Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Whanganui River Trip - Confusing Realities

On the second day we entered the river canyon. Intricately shaped stone walls, carved by eons of floods, tower above us, their surfaces thick with ferns, mosses and even impossible trees. After a brief but heavy rainfall everything glistened and dripped. The canyon narrowed and seemed to close in over top of us. The feeling was vaguely familiar and I remembered youthful trips amongst the dense greenery of the Winnipeg city park conservatory. And even as I turned to Joy saying that it was like being in a conservatory I realized that a conservatory was desperately trying to be like here.

Bridge to Nowhere, to visit see
The next day we hiked into the "Bridge to Nowhere", a relict of a failed settlement program for Kiwi soldiers returning from fighting the Turks in the First World War. After the war, these men, their wives and children, were dropped on the river bank, a track into the jungle leading to their land "up there." For a decade these hapless families struggled against the lush vegetation hopelessly trying to build houses, cut out sheep paddocks and impose an English country landscape on a foreign land. And like their experiences in Gallipoli, they had to withdraw beaten. Now this land is the heart of Whanganui National Park, an example of the original natural landscape of the North island, the traces of the decade of desperate hand labour, like the Maori settlements, utterly gone. Only the moss-covered concrete arch bridge connecting two no wheres remains.

The power of captured plants, of imposed place names and land dreams, of overwritten history create illusions of how things should be. However on the front lines of colonialism, it is anything but clear what has been going on. And what continues to go on today.

For my daughter's thoughts on the same trip see her February 14, 2010 blog at