Backwoodsman's Rangitikei


Backwoodsman's Rangitikei was launched in Turakina on 15 June 2008 by Dr Brad Patterson of the Stout Research Centre of Irish and Scottish Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. The address follows:

Just over a week ago, although it seems a great deal longer, Kathryn and I were in Edinburgh. We were visiting the Scottish Parliament.
The primary purpose was to meet with Kenny McAskill, a welcome visitor to the Scots Abroad conference in 2006, now Secretary for Justice in the Scottish administration.
(We actually caught him between television interviews, Kenny's a busy man these days)
As it happens, one of the first things to come up in conversation was the publication of this book, and, when I told him I'd been invited to launch it, a request that I pass on that he was looking forward to receiving the copy promised by Roz.
Kenny also asked me to convey his warmest best wishes to his friends in this part of the world, in particular to members of the Turakina Caledonian Society, and to congratulate Maisie Earle and all others who had been involved with the production of Backwoodsman's Rangitikei.
His other message was that a free and independent Scotland was at last imminent
My role as messenger ends.

For myself, I thank you for the invitation to launch Backwoodsman's Rangitikei.
As I responded to Roz when I received her email in Northern Ireland several weeks ago, I regard it as a privilege to be asked. It has also been my privilege over the last 3-4 years to work closely with a number of people here today, and with others, on the Scottish strands in Rangitikei's history.
For many years, from the time I worked at Massey in the early 1970s, I had been aware there had been a strong Scottish influence on the settlement of the Rangitikei, especially here in Turakina, but I didn't really know a great deal more than that.
Hopefully I, and for that matter my PhD students, are now much better informed.
If indeed we are, it is not simply because of work in the libraries and archives.
It is equally the result of the support of today's Rangitikei Scots, with many of whom we have formed firm friendships.
As some you will know, the Marsden team researching Scottish migration that I have been heading since 2004 has been investigating around a dozen case-studies of Scottish settlements in New Zealand.
I can say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that nowhere in New Zealand have we encountered a community more conscious, and proud, of its Celtic origins and traditions.
The most obvious public manifestation is the annual Highland Games in January, but no less important is the community's respect for documentary history.
The treasured privately held papers that have been made available to us have greatly increased our understanding of the contributions of your forbears. In particular, I would thank Roz and Ewen, Jessie Annabell and the late Neil Corballi.
The poems and songs of Louis McLachlan add to that store.

Two years ago I persuaded Maisie — initially reluctantly — to provide a foretaste.
Eventually, however, she agreed to deliver a paper on the Backwoodsman to a May 2006 Stout Research Centre seminar series on the Scots in New Zealand.
Her outline charmed most present.
Hence the opportunity to have over more from the pen of the Backwoodsman has been impatiently awaited.
I'm certainly not qualified to comment on the contents of the present book from a literary viewpoint, but without doubt it is a valuable historical document.
What makes it so useful is that the individual pieces therein are largely centred on events and personalities in one NZ district prior to 1900.

The cycle of 19th century Rangitikei life is meticulously retailed:

And there is so much more — there are the poet's thoughts: Then, interestingly, there are the references to Maori legend, including to battles past.

Without doubt, there is much here for future readers and researchers to pore over.
But inevitably, the reader is drawn to ponder, to speculate, on Louis McLachlan, Loo, the Backwoodsman himself.
Who was he?
What made him tick?
There are some brief outline notes in the preface, the bare bones of a life and some obituary observations.
The memorial poem included in the collection suggests a great deal more, noting "a life with its ups and downs".
I would suggest that there are many many more clues scattered through the songs and poems themselves.
The over-riding impression is of a highly intelligent and observant individual, one who, although not necessarily educated to a high level, was nevertheless widely read.
There is also the strong impression that the writer is something of a lost and wandering soul, burdened, occasionally melancholic.
If that assessment is correct, he certainly wasn't alone in his time.
How many such folk there were in colonial New Zealand is a nice question; probably far more than we would anticipate.
But that many were as literate, as eloquent, as McLachlan is unlikely.
This is what makes his writings unusual.
The closest parallel that comes to mind is agricultural labourer James Cox, also a wanderer in the southern North Island districts over much the same period. His diaries are now in the Turnbull Library.
Cox, of course, has been brought to wider public attention by Miles Fairburn in his 1995 book, Nearly Out of Heart and Hope; The Puzzle of a Colonial Labourer's Diary.
It would be fascinating to compare the two.
Whereas Cox recorded his thoughts in notebooks totalling 800,000 words, intended for his attention alone, Louis McLachlan expressed his in verse, fully intending they be viewed by wider audiences.
But, superficially at least, many of the themes addressed in the writings are similar.
There may be a future post-graduate thesis here!

Whatever, bringing the writings of Louis McLachlan to 21st century readers has been a significant achievement, and one meriting fulsome congratulations.
Elsewhere, I have argued that the recent demonstrable success of the Turakina Games has been predicated on group feeling, on the preparedness of a small number of dedicated enthusiasts to work effectively together.
The book we are launching this afternoon is surely another such demonstration of community action.
Acknowledgements are thus due to the McPhail family, to the Grants, the Cameron's and the other Rangitikei families listed who have kept Loo's writings safely for over a century – and have now agreed to share them.
Acknowledgements, too, to Roz and Ewen Grant, who assisted in locating additional material and in the preparation of the manuscript.
Above all, a special thanks to Maisie Earle, who turned her usual steely determination and professional skills to the editing of this book.
May your collective efforts be handsomely rewarded by the appreciation of this and future generations of scholars, readers and Rangitikei dwellers.

It is a pleasure to declare Backwoodsman's Rangitikei; Poems and Songs, by Louis McLachlan, edited by Maisie Earle, well and truly launched.