is odd that he makes no reference whatsoever to these wars, not even to note or to dismiss the significance given to them by earlier historians.

In his final chapter, Andrews identifies a recent ‘gradual acceptance of modified landscape and alien biota as part of a more natural order, treated on a par with the wild landscape’ (298). He believes ‘this sort of compromise has been part of the journey Europeans in New Zealand needed to make if they were to properly settle in this country’, and that, in some locations, ‘the mixture of aliens and natives is to be admired rather than condemned’ (243). Here there is need to differentiate observation from opinion, but Andrews has highlighted something which contrasts with the identification, by myself among others, of an increasingly marked separation of the indigenous from the exotic in the Pākehā mind in the twentieth century, in terms of both species protection and the reservation of land.

Around a hundred years ago, the botanist Leonard Cockayne played a key part in promoting that separation, through his emphasis on specifically native flora in uniquely national parks. Cockayne wanted Tongariro National Park to extend

beyond snow and rock, down onto the lower slopes with their endemic plant cover, reasoning that ‘the special features of any landscape depend upon the combination of plants which form its garment, otherwise a monotonous uniformity would mark the whole earth’.[4] Andrews, however, has more to say about the geomorphologist Charles Cotton, who singled out the rocks for attention, rather than the plants. He believes that Cotton’s 1922 work on this ‘field-based, visual science’ explained New Zealand’s landscape, which to the country’s poets and artists became ‘a source of symbolism … greater than would be found in the flora and fauna’ (283). This is a further valuable suggestion.

In his preface, Andrews lists those ‘fields of expertise’ he has ‘raided’ to produce a book that targets ‘a more general readership’ (6). Since it is only supposed to be a summary it should not be faulted on these grounds, though perhaps it could, all the same, have been more of a synthesis or critique. An absence of original research can still leave plenty of scope for original insight, but Andrews on the whole is content just to repeat what Jared Diamond said on biological distribution, what James Belich gave as the periods of New Zealand history, and so on.[5] There is a useful 22-page bibliography that confirms that he has consulted a remarkably wide range of books but surprisingly few of the many pertinent articles by historical geographers, environmental historians and others. Furthermore, while part one is notable for its global perspective, part two, in exploring what Europeans made of New Zealand, does not utilise relevant work on other settler societies, such as that in Thomas Dunlap’s comparative study on Nature and the English Diaspora (1999).[6]

This is a beautifully produced volume from Craig Potton Publishing, with a stunning cover, clear print, and a
comprehensive index. I found only three small misprints in the 300 pages of text. Andrews’ work deserves the care his publisher has put into its presentation. He has made, in my view, a pioneering attempt to bring together the now extensive secondary source material on ‘being pakeha’, particularly where it relates to European heritage, and New Zealand landscape, flora and fauna. His book will stimulate further gathering-in and thinking-through on this subject. There is still plenty to be done.

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[1] The Southern Ark: Zoological Discovery in New Zealand, 1769-1900 (Auckland: Century Hutchinson, 1986).

[2] Our Islands, Our Selves: A History of Conservation in New Zealand (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004).

[3] Keith Sinclair, A Destiny Apart: New Zealand’s Search for National Identity (Wellington: Allen and Unwin/PNP, 1986), 126 (first quote); W. David McIntyre, ‘Imperialism and nationalism’, in Geoffrey W. Rice, ed., The Oxford History of New Zealand (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn., 1992), 344 (second quote).

[4] Leonard Cockayne, Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives, C-11, 1908, 2-3.

[5] Jared M. Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997); Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2005); James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (London: Allen Lane; Auckland: Penguin, 1996); Belich, Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the year 2000 (Auckland: Allen Lane; Penguin, 2001).

[6] Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).