A ‘Way of Seeing’

PETER JACKSON concluded in 1989, that within the landscape tradition the emphasis is now on the idea of landscape as a social construction or a ‘way of seeing’, rather than being reducible to a series of physical traits.[i] He cited Cosgrove’s definition of landscape and argued that there are potentially as many ways of seeing as there are eyes to see: “A reconstituted cultural geography must therefore be prepared to examine the multiplicity of landscapes that these plural conceptions of culture inform”.[ii]

As a case in point, Barry Lopez describes the mobile and changing nature of landscapes in a nation’s history as follows:

“[T]he narrative direction that a nation’s history takes is amenable to revision; and the landscapes in which history unfolds are both real, that is, profound in their physical effects on mankind, and not real, but mere projections, artifacts of human perception.”[iii]

TO ILLUSTRATE from a New Zealand perspective – the traditional Maori view of the landscape as being ‘alive’, and as a defining matrix of personal identity, was quite different from the view of the first European New Zealanders. Some prominent first Europeans to New Zealand were notable for viewing the landscape as something objective – ‘out there’ to be tamed, civilised, cultivated in order to fit a European ideal and so exploited, not only for a personal living, but for amassing wealth and profit. Several generations later, when Europeans became Pakeha New Zealanders, some regret was felt at the early colonialist exploitation of the indigenous landscape and the destruction of forests. The natural New Zealand landscape was cherished and sought out for spiritual sustenance. In particular, this ‘way of seeing’ was expressed by the writers and poets of the 1930s and 1940s; mountaineers, trampers and skiers have for the most part continued their long tradition of revering the natural landscape.

Today there are conflicting perceptions of the New Zealand landscape. Commercial interests with multi-national backing and government departments including the Department of Conservation and both Pakeha and Maori, have financial interests in the commodification of natural landscape and nature experience – hence the tourist dollar, mining, native timber-felling, real estate development, power generation, thirsty dairying in inappropriate areas of dry grassland, leading to depletion and pollution of rivers and waterways, and financially motivated immigration consultancies. The natural landscape, including National Parks, is not infrequently seen in primarily objective terms, as a resourse to be utilised to maximise corporate and government profit.

In opposition to all this are many New Zealanders – Maori, Pakeha and new immigrants – who have lived deeply in and felt intensely for this land, sometimes for generations and sometimes not. They feel a spiritual affinity and identity with the indigenous, pristine landscape and wish to conserve and restore what remains. In particular these New Zealanders wish to keep our National Parks unspoiled: unexploited commercially, aesthetically and environmentally unpolluted, and in the spirit in which they were originally gifted and conceived by our Maori and British colonial ancestors – as loved landscapes with old and humble huts of unique value in and of themselves; spiritual reservoirs (not to be paid for but our birthright), to be approached with reverence and care by all New Zealanders and visitors regardless of race. These New Zealanders wish to safe-guard and care-take the intrinsic values of mountains, flowing rivers, the pristine waterways, lakes, wetlands and the quality of the soils, flora and fauna in their natural landscapes. In this landscape they perceive their soul as New Zealanders.[iv]

[i] Jackson(1989) Maps of Meaning, 181.

[ii] Ibid, 177.

[iii] Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (London: The Harvill Press, 1998), 256.

[iv] See Te Maire Tau, ‘Ngai Tahu and the Canterbury Landscape – A Broad Context’ in: Cookson, John & Dunstall, Graeme (eds.), Southern Capital Christchurch – Towards a City Biography 1850- 2000 (Canterbury University Press, 2000) 41-60; Geoff Park, Nga Uruora The Groves of Life – Ecology & History in a New Zealand Landscape (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1995); Trudie McNaughton, Countless Signs – The New Zealand Landscape in Literature (New Zealand: Reed Methuen, 1986); Harry C. Evison, Te Wai Pounamu The Greenstone Island – A History of the Southern Maori during the European Colonization of New Zealand (Christchurch: Aoraki Press, 1993); Hong-Key Yoon, Maori Mind, Maori Land (Berne & New York: Eratosthene Interdisciplinary Series, Peter Lang, 1986); Philip Temple (ed.), Lake, Mountain, Tree: An Anthology of Writings on New Zealand Nature and Landscape (New Zealand: Godwit, 1998).

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