Thursday, January 19, 2012

Discussion document

Dept of Internal Affairs, Historical Branch.  
Introduction to New Zealand.  
Wellington: Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1945.  

Foreword

p3 Here is a book about New Zealand. It is not, we hope a superfluous book, or a vainglorious books, or a flowery book, or a contentious book. It aims at plain and modest statement. Nowhere in these pages will you find New Zealand confused with Paradise. We don’t make absurd claims for our country. It is a little country. It is a young country; in terms of Western culture, it is no older than the states of Iowa or Wisconsin. But it is, we think, an interesting country - interesting in its history, interesting in its geography, interesting in the ways of life that have been built up within its island boundaries and in its approach to social problems, interesting in its economy. New Zealand is a democracy, with all the question-marks of democracy. It is British - it is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is New Zealand - it is independent. It is like America. It is unlike America. It grows things. It makes things. It conserves and it wastes things. It has party conflicts. It assails itself. It admires itself. It tries to learn through experience. It is noisy. It is subdued. It is the usual bundle of contradictions that makes up a democratic society. It has a certain unity. We think it is a beautiful country. We don’t say that it is more interesting or more beautiful than the United States. We don’t want to seem conceited; but we don’t want to be too absurdly humble either. And as we think our country is beautiful and interesting, and as we have written this book in answer to suggestions from our American friends, we think Americans will probably be interested in it.

Housing

p136 Speaking of an average New Zealander is really about as superficial as speaking of an ‘average’ American. But to some extent there is an average New Zealand house, the product, as in other countries, of land speculators and builders, the home of a large percentage of the population in town and country. It is usually built of wood, with a low-pitched corrugated iron roof. Its main features are its restless roof-line and fussy windows, with a high glass line and fan-lights. The plan is neat, generally with four or five rooms plus a large area of passage space, and is carefully orientated to the street frontage, irrespective of sunlight, wind or privacy. it is often well provided with modern conveniences and labour saving devices. it is comfortable and popular. It has generally a neat little garden, where the New Zealander works cheerfully and assiduously in the week-end. These houses are not designed by architects, nor are they mass-produced; they are made by independent builders. Where there is architect’s work it frequently shows the influence of English domestic styles, now chiefly neo-Georgian, or of the American revival of Colonial or Spanish Mission styles. The New Zealand architect is respectably eclectic.

Despite this ‘average’ house, New Zealand architecture during one hundred years has appeared in an amazing number of styles, copies of overseas developments. Some of the older houses preserve the simplicity and good proportions which were current when the first settlers left England - a simplicity which was endorsed by the limited money and materials of that time, and which was denied to later, more prosperous periods. There are still extant quite charming wood and adobe houses, the oldest built over a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, the stage of New Zealand’s most rapid development coincided with the collapse of architectural good taste in England, and Victorian ideas had full play with masses of office buildings and hundreds of thousands of houses. Soon there were wooden imitations of stone buildings, imperfectly Greek banks, half-timbered English cottages; steep-pitched French roofs appeared and the verandahs of Indian bungalows (admirably fitted for some parts of the country), while dominant numerically were American styles imported direct or from Australia. From 1900 to World War I and after, with the primacy in economic and social life passing to the rapidly increasing business class, the influence of America became more pronounced, and New Zealand’s suburbs and country towns reproduced all too faithfully some of the less attractive architectural aspects of the United States. The influence of twentieth century architecture, with its emphasis on sunlight, air and space, and new methods of construction in steel, glass and concrete, reached New Zealand only very recently. Town-planning has been much talked of, but suburbs still tend to sprawl widely, and speculative flats are rapidly appearing in face of the housing shortage, only merely adapted from the more lavishly built wooden houses of an earlier day

p 138 During the past few years a small but growing number of New Zealanders have become aware of new developments in architecture and are beginning to influence building. The amount of modern work is still very small, and there is need for much more education and propaganda on the aims and objects of modern ideas; but the public mind is beginning to recover from its habit of uncritically accepting mediocre designs. The modern house has arrived, though sometimes not at its best. As everywhere else, the first superficial approach toward modern housing seems satisfied with a flat roof instead of a tilted roof and windows a bit larger than previously. But with deepening understanding of modern planning, really modern houses are already being erected. There is proof that modern ideas are specially favoured by New Zealand conditions, and good reason to hope that with the increased building after the war which the acute shortage must occasion there will develop a really good style, indigenous and contemporary, growing out of the special conditions of climate and lightness of timber construction - for while reinforced concrete is now favoured for large buildings, wood will continue as the chief domestic material; while even the hills can be very stimulating for freer planning with terraces and open living spaces.

Altogether, while we frankly admit that judged by the highest existing standards, New Zealand housing is capable of much improvement, our people are to some extent getting that awareness of shortcomings which is the first step toward their elimination; it may not therefore be unduly optimistic to call the distant prospect hopeful and to envisage a future when our homes generally will be not merely functional, but pleasant, gay and humane places to live in, in surroundings which we have made the best of, as part of a communal effort.  

The writing of history

p177 For that occasion the Government entered the sphere of publishing, and in the two large volumes of its pictorial Making New Zealand, the eleven volumes of its Centennial Surveys, and Sholefield’s Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, gave the country a celebration such as no other British dominion has had. But nothing written then, nothing else probably written in New Zealand so far, is the equal of one book which may be classed as history, if it can be assigned to any class at all. This is H Guthrie-Smith’s Tutira (1921) - ‘The Story of a New Zealand Sheep Station.’

1 comment:

Robyn Gallagher said...

I am terribly thrilled to have just found a copy of this in the local second-hand bookshop for only $10.