Fascinating portaits of outsiders

OUTSIDERS: Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society <br>Gerard Hindmarsh<br>Craig Potton...
OUTSIDERS: Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society <br>Gerard Hindmarsh<br>Craig Potton Publishing
Under the heading The Isolationists, Gerard Hindmarsh writes that even though few people actually got to meet him, ''Charles Douglas was a Scottish immigrant who became one of the most admired and loved characters in all of Westland''.

Douglas ''was an ardent isolationist who came to loathe the rat race with all its repetitive routines and incessant striving for security and possessions, not to mention its malaise of false sophistication''.

Born in Edinburgh in 1840 to a noted family of bankers and painters, Douglas bought a one-way passage to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in 1862.

Arriving in south Westland in 1867, Douglas devoted the following four decades to exploring and surveying all its unexplored gorges and forest tracts.

''He lived a basic life, living almost entirely off the land and avoiding human company, preferring instead the company of his dog,'' Hindmarsh writes.

Charles Edward Douglas and Arthur Paul Harper in the valley of the Cook River, 1894, with ...
Charles Edward Douglas and Arthur Paul Harper in the valley of the Cook River, 1894, with Douglas' dog Betsey Jane. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Douglas is typical of the many New Zealand ''man alone'' - and a few women - stoic characters living at the fringes of society, whose lives the author has painstakingly researched.

''Being geographically isolated by choice and living a solitary existence, often without the trappings of so-called civilisation and urban living, these characters have become etched in the national psyche of the country,'' he notes.

I was particularly interested in Hindmarsh's accounts of long-gone swaggers, for many of whom the reality was that they died along the roads, ''maybe curled up to expire in the shelter of some scrub or tall tussock''.

The author has cast his net widely and researched well to provide fascinating portaits of the lives of some of New Zealand's most famous outsiders, many of whom died a long time ago, and some of whom are still alive today.

  - Clarke Isaacs is a former ODT chief of staff.

 

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