A natural quartet

I’ve recently been delving into some “recreational non-fiction” reading!

Recreational non-fiction is what you might call stories based on fact that read as easily as a novel. This can be particularly true of memoir or biographies, and I’ve come across four such titles that I would like to recommend to you, the Christchurch reading public!

They’re all based around the topic of the natural world, they all read like adventure tales, and they all have a common link; the idea that we should all spend more time in and around nature, observe, engage, and enjoy.

We certainly don’t all need to go to the extreme lengths that these authors do – you don’t, for example, need to be the man responsible for dangling Sir David Attenborough 180ft in the upper canopy of one of the world remotest rainforests! You also don’t need to chase errant wild stags through the outskirts of London during the storm of the decade! And you definitely don’t need to be the man behind the push for Cpt. William Bligh to set off on his ill-fated voyage in the Bounty to take breadfruit from the Pacific Islands and take it to the Americas as cheap fodder for slave owners!

No, we can just sit back on a sunny spring day and enjoy stories of nature and travel, real stories told by real people who actually wrote the words themselves (apart from Linnaeus and Banks of course, their stories are ably told by Oxford historian Patricia Fara)

A Natural Quartet

List created by DevilStateDan

Four books about the natural world that you just can’t miss!

Cover of Sex, Botany and EmpireSex, Botany & Empire

The amazing story behind two giant names in natural science; Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks. Just how great were they? Were they true champions of natural science, conservation, and preservation? Or were they subject to their own particular biases and egos in their work, striving to become something more than they were..? This book is a great insight and a brilliant read, giving context to the lives and journeys of these two names so famous now that we forget how recent their work actually is!

Cover of The man who climbs treesThe Man Who Climbs Trees

This is a series of stories that follows a man around the globe as he climbs some of the tallest trees in the world! He regularly works for the BBC to help produce some of the amazing images of the flora and fauna to be found in forest canopies seen in their Planet Earth series, he has a brilliant outlook on nature and conservation, and is a very talented storyteller – his tales read like boys-own adventures as he navigates all kinds of perils (weather, insects, primates, you name it!) to provide safe vertical passage through the forests of the world. If you like the natural world then this is a memoir too good to miss!

Cover of Adventures of a young naturalistAdventures of A Young Naturalist

The story of David Attenborough’s fist major nature assignment as he travels into remote parts (pre-internet or mobile phone coverage!) to obtain vision of some of the creatures of the earth that humans have only ever read about in books. Written by the man himself, his voice is clear and present in every word as he deals with the perils of travelling the wilds of the earth for the betterment of natural science.

Cover of Park lifePark Life

John Bartram stands as the longest serving gamekeeper of the illustrious and ecologically-fragile Richmond Park – a secluded nature reserve in the midst of the busyness of London. He tells of his journey to get to the job and the lifetime of work and memories he has obtained along the way. It is written in a very matter-of-fact manner which serves well to remind the reader that nature is on our doorstep and to stop now and then to treasure it.

And if these stories have piqued your interest in the natural world but you’re wanting to read more about OUR natural world, then perhaps try one of these beaut magazines available through Christchurch City Libraries… they’re full of the same fascination and excitement of discovery as the old stories but with the added advantage that they’re the stories of our own generation, in and of our own region.

Podcast – Arms control in outer space

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

Maria Pozza is a world expert in the topic of arms control and outer space, and shares her legal knowledge of this ‘out there’ human rights issue, speaking about issues such as tension between the laws of nation states and international treaties.

Part I: The importance of talking about arms control in outer space
Part II: Outer Space Treaty
Part III: What do we mean by ‘arms control’ (weaponisation vs militarisation); New Zealand and arms control in outer space
Part IV: Future of arms control in outer space

Transcript – Arms control in outer space

Find out more in our collection

Cover of The history of human space flight Cover of The American way of bombing Cover of Space junk Cover of Throwing fire Cover of The Twilight of the bombs Cover of My journey at the nuclear brink

Streaming video

Access Video logoThe WPA Film Library: Nuclear Weapons Banned in Space, 1967 

U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy is present for the signing of a treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space. (access with your library card & password / PIN)

 

Access Video: Space Junk Access Video - Space junk 

Horizon finds out about the threat from space junk and joins the scientists searching for ways to clean up the debris. (access with your library card & password / PIN)

 

 

Access Video: In orbit – How Satellites Rule Our WorldAccess video: In orbit

Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock traces the history of satellites from their origins through to today’s hugely complex spacecraft.

More about Speak up – Kōrerotia

The show is also available on the following platforms:

Ada Lovelace Day 2017: Celebrating New Zealand women in science!

It’s that time of year again – when we celebrate Women in Science! Today (Tuesday 10 October 2017 ) is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This year I’m featuring pioneers of science in New Zealand. From the nation’s very beginnings, these women classified and preserved our unique flora and fauna, made incredible discoveries, and improved the health and wellbeing of future New Zealanders.

Conservation: Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979)

From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22428306
From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz//records/22428306

Pérrine Moncrieff came from the United Kingdom after World War One to settle in Nelson. With skill in art and an interest in bird life, she devised a pocket guide; New Zealand Birds and How to Identify Them (1925). In the preface she wrote,

“…it is to be regretted that, despite the fact that Man cannot replace them, the appalling destruction of our unique native birds and forest continues to this day.”

(from New Zealand Scientists : Pioneer Women: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952) : Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979) : Muriel Bell (1898-1974) : Betty Batham (1917-1974) : Trends in their life and science. 1989: Women Into Science Education. Perrine Moncreiff, p.2.)

Moncrieff wrote articles on bird migration, protection, the endangered South Island Robin, and reaction of animals to the Murchison Earthquake (1929).

In 1932 Pérrine was appointed the first female President of the Royal Australasian Ornithological Union. She lobbied for the conservation of birds, forests and soil against gold mining and milling; successfully establishing the Abel Tasman National Park in 1942.

In 1974 Pérrine was awarded the Order of Oranje-Nassau by the Netherlands. Abel Tasman, who first discovered New Zealand, was from Holland, and the Dutch had sponsored the park. In 1975 she was honoured as Commander of the British Empire, but sadly she wasn’t recognised by the scientific community.

Read:

Robin Hodge. Moncrieff, Pérrine, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in October, 2001. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m57/moncrieff-perrine (accessed 9 October 2017)

Botany: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952)

R. K. Dell. 'Blackwell, Ellen Wright', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)
R. K. Dell. ‘Blackwell, Ellen Wright’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

Ellen Blackwell lived in New Zealand long enough to collaborate with Robert Laing on the book; Plants of New Zealand. She travelled the country with Robert and her brother Frank, researching and photographing native plants, later writing a large part of the text for their book.

As well as describing the pine, palm and lily families of New Zealand flora, Blackwell’s readable style included snippets of local culture and legend:

“The reader was given advice on the preparation of the bracken rhizome for eating, the suitability of matai wood for ballroom floors, how to use nikau palm in the construction of huts and supplejack for ropes and baskets.” (Ibid. Ellen Blackwell p.3.)

Plants of New Zealand refuted some previously held ideas on the Lancewood species as well as the nature of mangroves.  She identified that their ‘shoots’ were actually aerial roots.

Ellen’s large part in the creation of the book was largely ignored and although some went in to bat for her, she was uncomfortable with publicity and distanced herself from the controversy.

Read:

R. K. Dell. Blackwell, Ellen Wright, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

Nutrition : Muriel Bell (1898-1974)

Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481
Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481

Muriel Bell, born in Murchison, is known for starting the programme for Free Milk in Schools in 1937.

Muriel studied medicine at Otago University and stayed on to research human metabolism, gaining a doctorate in 1928. She became a lecturer there in 1935. In 1940 she was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s Nutrition Research Department, and Nutritionist to the Department of Health.

During World War Two, when there were food shortages, Muriel consulted on diet and low cost meals. She found a source of Vitamin D in fish oil, and devised a rosehip syrup to supplement Vitamin C for children.

Muriel also discovered, when implementing the free milk in schools programme, that exposure to the sun destroyed vitamin C and riboflavin (vitamin B2) in milk. Covered trucks were then used to deliver it. She discovered that iodine is linked to healthy thyroid function, and that it isn’t present in New Zealand soil. So she introduced iodised salt.

She found a link between fluorine and healthy teeth, campaigning for it to be added to tap water, and researched links between cholesterol and heart disease.

In 1952 Muriel was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and in 1959 she was made a Commander of the British Empire. She also wrote for the New Zealand Listener on nutrition for many years.

Read:

Philippa Mein Smith. Bell, Muriel Emma, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in June, 2012. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4b21/bell-muriel-emma (accessed 9 October 2017)

Marine Biology: Elizabeth Batham (1917-1974)

Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in "Herstory '84". Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23155427
Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in “Herstory ’84”. Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23155427

Elizabeth Batham was born in Dunedin. Interested in the sea and its biology from childhood, she was an accomplished artist and photographer at school. She studied plankton and sea life in Otago Harbour for a Bachelor of Science in botany and zoology at Otago University.

After gaining a Ph.D on sea anemones at Cambridge in England, Batham took up the first role of Director at the Portobello Marine Biological Station in Otago, turning it into the highly respected research facility it is today; offering international study and courses for school students.

In 1962 Elizabeth was made one of only five female Fellows of The Royal Society of New Zealand. She was so dedicated that she would row to work when the ferry wasn’t working, and would dive for so long she often ran out of air.

Politics, administration and a male team of scientists, threatened by a female boss, made it difficult for Batham to manage the growing facility at Portobello. In 1974 she left to study at Victoria University of Wellington.

Betty sadly disappeared while diving in Seatoun.

Read:

John Jillett. Batham, Elizabeth Joan, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 5, 2000. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5b13/batham-elizabeth-joan (accessed 9 October 2017)

Paleontology: Joan Wiffen (1922-2009)

Joan Wiffen is my hero. In 1975 she found New Zealand’s first ever dinosaur bone.

Like many of us, Joan fossicked for shells and ammonites in sea cliffs as a child. After taking geology night classes Joan learned that the geology of north west Hawke’s Bay made it possible to find reptile bones, although no one had found any. Yet.

Joan concentrated her searches around the Mangahoua Stream northwest of Napier. Her first major find was a vertebra from a theropod – a carnivorous dinosaur that walked on its hind legs 65 million years ago.

Buried in sandstone rocks in treacherous cold water, were dinosaur fossils from both carnivores and herbivores.

Joan found more theropods, a sauropod (a titanosaur : a huge, herbivorous long necked dinosaur), a hypsilophodont (a small bi-ped), an ankylosaur (like an armadillo), an aquatic, air breathing mosasaur, plesiosaurs (like the loch ness monster) and a flying pterosaur.

Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)
Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)

Wiffen experimented with new techniques which yielded great results. Her collections are held at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. Some have been lent to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

Joan Wiffen was awarded a Commander of the British Empire, the Science and Technology Bronze Medal and and Honorary DSc from Massey University in 1994. In 1995 she was honoured with Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004, she was awarded the Morris Skinner Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

She continued dinosaur hunting until her death at the age of 87.

Read:

Heritage scientist timeline – Joan Wiffen.

Further reading

Antarctic Season Opening 2017

With temperatures that can fall to -60 degrees celsius, months without sunlight, and a desert landscape nearly devoid of moisture, the continent of Antarctica is perhaps the most desolate place on earth. Yet every September, foreign scientists and military personnel descend upon the city of Christchurch in preparation for their journey to this frozen landscape. In doing so they are continuing a tradition which is well over a century old.

Situated at a latitude of 43.5321 South, Christchurch is one of the five official world gateway cities for Antarctica. By the end of September, the first flights to the ice start to depart from Christchurch International Airport. The city marks this occasion with a series of programmes and events known as Antarctic Season Opening.

Passengers leaving Christchurch for McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on NZ LC130, 22 November 2005. Photo by Mike Rodgers, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ license.

Historic beginnings

Christchurch was first used as a port of call for scientific teams journeying to the Antarctic during the British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-1904), also known as the Discovery Expedition. Led by Robert Falcon Scott, the Discovery arrived in Lyttelton on 29 November 1901.

During his time in Christchurch, Scott was a guest at the Rhodes family home in Merivale, Te Koraha. To assist the expedition, a magnetic observatory was constructed in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens to allow the members to conduct magnetic surveys. Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour was used to keep the expedition’s 23 Siberian dogs in quarrantine. The kennels where these dogs were housed have recently been restored.

Prior to his departure, Scott wrote a letter to the Town Clerk of Christchurch, thanking the people of Canterbury for their hospitality and the donation of sheep to his expedition. The city remained in the memory of the men during their time on the ice, with fish trap hole number 3, used by marine biologist Thomas Vere Hodgson to capture samples of marine life, being renamed “Christchurch”.

Ernest Shackleton, who had served on the Discovery Expedition, also made use of Lyttelton during his Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909). As with the previous journey, Quail Island acted as a quarantine station for the expedition’s dogs and Manchurian ponies.

The Nimrod leaving Lyttelton for the Antarctic, 1908
The Nimrod leaving Lyttelton for the Antarctic, 1908. Mary Boyle, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ.

Historic footage shows the ponies being loaded on to the Nimrod against the backdrop of Lyttelton port. Departing from Lyttelton on New Year’s Day 1908, the Nimrod was towed to the Antarctic Circle by the Koonya which had been loaned by the New Zealand Government. Shackleton’s Whisky from this expedition was recently discovered in 2007 and thawed out in a temperature controlled room at the Canterbury Museum. On his return from the Antarctic, Shackleton donated money raised during one of his lectures to the foundation of the Christchurch Girls’ Training Hostel.

Robert Falcon Scott returned to Christchurch in October 1910 at the beginning of his ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913). Mules from the hill station of Simla in India were donated by the Indian government in 1911 and housed on Quail Island prior to the expedition’s departure. Following the death of Scott, a statue carved by his widow, Kathleen Scott, was shipped to New Zealand in 1916 and unveiled on 9 February 1917.

Later that month, on 24 February, after returning from his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917), Shackleton planted an oak on the grounds of Christchurch Girls’ Training Hostel.

International Geophysical Year 1957

In preparation for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957 various nations prepared to send teams of scientists to the Antarctic. The cooperation of the nations would eventually lead to the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

New Zealand contributed to the IGY by playing an important role in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-1958). Sir Edmund Hillary led the New Zealanders who oversaw the establishment of Scott Base. While laying supply depots for the British party that was crossing Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound, Hillary, Murray Ellis, Peter Mulgrew and Derek Wright reached the South Pole on 4 January 1958 in converted Ferguson tractors. This was the first overland expedition to reach the pole since Scott and Amundsen. The Tucker Sno-cat, named Able, which was used in the crossing by the Trans-Antarctic Expedition leader, Vivian Fuchs, is now housed in the Canterbury Museum.

Deep Freeze hangar
Deep Freeze hangar, by David O’Malley is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ License.

Known as cheech to the Americans based there, Christchurch became the base for the United States own contributions to the IGY. Between October and December 1955, US aircraft arrived at Wigram to prepare for Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-1956). On 10 December, the US navy icebreaker, USS Glacier departed from Lyttelton Harbour. On 20 December, in the early hours of the morning, two ski-equipped Lockheed P2V-2N Neptunes took off from what was then Harewood airport (now Christchurch International Airport). Fourteen hours later, the first of the two Neptunes successfully landed at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

For its role in Operation Deep Freeze, the United States gifted the Native American totem pole (carved in 1959) which stood in Little Hagley Park until 1980 when it was transferred to the entrance of the airport.

Wishing to highlight the strategic role it played in Antarctic operations, the Christchurch International Airport opened the International Antarctic Centre, with its main feature, the Antarctic Attraction, in 1992.

Despite many different organisations with connections to Antarctica being based in Christchurch, there was no local body to act as a mediator between them. In order to coordinate the efforts of these various groups, an Antarctic City Strategy was developed by the Christchurch City Council which, in 2016, led to the establishment of the Antarctic Office.

Find out more

 

We do things differently

Cover of We do things differently Every now and then a book comes along that packs a big enough punch that I feel as if I’m flying through the air. We do things differently: The outsiders rebooting our world has me landing feet first with the feeling I can walk into the future.

Travelling across four continents author Mark Stevenson sets out to meet people who have created, and are using, extraordinary new ways to help our world.

“I had one over riding criterion for inclusion in my itinerary. The innovators had to be succeeding right now in the real world. Whatever their idea, I wanted to be able to touch it, meet the people making and benefiting from it… It had to be working and I had to be able to see it working.”

From growing rice to running machines on air We Do Things Differently is a remarkable look at here and now.

Want to learn more?

*both of the websites above recommended by Mark Stevenson.

More from Mark Stevenson

Memories, mind-wandering, and the evolution of language

“It was a dark and chilly winter’s night, but the crowd in the foyer of the Charles Luney Auditorium at St. Margaret’s College didn’t let that deter them. They were bundled up warm, busy chatting to their friends, and keen to get into the auditorium to hear Auckland University’s Michael Corballis present ‘Mental Travels in Space and Time’.”

Did you just get an image in your head of how that scene might have looked? If you’ve ever been into the Charles Luney Auditorium before, your mind will have travelled back there, remembered how it looked, and added in people in winter clothes and cold dark weather to suit the story.

If you haven’t been to this particular location, you might have remembered your old school auditorium instead, or maybe the foyer of the old Christchurch Town Hall or Isaac Theatre Royal, and pictured the scene as if it was happening there. Either way, regardless of how you imagined this scene, you based it upon your memories of a time you were in a particular location, and what you saw and heard, and how it made you feel.

You have just used your brain for mental time travel – using memories as a way to imagine ourselves in places and times that we are not currently in. That was the topic of Professor Corballis’ speech, held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The audience learnt about the hippocampus – the part of the brain which helps form memories of events, and which reinterprets those memories and helps us daydream and imagine ourselves in new places and times.

It’s because of the hippocampus that we can empathise, and put ourselves in another person’s situation, why authors and storytellers can come up with fictional made-up stories, and why readers sometimes get so caught up in the stories they are reading – our brain is letting us experience the story in the same way as it would if we were actually living it.

The audience also learnt what happens if the hippocampus is damaged. If this happens, you can’t form memories of the things you have done, but you remember skills that you have learnt. Could you imagine not having any memories of specific events? Or having others tell you that you have done something or gone somewhere with them, but you don’t remember doing it? Yet at the same time, you don’t have any difficulty remembering how to carry out skills such as walking, talking, or drawing? I can’t imagine that personally, but we heard about some individuals for whom this is normal.

Cover of The truth about language

The speech Professor Corballis gave was entertaining and informative, and these same characteristics come through in his new book The Truth About Language. I really enjoyed how accessible this book is – no matter your background, the conversational writing style is easy to read. With anecdotes, quotes from literature, and references to historical and contemporary linguistic theories, Corballis tells the story of how language came to be, and why it is so different in different countries and communities.

Don’t worry if you aren’t a linguist – you will still be able to understand the points Corballis is making, and enjoy the information found in this book. For those readers who do want a more in-depth understanding of the evolution of language, however, the book includes references to other theories and theorists, generous explanatory notes, and a comprehensive bibliography to guide further reading.

From the big bang to the different languages used world-wide in 2017, there are so many aspects of language – body language, pronunciation and sounds, grammar, and so much more. Michael Corballis’ The Truth About Language is a fun way to learn about this fascinating subject, and Christchurch City Libraries has a range of his other books that delve further into the subject. So, if language, the mind, and psychology are things you’re interested in, then check them out on our catalogue!

The Truth About Language: What it is and where it came from
by Michael Corballis
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869408633

Find out more

Te Iwa o Matariki – The Nine Stars of Matariki

Kua ara ake ahau i te papa o te whenua
Kua kite ahau i ngā whetū e tūtaki tahi ana
Ko Matariki te kairūri
Ko Atutahi kei te taumata o te mangōroa

The scope of our imagination is from the earth to the stars
Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy, Kura Reo ki Te Waipounamu 2014

Matariki 2017 is a fresh look through old eyes at Māori oral traditions, practices and customs associated with the Māori New Year. Over the next three years the Christchurch City Libraries will be re-introducing ‘Te Iwa o Matariki – the Nine stars of Matariki’ beginning with Te Kātao o Matariki – the water stars of Matariki, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā.

Matariki 2017

Nine or Seven? That is the question!

The star cluster of Matariki (Pleiades) has long been associated with the Greek tale of the seven daughters of Pleione and Altas, who, upon being harassed turned into doves and flew into the heavens. In this version of the story, two stars were not included in any traditions or commemorations, rather the mythical seven were embraced.

Pleiades star cluster
Pleiades open star cluster, public domain image via Wikipedia

However history records that Māori were aware of the presence of more than seven visible stars within the cluster as noted by historian Elsdon Best in his 1955 book The Astronomical knowledge of the Māori:

“[Historian William] Colenso writes [in 1839 in the far north]: “I found that the Maori (sic) could see more stars in the Pleiades with the unaided eye than I could, for, while I could only see clearly six stars, they could see seven and sometimes eight.” (Best, 1922)

Associate Professor, Dr Rangi Matamua, Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, is a leading Māori astronomer. He has spent over 20 years researching indigenous astronomy. Awarded the 2014 Fulbright Scholarship – Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Rangi used the grant to study how astronomy is embedded into the cultural practices of indigenous people. That same year he was successful in leading a group of Māori astronomers in securing funding from the Royal Society – Te Apārangi (the Marsden Fund) to continue this study. It is through his Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga research and the work of the Marsden Fund project Te Mauria Whiritoi that Rangi has re-confirmed that there are nine stars that constitute the star cluster of Pleiades or Matariki not just seven stars as commonly believed.

For this reason Rangi and Te Reo Māori Language expert, Paraone Gloyne produced an article in Mana Magazine reclaiming the two missing stars and providing an insight into Te Iwa o Matariki.

“Contrary to popular belief, there are nine stars in the constellation of Matariki, rather than seven. They all hold dominion over particular areas of our environment as seen from a Māori world view. They are; Matariki, Pōhutukawa, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Ururangi, and Hiwa-i-te-rangi. Traditionally, our ancestors did not just look at the constellation as a whole, but rather viewed each star individually, gaining an insight into the year ahead.” (Gloyne, Matamua, Mana, May 2016)

Puanga or not to Puanga?

For some iwi, Puanga not Matariki marks the start of the New Year as it rises just before Matariki. For others Puanga is seen as the pre-cursor to the rise of Matariki. It is Puanga that foretells the fortunes of the coming of the New Year by his appearance and placement when he first rises after the first new moon. It is Matariki who confirms it through her placement and appearance when she appears three days later.

According to some oral traditions, Puanga is the older brother of Takurua his younger brother, and his pretty younger sister Matariki. Jealous of the attention Matariki gets, “the task of Puanga is to strive ahead of Matariki that he may again take possession of the year for himself.” (Puanga, Star of the Māori New Year) It is for this reason he appears prior to Matariki in the hope that he may be heralded as the bringer of the New Year, only to be overlooked with the appearance of Matariki.

Does Matariki always rise in June?

No, the last quarter of the moon cycle known as the Tangaroa nights of the moon is when Matariki rises. This can vary from year to year but is always in the cold months from May to July. This year the rise of Matariki is from 17 to 20 June while the period of Matariki is from 17 to 24 June.

Further Reading

This article was published in issue 4 of our quarterly magazine, uncover – huraina. Read it online.

James Gleick at WORD Christchurch: No spoilers for Time Travellers

James Gleick does not want to offend anyone.

The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?

A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.

James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi
James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi, Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0194

Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickGleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.

But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?

I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.

Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.

Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.

Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.

On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.

Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”

This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
  • Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
  • “All you zombies” by Robert Heinlein – An early short story that became the movie Predestination and is an interesting example of The Grandfather Paradox.
  • Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
  • Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
  • The Planet of the Apes series – Bernardi’s favourite for its use of Time Travel to address issues of gender and race.
  • Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
  • Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
  • “Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
James Gleick
James Gleick: a man in want of some straws. Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0198

Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!

Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.

When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.

But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.

It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.

Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?

Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.

Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.

I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.

And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.

More information

The WORD on Time Travel with James Gleick

“Quid est ergo tempus?” “What then is time?” (Augustine)

When did Time begin? Was it the Creation, or Big Bang? Is it just an Illusion, a construct of man? Who coined the phrase “Time Travel?”

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickFor the answers to these and many other questions on Time Travel, James Gleick is your man. Come along to his WORD Christchurch session at the Piano on Tuesday 16 May, 6pm to hear him talk about his book, Time Travel: A history.

I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to find out how to Time Travel. I could get so much more done.

My first memory of a Time Travel story would have to be the Time Tunnel. Yet as I look back it’s an element in so many stories – the Pevensies always came back to the same moment they left (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The guys in Land of the Lost travelled, and then I read The Time Machine.

H.G. Wells is arguably the master, although he was no Newton. Yet he raises a theory (mirrored by Ben Elton in Time and Time Again) that Time exists only in the memory: “There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.” (p.8).

Susan’s student, Penelope, in Terry Pratchett’s The Thief of Time, asserts that “Its always now everywhere, Miss.”

Cover of Isaac NewtonGleick, a Harvard graduate, explores not just story in his book, but scientific theory also, from the concept of Time to the idea of travelling at will through it. He has also written a book on Isaac Newton.

Time Travel: A history, has a formidable index, and an indispensable book list of stories, anthologies and scientific works on the nature of time and travel.

After a small survey of colleagues and friends I’ve come up with some questions for Mr Gleick. Feel free to ask one at the event. (They won’t let me ask them all!)

  1. Can you meet yourself in Time and not cause a temporal reaction?
  2. Can you move through Space as well as Time?
  3. Did the Time Tunnel guys EVER make it home?
  4. What was the outcome of Predestination?
  5. If you kill yourself in time will you cease to exist in other dimensions?
  6. Can you kill your mother/father yourself and not cause 1.
  7. Why can’t Dr Who fall in love?
  8. If the future hasn’t happened yet, can you only travel backwards?
  9. Can you travel back/forward to wipe someone out and change the future?
  10. If light can split into particles and waves, can a person be at two places in Time?

Time travel fans will want to check out my lists of –

Researching Aurora Australis

I have been out trying to catch a glimpse of Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights. I spent last evening out on the port hills star gazing, I was unsuccessful again.

My first attempt to see the polar lights was when I was living in the UK and wanted to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. I booked a weekend in Iceland, which is supposed to have excellent viewing of the northern lights. Alas the weather in Iceland was cloudy, so no Aurora Borealis for me.

My children are now are asking lots of questions so I decided to do some research on the Auroras. My starting place is eDS, the libraries eResources Discovery Search which searches across heaps of eResources all at once. First result was the Research Starter on the Auroras which gives you a really good starting point for information, explaining how phenomena is caused by the interaction of solar radiation with the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. Other results include news stories, and articles from magazines such as Australian Geographic.

This got me thinking about another great eResource we have at Christchurch City Libraries, New Zealand Geographic Archive. NZ Geographic always has such great photos and didn’t let me down with this great article Nature’s Neon.

Now I armed with more knowledge about the Auroras will I go stargazing again and try to view the southern lights? Yes, I probably will.

Screen shot of NZ Geographic
A screen shot from New Zealand Geographic Archive – an eResource accessible with your Christchurch City Libraries membership.

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