Making New Zealand from the raupō whare on

by Fiona Rae / 10 February, 2018
Making New Zealand, Sunday.

Making New Zealand, Sunday.

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Local history series Making New Zealand returns with a survey of construction.

It’s been a while since historian James Belich explained the New Zealand Wars to us in five parts; even longer since Kenneth Cumberland, our answer to Alistair Cooke, traced the history of the country through its landscape in the series Landmarks.

Seeing our own history on TV is as rare as seeing a teenager without a cellphone, so the new season of Making New Zealand (Prime, Sunday, 8.30pm) is a welcome treat.

Sure, there’s no idiosyncratic presenter waving arms and making insightful connections between apparently random events. There’s no new version of Belich or Cumberland, no Kiwi Simon Schama or Mary Beard: just narrator Mark Clare and a lot of interesting archive pictures and footage.

The new season begins with construction – how we built New Zealand, from the raupō dwellings made by the first Māori to the steel-and-glass skyscrapers loved by foreign banks in the 1980s. Much of the construction of houses and public buildings from the 1830s onwards was a matter of the settlers’ “sheer bloody-mindedness” and a need for permanence, beginning with the first stone building – the famous Stone Store at Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. It is made of local basalt and Hawkesbury River sandstone, hewn by convicts and imported from Australia.

Making New Zealand.

Making New Zealand.

The country's first Roman Catholic bishop, Jean-Baptiste François Pompallier, brought French construction to Russell in 1842 when he built Pompallier House, a rammed-earth dwelling that housed one of the country’s first printing presses.

The construction of Dunedin in the 1840s began with cob houses made of straw, rock and mud – and corrugated iron, which was transported here from the UK. It was light and cheap, but it is “bloody hot in summer and bloody cold in winter”, says architectural historian Bill McKay.

Brick and stone, in particular Oamaru stone, followed, and concrete was the next big thing: when Auckland’s Grafton Bridge opened in 1910, it was the largest reinforced-concrete bridge in the world. Without so-called liquid stone, there would have been no Civic Theatre and no Dunedin railway station (the latter was built in record time with the help of new-fangled electric gadgets).

The rebuilding of Napier and Hastings after the 1931 earthquake and the work in Christchurch also feature, including a chat with the project manager of the Town Hall rebuild.

The following three episodes will focus on aviation, forestry and mining.

This article was first published in the February 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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