History Thawing Quietly

Having been away in Auckland and Christchurch for back-to-back Antarctic conferences these past 2 weeks, you could say that I have ice on the brain. Sure, I’m back home now, but the thaw is slow. The quiet of Methven is helping, because now that I don’t have the roar of background traffic to contend with I can finally core down into the story gems I have collected – the odd local one included.

Christchurch is full of Antarctic paraphernalia and historic sites of ice, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s trusty tractor at the Canterbury museum, and the famous marble statue of Captain Scott, carved by his widow, which is currently undergoing repair work. Lady Scott spent time in the Garden City, as did Sir Douglas Mawson. That’s is not surprising; cities are places of bustle, full of ports and people, so they have more of a chance of attracting famous figures that will later stand out in history.

Ashburton can boast a slice of that history as well, thanks to a farmer named George Buckley and an explorer named Ernest Shackleton. George Buckley donated to Shackleton in the lead up to the explorer’s 1907 Nimrod expedition, the aim of which was to try to reach the geographic South Pole. When Buckley subsequently turned up on the docks to farewell the ship, his impromptu request to join the journey south was approved. The farmer travelled as far as the pack ice, taking charge of several ponies during the journey, before transferring across to the steamer the Koonya – which had towed the Nimrod south – and leaving Shackleton’s team to press on towards the continent alone. The Koonya headed back north, bound for cows and home, and laden with tales of excitement from the edge of the world. So it was that Buckley became one of, if not the, first Antarctic tourists. These days yearly visitor numbers may top 40,000, but the modern day tourists had to follow in the footsteps of someone.

Mid Canterbury may often be overlooked when it comes to the adventure stakes, but this tale from the days when the world was black and white shows that living on the plains is no barrier to developing an intrepid disposition.

Meanwhile, Buckley’s generosity in supporting the Antarctic expedition lives on, with ‘Buckley Island’ named by Shackleton in his honour. Antarctica has strong connections to places throughout Canterbury, and it is not just the big smoke that can narrate traces of our icy past.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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A Merry Mainland Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, bake Christmas cookies and prepare for an influx of visitors from the North Island. This year my parents and sisters are all coming down to Canterbury for Christmas, so as well as having to leave a reminder note for Santa in our letterbox, I’ll have a chance to show my family around this part of the country. Putting together the itinerary for our first southern family Christmas, I realised how many amazing places I’ve visited over the course of the past year: Hills, rivers, ski runs, and all manner of shows. Ten days suddenly seemed short in the face of all the activity possibilities.

While my nearest and dearest will miss the annual A&P festivities, my certificate for third place tomatoes in the Methven Show still has pride of place in the middle of the fridge some 9 months later.  Complemented with a good helping of salad greens from my garden, that should reinforce to them the agricultural nature of my new abode. If not, there’s always the agricultural centre in Methven, and plenty of machinery out in the paddocks so my visitors can practice their newfound ability to distinguish a spreader from a windrower.

Once outside, it makes sense to head for the hills. Given that one of my sisters has only ever been to Ashburton and Invercargill, a little high country hiking couldn’t hurt her perceptions of all the delights the Mainland entails. Then there’s always a visit to Erewhon, home of work horses and southern-man vistas. The last time the streets of Auckland saw horse drawn carriages was back in the days when the world was black and white, so heading up in the hills for a wagon ride, free from the scourge of honking horns and endless traffic lights, is sure to be something new.

Then there’s Mt Hutt, where many a weekend was spent this winter, learning to defy gravity and remain upright on the slopes of snow. Thanks to the hemisphere and the season, skiing is not an option right now, but mountain biking could provide a similar summer thrill if my family are daring enough. Alternatively, there are the rivers to explore. We dared to take a ride up the gorge in the Rakaia jet gorge earlier in the year, and the sights it yielded were the stuff of geologists’ dreams, rich with sediment layers and glacial moraine. They also convinced me for the first time that the postcards at the local Four Square are not photoshopped after all, despite the luminous turquoise of the water.

This part of New Zealand has expanded my vocabulary of blues significantly, thanks both to the natural environment, and to the range of exhibitions at the Ashburton Art Gallery that have captured that environment from so many different perspectives. My mother is a children’s librarian, so a visit to the gallery’s David Elliot exhibition, complete with all the original illustrations from the picture book ‘Henry’s Map,’ is sure to make her day.

There will be no beaches and no malls with crowds to throng through come yuletide eve, but I have a feeling this southern Christmas will really be one for my whole family to remember. Season’s Greetings, everyone!

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian