Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Anzac Day

The Anzac Day commemoration took place at dawn at the Otautau War Memorial with a fairly large group of people. Mr. A. Campbell was officiating (pictured left). I missed the first part of the ceremony where the wreaths are laid but was present for the readings from scripture, hymns and raising of the flag. With those elements solemnly completed, the crowd formed a long parade behind the pipers, police and scouts, and marched toward the Town Hall. I rushed ahead in front of the parade to get pictures but my camera was not set for the lowlight levels and everyone was just a 'blur'. Next year, I'll skip the photos and just take a video for the blog.

Shortly after the Anzac ceremony, while people were visiting in the Town Hall, the museum opened its doors, hoping to catch visitors as they strode by. Graham Barkman and John Low, members of the museum trust, had put together an exhibition called Military Memories. There are original uniforms, hats and memorabilia from both world wars including a telescope captured from a German soldier and a German leaflet from WWII saying "Ei sorrender " (I surrender).

One of the things that I felt was most moving was the painting of the soldier from WWI and a copy of a letter he had written to his brother. He talked about the trenches and how little sleep they got when they had to be in them. He said he could give more news about the war and what's happening but the powers that be wouldn't approve. He wished everyone well at home. Below the painting is the soldier's obituary. When I checked the dates, he had died just four days after writing the letter.

The display also features photographs of the first military organisation in Western Southland - the Wallace Mounted Rifles. This group originally formed in Nightcaps in the early 1900s but the headquarters were moved to Otautau after a few years. Apparently they specialised in horseriding and rifle-shooting among other things. One photo, taken at a training camp, features them on their horses, side by side. Quite impressive. The Wallace Mounted Rifles were ultimately amalgamated into the Southland Mounted Rifles by the time WWI began in 1914.

Of course the point of the exhibition is not to glorify war but to remember the people from our town who served; to consider the governments of the day that decided to send our soldiers into battle; and hopefully to be mindful to avoid such tragedies in the future by electing leaders who have a commitment to peace. As the slogan goes, war is nothing but a lack of imagination.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A first for Otautau and Southland

In December 2007 a site near Otautau was selected for the release of a new insect to aid in the fight against broom (Cytisus scoparius). The broom leaf beetle (Gonioctena olivacea) is a broom specialist and cannot eat any of our native plants including our native brooms (Carmichaelia spp.). Although this insect was released in Canterbury in 2006 this is the first time it has been released in Southland. Fifty male and fifty female beetles were released in a large patch of broom - this site will be checked again in spring/summer 2008 to see if the population has become established. This release is part of the Biological Control of Weeds Programme run by Environment Southland. Biological control (or biocontrol) was recently defined as:

“(T)he use of living organisms to suppress the population density or impact of a specific pest organism, making it less abundant or less damaging than it would otherwise be.”

Eilenberg, J., Hajek, A. and Lomer, C. (2001). ‘Suggestions for unifying the terminology in biological control.’ In: BioControl 46.

Above: A male broom leaf beetle enjoying freedom and a bite to eat at the new release site north of Otautau (female beetles are green and a little larger)

In New Zealand biocontrol research is carried out by Landcare Research/Manaaki Whenua. The Environmental risk Management Authority ERMA) has a very stringent process in place to ensure that any introductions of new organisms into New Zealand will be safe and have no unexpected consequences. Before the broom leaf beetle could even be brought to New Zealand it had to undergo thorough testing and be placed on a starvation diet (!) to make sure that it would only damage the desired plant. Results found that broom leaf beetle may feed on tree lucerne (Chamaecytisus palmensis) if it emerges from hibernation early, but this minor damage was considered acceptable if broom can be brought under control. Biocontrol is not a complete solution as insects that specialise in one plant species will not kill their host. However, by reducing the vigour of plants or their ability to produce seed biocontrol agents can help reduce the impact of weeds. The best things about biocontrol agents is they seek out the weeds themselves, they are natural, they only damage the target plant and they work for free!

Recently a community group was formed to promote the use of biocontrol agents in Te Anau. To find out more or join the Te Anau Biocontrol Group contact: Jesse Bythell -

For more information about biocontrol in Southland contact Keith Crothers (Senior Pest Plant Officer) at Environement Southland - (03) 211 5115

To learn more about the science behind biocontrol go to the Landcare Research page:

A little correction

Those of you who receive blog posts through the Feedblitz subscription can access the Peter Ayson interview by going to the blog and clicking on the 'play' button in the right-hand sidebar.

New feature - mp3s!

I've added a new feature to the blog - the ability to listen to audio via mp3 files. Initially these will be found in the side bar to the right but I eventually will add them to my posts.

As this is the time of year that people are remembering those who served in the military, I thought it would be interesting to get a local perspective. In 2006, Peter Ayson was interviewed for the Southland Oral History Project by Nancy Burnett. Part of his interview included his memories of growing up in Otautau during World War II. Peter gave me permission to excerpt his interview for the blog. Just click on the 'play' button to listen. It's about 9 minutes long.

If you'd like to hear Peter's entire oral history, contact the Invercargill Library.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A frog at my door

Saw a neat little brown tree frog tonight. He or she was 50mm from end to end. Amazingly it stood there for several minutes while we took this picture. I haven't seen frogs in Otautau before so it was special to see this one.

The brown tree frog (Litoria ewingii) is thought to have been introduced from Tasmania to Greymouth in 1872. Apparently they are widespread in the South Island now and can tolerate frosts. Here is a recording of their sound.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Earliest Reference to Otautau?

A kind person has sent me one of the earliest references to Otautau that I have seen. It is an article written by J. Herries Beattie (1881-1972) and is found on the Journal of Polynesian Society website. It is a story from the time of the Ngai Tahu arrival into Murihiku and clashes with Ngati Mamoe.

What the article shows is that there were people living in Otautau long before British settlers arrived in the 1860s. Of course this is obvious because there are so many Maori placenames around the area. Unfortunately there is no date to the story to gauge when these events occurred. But one reference I found stated the Ngai Tahu migration occurred around the mid-1600s. The regrettable fact of colonisation is that so much indigenous history is lost so it is a wonder that even a small story like this which happens to mention Otautau survives.

Another locality where there is said to have been a great fight is the western head of Te Waewae Bay. This point is now called Sandhill Point, but to the Maoris it was Hakapureirei, and here the white people found a large accumulation of human bones, with the result that tales of fierce slaughter are told of the spot.

The Maoris know of no fighting there, but tell the following story of the district. A Kai-Tahu chief named Hotu, some time after the fighting at Matauira, Preservation Inlet, made up a taua to visit there. Instead of going in canoes they went overland along the coast. When they got to Te-ahi-weka (now known as Price's—near the Big River) they spied a Kati-Mamoe man named Te Hiku-maiua or Te Hiku-maio high up on a cliff. Detaching men to surround him, Hotu shouted out questions at him, finally asking what were the names of the streams between One and where they were. The unsuspecting Kati-Mamoe began with Oreti, and had come as far west as Waitutu, when he heard a stick snap to one side of him. Like a flash he realised the trap and fled, just escaping his enemies. The taua went on to Rakituma (Preservation Inlet), but found no one there and returned. On the way back they cautiously approached Te-ahi-weka and saw Hiku-maio fishing on the rocks. They caught him this time and put him to death. Hotu settled down at Hakapureirei with his brother Tama-tahi-ora, and other families spread along the coast as far west as Waipukiu, near the Big River or Hakapoua. Discord crept in at Hakapureirei and Hotu killed his brother, and seized the latter's wife. Tama-tahi-ora had two children, but Hotu instead of killing them left them to starve while he cleared out with their mother.

The girl was of a fair size, and caught fish, which they dried in the sun and ate. Hotu had put the fire out before he left and the children had no means of making one. Taking her small brother the girl resolutely set out after the mother. They managed to cross the Waiau on a mokihi or raft, and after many wanderings eventually reached Otautau, where they told the people their story. Hotu was settled on the Aparima, and had told everyone that his brother and the children were dead. When they heard the children's version the people were highly indignant and a seer proceeded to makutu or bewitch him, and he died in consequence. It was after this that the people settled along the cost beyond the Waiau River in numbers, but how the bones came to be in such quantities at Hakapureirei the narrator could not say, but another native said that a great number of people died round there from the measles in the early whaling days, and he considered that was why the bones were

Friday, 18 April 2008

First Blast the Coldest?

Thunder! Hail! A cold slap in the face! That's what greeted us today as we got the first really cold southerly blast this season. It's an unwelcome reminder of how cold our winters really are. But I think back to last winter during the frosty months of June and July. One person I ran into on Main Street, who I felt was not really dressed to be outside (no coat for goodness sake) said, 'it's very fresh, isn't it?' She seemed to have the winter spirit - just rush in and enjoy it. And there's more freshness where that came from.
Pictured above, a snow tussock cradling hail stones.

My days are a bit short for keeping this blog up to date. I'm actually trying to get work done on my house - painting and plastering of all things. But I keep hoping and egging you on to send me a photo or write a comment to keep the blog interesting. I know some of you have an 'inner blogger' just dying to get out. Maybe you'd like to cover the local rugby games (there's one on Saturday) or talk about local issues - dairy farming, the price of cheese, or how we can make this town a better place. If so, maybe you'd like to become an occasional writer on the blog. Why not drop me a line. As you can see, there is no experience necessary, just an interest in putting your thoughts into words. You will be amazed at how easy blogging is.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Named Homesteads - 2

A kind and resourceful reader has sent me the link to Land Information New Zealand. Apparently you can search for placenames on their website. They identity which places are homesteads. These places can also be searched on the NZTopo map viewer. Click on the nav button on the left that looks like a torch light. Type in the placename or road. Then click on the number link (e.g. '1' or '2') to see it on the map. My reader had searched for homesteads in the Otautau area and found these:


Most of the names I had listed in my last post were not on the NZTopo map. In fact, only Redfern remained. It seems there would need to be more groundwork to find information on these old homesteads, not to mention the homes that were named rather unofficially and sentimentally.

Isn't it great that some gov't agencies are getting their databases online and making them searchable and accessible? The NZTopo maps are copyright-protected but it's so educational just to spend time viewing these maps and learning about the area in which we live.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Named Homesteads

One of the things I found interesting during my brief foray into Otautau's military history was that some next-of-kin were listed at places like 'Kinloch, Otautau' or 'Wardie, Otautau'. I couldn't find these names on any maps so I am deducing that the early residents must have named their homesteads - something we don't see much of these days.

Other names I found were: Redfern, Otautau; Aldersyde, Otautau; Linton Park, Otautau; and Erindale, Fairfax.

I'm not putting my hand up for this, but it would make a neat project - finding the names, histories and photographs of these homesteads and creating a resource book. Undoubtedly, some of those names are related to people or places in Great Britain. It seems to me if the name is lost, then the connection is lost also.

Does your home have a name? Do you know more about this subject? Leave a comment or email me.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Otautau's Military History

The Military Exhibition at the Otautau Museum this month has inspired me to put together a list of those who served in WWI and WWII. So to accomplish this, I've been doing a bit of research lately on Cenotaph, the Auckland War Museum's Database of military service personnel.

I started with the names listed on the Otautau War Memorial. Due to the space constraints of the monument, the list only contains last names and first initials. By using the Cenotaph database and also the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, I have collected more detailed information, like their full names and occupations, as well as some photographs. Quite a few of the soldiers were killed in action at Passchendaele, Belgium, and a small number at Gallipoli, Turkey. It is quite difficult to imagine these young men, many just farmers, away for a few months and then suddenly under seige in a major military campaign. However this list of those who lost their lives represents only a fraction of those who served.

Using a library book called Southland Soldiers and their Next of Kin, I've come up with an extended list of people who served in WWI and returned home. The list is about 9 pages long so far. I am working my way through the names, gathering more information from Cenotaph. I can emphatically say that Otautau, Aparima, Fairfax, Isla Bank and Scott's Gap gave their fair share of young men to WWI. The list is exhaustive, and it must've caused quite a labour drain with so many men, mostly farmers and labourers, away at war. But I was also interested to learn that there were two women who served their country as well. Both were nurses from Otautau.

I haven't been as lucky to find more information on WWII veterans who returned. If anyone has any sources or ideas, let me know.

What little I have collected will be available at the museum. It's been a very interesting project to work on but certainly deserves more indepth research. I'm sure my methods are not as thorough as they should be and worry that some names have been missed.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A Change in the Weather

It has suddenly gotten much colder as autumn makes its way into our daily lives. But by strange coincidence, I came across a World Climate site that predicted a 1-2 degree rise in temperature in Otautau. You can view climate maps and data for Otautau here. The site seems short on explanation so I'm taking it with a grain of salt, but if any of you know about the weather or climate change predictions, do feel free to leave a comment. What would a rise in temperate mean to you?

Election 2017

Election season has swung into gear with the next General Election on Saturday, September 23rd - 7 1/2 weeks away. Not much has changed with...