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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s



Like the Christian athlete, my race as an historian has been run before a cloud of witnesses who themselves know something of the sweat and dust of the stadium.

My most basic debt is to the settlers themselves. The older generation of my childhood and youth had earlier been the settler children and younger adults of the 1880s. They fascinated me by their quirks and their idiosyncracies, their loyalties and their principles, their pettiness and their courtesy, their fortitude and their patriotism. Growing up on the bush fringe of inland Nelson, in a home sans running water, electricity, telephone, wireless, &c, my early life experience had much in common with theirs. Yet I was conscious of the many ways in which they had marched, and were marching, to the beat of a different drum. They stirred deep questions in my mind, which my educators did very little to answer.

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An historian, above all others, should be aware of the many-layered depths of his indebtednesses. At Canterbury College in 1947–8, H. Winston Rhodes stirred and challenged my historical imagination as he skilfully set the great literature of England in its context. He deepened my desire for a real grasp of the story of the folk who fashioned our island world. At the University of Melbourne in 1951, while my historical imagination was further enriched, the skills and integrity of the historian's craft were ground into my bones at the weekly research seminar, and in the periodic sessions with my research supervisor, Geoffrey Serle. I have since followed the unfolding talents of both staff and students of that seminar—names such as Serle, Blainey, Kiddle, Fitzpatrick, Crawford come to mind—as they grappled with the story of their haggard continent. They have been exemplars and inspirers as I have wrestled with our island story. For near thirty years now, colleagues and students at Victoria University of Wellington have similarly enriched me.

This book has numerous more specific debts. My wife, Betty, has shared the labour of combing the sources, has tested the clarity and credibility of successive drafts, and has been a steadfast source of encouragement. Librarians and archivists throughout the country, but especially at the Alexander Turnbull Library, have been unfailingly patient and helpful. I have had valuable discussions with Malcolm McKinnon, editor of the Historical Atlas of New Zealand project, and I have to thank him in particular for permission to adapt one of the atlas's imaginative maps to my purposes for Figure 8.1. He also introduced me to the flair and craftsmanship of Barry Bradley and the atlas's cartographic team. My daughter, Margaret Galt, has kindly permitted me to adapt one of her maps for Figure 12.3. Finally I have to thank editor Fergus Barrowman for turning my manuscript into a book of style and elegance.

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