Story: Fiction

Man alone in the Kaimanawa Mountains

Man alone in the Kaimanawa Mountains

John Mulgan's Man alone (1939) is a classic New Zealand novel of such significance that the title has become shorthand for a common motif in New Zealand fiction, the rugged male individual, isolated from ordinary society. The book's protagonist, Johnson, is an Englishman who emigrates to New Zealand after surviving the battlefields of the First World War. After becoming a somewhat unwilling participant in a street riot in depression-era Auckland, he works on farms in the Waikato and central North Island. He has an affair with his boss's wife and accidentally kills his boss. Johnson flees and crosses the Kaimanawa Mountains (pictured) in winter, suffering physically and mentally before he makes it back to Auckland, which he leaves to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

In chapter 14, Johnson enters the ranges:

This was real bush he was going into now, not the mountain-bush of birch-trees that he had seen on Ruapehu, but deep, thick, and matted, great trees going up to the sky, and beneath them a tangle of ferns and bush-lawyer and undergrowth, the ground heavy with layers of rotting leaves and mould. To go forward at all was difficult, held back all the time by twining undergrowth. The air was dark and lifeless; it was rich with the sweet, rotting smell of the bush, and only stray glimpses of light came through the leaves above. He had only a general and limited sense of direction, but followed the path of a bush creek which wound its way through the bottom of the valley into the heart of the range. He was going deep into this, so deep, he told himself, that he might never come out again.
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How to cite this page:

Lydia Wevers, 'Fiction - The New Zealand voice, 1930s and 1940s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/41929/man-alone-in-the-kaimanawa-mountains (accessed 17 October 2019)

Story by Lydia Wevers, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 19 Aug 2015