Aeon Magazine: Queen of Tides

Once a route to riches and empire, the sea is now lapping at the future of Venice and other great maritime cities: When I emerged for breakfast in my Venice hotel, a stylish establishment with fine furnishings and carpets, and a garden courtyard, there was a stench. Salt, sewage and seaweed had combined in a thick, rising miasma. The beautiful, ornate staircase led down to chaos. A round-faced, dark-haired boy aged about 10 stood at the top of the stairs, staring with some excitement down into the mess. He was a fellow guest and when he saw me about to descend, he pronounced solemnly: ‘Breakfast’s been cancelled. The kitchen’s flooded.’ Read the rest of Tom Griffiths’ essay ‘Queen of Tides’ in Aeon Magazine. Photo by...

Garden Review: ‘Chinese Scholar’s Garden’, Hamilton Gardens

GARDEN REVIEW: ‘Chinese Scholar’s Garden’, Hamilton Gardens PETER SERGEL & GEOFF DOUBE Introduction First-time visitors to Hamilton Gardens who arrive expecting a collection of plants in a traditional botanic garden will be in for a surprise. Rather than simply focussing on plant collections, at Hamilton Gardens the emphasis is on the gardens themselves. While botanic gardens concentrate on plant taxonomy and classifi cation, Hamilton Gardens concentrates on the cultural meanings and contexts that gardens have historically had. Throughout history, gardens have been a way of expressing the important philosophical ideas of their time, and in many respects the story of gardens corresponds with the story of human thought. There is more to be learnt from gardens than plant names. They can also increase our understanding of the beliefs and values of the people who made them. Hamilton Gardens tells the story of gardens by recreating some of the most historically important garden styles from a wide variety of times and places. The aim of this short article, the first of several, is to explain a little bit about each style of garden and to place each of them in their historical context. According to sixth century Chinese art critic Xie He, the primary aim of the artist is to capture the qi, or ‘vital spirit’, of his or her object. When painting a mountain, for example,the artist should aim to capture the essence of mountain, rather than simply aim for a representation of this particular mountain. There is a similar principle at work within the Chinese garden tradition. While it is true to say the Chinese Scholar’s Garden is...

Review: Droughts, Floods & Cyclones

REVIEW: Don Garden, Droughts, Floods & Cyclones: El Niños that Shaped our Colonial Past, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009, 414 pp., ISBN 978 1 921 509 38 4. CHRIS O’BRIEN1 Don Garden’s Droughts, Floods and Cyclones is an arresting read. As lucid as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is complex, it details the manifold manifestations of El Niño – flood, fire, drought, heatwaves, blizzards, cyclones-during three meteorologically significant periods between the mid-1860s and 1903. Focused on eastern Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti, it encompasses a diverse array of climates, economies, societies and ecologies. Crucially, this opus demonstrates how varied the effects of global scale El Niño events have been across time and space. This history shows not just variability between regions, but also variability within regions. In addition we see that the manifestations can be vastly different in the same place from one El Niño event to the next and from one La Niña to another. Moreover, it charts the broader ecological and social consequences of ENSO and human responses to these monumental events. Capturing this chaotic complexity is a remarkable achievement. Not only does it illuminate at the level of the specific and contingent rather than the general; also, it rigorously conveys the randomness inherent in weather. Recent historical studies of ENSO reflect its intricate, multi-dimensional nature. In Currents of Change (1996), Michael Glantz examines El Niño, rightly, as a global phenomenon, explaining how it came to be recognised, outlining its various phases, how it can be forecast, its place in international science and the broader social and economic implications of El Niño. Mike Davis’...

Review: Nature and Power

REVIEW: Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment. Cambridge University Press, 2008. 407 pp., ISBN 9780521616737. EDWARD D. MELILLO1 If, as Donald Worster has suggested, ‘environmental history begins in the belly’, Joachim Radkau is among the discipline’s chefs-du-jour.2 Unlike North American food journalist Michael Pollan, Radkau displays no symptoms of ‘the omnivore’s dilemma’. In Nature and Power, the much-anticipated translation of his Natur und Macht: Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt (2002), the University of Bielefeld History Professor invites his readers to feast upon a wildly eclectic array of examples and displays his enticing preparations with bold strokes. The amuse-bouche arrives in the form of such memorable phrases as, ‘The potato and coitus interruptus are key innovations of the eighteenth century’ (6) and ‘the goat was one of the winners of the French Revolution of 1789, at least during the Jacobin phase’ (23-24). These startling formulations are paired with more tame, but equally perceptive, reflections, such as Radkau’s observation: ‘No dike builder or tamer of waters stands at the center of Indian mythology; instead, the god Indra is celebrated as the liberator of the streams’ (171). Radkau’s ‘appetizers’ include sophisticated meditations on ‘the inner kinship between history and ecology’, which, as he argues, ‘lies in the fact that both disciplines train their practitioners to look beyond today at complex processes that are not discernible in a snapshot’ (27). The author pairs these cogent musings with raucous, but appropriate, juxtapositions. This is a book in which Karl Polanyi, Hesiod, John Wesley Powell, and ‘a Finnish expert’ on Neolithic axes comfortably coexist in fewer than two pages (41-42). Radkau’s...

The “Peace Gardens”, Featherston, South Wairarapa and The Chor-Farmer

Yukiko Numata Bedford1 Sixty-eight cherry trees are in full bloom each year in mid-September at the Japanese Memorial Gardens near Featherston, South Wairarapa (New Zealand). The trees have grown so strongly that blooming branches are even touching each other. People call the place the Peace Gardens. This is a story of a particular struggle, the struggle of people trying to overcome cultural differences through grassroots efforts. What is known as the “Featherston Incident” broke out at the Prisoner of War (POW) camp on 25 February, 1943, during World War Two. The people of Featherston were deeply affected by this wartime tragedy, which led to the deaths of many soldiers. Decades later, the site now stands for many as a proud symbol of reconciliation achieved through tolerance, understanding and acceptance. James Nachtwey, American war photographer, in a recent televised interview, pondered that we humans are still using the most primitive method – war – as a means of overcoming differences. But he believes that his war photographs would have the power to eventually help bring world peace.2 In his review of Michiharu Shinya’s book, Beyond Death and Dishonor: One Japanese at War in New Zealand, Vincent O’Sullivan, New Zealand writer, playwright and critic, pointed out that ‘No one who survived the Japanese and their camps in World War Two had much reason not to loathe them… It is a difficult story to forget, and to concede that there may be another side’.3 The Featherston incident The Prisoner of War (POW) camp was located at Tauherenikau, 2km east of Featherston along State Highway 2. Previously, it was the site of the...