can be no aspect of rural firefighting in this country that
Helen Beaglehole has not discussed in this impressively
detailed study. The author has mined deeply indeed, serving
up minutiae which quite swamps the reader.
Beaglehole writes that she was primarily interested in how
New Zealanders dealt with the fires that for decades
devastated our countryside, destroying a timber resource,
threatening an increasingly valuable investment in plantation
forests, and directly or indirectly jeopardising agricultural
The author points out that well into the 20th century,
settlers (a term used into the 1950s) turned to fire as the
only way of removing the bush that they saw solely as an
obstacle to settlement, to clear land for farming and to lay
down the ash beds that promoted grass growth.
Yet controlled burn-offs too easily, and too often, became
uncontrolled fires that wrought havoc.
From early in the 20th century, the fires in the numerous dry
seasons burned over large tracts of country, with devastating
effect. For the many small, uninsured landholders, such
losses could mean ruin.
As the apposite cover summary states, Beaglehole explores the
huge public education campaign that sought to stop the
She traces how the Forest Service used increasingly
sophisticated firefighting tools and methods to prevent,
contain and extinguish fire.
It was Forest Service employees who became the nation's rural
firefighters, their skills further honed in the vast
controlled burns of the 1960s-80s.
Also under Beaglehole's microscope is the vital role of some
3000 volunteers and part-timers who fight the country's rural
This is indeed an impressively wide-ranging, scholarly
history with meticulously compiled endnotes, bibliography and
Two hundred photographs provide icing on the cake.