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Non-fiction reviews: December 2013

Christopher Moore’s new monthly roundup of New Zealand non-fiction.

Explore New Zealand’s back country without the sweat and blisters with Harry Broad’s MOLESWORTH: STORIES FROM NEW ZEALAND’S LARGEST HIGH COUNTRY STATION (Craig Potton, $69.99). It’s an evocative blend of words and images; an encyclopaedic but highly readable account of the natural and human history lying deep in the earth of an 180,470ha slice of the South Island. Both Broad and photographer Rob Suisted display an acute eye for detail and an empathy with the people who continue to live and work among these aloof valleys and mountains. Somehow they manage to trap the elusive spirit of the place. Not another bland anthology of tourist photographs but something infinitely more substantial and satisfying.

In the same spirit but further north, Bee Dawson and photographer Becky Nunes take readers to the East Cape in PUKETITI STATION: THE STORY OF AN EAST CAPE SHEEP STATION AND THE 180-YEAR-OLD WILLIAMS FAMILY LEGACY (Random House, $49.99). As a seasoned social historian, Dawson plunges into the station’s long and colourful human history with knowledge and a certain swagger. She’s helped by a story populated by a strong cast of characters. From clergyman William Williams’s first contacts with the region in 1833 to the challenges facing present owners Dan and Anna Russell, the book – with Nunes’s evocative photographs – is a satisfyingly rich distillation of Puketiti’s Maori and Pakeha past, present and future.

Different challenges must have confronted the authors of TUHOE: PORTRAIT OF A NATION (Penguin, $60). It’s immediately obvious this book is the result of a hard-won trust between the Tuhoe nation of the Urewera, author Kennedy Warne and photographer Peter James Quinn. Starting with the signing of the 2013 settlement between Ngai Tuhoe and the Crown, the book then charts a tumultuous, brutal history that has etched itself into the country’s collective mind. It is a sensitive yet robust and balanced portrait of a place and people clinging to a fiercely held sense of identity.

A chief reporter once instructed me that nothing sells a newspaper like a dog story on the front page. If that’s still so, QUAKE DOGS (Random House. $34.99) is destined to become an immediate best-seller. Laura Sessions’s book wears its heart on its sleeve – or collar – with page after poignant page of stories from the Christchurch earthquakes accompanied by the appealing canines themselves photographed by Craig Bullock. An unabashed tear-jerker as man’s best friends overcome disaster, loss and stress to bark again.

In the small hours of Monday, February 10, 1913, a small, storm-battered ship unexpectedly dropped anchor off Oamaru. Two officers, Lt Harry Pennell and Surgeon Dr Edward Atkinson, rowed ashore to announce the news that Robert Falcon Scott’s polar expedition had failed and Scott and his team were dead. History was made when, after waking a sleepy telegraph officer and explaining their arrival to the harbour master, the pair sent a terse telegram from a small South Island town. In the self-published WHAT SHIP? LIEUTENANT HARRY PENNELL’S ANTARCTIC LEGACY ($59.99), Oamaru-born David Harrowfield writes an engrossing account of the events and personalities surrounding the Terra Nova’s arrival in the pre-dawn darkness a century ago.

Christopher Moore is a former arts editor of the Press.

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