Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Outsiders in New Zealand -- Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society

This is an exciting time in New Zealand's history as writers are now publicising those unique New Zealanders who have lived on the fring of society for long periods of time.

Charlie Douglas was one of the most famous isolationists, and is one of the characters in Gerard Hindmarshes recent book, 'Outsiders in New Zealand -- Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society.' 

Of all these people who Hindmarsh writes about, my favourite is Charlie Douglas.He arrived at Okarito  in 1867, and remained on the West Coast until death claimed him 48 years later. For 38 of those years, Charlie Douglas roamed its gorges and glaciers, living largely off the land, making geological and survey notes and sketching the mountains (such as Cook and Tasman, dominating the skyline here). Pipe, dog and solitude were his main companions, and, although he despised tourists, ironically, it was his own work in filling in the map of Westland that allowed the less adventurous to gain access to the region's wonders. 23 May 2016. will mark the death of Charlied Douglas in Hokika and it is hoped someone will have a ceremony to celebrate his life.

I have written about Charlie Douglas in my book about Ebenezer Teichelmann, and published an epic poem. In the meantime, let's enjoy this wonderful book. 

Outsiders in New Zealand

Among the living subjects of Gerard Hindmarsh’s new book “Outsiders”, the word “hermit” is almost universally rejected. While the book is subtitled “Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society”, these people who have chosen to live isolated from the rest of society have various motivations.
Hindmarsh says the common thread connecting them is a desire for independence.
“These people really feel they have the right to live beyond the square,” he says. “They’re never necessarily hermits, and they all hate that term.”
The Golden Bay author became interested in the subject during the early 1990s when he began writing a series of articles for New Zealand Geographic magazine focusing on “extreme subjects”.
outsider 2
Among the people he visited in their bush homes were: Ross Webber, who lived on his own island in the Marlborough Sounds for 46 years; long-time West Coast eeler Bruce Reay; and the now well-known Gorge River Family.
“I did very full interviews when I went out to see these people,” Hindmarsh says.
“That kind of sparked my interest in it. And I realised that there actually weren’t many actual outsiders in New Zealand who warranted the term, the real hard case ones.”
For Outsiders, which is published by Nelson company Craig Potton Publishing, the author has broadened his focus, tracing a tradition that runs through post-colonial New Zealand history.
There are chapters covering earlier examples of people who fled society and lived happily in the wildness. There’s prospector Arawata Bill, amateur South Westland surveyor Charlie “Explorer” Douglas, Fiordland legend Davey Gunn, and self-imposed Cook Islands castaway Tom Neale.
“In the end, I’ve got it roughly historical, but it’s not quite like that because I skip back with some people,” Hindmarsh observes of Outsiders. “It’s more a wave of feeling that runs through the book. Some of them were mass admired and others hardly anyone knew about them.”
That was the case for years for the Gorge River Family – Robert Long, Catherine Stewart, and their children Robin and Christan. But in the last few years both Long and Stewart have published their respective autobiographies, making their story the most well- known of contemporary New Zealand outsiders.
gorge river 3
When Hindmarsh first visited their incredibly isolated West Coast home, his letter from months before hadn’t been delivered, but writing was often the best way of communicating with the people he hoped to interview. The first occasion he met Bruce Reay, the fisherman handed over letters he’d been carrying in a plastic bag for over a month in the hope he’d meet someone who could post them.
Perhaps due to such practicalities, several of the people covered in Outsiders are no longer living in the bush. “The time comes when they want a change,” he says. “But I don’t believe that they struggle. The day-to-day thing takes up a lot of mental energy I reckon. It becomes kind of comfortable, and territorial in a way. You just know your place so well. They’re some amazing people.”
“Under the heading “The Isolationists”, Gerard Hindmarsh writes that even though few people actually got to meet him, ”Charles Douglas was a Scottish immigrant who became one of the most admired and loved characters in all of Westland”.
charles douglas
Douglas ”was an ardent isolationist who came to loathe the rat race with all its repetitive routines and incessant striving for security and possessions, not to mention its malaise of false sophistication”. Born in Edinburgh in 1840 to a noted family of bankers and painters, Douglas bought a one-way passage to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in 1862.
Arriving in south Westland in 1867, Douglas devoted the following four decades to exploring and surveying all its unexplored gorges and forest tracts. ”He lived a basic life, living almost entirely off the land and avoiding human company, preferring instead the company of his dog,” Hindmarsh writes.
Douglas is typical of the many New Zealand ”man alone” – and a few women – stoic characters living at the fringes of society, whose lives the author has painstakingly researched. ”Being geographically isolated by choice and living a solitary existence, often without the trappings of so-called civilisation and urban living, these characters have become etched in the national psyche of the country,” he notes.
I was particularly interested in Hindmarsh’s accounts of long-gone swaggers, for many of whom the reality was that they died along the roads, ”maybe curled up to expire in the shelter of some scrub or tall tussock”.
The author has cast his net widely and researched well to provide fascinating portraits of the lives of some of New Zealand’s most famous outsiders, many of whom died a long time ago, and some of whom are still alive today.
outsiders 3
“Outsiders: Stories from the fringe of New Zealand society” by Gerard Hindmarsh profiles 21 individuals and 4 families who in different ways came to live independently of mainstream society, often living miles into the wilderness, far from civilisation and all its comforts.
The book begins with the legendary nineteenth century prospector William O’Leary for whom two South Island mountain passes are named and whose life inspired Denis Glover’s sequence of 20 poems “Arawata Bill”. The final story in the book is of the similarly wandering lifestyle of Bruce Reay who decided he wanted to live in the bush after graduating with a degree in forestry from the University of Canterbury in the late 1970s. Bruce lives along the full length of the West Coast from Kahurangi to Fiordland, trapping and trading live eels and possum pelts for income and revisiting fishing grounds only once in every 10 years.
Others profiled include Tom Neale who lived alone on a tiny Pacific atoll for many years like a real life Robinson Crusoe, and Tim and Ngaire Te Aika who raised a family on Stewart Island at a time when it could take 9 hours to travel from their farm to reach the Mainland.
“Much of the time I found that the people I was interviewing simply wanted to stay out of the rat race,” says Gerard. “They wanted the satisfaction of fending for themselves, proving to themselves – if no one else – that they could do it.” “They’re inspiring stories, and a little bit cautionary too. It has lead me to reflect on my own life. I think a lot of people today are looking for ways to provide for ourselves, looking for ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. ”
“A Life On Gorge River: New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
by Robert Long (Random House New Zealand, 2010)
gorge river 1
Robert Long and his family – wife Catherine, and children Christan (17) and Robyn (14) – live in complete isolation, in a hut two days’ walk south of Haast in South Westland. Robert has lived there for nearly 30 years; Catherine for 20 and the kids all their lives. Their only contact with the outside world is a helicopter or plane once a month, and two trips a year to the ‘outside world. This is the story of how and why Robert – known locally as ‘Beansprout’ – came to live at Gorge River, and the family’s experiences there over the years, living self-sufficiently and forging close bonds with the natural environment. It is an inspiring tale of one man’s decision to ‘drop out’ of capitalist society and successfully establish a lifestyle most New Zealanders can’t even imagine, harking back to the days of the earliest pioneers.
“A Wife on Gorge River. Raising New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
By Catherine Stewart (Random House New Zealand, 2012)
gorge river 2
Life with New Zealand’s remotest family in a follow-on from the bestselling A Life on Gorge River by Robert Long. In 2010, New Zealand met its remotest family, through the writing of Robert Long aka Bean sprout and we were intrigued. Now Beansprout’s wife, Catherine Stewart, tells her story, and answers many of our questions. Why did she decide to join him on the wild West Coast, two days’ walk from the nearest road? Why and how did they raise their family there? Was it terrifying to be so far from medical help? How did she home-school the children? How have they all fared now the kids are young adults, forging their own way in the world? And what lessons are there for the rest of us from her experiences raising her family in such splendid isolation? In this entertaining bestseller, and with dry humour and fascinating insights, Catherine paints a vivid picture of her life at Gorge River and beyond.
For Charles Douglas, seehttp://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2d16/douglas-charles-edwardand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Douglas andhttp://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/research-on-charlie-douglas_10.html
For William O’Leary, seehttp://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3o5/oleary-william andhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James_O%27Leary

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Born to Climb

I also took with me plenty of prenatal kits and vitamins to those places for the expecting women and those who had infants. We also tried to aware local women and young girls about possible human trafficking during that time Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita 

Having ascended Everest, K2, Nangpai Gosum II, Ama Dablam, and many other peaks in and outside Nepal, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita has certainly earned her reputation as a successful Nepali summiteer. Now, as a result of her laudable mountaineering exploits and her self-effacing humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts following the April earthquake, particularly at Laprak in Gorkha, Sherpa Akita has been nominated for the prestigious National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year 2016 award.

She talks about mountaineering, her nomination and the post-quake relief work with the Kathmandu Post’s Gaurav Pote. 

Before we begin would you tell us a little about yourself. I was in born in Khumjung village in Solukhumbu, but I grew up and completed by schooling in Lukla. Having been brought up in such close proximity to the mountains, my hobbies have always been related with trekking and mountaineering. Eventually I developed interest in travelling and exploring new places as well.

Will you also tell us how and when you started mountaineering? At the age of 18, I started my trekking courses and also began travelling. It wasn’t long before I took up mountaineering training and actually started climbing.

What is it about mountaineering that appeals to you the most? Growing up in the Lukla region,I saw countless tourists and mountaineers over the years. They would all travel for days to get to our small town, far away from their homes, and bravely go on to climb Everest. That somehow sparked the interest in me to be like one of them.

Mountaineering involves high risks; how do mountaineers deal with all the risks involved? High altitude mountaineering is by nature full of risks and dangers. We are constantly under the threat of avalanches and landslides. Rough weather and extreme temperatures put a physical and mental toll on the climbers. It’s easy to get fatigued and develop altitude sickness or catch frostbites. Then there’s the harsh terrain with crevasses and blizzards that torment us throughout our expeditions. At the end, all these risks reflect the terrible uncertainty that comes with the mountaineering profession, and we all try to minimise these risks by using our training, experience, and intuitions. Staying fit physically and taking precautions every step of the way is paramount as well.

Give us a brief rundown of some of the peaks that you have climbed so far. The first peak I scaled was the Everest back in 2007. Last year, I climbed K2 as a member of the first Nepali all-women expedition there, Nangpai Gosum II as a part of the first women expedition, and Ama Dablam with the first French-Nepali women expedition. Besides these, I have also scaled other Nepali, American and French peaks.

 Now, tell us about your nomination for the National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year 2016. What were the criteria for selection? Every year, National Geographic short lists 10 extraordinary adventurers from the world over who push the limits of their respective discipline. One of them gets voted publicly by folks around the globe as the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. The reason for the nomination in the 2016 edition of this prestigious award is my engagement in the immediate and post-earthquake relief work in rural Nepali communities. I think it is a great opportunity to represent Nepal. I am really looking forward to that.

 And, how do you reckon people should go about voting for you? National Geographic announced the names of the nominees, including their video profiles and photographs,on their website last week. Even a simple Google search should take you there. Click the link to vote. The voting is open every day through January 31, 2016 and the announcement of the winner is scheduled in February 2016.Since it is a people’s choice category,it is really up to the voters to decide who wins. So, naturally, I would like to urge everyone to make a small effort to vote for me. That said, this nomination alone is quite prestigious but winning will surely help my cause even more.

 Can you talk about your humanitarian efforts after the earthquakes? I was caught in an avalanche near the Everest basecamp at the time of the first earthquake. I somehow managed to find my way to the basecamp and assist the people stranded there. The next day, I returned to Kathmandu and after making sure everything was secure at home, I started gathering relief materials including food, drinking water, mattresses, and tarpaulins and began mobilising them in and outside the Kathmandu Valley. We also travelled to Nuwakot, Dhadingbesi, Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Dolakha, Manaslu, and many more rural places. I also took with me plenty of pre-natal kits and vitamins to those places for the expecting women and those who had infants. We also tried to raise awareness among local women and young girls about possible human trafficking during a time of crisis. And at a devastated Laprak, which is quite close to the epicentre, we constructed temporary shelters for the elderly.

 So, what keeps you busy these days? Apart from the on-going relief work and rural health camps, I am also currently involved in mountain guiding. And, what’s next for Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita? I’m going to continue mountain guiding and, on the side, focus on facilitating girls’ education, particularly orphans and those who come from underprivileged families affected by the earthquakes. 

Thanks to the Kathmandu Post for permission to run their article published: 17-11-2015