In praise of the bush
After the 1960s, respect for the integrity of the landscape became more widespread. The massive public campaign against raising Lake Manapōuri to provide hydroelectric power (1969–72) showed a new appreciation of the beauty and intrinsic value of wild landscapes. The Resource Management Act 1991 stated that applications for new constructions had to consider ‘any physical effect on the locality, including any landscape and visual effects’. 1
Fighting for forests
Poet Hone Tuwhare expressed anger about the destruction of forests in his 1978 poem ‘Warawara, Pureora, Okarito’:
Have given private Enterprise
Permission for to strip
And rip-off Kauri, totara
Kahikatea for to supply
Timber for million-dollar
Yachts and mansions
Stop your raping of the land.
Fuck off. 2
Calendars and photographic books of mountain and lake scenery flowed from the country’s printing presses, and tourist promotions still focused on the unspoilt outdoors. In the 2000s, Tourism New Zealand’s slogan was ‘100% pure’.
Some photographers brought new perspectives. In Robin Morrison’s 1981 book The South Island of New Zealand from the road, the landscape was peopled with local characters, quaint buildings and abstract shapes – not snowy mountains or sparkling lakes. Laurence Aberhart photographed cultural artefacts like Masonic temples or war memorials. The natural landscape was an out-of-focus backdrop. Craig Potton offered close-ups of limestone formations, or unusual wind or mist phenomena. The sky was no longer always blue.
After the mid-1950s, writers reacted against earlier authors’ identification with the wilderness. Poets like Louis Johnson and Fleur Adcock found inspiration in the domesticity of the suburbs. Even James K. Baxter, who had once gazed at ‘the altar cloth of snow on deathly summits laid’, turned instead to the ‘human day dream’ of child, wife and city. 3
In 1998 Philip Temple, who still wrote about wild landscapes, complained that ‘[i]t has been post-modernly uncool to see mountains over malls, to weigh forests more than French fries, to hear the louder sounds of rivers under te reo [the Māori language].’ 4 The term ‘landscape’ increasingly described urban settings.
Song of the city
In 1992 New Zealand band the Mutton Birds had a hit with ‘Dominion Road’, named after the main street of an Auckland inner-city suburb. The song describes a vivid urban landscape:
Dominion Road is bending
Under its own weight,
Shining like a strip
Cut from a sheet metal plate,
Cause it’s just been raining.
More than any other medium, film showed new perspectives of the New Zealand landscape. The 1977 film Sleeping dogs explored familiar themes such as the dangers and satisfactions of ‘going bush’. In Vigil, Vincent Ward gave the northern Taranaki back country a wild, dark beauty reminiscent of McCahon’s paintings.
The 1981 hit Goodbye pork pie brought a change – it was a road movie in which the landscape was just a blur, seen through the windows of a yellow Mini as it raced from one end of the country to the other. Once were warriors (1994) began with a shot of beautiful, unspoilt New Zealand scenery – soon revealed to be a photo on a billboard, in an urban landscape of poverty and violence.
An increasing number of films and television dramas had urban and suburban settings.
Yet New Zealand's scenic landscapes remain important to the film industry – albeit to represent places far from New Zealand. In the Lord of the rings trilogy in the early 2000s, the rolling hills of the Waikato became Hobbiton, the Volcanic Plateau represented Mt Doom, and inland Canterbury was Edoras. New Zealand was Middle Earth, a place where the strange bush and rock formations and epic alpine scenery seemed otherworldly.
The chronicles of Narnia, another mock medieval epic, was also shot in New Zealand. The country has represented ancient Greece (the Hercules and Xena series), North Korea (The rescue), Illinois (Dead kids) and Japan (The last samurai).
The world in one country
New Zealand is promoted as a filming location because of its exceptionally varied landscape. Film New Zealand, the country’s film locations office, writes that ‘[t]he range of scenery in New Zealand is unique – from the mangrove-fringed tidal inlets of Northland to the snow capped volcanoes of the Central Plateau, from the forests of the Urewera to the majestic fiords, glaciers and mountains of the south.’ 5
Close to the heart
In 2007, 85.7% of New Zealanders lived in towns or cities. Yet the landscape still had a special place in their hearts. When asked what they valued about their country, most New Zealanders mentioned the natural environment and the outdoor lifestyle.
Although the creative arts focused increasingly on urban settings, the rural landscape retained its importance – for economic reasons (in the film and tourist industries), and for sentimental ones.