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Kiwis Talk Frankly About The Bush

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Kiwis Talk Frankly About The Bush

In defiance of the Poms who, in times gone by, suggested New Zealanders should stop talking about the bush so as not to scare tourists, Going Bush: New Zealanders and Nature in the Twentieth Century (Auckland University Press) was launched last night at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

A full and frank reconnaissance of the kiwi relationship with the great outdoors, Going Bush is also populated by rather more phlegmatic, rough-hewn bushmen and obstreperous schoolchildren, picnickers in shirt-waisters and three-piece suits, mountaineers and scandalously bare-legged lady trampers.

Courageously risking our national tourist industry, author Kirstie Ross blazes a trail through nature, past school gardeners and prize-winning carrots; trampers and deer cullers; memorial plantings and national parks; caravaners and Young Farmers’ Club members; litterbugs and vandals.

Born in Kawerau and brought up in Napier, Ross developed a life-long obsession with bush survival after reading at primary school the classic My Side of the Mountain, which describes how a young boy lived in the wilderness in upstate New York.

After tramping New Zealand, trekking in Nepal, climbing Ben Nevis and busing across the US, she returned to university in 1992 to study history culminating in a 1999 MA thesis which looked at the landscape and its place in New Zealand culture from a fresh perspective.

“I wanted to see whether I could write a cultural history of nature rather than a history of conservation and national identity and my new book Going Bush is a further elaboration of these ideas.”

“Nature has become national culture”, said Dr Deborah Montgomerie at the launch of Going Bush.

“In 1969 when Wayne Mason sat down on his girlfriend’s front porch in Lower Hutt and wrote the lyrics for ‘Nature’ – voted the best New Zealand song of the past 75 years in 2001 – he was not seeing falling leaves through unsullied eyes but through the lens of culture. When misty eyed New Zealanders abroad wax lyrical about the birdsong, the smell of the forest and the beauty of the landscape, they too are constructing their identity around nature via the lens of culture.”

Going Bush, by dint of Kirstie Ross’ hard work and historical acumen, makes a major contribution to helping us understand how and why this has occurred, and is powerfully relevant to debates over our relationship with the natural world today.

Going Bush: New Zealanders and Nature in the Twentieth Century by Kirstie Ross
Published by Auckland University Press, with assistance from the Department of Conservation
AUP Studies in Cultural and Social History #5
Paperback, illustrated, RRP $39.99

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